Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Those Who've Been in the Well"

This poem came out of the July 7, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] fuzzyred, Anonymous, and [personal profile] readera. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. This poem belongs to the Kraken thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes fallout from Kraken decloaking, Whitevan being a dick again, attempting to shut down the Triton Teen Centers, distressed teens, implying that supervillains are all somehow neglectful or abusive of children, reference to past and present child maltreatment, baseless accusations, reference to past vandalism via a fifty-foot robot with Laser Eyes, vague threats, a complete lack of alternative plans, (probably correct) distrust, graphic reference to past teen suicide, aspects of a bad neighborhood, cluelessness, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Those Who’ve Been in the Well"

[Monday, January 11, 2016]

They had been expecting some trouble,
of course, so Captain Kelvin made
sure to be out front on the patio of
the Bayview Triton Teen Center
as a grinding sound brought
the arrival of Whitevan.

The young man was only
a few years older than
the center's clientele, but
he puffed himself up and
tried to look important.

"I've come here on behalf of
the Westbord SPOON Office,"
said Whitevan. "We heard that
the Triton Teen Centers are
actually run by supervillains,
and that is unacceptable.
You are to cease and desist
working with troubled youth."

"No," Captain Kelvin said firmly.

Squeaks of dismay sounded
behind him as several teens
crowded around the bike rack.
"Mr. Kel? Is the center in trouble?"

"Don't worry, I will handle this,"
Captain Kelvin said firmly. "You
go back inside and tell folks
to get ready for band practice."

Whitevan crossed his scrawny arms.
"You have to stop," he said. "I have
paperwork." He flapped the pages.

"Yes, I'm sure our legal department will
want to see those," Captain Kelvin said
as he took the papers from Whitevan.

"Nobody wants people like you
working with vulnerable kids,"
Whitevan said. "You can't do that."

Captain Kelvin snorted. "Nobody
wanted me when I was a vulnerable kid,
and we all saw how well that went,"
he said. "Today, nobody wants
these kids either. I'm trying
to prevent a repetition."

"Sure you are." Whitevan
rolled his eyes. "I bet this
is nothing more than
a recruiting ground!"

Captain Kelvin frowned
at him. "Quite the opposite,"
he said. "We aim to help teens
find their footing in life. We don't
want anyone winding up in crime
for the lack of better options."

"You're not offering them
a real future, though,"
Whitevan said. "SPOON
provides opportunities!"

"Yes, we have those too,"
Captain Kelvin assured him.
"We help teens consider what
they want in life and how to get it,
whether that's college or cape work,
trade school or traveling the world."

"You're not suited to help them,
you don't have any credentials,"
Whitevan argued. "It's not right."

"Most often, those who’ve been
in the well are those most likely
to pull others out of the well,"
Captain Kelvin said. "I was in
grade school when my powers
manifested. In the 1980s, people
tried to ban superkids from school."

"They can't do that anymore,
though," Whitevan said weakly.

"That didn't matter to me then,"
said Captain Kelvin. "By the time
I reached junior high, I was so sick of
getting picked on and pushed away
that I built a giant robot and rode it into
town to tear down my school building."

"Everyone knows that," Whitevan muttered.

"Then pay attention to it," said Captain Kelvin.
"When I was a teen, I was once in the well.
Now I have an opportunity to reach down
and help others out of the well. I won't
give that up because you don't like it."

"I'm not the only one who doesn't
like it," Whitevan warned. "I'm
just the messenger. Ignore me
and you'll have them to deal with."

"I look forward to it," said Captain Kelvin.
"We can discuss their alternative plans."

"What plans?" Whitevan said, blinking.

"Yes, I rather thought that was the case,"
Captain Kelvin drawled. "They want
to shut down the Triton Teen Centers
without giving a thought about how
to replace them or the staff."

"At least it would get people
like you out of the way,"
Whitevan said smugly.

"And then what?"
said Captain Kelvin.
"Who's going to take care
of the poor kids, the superkids,
the ones already in trouble who
are too prickly for anyone to want?"

"SPOON has teen resources ..."
Whitevan said. "Lots of kids like them."

"Kids who come from nice homes and
families that don't hit them, perhaps."
Captain Kelvin waved at the building
behind them, which had started out
as the Barbary Coast Garage.
"These teens wouldn't trust you
as far as they could throw you."

"Look, I just came to hand over
the paperwork and tell you
to shut down," said Whitevan.
"Cleaning up your mess is
someone else's responsibility."

"Speaking of which, you haven't
offered anything to replace what you
want to take," said Captain Kelvin. "So
before our lawyers grind you into chum,
we're prepared to release a statement
detailing not only the benefits offered
in Triton Teen Centers but also now in
Thalassia for those inclined to immigrate."

"You can't steal people's kids!" Whitevan said.

"Of course not," Captain Kelvin said smoothly.
"You can't steal what's been thrown away."

"Well -- well -- it's not like you're offering
much anyway," Whitevan sputtered.

"Triton Teen Centers all provide
healthy food; Bayview is a food desert.
We provide tutoring to make up for
the execrable public schools. We give
music lessons and practice space;
most of these teens live in apartments
where they can't play music at home,"
said Captain Kelvin. "We do all this
free of charge, at our own expense."

"Anyone could do that," Whitevan said.
"SPOON has plenty of money too."

"It's not about the money, it's about
giving kids a place to go and mentors
who actually understand what they're
going through," said Captain Kelvin.
"I don't volunteer at the center to annoy
pissants like you. I do it because I never
want to see a teen suffer like I did."

"And how is that working for you?"
Whitevan said, sneering at him.

"Better than before we had places
like this," said Captain Kelvin.

"That's rich, a supervillain trying
to save the world," said Whitevan.
"You really think you can save them all?"

"No," Captain Kelvin said quietly.
"I know I can't save all of them."

"Then you --" Whitevan began.

"Have you ever cleaned
a boy's brains off the wall?"
Captain Kelvin said bluntly.

"What? No!" Whitevan said.
He took a shaky step back.

"Then shut up, unless you want
to learn advanced mopping skills,"
said Captain Kelvin. "It's ugly work."

Whitevan blanched. "Have you really --"

"Yes. Last year. His name was Toby.
We didn't get to him in time. He tried,
but he'd taken too much damage in life,"
Captain Kelvin said. "I hope that he
found some peace in death."

"Oh. I didn't know that,"
Whitevan said in a low voice.

"Now you do," said Captain Kelvin.
"It's a sad truth about dealing with
people in grave situations: you're
always going to lose some of them,
no matter how hard you try, and
it rips your heart out every time."

Whitevan looked away.
"I guess ... that's not good."

"It is not, but things are getting
better. We reach more of them
in time than we used to, and that is
thanks to the Triton Teen Centers,"
said Captain Kelvin. "Specifically,
we're reaching the kids SPOON
doesn't want, who don't like
your sugar-coated worldview."

"Superheroes aren't sugar-coated!"
Whitevan protested. "I work hard."

"Maybe you do, but not everyone
wants to be a superhero, or is
remotely suited to becoming
one," said Captain Kelvin. "We
offer options, not railroading."

"SPOON doesn't railroad
people," said Whitevan.
"We just teach how to use
your superpowers for good."

"I'm sure that's more appealing
to those who led a sheltered life,"
said Captain Kelvin. "Our teens
come to us for survival needs,
not for rainbows and fairy farts."

"Oh, like what?" said Whitevan.
"SPOON teaches classes, not just
at the bases but in schools too. We
connect new soups with mentors,
and they can register if they want
official support. There are even jobs.
What can you possibly offer them?"

"Besides the educational and
recreational opportunities of
the center itself, I'll point out that
Thalassia has total health coverage,
total education, total employment
for those willing and able to work,
and total pension," said Captain Kelvin.
"Tell SPOON to top that if they can."

"That's, um ... how would anyone
even pay for that?" said Whitevan.

Captain Kelvin chuckled. "When
you can invent the future, money
really isn't a problem," he said.

"What about the problems
around here?" Whitevan said.

"Thalassia has no hunger,
poverty, or homelessness,"
said Captain Kelvin. "You'd be
amazed how many minions are
in it for three hots and a cot."

"Why would you want people
like that?" Whitevan said.

He just didn't understand
those who had been in the well.

"My teens will be reassured
that your school didn't teach you
everything either," said Captain Kelvin.
"When you get home, look up the poem
on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
I think you'll see why a few folks
have suggested 'liberating' it,
since it's a bit out of date here."

"Whatever," said Whitevan. "I
didn't come to argue about poetry."

"No, you came to disrupt our day and
intimidate us into abandoning the teens
in our care," said Captain Kelvin.
"That's not going to happen."

"You're just going to wind up
arguing with the big guys,"
Whitevan said, shaking his head.

"So let me be crystal: When you
can provide a list of benefits that
equal or exceed ours, then you
can argue that your system should
replace ours," said Captain Kelvin.

"You don't sound unhappy at
the prospect of that," Whitevan said.

"I'm not," said Captain Kelvin. "After all,
we never set out to become a refuge for
troubled youth, they just keep finding us.
We would be happy to let someone else
take that responsibility, if they can do
a better job of it. Until then, get out of
the way, because I have work to do."

Whitevan shuffled in place, but
he did not actually give way.

Fortunately, that was when
the band students poured onto
the patio with instruments in hand.

Without prompting, they began
to play "Fifty Feet and Climbing."

Whitevan finally broke and fled,
his superpower sounding like
tires peeling out of the parking lot.

Captain Kelvin was so proud of his kids.

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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