Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Pixy-Led"

This poem is from the August 15, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] djbluejay (Jay). It also fills the "dark alley" square in my 4-19-16 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes self-defense training, brief mentions of why people want to learn such things, mental-mystical tactics of deception, Simon wandering into a bad neighborhood, calculation of appropriate force and tactics, harsh language, a boss beating up his thugs for displeasing him, urban decay, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Pixy-Led"


Simon enjoyed spending time
with all the girls in the house
where Maisie and Mallory lived.

He and Tolliver both showed them
techniques for self-defense,
or preferably, escape.

Walden excelled at the latter.

She was small and slim and
surprisingly difficult to catch
or hold onto in sparring.

Simon finally prevailed on her
to show him a few new tricks.

"You have to think, with your body,"
she said slowly, in the way that Tolli did
when he translated from Gaelic to English,
"like mist, or wind, or water, so you flow away
from a blow when someone attacks you,
slip through their fingers, run free."

The way she moved as she said it
was fluid and graceful, and Simon was
pretty sure that he couldn't do it.

"I'm not a little willow slip like you,
Walden," he reminded her, patting
the arm of his combat wheelchair. "Do
you have anything I might be able to use?"

"Well, there's other stuff, but it gets
harder from here," said Walden.

"Try me," Simon suggested.

"How good is your situational awareness?"
Walden asked, looking around at the yard.

"Pretty good," Simon said, without
going into the soldier-lore he'd learned.

"Okay, so first you take a baseline
of where you are, and you pull that into
your head, down through your center,
and out into your body language,"
Walden said. As she did so, she
seemed to become part of the yard.

"I see what you're saying," Simon agreed.
"Now how does that trick help me if I
need to deal with hooligans?"

"That's just the first part," she said.
"So then you need an imprint of
some other place to switch."

"Not sure I'm following you,"
Simon admitted.

Walden snickered. "No,
the idea is to get them
to follow you, and then
you ditch them."

"Go over it again?"
Simon said. He was
starting to get a headache,
and they'd hardly started.

"First, you make yourself a part
of the place you are," Walden said.
"Anyone following you will focus on that,
make it part of how they identify you, see?"

"That makes sense," Simon said,
thinking about how to identify
people by body language.

"So then if you want to slip them,
you take another place and put that
into your head instead, and push it out
through your body, so you change," she said.
"Then they can't recognize you anymore."

As Walden spoke, her whole bearing
shifted suddenly. It was quite creepy.

"Will my chair make a difference?"
Simon said. "It doesn't change."

"Do you think of it as part of you?"
Walden said. "You move like you do,
but I don't know, not everyone feels
the same about their wheels."

"I have round legs," Simon said
with a wink. "You should see me race."

"Then it should work for you," Walden said.
"Think like ... you'd use it differently on
a smooth floor than on grass or
a sloped dirt track, right?"

"Yes, and I have a different chair
for sand travel now," Simon said.

"Okay then, use that, think about how
you use your body in different ways,
how you sit or lean in your chair on
different surfaces," Walden said.

Simon tried making a mental shift
from the grassy yard to a smooth mall
to the gentle tilt of the track-and-field loop.

"Yeah, you got the gist of it," Walden said.
"Now you just need to practice it some.
It works even better if you can duck around
a corner right as you make the switch."

"And that's all there is to it?" Simon said.

She looked away, then looked back.
"There's more, a little more I can show you,
but it's ... people think it's pretty weird."

"Walden, have you met my family?"
Simon said dryly. "We put six spoons
of weird on our breakfast cereal."

"You win," she said, giggling.

"So give me some other ideas, and
I'll see what pans out," Simon said.

"The other thing is, you can think of
a third place and put it on an object --
like a coin or a bit of grass or an herb,
tormentil is best -- then you throw it down
for your follower to step on," Walden said.
"You really do have to get them to touch it
or it just doesn't have much of an effect."

"And this is an ordinary thing, not gizmology
or a superpower?" Simon said, bemused.

"It's like ... you have something in your head,
and you put it in someone else's head, because
they see you being it and then they're standing right
where you were, so they pick it up. It's not with
a superpower, just ... influence," Walden said.
"You know, like moving all the stuff in their room
to drive them nuts because they don't understand
why everything suddenly feels a little bit wrong?"

"That's pushing it on ethics," Simon warned.

"Not if they're planning to beat the crap
out of you when they catch you," Walden said.

Simon's eyebrows went up. "Is that
a problem you're having?" he said.

"Not anymore, because I learned how
to handle it," Walden said. "Bullies can't
follow you if they can't sort out all the places
you were thinking of and the one that they're
actually in. If you're really good at it, then
they don't just lose you, they get lost too."

Simon wished that he had known
how to do this back in his army days.
It could've saved him a lot of grief.

Well, there was no time like the present
to start practicing a new skill. Given his life,
he was liable to need it sooner or later.

It turned out to be sooner.

Simon went shopping for
a pair of fighting gloves for Shiv,
something to protect his hands a bit
that would still leave his fingertips free
for manipulating bits of metal.

There were all-fingerless biker gloves,
but Simon didn't think those would be enough;
and there were work gloves with just the thumb
and forefingers free, but those were awful heavy.

Finally the owner of a seedy little martial arts joint
gave him a sly look and said, "If you're after
something special, I could show you more."

A nod brought out a tray of half-fingered gloves
made from dexflan reinforced with krevel, which
was perfect. Simon bought the smallest pair
in black-and-gray for Shiv's dainty hands.

Only afterward did Simon realized that
he had wandered into a rougher part of town
than he usually traveled, and two guys were
tailing him with some serious intent.

And their bodyguard Alex was currently
on Tolli over at the metalworking shop.

Simon mulled over his options as he
strolled down the street, keeping
his hands on his wheels at
the same lazy pace.

He could, of course, just stop
and break those boys in half, but
that would be excessive force.

Calling the cops would work,
but it would probably be overkill too,
and it would also take enough time
that somebody might still get hurt.

That left creative problem-solving.

Simon remembered what Walden
had taught him, and so he focused on
the dingy storefronts and cracked sidewalk.
Casually he reached out and snagged a bit
of grass that grew through the pavement,
wadding it one-handed into a little tuft.

He called up the desert that was
never far from his mind, let it paint him
with sweat and the memory of smoke,
how the taste got into everything,
squeezed all of that into the grass
and flicked it behind him.

Then he concentrated on
the Maldives and the sweet smell
of tropical flowers and the sound of
surf swishing against the shore.

At the same time, Simon
grabbed one wheel and pivoted
his chair smartly into a dark alley
just short of the corner store.

The two guys who had been
tailing him walked right past.

Simon wondered if they had
stepped on the little landmine
that he left for them, or if they
just weren't very good at this.

Then he overheard one saying,
"The fuck he just go, man?"

"I dunno, nigga done disappear!"
the other said. "Hell, we gonna get it
from the boss if we lose him for real."

Oh, yeah. They hit it.

"I'll go this way, you go that way,
and we betta find his ass!"
the first hoodlum said.

Simon knew better than to leave
his hiding place too soon, so he
let go of the Maldives and instead
made himself one with the shadows.

The two men crossed back and forth
a few times, casing the nearby area with
mediocre skill but real determination.

Idly Simon snapped pictures of both men
just in case that might be useful, and
sent those to his bodyguard.

"How in the sam-hell you lose
a nigga in a wheelchair?!"

Ah, that must be the boss.
He had a voice that could cut tin.

"I swear, boss, we was right on him,
and he just fuckin' vanish in thin air!"

The sound of fist meeting flesh
carried clearly over idle street noise,
but nobody seemed disturbed by it.

This was followed by a metallic noise
that Simon identified as someone
being slammed against a car.

No wonder those boys had worried
about screwing up the assignment.

Simon was glad that he had declined
their implicit invitation to meet their boss.
Let them deal with that hot temper.

When the sounds of supervisory outrage
finally faded, Simon trundled down the dark alley,
nimbly avoiding the broken bottles on the way.

He slipped out the back entrance,
then headed toward the bus stop
that he had spotted earlier.

Checking his smartphone for
the schedule, he realized that in
this part of town, he'd have to wait
twenty minutes or more, and even then
it was even odds whether that bus would
happen to have a lift on it or not.

That was okay, though.
The map showed a music store
cleverly located beside the bus stop.

Simon could just duck in there
and do a little more shopping.

He owed Walden a thank-you gift anyhow.

* * *

Notes:

[Character concept by Dialecticdreamer]
Simon -- He has milk chocolate skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. Although he still has some use of his legs, he's more mobile in a wheelchair than on foot. Simon is homosexual, and the partner of Tolliver Finn. They live in North Carolina, about an hour from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Simon spends a lot of time outdoors, so his skin rarely gets lighter even in winter. His wilderness skills span both recreation and survival aspects. His favorite sports include wheelchair racing and bobsled. He also has a lever wheelchair for hiking. He enjoys teaching his skills to other people. He still has some boundary issues from people not respecting him because of his disability, though.
Qualities: Master (+6) Activity Scout, Master (+6) Paralympic Martial Arts, Master (+6) Veteran, Expert (+4) Gamer, Expert (+4) Paralympic Track & Field, Good (+2) Family Values, Good (+2) Insightful, Good (+2) Sniper, Good (+2) Wilderness Skills
Poor (-2) Boundary Issues

Walden Hollingberry -- She has pale skin, blue eyes, and long slightly wavy black hair. Her shoulders are wider than her hips and she has small breasts. Her heritage is Pictish. She speaks at least English and Pictish. She is an only child. She is quiet, sometimes emo, and into the goth scene on weekends. She is a night owl, definitely not a morning person. She moves silently and often startles people without even meaning to. Walden lives in the same house with Damask. She's majoring in Literature with a minor in Creative Writing.
Qualities: Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Liberal Arts, Good (+2) Mysterious, Good (+2) Self-Reliant
Poor (-2) Dealing with Popular People

* * *

"Pixy-led" is a particular term for getting lost, with the implication of fae involvement. It also ties back to the Picts, who are associated with pixies, and some people believe the two are related or even the same.

Nobody knows for sure what happened to the Picts in local-Earth, and even the knowledge of their tribes is patchy. In Terramagne, some of the Picts have survived as cohesive clans hidden within the larger Scottish society. Walden's people are the Selgovae, which can mean 'scout' or 'guide' as well as 'hunter' -- the translation is imprecise due to cultural differences. A closer parallel may be found in the braves of Native American tribes.

Stray sod is a type of faery that, if stepped on, causes the person to get lost. It works even if the path was formerly obvious. Tormentil is an herb used to cause discord and disorientation in curses.

Controlling your own body language can make it possible to mislead and manipulate other people. Regarding the ethics of such techniques, consider the spectrum of influence, persuasion, manipulation, and coercion. Both Simon's point that it's wrong to do things to other people without their consent, and Walden's point that it's right to defend yourself, are valid. This form of misdirection has the advantage of being nonviolent, but the disadvantage of being very intrusive into another person's perception.

This leads to the considerations of appropriate force in self-defense. The spectrum of force moves from nonviolent through violent to lethal methods. Ideally, one should aim for the probable logical control mode: just enough to meet the goal.

See Shiv's krevel fighting gloves.

(These links are controversial.)
English dialects derive from many sources. Here you can hear a confluence of Black English, Southern English, and Lower-Class English.

(These links contain touchy racial stuff.)
Nigga is a variation of nigger. While nigger remains almost wholly derogatory, nigga isn't always; it can mean "one of my people" or -- especially in the context of one black man saying it about another black man in a mostly-black neighborhood -- simply "person." There are arguments that only black people can say nigga, that anyone can say it, and that nobody should say it. I'm a fair-skinned, mixed-heritage, metalinguist writing about two black thugs and their boss bothering a much more aware black veteran eluding them using techniques learned from a stealth Pict. Make of that what you will. I don't think nigga is a good word to use, and nigger is even worse, but I prefer to write the way people talk.
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Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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