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Poem: "In the Tremor of the Earthquake" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "In the Tremor of the Earthquake"
This poem is spillover from the September 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] siliconshaman. It also fills the "safe" square in my 9-1-18 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Big One and Mercedes threads of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem includes intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features an earthquake, stress, disorientation from emergency protocols in an area not badly hit while waiting to receive casualties from worse areas, interrupted therapy, Candy is alarmed by supervillains arriving to help, descriptions of damage elsewhere, casualties, messy medical details, vomiting, emotional injury, and other mayhem. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"In the Tremor of the Earthquake"

[Saturday, May 28, 2016]


Candy Cain was doing paperwork
when her desk shivered, making
the ink scrawl across the page.

"There must be some big trucks
going by," she said, looking up.

"That was no truck," Mrs. Wu said.
"That was an earthquake."

Candy hadn't grown up
in California, and even after
living here for over a year,
she wasn't as familiar with
earthquakes as the locals.

Mrs. Wu switched her screen
to some program that reported
on the severity of the earthquake
and listened to a narration of
the event over her earbud.

Candy watched in horror as
the map of the West Coast
bloomed red, like blood
spreading from a wound.

"Get Dr. G now," said Mrs. Wu.
"I'll call in the zoom crews."

"But Dr. G is with a client --"
Candy protested, hesitating.

"That's not an emergency,
and this is," Mrs. Wu said.
"We got lucky, we just had
a 4.0 earthquake not long ago,
so there wasn't much tension
to release here. Other parts of
the coast were not so lucky. Go."

So Candy knocked on the door.
"Dr. G? Mrs. Wu said the earthquake
wasn't bad here, but was elsewhere."

"Thank you, Candy," he said, then
turned to his client. "I'm sorry, Havilah,
but we'll have to reschedule when we can.
Soup to Nuts is a designated hub site for
the local emergency response teams,
with an emphasis on soup issues."

"Yes, of course," Havilah said
as she scurried out the door.

Dr. G went to the closet marked
Emergency Supplies and started
hauling things out of it. There were
ship buckets, an incident command station,
a trauma first aid station, a triage kit, and
other stuff that Candy didn't recognize.

As Dr. G set up a command board
and began writing names in the roles,
he said, "Everyone log in to M-FYN and
any other emergency notification systems
that you use. Then come to me."

Candy logged in through her phone,
quickly marking her current location
along with I'm fine and I can help.

"Done," she said, putting the phone
back in her pocked. Then she headed
over to Dr. G. "What's next?"

"We need to establish this
as a safe place," he said.
"We'll set up service locations;
teleporters will be coming soon
with casualties and supply requests."

"This is all so -- I mean, the shaking
didn't seem that bad," Candy stammered.
"Now everyone is running around like
someone smacked a beehive with a bat."

"Just because the Earth is slow,
doesn't mean that all its violence lies
in the past," Dr. G said. "In the creep
of glaciers and the rush of the waves,
in the tremor of the earthquake and
the outburst of the volcano we see
the same great forces that once gave
the continents the shapes we know."

"That's a terrifying thought," Candy said.
She was used to the world as it was,
not suddenly turned upside down.

Somehow, not seeing the chaos
out the front door made it worse.

Dr. G was wriggling into a white vest that
read Incident Commander when Mrs. Wu
came over and claimed a yellow vest
that read Communications Unit Leader.
"You can use my office," he told her.

"What, you're just trying to get
the blind lady out of the way?"
Candy said, glaring at him.

"Mrs. Wu is highly capable,
but she needs a familiar place
so she doesn't trip over things,"
Dr. G explained. "She will be
organizing our communications."

"Oh," Candy said. "I didn't think of that."

Dr. G squeezed her shoulders gently.
"Put this on," he said as he handed her
a red vest that read Technical Specialist.
"First, run over to the Lucky Cricket and
give Mr. Yue his vest." That one was yellow
and read Food Unit Leader. "Then head to
the Service Strip where the triage will be.
Molly will explain how you can help there."

As Candy trotted across the parking lot,
she saw the zipcycle pull in with Cody
clinging behind his partner Fleetwood.

They normally worked wilderness first aid
in places like Yosemite National Forest,
Mercedes National Wildlife Refuge, and
Los Banos Waterfowl Management Area.

It was still hard to believe that Soup to Nuts
had outgrown its original building -- which
had started life as a fast food restaurant --
and expanded to the adjacent strip mall plus
the old service station and its outbuildings across
the street from what was now the main office.

The Super Service Station had several buildings,
of which the Greasy Grub had been replaced
by the Lucky Cricket Chinese Restaurant,
which wafted out mouthwatering aromas
even before Candy yanked open the door.

Mr. Yue met her as she came in, phone
already in his hand with some disaster app.
"Thank you," he said. "The kitchen crew is
switching over to emergency service. We'll
have finger foods, fried rice, hot and cold tea
available to everyone within a few minutes."

From there, Candy went to the Soup Bar.
The former mall had been converted so that
Unit A was a quiet room and soup library,
Unit B was extra space for group therapy,
Unit C was for physical classes like yoga, and
Unit D was for mental classes like meditation.

Halley was unfolding the triage tarps while
Edison set up the flag for each of those.

Cody put down a row of compass rose rugs,
and Fleetwood followed along to drop
a first aid kit and supply kit by them.

Molly and Dave were hoisting a white tent
that read First Aid Station in big red letters.

"Dr. G sent me here, Molly, and told me
to ask you for instructions," Candy said.

"You can help with setup and restocking
for now," Molly said. "The teleporters will
start arriving any minute, so make sure they
all have supplies to grab for the rebound.
Once we start getting soup casualties,
we'll need you to make privacy walls."

"Okay," Candy said. The backstock
came in big rolling tubs like dumpsters,
one each for first aid kits and supply kits.

Bubblewrap arrived on a compass rose
with her distinctive popping sound.

Dr. G's client Havilah had pulled
herself together and said, "Get me
some waterfront and I'll fix what I can.
Send me to whatever coastal community
got hit the worst. I'll deal with my shit later."

She wore a white t-shirt that read,
Beaches Heal Everything. Candy
recalled that she had Beach Powers
including Saltwater Healing.

Dave consulted his smartphone.
"Los Angeles clocked in at 7.8 before
the signals went spotty. They have
a lot of beaches and a lot of people,"
he said. "Bubblewrap, can you take
Havilah to an assembly point there?"

"I'm on it," Bubblewrap said, grabbing
the supply kit while Havilah picked up
the first aid kit and took her hand.
Then the two of them popped out.

Candy brought out two new kits.

Uma Gray Cloud showed up
with a passenger on each arm.

Obduro and Reseda both
wore matching gray t-shirts.
Obduro's read Her Tank and
Reseda's read His Healer.

"We're all barrio brats,"
said Obduro. "Send us to
the worst neighborhoods and
we'll start cleaning up the mess."

"Well, somebody's got to take
San Bernardino," Dave said.

"Por cojones," Reseda grumbled,
but they both agreed to go, and
Uma Gray Cloud took them
along with the emergency kits.

Candy was replacing those when
two men appeared right in front of her,
making her squeak on the inhale.

She recognized the black man
as Snatcher, a supervillain teleporter,
from seeing him kidnap people on TV;
and she was pretty sure she'd seen
the white guy in similar contexts.

As Candy backpedaled away,
she bumped into Molly.

"Hey, watch your step,"
Molly said. "We don't need
another casualty here."

"But they're supervillains!"
Candy hissed, going around her.

"Not today, or they wouldn't be
coming here," Molly replied.
"Don't pick on the black hats
when they volunteer, or they're
less likely to do that again."

"This is Baldric Donley, he's
a combat healer," said Snatcher.
"We were up at Lake Tahoe visiting
the Truckee Attractions when things
got shook up. Can you use us?"

"We can always use teleporters
and healers," Dave said firmly.
"Combat healer ..." He checked
his smartphone again. "People are
logging in from out-of-state refuges
saying that Rain City is 'gone.'
Think you can handle that?"

"I've seen the Middle East,"
Baldric said. "I can handle it.
We could use some gear, though."

Molly gave Candy a brisk nudge.

"Uh, the blue bin is earthquake supplies
and the red bag is the first aid kit," Candy said,
holding them as far from herself as possible.

"Thank you," Snatcher said as he took them
from her quite gently. He teleported away
with Baldric and the equipment in tow.

Then the casualties began arriving.

The ones from eastern California
came first, because it took less time
for people to recover from smaller quakes
and start getting the wounded out of the way.

Candy ran around dropping off supplies
and routing new arrivals toward triage.

Meanwhile Halley and Edison had
corralled a dozen kids onto blankets
to practice their Bom Bom Bunny skills.

Ripcord arrived between a man and a woman
with a teenaged boy draped over his shoulder.

The boy promptly vomited down his back.

"Oh, hey, Geordie," said Molly as she
helped Ripcord offload his passenger.
"It's an extra terrible day for you, isn't it?"

"Shouldn't'a tried to hold down
the whole house," he mumbled.
"Feels like my head's gonna fall off."

"Let's get you down on the dirt,"
Molly said. "Candy, grab us
an emergency blanket and
spread it on the flower garden."

"Okaaayyy," Candy said, puzzled,
but she did as Molly asked.

Molly helped Geordie lie down
on the blanket in the garden, and
his parents crouched beside them.

After a quick examination, Molly
filled out the casualty card and gave
Geordie a dose of blue chamomile.

"You've got a headache, a nosebleed,
a moderate case of overstrain, and
psychospatial disorientation from
the teleport," she declared. "Hold
the gauze over your nose and try not
to swallow too much of the blood."

"Do you need me to make some walls, or
should I go back to resupply?" Candy said.

"I'll be fine now that I'm on steady ground,"
Geordie said, waving them off. "You guys
go take care of people who are really hurt."

So Candy returned to her previous task
of handing out emergency kits to teleporters.

More casualties were piling up, most of them
people with superpowers or related injuries,
the naries getting routed to regular hospitals.

The wounds were getting worse, too --
people with crushed arms and legs,
head wounds bleeding like crazy,
and the more worrisome ones who
just lay there quietly trying to die.

The superpower convulsions were
even scarier, as abilities went off
without conscious control of them,
making everyone scramble to stop
the wild effects and to stay safe.

Fleetwood and Cody hustled up with
a moaning woman draped between them.
Her pale pink hair fell forward to hide her face.

"This is Carnation," Cody reported as he
handed her off to Molly. "We can't find
any sign of physical injury, but something
is obviously wrong. We think it's emotional."

Molly produced a ball of peach-colored light,
but as soon as she brought it near Carnation,
blotches of brownish-purple marred the surface.

"Empathic contusion, and it looks pretty bad,"
Molly said briskly, writing it on the triage tag.
"Fleetwood, run get Dr. G. Cody, help me
get Carnation into the library. We can
put her on the floor couch in the back.
Candy, we need you to make some walls."

They hurried past the bookcases and
the clusters of chairs, then lowered
Carnation onto the pastel cushions.

Candy concentrated, calming her mind
the way Dr. G had taught her to do.

They had discovered that her light walls
could soothe and insulate people inside them,
similar to a low-level privacy field. They even
buffered superpowers to some extent, probably
because they consisted of energy themselves.

Candy built one at a time, laying the first two
flush against the left wall and the back wall
beyond which lay the bathroom. Then
she covered the floor and ceiling.

She was building the first of
the unsupported walls when
Dr. G came in. He had traded
his white vest for a red one
that read Soup Care on it.

Carnation lunged off the couch
to plaster herself all over him,
wailing at the top of her lungs.

"Hi, Carnation," said Dr. G. "I know
everything is awful right now, but I'm here.
You can lean on me, and that will help."
He motioned for Candy to finish the walls.

She worked as fast as she could, raising
the one between her and them last.

When the sound of sobbing
faded some as the walls sealed,
Candy heaved a sigh of relief.

A soft sound made her look up.

Halley was pushing a service cart
piled with Chinese takeout cartons.

"Do you want anything?" thon asked.
"I have fried rice with tofu or chicken,
spring rolls with veggies or pork and shrimp,
green tea, black tea, ginseng tea, or water."

"Yes, please," Candy said gratefully.
"Chicken fried rice, pork spring rolls, and
green tea. Is there sugar for the tea?"

"No, but there's honey or stevia powder,"
Halley said, unloading the requested items
and adding a packet of the honey.

"Thank you," Candy said as she
dug into the fried rice. "This is great."

She made a mental note to drop a tip
at Lucky Cricket, even if Mr. Yue would
get reimbursed from disaster funds.

"How are you holding up?" Halley asked.
"Dave told me to check in with people
while I'm passing out the food."

Candy paused to take stock,
running the mindful self-check
that Dr. G had taught her.

"I'm rattled by the earthquake
but calm enough to keep working,"
she said. "My body is tense and
I'm getting hungry. Food will help."

"That's good," Halley said. "I think
most of us are coping for now."

"How about you?" Candy said.
"You're still young for this."

"Earthquakes are scary, but
I know what to do," Halley said.
"Edison and I have been helping
do some of the easier stuff so that
trained adults can do harder stuff."

"Like what?" Candy wondered.

"We started out with setup, then
when the refugees began arriving,
we taught Bom Bom Bunny for a while.
The later injuries got scary, so I switched
to refreshments and Edison picked out toys
from Soup to Nuts to take to the safe space
for kids who came with an injured adult,"
Halley said. "We're doing okay."

"That's good to hear," Candy said.
"I can keep the walls going for a while,
or make more if necessary. Dr. G is
helping out a client in there. Could you
leave some extra spring rolls and bottles
of water for me to give them later?"

"Sure," Halley said. "Here's a carton
of each flavor of spring rolls and the water."
Task complete, thon rolled the cart away.

Candy dug into the chicken fried rice,
which was warm and fluffy and
savory, the perfect comfort food.

The green tea was sweet with
honey and a bright note that
promised her renewed energy.

They helped to relieve, at least a little,
the sense of unease that had come
in the tremor of the earthquake and
the rush of people that followed it.

Candy looked at the softly glowing walls
she had made, their energy vibrating
with a faint hum more felt than heard.

Even made of light, those walls were
load-bearing in more ways than one.

She couldn't undo the earthquake,
but she could shore up what remained.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.  Read the character, location, and content notes.</user>

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2 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
songspinner9 From: songspinner9 Date: October 20th, 2018 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I made myself wait until a couple of days after the Loma Pieta Quake anniversary to read this for personal safety. It's really well done!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 21st, 2018 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm so glad that you got to it, and that the warnings worked.
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