ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the January 6, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It also fills a square on my 7-4-14 Plot Challenges Bingo card for Situation: Remorse, Setting: Youth Center, Complication: Stumbling in the Dark. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] fyreharper. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"A Matter of the Will"


Rufus was enjoying a pleasant afternoon
at the Corner Joint, attempting to learn
something about woodworking and
power tools in the shop room.

Then Colin Boyd, who was as much
of an idiot as he was a bully,
had to go and plug in the thirteenth cord
like they'd all been told not to do,

and shorted out the lights.

Groans and complaints rose around the room,
but Mr. Bukowski cut through them all.
"Everyone stand still," he said sharply.
"There are tools and supplies scattered everywhere,
and I don't want anyone stumbling over them in the dark.
Did anyone break the rule and keep their smartphone?
You won't get in trouble; we could use the light."

A small chorus of "No, sir!" replied.
Nobody broke Mr. Bukowski's safety rules --
they'd all seen his mechanical arm and heard
the story about how he lost it in a shop accident.
So when he told them to leave their breakables
in the basket by the door, they'd all done it.

"All right, who's closest to the south wall?"
Mr. Bukowski asked. "I'm stuck
in the middle of the room."

"I am," said Colin. "Well, me and Rufus."

"Leave me out of this," Rufus muttered.
Colin was sure to take advantage
of the darkness to pinch or kick him.

"Colin, are you tall enough to reach
the circuit breaker?" Mr. Bukowski asked.

"I don't think so," Colin said.
"Rufus is taller than me."

"I don't know anything about electrical stuff,
that's what I'm here to learn," Rufus said.
"Seems like you don't either, since you
were the one to blow out all the lights."

"Boys, I know you two dislike each other,
but I really need you to show some teamwork
for the next few minutes," said Mr. Bukowski.
"Feel your way along the south wall
until you find the circuit breaker."

Rufus had no difficulty navigating in the dark --
he was a capable climber -- and found it amusing
to listen to Colin's clumsier steps behind him.

They located the circuit breaker,
but even Rufus could barely reach it,
placed high enough for adult access only.

"Open the cover and feel for any switches
that are out of alignment," said Mr. Bukowski.

"I can't reach them all," Rufus said.

"I could lift you up," Colin said.
"I'm a wrestler, I'm plenty strong enough."

"I don't trust you," Rufus said.

Colin dropped his voice. "I'm really sorry
for picking on you. I'll make up for it.
Just let's get the lights back on, okay?"

"You better do this right," Rufus said.
He would try to do something good
because he could and nobody else
was in a position to do it. "Fine, lift me up."

Colin's arms closed rather carefully
around his hips and hoisted him
high enough to reach the circuit breaker.

"Our house has one like this," Colin said.
"You find the popped switch and it'll feel
kind of springy when you push it one way,
so push it that direction and then back the other."

Rufus groped his way up the column
of switches until he found the right one,
then followed the directions Colin had given.
There was a soft click, a crisp snap!
and then the lights came back on.

"Yay!" everyone chorused.

"Good work, boys," said Mr. Bukowski.
"I'm proud of you both. Colin,
I'd like to speak with you outside.
Everyone else, safety check before
you turn any of your tools back on."

"Busted," someone tittered.

"Hey, knock it off," Rufus said.
"Colin helped fix the lights."

He didn't know how Colin
made friends so easily --
the shorter boy had half a dozen
cronies easily roped into tormenting
weaker victims -- or why he'd suddenly
decided to quit picking on Rufus,
but he'd take the reprieve
as long as it lasted.

Rufus also thought about how
people kept accusing him
of having superpowers,
which he didn't really,
but now he'd met someone
who didn't either and was
a superhero anyway.

So maybe, like becoming
a truly great musician,
being a superhero was
a matter of the will more than chance,
was youth and ingenuity and training
instead of just superpowers.

Maybe a bully was just
a supervillain without powers.

That meant the same tricks
Rufus had seen the Activity Scouts
demonstrate for handling the Antagonist
might also work on Colin.

De-escalation tactics,
the presenters had called them,
a fancy name for not making
more of a fight than necessary.

So Rufus went through the safety check
of his own equipment, reading the sign
on the wall very carefully for the steps,
and then checked Colin's gear
to make sure it was also fine.

When Colin came back, looking glum,
Rufus told him everything was ready to go.

"I'm not allowed to finish today,
because I didn't notice that Cindy
had plugged in her electric drill
before I tried to run mine," Colin said.
"Thanks for doing the check, though."
He packed up quietly and turned to leave.

"We can finish tomorrow," Rufus offered.
"I'll come with you to the reading room.
It's more fun there with company."

"Yeah, okay," Colin said,
and waited for Rufus to pack up
his own project and put it away.

Rufus followed him to the reading room
where they settled into beanbags
with a pair of Wagons Ho! comics.

Rufus didn't really trust Colin yet,
but he was willing to watch and see
what happened, in hopes of
convincing the other boy
to continue the truce.

* * *

Notes:

Colin Boyd -- He has blue eyes, straight strawberry blond hair, and ruddy skin with freckles across the nose. He is short and fat with a round face, but has muscles under the fat.
Qualities: Good (+2) Collectible Games, Good (+2) Cronies, Good (+2) Sturdy, Good (+2) Wrestler
Poor (-2) Afraid of the Dark

Gerard Bukowski -- He has ruddy skin, brown eyes, and thinning gray hair. He teaches shop class at a Bluehill high school, and also volunteers at the Corner Joint youth center. His left arm is mechanical, not a gizmo but retro-engineered tech. Although it's a bit clumsy and ends in a pair of metallic pincers, he can control it with his mind and it's a lot more useful than earlier prosthetics. It is also stronger and tougher than a flesh arm. Years ago he lost the original limb in a shop accident caused by careless students, so now everyone treats his safety warnings with complete respect.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Shop Teacher, Good (+2) Contact with Former Students, Good (+2) Mechanical Arm, Good (+2) Safety Precautions

* * *

"Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life."
-- Samuel Ullman

Shop class teaches basic skills such as woodworking and minor repairs. It may be offered at school or at youth clubs. Places like the Corner Joint offer many benefits for young people, among them a chance to learn practical skills like this.

Blind or blindfolded characters may develop special skills for navigation and even combat. Most people have to get by with more ordinary ways of seeing in the dark.

Teamwork requires skill and practice. There are ways to teach and learn teamwork. It helps to know how to work with someone you dislike.

Becoming a superhero entails developing the right skills. It's not really about having special powers. It's about having extraordinary compassion and knowing how to handle a crisis.

Bullying poses a serious problem at many schools and youth hangouts. Bullies have distinctive traits which overlap those of supervillains. Therefore the same techniques of intervention tend to work for both.

De-escalation skills reduce the intensity of conflicts and lower the chance of a physical fight. It helps to teach young people how to manage their own emotions and de-escalate their disputes.

Because superheroes are well known in Terramagne, they are not the driving force of comic books that they are here, but do appear in "dramatized" editions. (Reprints of the classic Whammy Lass propaganda comics are still widely available at gas stations, gift shops, and comic stores.) Instead the majority of comics feature other genres about non-powered people having grand adventures. Western, mystery, court intrigue, pirate, and ninja are a few of the popular genres.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-24 11:55 pm (UTC)
thnidu: edited from img383.imageshack.us/img383/3066/ss35450qf7.jpg (smiley)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Pic says it all.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-26 05:28 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Ha. This is a very [personal profile] mama_kestrel story...

Uneasy truces getting better make good talk story.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-30 08:00 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I take it the shop room has no windows at all? That's actually sensible from a safety standpoint.

Good thinking for Rufus to realize that there's a continuum between ordinary bravery, supernary, and superhero, and between ordinary bully and supervillain. That's a useful insight. And that quick-and-dirty negotiation of a truce may have long-term effects -- at least I would like to hope so.

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