ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls and fills the "relaxation" square in my 10-4-16 card for the Games and Sports Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony and Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: Most of this is fluff, until Turq has a flashback again, and then there is hurt/comfort. If that's squicky for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before clicking through.


"Woodsmoke and Memories"


Turq had found a hazelnut thicket
that still had plenty of nuts, and
after eating a few handfuls, he
pulled up the front of his shirt
and put more of them in there.

Then he followed the trail markers
for the red line that led toward
the firewood depot, passing
the brown campfire signs that
marked places with firepits.

The firewood depot itself was
marked by the same sign in red.
It held a huge heap of cordwood,
a wooden shack for drying logs, and
a larger building for emergency gear.

The firepit consisted of
a dirt hollow ringed by rocks,
with a larger ring of stumps
for people to sit on.

As Turq slipped through
the deepening shadows, he saw
that a handful of folks had already
arrived and spread themselves
widely around the seats.

A cheerful fire burned
inside the ring, and a pot of
three-bean chili bubbled away
on a tripod. Turq sniffed and
smelled cornbread too, then spied
the Dutch oven nestled in the coals.

"Turq!" called Eli, putting the lid
on the chili pot. "It's so good
to see you here this evening."

"I, uh, brought some hazelnuts,"
Turq said, and shifted his grip on
his shirt so Eli could see them.

"That's very generous of you,"
Eli said. "We can put some of them
to roast in the shell. Why don't you choose
a partner to help you crack the rest?"
He waved a hand at the ring.

Turq shuffled in place. "I don't ...
know many people," he hedged.

Richard was there, but Turq doubted
that he'd do well with cracking nuts.
The man had a low startle reflex.

"How about meeting one new person,
if I introduce you?" Eli offered.

"I guess," Turq said, looking
nervously around the ring.

Eli led him to a woman
whose long straight hair
glinted gold in the firelight.
A busy pencil scratched and
danced over her notebook.

"Turq, this is Linden McKinley,"
he said. "Linden, this is Turq, who
could use a hand cracking nuts."

"I can do that," she said,
setting aside her notes.

"Hi," Turq said shyly.
"I've seen your articles in
the Morning Informer, and
poems in the Blue Streak.
They're really pretty."

"Thank you," said Linden.
"Maybe I'll write something
about hazelnuts after tonight."

Turq felt his cheeks heating
as he ducked his chin against
his chest. "Yeah, maybe."

Eli helped them divide the nuts
and find some nice flat rocks
to use as nutcrackers. Then
he brought them a bowl
to put the nutmeats in.

Working with Linden wasn't so bad.

Most people chattered all the time,
and some kept trying to touch him.
Turq didn't want to be rude, but he
didn't want to explain either.

Linden just sat quietly and
cracked nuts, brushing away
the shells and placing the nuts
into the bowl at their knees.

She reminded Turq of some of
the Zen masters he'd known, but
he didn't think she was a Buddhist.

"All done," Linden said presently.
"I think that Eli knows a recipe for
banana boats which uses these."
She took the hazelnuts to him.

By then it was dark, and
almost half the seats were full,
which meant about a dozen people
plus a few more milling around
the fire in search of food.

Someone had brought buns
and a selection of hamburgers;
someone else passed around
a jug of apple cider.

Turq sat and watched the fire
burning down to coals, which
released a spray of sparks
whenever Eli added a log.

A few quiet conversations carried on,
but most people kept to themselves.

The wind shifted back and forth,
now carrying the scent of the lake,
now sweet with woodsmoke.

It was fine until someone
dropped a burger into the fire.

The smell of burning meat
threw Turq out of the campground
and into his history, the memories
rising up to wrap around his throat like
cruel hands choking the air out of him.

He remembered the lab,
what had been done to him
and to the other captives there,
as if it were all happening again.

It took a long time for Turq
to fight his way free of the flashback,
and by then he was too exhausted
to get up and leave the ring.

He just sat there, staring into
the fire, no longer enjoying it.

He could remember all kinds of
horrible things that happened to him,
turning them over and over in his mind,
but he could not seem to recall
what it felt like to be happy.

"Hey, man," Eli said,
sitting down beside him.

That startled Turq out of his reverie.
He looked at the other man,
then down at his feet.

"You seem pretty lost in thought,
and from the look on your face,
it's not a good trip," Eli said quietly.

Turq made a strangled sound,
half-sob and half-laugh. "Yeah."

"Come on back to us, then,"
Eli said. "I reckon it's safer
here and now than wherever
you went in your head."

"I was fine until that burger
fell into the fire, and I smelled --"
Turq broke off and shook his head.
"Never mind, not your problem."

"Well now, I try to keep an eye
on folks around my fire," Eli said.
"So that makes it my problem.
I won't hassle you about it, but
if you look like you're in trouble,
I'll do my best to pull you out of it."

Turq's heart ached at the thought
of someone rescuing him, even if
it was just bad memories now.

"Thanks," he whispered.

"There's three-bean chili in the pot
and veggie burgers, if you would prefer
something without meat," Linden said.
"I'm vegetarian, and I can vouch
for Eli's campfire cooking."

"Cornbread too, and I put
some banana boats to baking,
so by the time folks finish supper,
dessert should be ready," Eli said.

Turq put his hands on his knees,
tried to scrape up the energy to stand,
and failed utterly. "Crap," he muttered.

"How about you let me get the grub,"
Eli said. "It's no trouble at all."

Turq nodded glumly and hoped
that no one had noticed, although
that didn't seem very likely.

Eli came back with bowls of
fragrant chili and plates piled with
veggie burgers and cornbread.
He had mugs of cider hooked
over his fingers, along with rings
that held knives, forks, and spoons.

Everything was stainless steel,
its silver tone gleaming golden
in the flickering firelight.

That made Turq think of
Ansel's camping equipment,
the collection of plastic dishes
in four different colors -- cups,
mugs, plain and divided plates,
bowls, and utensils -- each set
kept in its own mesh bag.

Ansel used the red, Janie the orange,
with the teal and the green left over
for guests. Except that they had
started giving Turq the teal set
every time, as if it were his.

He pushed the thoughts aside
and tried to focus on his food instead.

The veggie burger turned out to be
thick slabs of eggplant layered with
some kind of grilled cheese. The chili
was thick and rich in a way that promised
to stick to his ribs, and the cornbread
was deliciously sweet and moist.

The apple cider tasted cold and crisp,
which helped cut through the mental fuzz.

"You know, there's a trick for handling
bad memories so they don't jump up and
hit you in the face so much," Eli said.

"Yeah?" Turq said, not looking at him,
but willing to try just about anything.

"Works great for a time like this,
because you take the trigger out of
its old context, and focus on what is
happening right now," Eli explained. "Say
that you smelled something burning before,
now pay attention to how it's a campfire, and
all around are people having a good time."

"Huh," Turq said. He lifted his head
enough to see the other folks around the fire,
sorting through the scents as they came.

Lake, mud, fish guts. Autumn leaves.
Maybe rain coming. Fire, woodsmoke --
mostly oak and hickory with a hint of pine --
the charcoal smell from the dropped burger
almost gone by now. Chili again,
as someone lifted the lid.

Soft laughter sounded from
the far side of the circle as people
told jokes to each other.

"I almost get it," Turq said.
"It's just ... hard to do."

"Takes practice," Eli agreed.
"You have to pry apart the old stuff,
and keep adding new stuff that's better,
so eventually the good memories
will outweigh the bad ones."

Turq wanted that with
a sudden, bitter intensity.

"Hey, Eli, are these things
done yet?" someone called,
poking a stick into the coals.

"Probably, but don't puncture
the tinfoil or you'll get ash in them
again," Eli said, hurrying over.

The banana boats were indeed
done, and he came back to ask
what flavors each of them wanted.

"I made some of these with dark chocolate,
shredded coconut, and hazelnuts; cashew butter,
cinnamon, and cayenne; or peanut butter and
granola," Eli said, pointing to each kind.

"Hazelnut, please," said Turq, although
they all sounded pretty good to him.

"I'd like cashew," said Linden.

"Here you go," Eli said as he
handed out the banana boats.

After baking in the coals,
the banana skins were black
and the insides had softened
to the consistency of pudding.

Turq's was mellow and
just sweet enough to appeal,
while Linden's had a sharp edge
of spice that overflowed its foil
to tweak at Turq's nose.

The wind shifted again,
and for a long moment he was
adrift in woodsmoke and memories.

Then Turq dragged himself back
to the present, concentrating on
the presence of Linden and Eli.

Linden smelled calm, no scent of
stress or sweat anywhere on her,
just her soft personal smell overlain
by sage-and-cedar soap that reminded
Turq of taking quilts out of summer storage.

Eli was sweatier, but it was only
one day's worth and came from
honest work instead of from fear.
His soap smelled like pine tar and
oatmeal, a woodsy masculine scent.

Ironically Turq himself smelled like violets,
thanks to the gland on the caney's tail
which spilled over into his other forms,
feminine and faintly musky.

He could anchor himself with
the new people and their new scents,
so that the past could not grip him
as firmly as it used to.

Turq scraped the last bit of banana
out of its peel, then licked his lips.
"This was delicious," he said.

"Thank you," said Eli. "You helped,
bringing those nice hazelnuts."

"Plenty more where they came from,"
Turq said with a shrug. "I found a thicket
that the critters haven't gotten into yet."

"Well then, do you suppose we might
see you and the hazelnuts again,
some night?" Eli asked, and
Linden leaned forward.

Turq looked around at the circle
of serene, firelit faces and took
a deep breath of forest air.

"Yes," he said, "I think I'd like that."

* * *

Notes:

Eli Banyan -- He has medium brown skin and brown eyes. His body hair is black; he wears a short beard and shaves his head. He has a master's degree in Environmental Studies. He lives in Bluehill and manages the natural resources for the Island Resort neighborhood. He's good at talking people into following his advice. He cuts and hauls the firewood. He excels at cooking outdoors, and often makes the meals for campfire circles. Because of his appearance, outsiders often underestimate both his intelligence and the sophistication of his job. His neighbors understand his value, though, and are fairly protective of him.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Campfire Cook, Expert (+4) Natural Resources Manager, Good (+2) Convincing People, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Looks Like Unskilled Labor

Richard Washburn -- He has fair skin, bright blue eyes, and short light brown hair balding on top. His mustache is white. He has a round face and a little softness around the middle. Richard lives in Bluehill and works as an ombudsman for the Island Resort neighborhood. He solves problems, settles conflicts, links people with needed resources, and generally makes things run smoothly. He is easily startled, and prefers an environment that is usually calm and quiet. The lakeside community is ideal for him.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Ombudsman, Good (+2) Making Connections, Good (+2) Strategic Thinking, Good (+2) Woodworking
Poor (-2) Low Startle Reflex

Linden McKinley -- She has fair skin, sky blue eyes, and long straight hair of golden blonde which she usually wears in a ponytail. She is vegetarian. Quiet and thoughtful, she enjoys long solitary hikes often and company on occasion. Linden has a bachelor's degree in Writing with a minor in Environment and Sustainability from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. She lives in Bluehill and often writes about her home in the Island Resort neighborhood. She writes the column "Nature Notes" for the Morning Informer, along with poetry and creative nonfiction for the Blue Streak. Not many people write for both, as the first is a conservative daily newpaper and the second a wild bohemian weekly. Linden lacks the intuitive sense of crowd motion that most people have; she frequently bumps into people, or they trip over her.
Qualities: Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Introvert, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Nonfiction Writer, Good (+2) Tranquility
Poor (-2) Always in the Way

Here is a map of Missouri universities; see #6 Drury University in Springfield. For comparison, Bluehill is in southeast Missouri. You can read more about Drury and its core curriculum with available classes. This is a good analog of how colleges in T-America tend to have smaller general requirements, more tendency toward using core classes to create a shared culture among students, and thus more encouragement for students to use majors and minors to develop their personal interests.

* * *

Hazelnuts are among Missouri's edible native plants.

In the Island Resort neighborhood, color-coded arrows mark the trails/roads that lead to specific amenities or follow a specific route on the map. The arrows, like the small trail marker signs, are about palm size.

This is the marker for campfire locations, and the location signs are bigger than the trail marker signs. The amenities are usually in brown. This is the marker for the campfire depot and its connecting trails/roads. It also stores the neighborhood's firefighting equipment. Emergency services and danger areas are marked in red.

Residents can request delivery of firewood from a communal depot. This location has a small campfire circle for gatherings at the far side of the neighborhood from the auxiliary fire circle. In essence, this is the introvert fire circle because it only has about two dozen seats. In practice, it rarely fills up and people leave spaces, so a typical event here has 10-15 people. Unlike the other fire circles, it has no "performance space" and rarely involves singing or storytelling. People just like to watch the firewood burn and eat tasty things.

Introverts and extroverts are different for specific scientific reasons. Thus they require different care in order to do well. Among the more observable effects is their typical response to stress: extroverts explode, introverts implode.

Rumination is not the same as introversion, but it is a common failure mode of introverts. Rumination is problem-solving gone wrong, focusing on a flaw or error past the point of useful insight. Here are some tips to stop ruminating on your problems. While I could not find anything on how to help someone else stop ruminating, it is something to watch out for, especially if you organize events for introverts as Eli does. General advice on supporting a friend with anxiety or depression (which often involve rumination) may help break out of these unhelpful thought loops.

A campfire tripod with a big cauldron is valuable when cooking for the masses outdoors. A dutch oven also helps. Eli's cast iron dutch oven is 17" wide, 9" deep, 13" high (including the feet and lid), weighs 67 pounds, and holds 29 quarts. It has a lovely elk design atop the lid. It can hold 96-160 servings of most main dishes, or turkeys up to 25 pounds and prime ribs up to 16 pounds. Yes, I am a size queen when it comes to cooking equipment. This is a perfectly reasonable item to have in a neighborhood that frequently holds communal meals -- they just store the cookware in a central location and carry it to whichever fire circle is hosting at the time.

Campfire cooking is a valuable skill. When cooking for a large group, it is advisable to provide a variety of main dishes and sides so that everyone can find something suitable. Enjoy some recipes for classic burgers, eggplant veggie burgers, three-bean chili, and cornbread. Banana boats can be made in many ways including with dark chocolate, shredded coconut, and hazelnuts; cashew butter, cinnamon, and cayenne; or peanut butter and granola.

Hazelnuts may be husked and cracked in various ways, or you can roast them in their shells.

PTSD can make life miserable by ruining fun or relaxing moments with crappy memories. Turq is actually doing as well as could be expected for someone with severe damage: as he starts to settle into his new community, he is relaxing enough to explore new coping skills and connections. Understand how to deal with PTSD or help someone who has it. Here is a sourcebook for PTSD recovery.

Triggers include many things, but the smell of smoke is a common one. Turq's version is more grotesque, but the smell of burning flesh is quite likely to become a trigger for survivors of a house fire, torture, or other contexts where it occurs. Triggers activate flashbacks, which are traumatic memories that intrude on everyday life. Know how to cope with flashbacks or help someone through them. Among the most useful techniques is anchoring, which allows you to create positive anchors and remove negative anchors. All of this takes work, but if you know what you're doing, you can reprogram your wetware with these techniques -- which is very useful if someone has shoved it full of malware.

The Island Resort community has a large set of economic, durable, stainless-steel campware. See the bowls, plates, cups, and cutlery. An advantage of this style is that it can all be dumped into a cauldron and boiled clean.

Ansel has a complete set of Infinity Camping Dishes, plus the divided plates and cutlery.

Personal scent is unique, and actually a blend of your natural odor plus your customary scented products. Your body odor conveys a lot of information. Your perfume or other applied scent can affect your mood, as well as conveying personality for women and men. Therefore, changing your scent can change your image. Scent-dominant people and olfactory learners relate strongly to these concepts and may be able to recognize folks by their smell. Turq is quite good at this even in human form. Here is a guide to finding your signature scent. You can also order custom-scented perfume, soap, and other products.

Finding natural products is much easier in Terramagne-America than in local-America, and of course, people living in a very woodsy neighborhood tend to favor such ingredients, hence the pattern of herbal scents that Turq is finding on his neighbors. Linden uses a Forest Bar with cedar and sage. Eli uses a Pine Tar bar with pine, oatmeal, and shea butter.

Turq's personal scent is strongly influenced by the caney's violet gland, such as found in foxes. Even in human form, he has a pronounced floral-musky scent with notes of violet, lilac, and lavender. People seem to find it soothing, almost to the point of soporific. It does not come with the point-control of Pheromone Powers, nor does it have that strength at this stage, but it is related and does come from his Cryptid Shifter nature.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-26 03:29 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Very nice. I'd enjoy that fire circle myself. I like Lindsay as a new (?) character and I like how Eli helped Turq.

*sigh*

Date: 2016-12-26 06:07 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I wish, oh how I wish for an Eli...

Re: *sigh*

Date: 2016-12-26 07:21 am (UTC)
technoshaman: (raven)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
YAY! Go Turq! And yes, more Linden, please. I like the way she thinks, the way she moves... just, very calming.

hmmm.....

I wonder if she was once a massage therapist? Somehow I get that sort of vibe... very in touch with oneself.

Eli... That guy looks like he's got more of a backstory than grad school. Forest ranger, perhaps? Something vaguely milatree, enough to know what a bad trip looks like on the outside, but more than together enough to be a rock for others.

Hmmmmmmmmmm......

Time to go sleep on the idea that I'm getting ideas about characters....

Maybe that twines with other ideas I'm having.

Re: *sigh*

Date: 2016-12-26 11:21 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
an introvert whisperer, they're rare, but it seems like Eli is a good one. I know one IRL and have for a long while but she's stationed 3000 miles away most of the year. The skill is almost exclusively born, not made in L-America. I've met a few others in passing in a few places and in my experience the true introvert-whisperers that make good event leaders are almost always ambiverts and amazing social chameleons...People comfortable sliding up and down the introvert/extrovert scale but normally falling in that "happy medium" range who tend to be great social interpreters with intuitive grasps of the interactive tide...as rare and as wonderful as unicorns.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 03:07 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
It's so good to see Turq be(com)ing able to spend time with other people-- other than Ansel, who devotes a great deal of time and energy to taking care of him.

Teal foodware,
Turquoise hair:
Good enough match--
Natch!

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-12-27 05:08 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu

Heh. When I'm at an event using disposable cups, I generally label mine with a Sharpie. (As a certified geek, I usually have four or five pens in my pocket, all with different functions.) Often I use a monogram, but even more often I write "NOT YOURS".

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-12-27 06:04 am (UTC)
thnidu: "Language porn",  all written in characters from non-Roman scripts and IPA (language porn)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Oh, and a 5x3" spiral-bound notebook. (I call it 5x3 to distinguish the "portrait" format from the usual "landscape" format of 3x5 cards. Similarly with the occasional 10x8, etc.)

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