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Poem: "A Cave Swarming with Strange Forms of Life" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "A Cave Swarming with Strange Forms of Life"
This poem is spillover from the September 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from DW users Technoshaman and Alexseanchai.  It also fills the "nightmares" square in my 6-4-18 Dark Fantasy card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure fest.  This poem belongs to the Iron Horses thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $0.25/line, so $5 will reveal 20 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: pool hosted by ng_moonmoth, DW user Librarygeek,

1152 lines, Buy It Now = $288
Amount donated = $77.50
Verses posted = 79 of 308 

Amount remaining to fund fully = $210.75
Amount needed to fund next verse = $0.25
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $1

A Cave Swarming with Strange Forms of Life

It had been two days since Kenzie
had kicked Mick for pouncing on him,
and just over two weeks since the assault.

Now Kenzie watched the scenery roll by
as the red pickup truck jounced and bounced
over the rough roads of Rocky Boy's Reservation.

His knees jittered up and down too, until he
folded his arms over his lap to hold them down.

"Nervous?" Ida Starblanket asked him,
glancing over at Kenzie as she drove.

"Yes," he admitted. "I don't know what
to expect. I've had a few great experiences
in therapy, and some ... not so great ones."

"I think you'll like Pretty Ears," said Ida.
"Expect her to treat you more like
a favorite nephew than a stranger,
though. She's a trained psychiatrist,
but it's a very tribal-flavored practice."

"I'm smooth with that," Kenzie said.
"It's not that I'm afraid of therapy or
worried that it will be too different. I
just don't want to disappoint anyone."

"Kenzie, you have looked at the sun,"
Ida said as she turned into a long driveway.
"You are not  going to disappoint us, and
I will repeat that as many times as you
need to hear it in order to believe it."

"I'm trying," he said. "It's just new, and
after my background, sometimes it's hard
to understand why people want me now,
when almost nobody did that before."

Gravel crunched under the wheels
as Ida pulled into the small parking lot
beside the beautiful log cabin.

"Hop out," she said, patting
Kenzie on the knee. "Now,
let's go see Pretty Ears."

Wooden boards creaked
underfoot as Kenzie climbed
the steps to the porch. The cabin
actually had two of them, one
in front and one in back.

Inside, the log furniture had
leather cushions, facing
a fieldstone fireplace.

Beyond that, Kenzie could
see the dining room and
the U-shaped kitchen.

Bena Pretty Ears was
a middle-aged woman with
copper skin and warm brown eyes.
Her long brown hair curled at the ends,
streaked with auburn and dark blonde
where the sun had bleached it.

She came out of the kitchen, drying
her hands on a dishtowel. "Welcome to
Pretty Ears Private Counseling," she said.
"We could talk in the counseling nook or
the upstairs counseling room, but those
are a little snug for three people. If you like,
we can go downstairs to the common room
where we do most of the family counseling."

"Downstairs, maybe?" Kenzie said. He
clung to Ida, not wanting to be alone.

"Right this way," Pretty Ears said,
and led them downstairs. Then she
took a stick decorated with beads and
feathers, and hung it from the doorknob.
"The talking stick tells people that we're
using this room, and not to interrupt."

"I've been in therapy groups that used
something like that," Kenzie said. "We
passed it from hand to hand to show who
had the right to speak at the moment."

"That's a more common use,"
Pretty Ears said. "It came out of
tribal cultures, though, and we have
various ways of using it. A talking stick
fits better with the decor here than
the usual sliding sign would."

The basement was an open space
with wooden cabinets along one wall
framing a desk and chair. Nearby
stood a table and chairs sized
for older children or tweens.

One corner held a padded mat
with a toddler-sized table and stools
along with shelves full of toys.

The sitting area included
a wraparound couch and
several different easy chairs.

Kenzie promptly curled up
in the corner of the couch.
Ida sat beside him and draped
an arm around his shoulders.

Pretty Ears took an easy chair,
then picked up a notebook and a pen.

"I've heard a lot about you, Kenzie,
ever since you came to Rocky Boy's,"
said Pretty Ears. "The other day, Ida
told me about what happened between
you and Mick. Now I'd like to hear
from you what brings you to me."

"I need help," Kenzie said.
"I thought I was coping okay --
everyone's been really nice to me,
and Ron and Henry say nightmares
are normal after such a trauma."

"They are," Pretty Ears said.
"They're still upsetting, though."

"I knew I was twitchy, but I've been
working on meditations that people have
taught me, and I thought it was helping,"
Kenzie said. He sighed. "Then I kicked Mick,
and that's definitely not okay. I need to ensure
that kind of thing doesn't happen again."

"Are you coming here more for other people,
or for yourself?" Pretty Ears asked. "That
makes a difference in treatment approaches,
as well as in the chances of success."

"Both, actually," said Kenzie. "I can't
go around hurting people, and I think
I need to work on some stuff anyway."

"All right, let's take those one at a time,"
Pretty Ears said. "How do you think that
therapy could help you with other people?"

"I want to get along better and fit in more.
I'm making progress, but help might make
that go faster and smoother," Kenzie said.
"The big issue is that I can't be around
other people if I'm a danger to them, and
I really  don't want to do the retreat thing."

"Kenzie, you have many shapes," Ida said.
"You're a horse as much as a fox, and I know
that defensive kick because Joseph does it too
if someone pounces on him the wrong way.
Mick was just being Coyote, and this time
it got him in trouble. It wasn't your fault."

"True, and there's more," Pretty Ears said.
"Horses are herd animals, just like primates
are troop animals. That means they need
company, and isolating people just tends
to make matters worse instead of better."

"So no retreat, which means I really
do need to fix this," Kenzie said.

"We'll get to that," Pretty Ears said.
"Hurting people, even by accident,
is definitely not a good thing. However,
Mick needs to remember not to tease people
who just survived something terrible. That's
hard for him, but fixing it is a work in progress."

"Mick is a coyote, he's always going to be
a coyote, and being around him means that
we have to make some allowances," Ida said.
"He can resist pranking people for a while,
but not forever. So he needs people to help
keep that from becoming a major problem
instead of just a minor annoyance."

"Then if I work on my stuff, and he
works on his stuff, it should come out
okay in the end?" Kenzie said.

"Exactly," Ida said. "We're not
giving up on either one of you,
because you're family."

"I think that covers
the social side of things,"
Pretty Ears said. "Kenzie, what
do you hope that therapy will do
for you on a personal level?"

"Straighten out my head,"
Kenzie said. "For a while, I had
a therapist who really dug down deep
to find out what was bothering me, and
that helped a lot. I'd like to do it again."

"That sounds like you have more concerns
than just the recent attack," Pretty Ears said.

"Yeah, it's not like people beat me black and blue
every day, but my family wasn't very supportive
and I've dealt with a lot of bullies," Kenzie said.
"Stuff adds up. Blair has been helping me with
the gender issues, so that's going well. I just
don't know how much all the background is
making it harder to handle the latest attack."

"Then that's something we can explore,"
said Pretty Ears. "Do you want to work
toward a formal diagnosis, or just have me
sketch out what's bothering you and
some possible solutions to try?"

"I don't need a firm diagnosis,"
Kenzie said. "Ida told me not
to worry about paying, but I'm
still a bit concerned about that."

"Would you feel better if you
chipped in?" Pretty Ears asked.

"Yeah, I would," Kenzie said. "I've
been resting a lot since the attack. I'm
mostly recovered now, but my back
still twinges if I stretch too far, and
my stamina isn't back to normal yet."

"You're welcome to work for us,"
Pretty Ears said. "Did you see
that big woodpile outside?"

"The one by the firepit?"
Kenzie said. "Yeah, we did."

"Chopping wood is a popular trade,"
Pretty Ears said. "People who need
lighter work, like children, can help
gather tinder and kindling instead."

"I can do that," Kenzie said with a nod.
"I've been carrying kindling at home."

That made him smile, because
he really was starting to think
of the roundhouse as home.

"That's good," said Pretty Ears.
She took a few loose pages out of
her notebook. "Now let me ask you
some questions about the ups and
downs in your life, to help figure out
where you need help the most."

"Okay," Kenzie said, leaning forward.
"I'll do my best to answer them."

"How would you describe your mood
in general?" Pretty Ears asked. "Happy,
sad, worried, angry, excitable, or calm?"

"Mostly calm or happy," Kenzie said.
"I haven't had an easy life, but most of
the time I can cope with it. Since I got
beat up, though, I'm edgier. I'll be
fine for hours, then someone slams
a door and I jump out of my skin."

"So you don't feel anxious all of
the time, or spikes at random,
you have flares in response to
specific triggers?" Pretty Ears said.

"Yeah, that sounds right," Kenzie said.
"I don't like loud noises, people coming up
behind me or grabbing me, and I'm not
a fan of barbed wire right now."

"Does any of that get in the way of
everyday activities?" Pretty Ears said.

"Not much," Kenzie said. "I didn't
want to beat dust out of the rugs, and
I wouldn't like to mend a fence either,
but I think I could do it if I had to."

"Do you worry a lot about tiny things, or
things you can't control?" Pretty Ears said.

"Not really," Kenzie said. "When I worry,
it's about disappointing people I care about,
or not pulling my own weight around here."

"That is not happening," Ida said firmly.

"That's a good thing to check, how well
your perceptions match up with those
of other people," Pretty Ears said.

"Kind of?" Kenzie said. "I know that
my own perspective is ... sort of bent,
after all I've been through. Someone else
might have a clearer view. That's part
of why I'm coming to you for help."

"You feel like your judgment
could be skewed, and you'd like
to straighten it out?" Pretty Ears said.

"Yeah," Kenzie said. "Everyone here
keeps encouraging me and saying that
I'm doing fine, so I'm trying to believe them.
They treat me better than anyone else has,
and I want all that to be true. It's just
hard to wrap my mind around it."

"We can work on that," Pretty Ears said.
"Do you feel like the amount of worrying
you do is way too much, or out of proportion
with the size of what you tend to worry about?"

"No," Kenzie said. "It's just a nagging feeling,
like I should be doing more, not like it's eating
my whole life. The things I worry about are valid,
even if my viewpoint might not be right on the mark."

"I don't think he's a fussbudget by nature," Ida said.
"He's acting like every other young buck who gets
injured and feels useless while resting up."

"It's hard to keep them in bed for long,
isn't it?" Pretty Ears said with a chuckle.
"My husband Chayton is the same,
and he's a counselor himself -- he
should know to set a better example!"

"That's exactly how I feel," Kenzie said.
"I want to do my part, and I want to make
a good first impression. I'm not a mooch."

"We understand that," Pretty Ears said.
"It sounds like your anxiety is right around
the usual range for the circumstances. Do you
often feel sad or sluggish for a long time?"

"That's wearing off," Kenzie said. "I was
exhausted the whole week after the attack,
but everyone including my healer insisted
that I should rest. I'm getting my energy
back slowly, which is frustrating, but I'm
trying not to mope about it too much."

"May I ask how bad of an attack
you survived?" Pretty Ears said.
"That could be relevant here."

Kenzie stood up and peeled off
his ribbon shirt. "Here, you can see
the scars," he said as he turned around
to show off the big ones on his back. "Most
of the wounds were above my waist."

"That's very impressive," Pretty Ears said.
"Can you tell me how that happened?"

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes will appear separately.  See the character, location, and content notes.

[To be continued ...]

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