ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "praise or humiliation" square in my 5-29-17 card for the Pride Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] mama_kestrel, [personal profile] thnidu, Sg of [personal profile] antisocialite_forum, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] alatefeline, and [personal profile] daisiesrockalot. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem features content that some readers may find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. The heart of it involves a bigot using his superpower to inscribe vicious words on people's skin. This is hardcore hurt/comfort. The poem includes urban decay, poverty, homelessness, abuse of homeless people, bigotry, messy medical details, emotional trauma, cruel language, racism, classism, self-hate, child abuse, sexism, foster system fuckups, homophobia, crisis of faith, ego-dystonic sexual orientation, PTSD, fat-shaming, alienation, reference to a difficult (highly desired) pregnancy, and other challenges. But Ansel is awesome at addressing all that stuff. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Branded in His Memory"


Ansel was cruising down
Copper Beech Drive when
the radio squawked for
all hands on deck.

Justin turned on the lights
and siren while Ansel spun into
a pull-through and turned the car
to head back the other way.

Dispatch reported there had been
some sort of superpower incident
at the Christian Care Rescue Mission,
which was located across the interstate
in the shabby neighborhood of Walnut Place.

They drove past Walnut Plaza, which had
once been the core of the neighborhood,
now little more than a dry fountain along with
a few pieces of rusting playground equipment
bounded by a tangle of walnuts, oaks, and maples.

Marcus Avenue held some municipal buildings
along with rows of dilapidated brick townhouses,
most still occupied but a few with broken windows
indicating the residents had given up and left.
A foreman's house had been fixed up, though.
Small apartment buildings sat on the corners.

They had been built to house workers
for the old Pembleton Pipe Factory,
which used to make plumbing supplies
until it closed, gutting the economy.

Theresa Street had tiny houses
crammed close together, built in
the postwar period. Most of those
held only one or two bedrooms,
but a few had a second story
holding an extra bedroom.

At the corner between them stood
the Christian Care Rescue Mission.

Behind it, the parking lot shared with
several other buildings was already
bustling with several police cars,
an ambulance, and a motorcycle
belonging to Officer Maude Emerson.

Ansel parked and got out, with
Justin following close behind him.

The cafeteria, normally an orderly place
full of long tables and cheap stackable chairs,
was swarming with agitated residents.

The paramedics had evidently taken over
the group therapy room and one of
the accessible dotties nearby.

A strict-looking woman stepped out of
the office wearing a vest that read
Building Incident Command, and said,
"I'm Arilda Owenson, the building manager."

"Do you need any more help with
the supervillain?" Ansel said.

"He's not exactly ... no," she said.
"A couple of the other officers are
dealing with him." She glanced at
his nametag, and then looked down
at her tablet computer. "This says you
have first aid and trauma training."

"Yes," Ansel said with a nod.
"How can we help you?"

"The physical injuries seem superficial,
but people are understandably upset.
So we need someone to take care
of the victims who aren't already
with the paramedics," Arilda said,
leading them toward the study room.

"We can do that," Justin said.
"We've handled accident scenes
before, so this should be similar."

"If anyone has an emotional meltdown,
then just direct them to my husband Shad,"
said Arilda. She pointed to a chunky man
who was comforting a frantic woman.
"He's one of our counselors here."

"Understood," Ansel said as he and Justin
put on their First Aid Officer vests.

The study room held a bunch of
folding tables and sturdy chairs,
with some inspirational quotes and
a whiteboard decorating the walls.

It was also full of distraught victims.

For a moment Ansel floundered,
overwhelmed by the implications
of a mass-casualty incident.

Fortunately Justin stepped up.
"Hi, everyone, I'm Justin Bates,
and with me is Ansel Nicholson,
also known as Officer Pink."

Then Ansel thought of a way
to sort people even though they
would all be in the same category
if he were doing regular triage.

"Okay, folks, I have some options
for you to consider," he said.
"First, everyone who wants to go
to the hospital, please line up along
the north wall. We have a minibus
that can pick you up and take you there."

Justin, bless him, contacted Dispatch
and asked them to send the minibus.
A number of people shuffled seats.

"Second, anyone who wants to wait
for the paramedics, line up along
the east wall by the door," said Ansel.
"They'll get to you as soon as they can."

A few more people moved, but it
looked like most of the folks interested
in the paramedics were already
in the group therapy room.

"Third, Justin and I have first aid
and trauma skills. If you want us
to do what we can for you, then
come over here," Ansel said,
motioning to the south wall.

"What if we don't want medical care
at all?" said a girl in her late teens.
She wore a black leather jacket
and a stubborn look.

Her left eye was surrounded
by a reddened area that resembled
a fresh bruise, except that something
had written LOSER on her skin
in a darker shade of red.

Ansel took a deep breath
and replied, "Then you may
stay here at the west wall, or go
somewhere else. It's your choice."

She hurried out of the room,
her long brown hair fluttering
behind her like a banner.

"Where's the first aid kit?"
Justin asked, scanning the room.

A black man pointed it out, and oh lovely,
it was the kind of cabinet that you could
lift off its bracket and carry around.
He unlocked it and brought it over.

"Is there anything we could use
for a privacy screen?" Ansel said.

A woman showed him several
folded in a corner, frugally made from
PVC pipe and heavy blue curtains.

Each screen had four sections,
so Ansel had no trouble turning one
of them into a little roomlet surrounding
a square card table and two chairs, leaving
Justin to supervise the waiting people.

It took care of visual privacy, but
there was nothing to be done for
audio privacy except lower his voice.

The black man was the first to slip into
the makeshift first aid area. He had
both arms wrapped around himself
and had clearly been crying. "Hi.
I'm Luther Summerlin," he said.

"Hi, Luther," said Ansel. "Thanks
for bringing me the first aid kit. Can
you show me what's wrong?"

"I don't want to," Luther whispered.

"Okay," Ansel said easily. "Could
we talk about what happened instead?"

"Mr. Massenburg said that I don't
belong here," Luther reported,
and hunched into his chair.

"Who's Mr. Massenburg?"
Ansel asked, leaning forward.

"He's the intake supervisor,"
Luther went on. "He fills in when
it gets busy, and he can overrule
any of the other caseworkers.
He said that I was just lazy, and
then he -- he called me --"

His arms gradually uncurled
to reveal a wide scarlet patch over
his forearm surrounding less-injured skin
that spelled out the word NIGGER.

"How awful," Ansel said. "No wonder
you didn't want anyone to see that."

Luther snorted. "Like it's your problem."

"I don't like to see anyone get hurt,"
said Ansel. "That's why I'm a cop. Listen,
we've been seeing an increase in bullying
recently. Can you tell me if that applies
to incidents of racism as well?"

"Is this where you tell me that
some of your best friends are
black?" Luther said bitterly.

"No -- well, yes, them too,"
Ansel said. "That's not actually
who I was thinking of, though.
My immediate supervisor is black;
you may have seen Bert earlier."

"Big tough guy with a square face
and a lotta muscles?" Luther said.

"That sounds like Bert," Ansel agreed.
"He can take care of himself. I worry
more about my brother-in-law Jermaine.
He's an artist and a journalist, not a fighter."

"Yeah, sure you do," Luther said. "You know,
most folks just make up a black best friend."

"I really do," Ansel said, then fished out
his phone. "Here they are in their wedding
out at our grandparents' farm. Here's me
in the silly ivory suit and yellow bow tie
that my sister Licia dressed me up in."

That actually got a chuckle out of
Luther. "Guess I better believe you
after all," he admitted. "Sorry for
dissing you. Been a bad day."

"I'm sure it has," Ansel said.
"This has people plenty upset."

"Yeah ... things're getting worse, not
a lot, but enough to notice," Luther said.
"Somebody must be stirring the pot."

"We'll look into that," Ansel said. "We'll
also make sure Mr. Massenburg
doesn't hurt anyone else."

"It's been going on a while,"
Luther said. "Some folks, the marks
came earlier but they didn't know how
it happened. Then I reckon it started
showing up sooner, and this morning
they figured out that it had to be him.
So there's probably more who just
haven't seen their words yet."

"That makes sense," said Ansel.
"We can watch for later victims. If you
see any, consider passing the word so they
know where to get help. Ask at the hospital
or the police station. We'll talk with SPOON
too, see if they can scare up a healer --
superpower injuries can be tricky."

He could, of course, simply call Ethan,
and would if SPOON didn't provide a healer.
For now, though, Ansel didn't want to tie up
a healer over what seemed like minor wounds,
when somebody could be dying elsewhere.

Any super injury could be worse than it looked,
but he knew how busy Ethan was and that
many of his clients couldn't call anyone else.
Hopefully SPOON would come through.

"Yeah," Luther said, then slowly
offered his injured arm. "I suppose
I should let you take a look at this."

"Thank you," Ansel said. He settled for
hand sanitizer rather than waste time
running back and forth to the bathroom,
then pulled on a pair of gloves. "Do
you want some anaesthetic spray
before I start poking at that?"

"Tried that earlier, but it didn't work,"
Luther said, shaking his head.
"This still stings like the devil."

"As bright red as this is against
your coloring, I think that you have
lost some skin," Ansel said. "How much
does it hurt? A little, some, or a lot?"

"Some," Luther said. "I can
work around it, but I can't
really forget about it."

That sounded like the high end
of the minor range or low end of
the moderate range. Ansel had
suffered worse road rash, but
not very often. Not a good sign.

"What does it feel like?" he asked.
"Can you compare it to a regular wound?"

"It feels raw," said Luther. "Kind of like
a rug burn or a really bad scrape.
It burns, but it's not hot."

"It does look as if something
removed the very top layer of skin,"
Ansel said. "I need to touch.
Expect this to hurt."

He pressed a gloved finger
gently over the red skin, watching
as it paled slightly and then flushed.

"Your circulation seems okay," Ansel said.
"Do you feel any other areas of injury?
It's harder to see those on dark skin."

Luther looked at Ansel with
a bit more respect. "No, I think
that it's all between my wrist
and elbow," he said. "I'm
afraid it'll leave a scar."

Ansel noted the scars on
his knuckles and the deeper one
by his left eye. "Well, it might," he said.
"That looks like a bigger risk for you.
Consider talking with a specialist who
can help you prevent that, preferably
someone familiar with African skin."

He dabbed at the wound
with a piece of gauze, and
the white cloth came away
dotted with flecks of red.

"This is still oozing blood,"
Ansel said. "I can clean it with
Ouchless Wound Rinse and --
hmm. You tried anaesthic spray
before but it didn't seem to work.
Maybe the superpower is still
acting on you in some way."

Luther whimpered and tried
to curl around his arm again.

"Try to hold still for me," Ansel said.
"I know it's hard. I've got an idea,
though. I carry blue chamomile."

"I thought that was for soups,"
Luther said, frowning. "I'm
just an ordinary guy."

"It works for naries too,
for calm and for skin care,"
Ansel said. "But it can also
help soup-caused injuries.
They used it in Easy City
to treat berettafly stings."

"Yeah, okay," Luther said.

"Let me see if they have
any carriers," Ansel said as
he rummaged in the kit. "Are
you allergic to daisies or
to regular chamomile?"

"Nah, I'm good," said Luther.
"Why do you want to know?"

"They're related, so an allergy
to one often applies to the other,"
Ansel explained. "Jackpot!" He
held up a big jar of base cream
and a tiny jar for custom blends.

"Makeup?" Luther said,
wrinkling his nose.

"This is skin cream, so it's
good for a variety of complaints,"
Ansel said. "I just need something
soothing to dilute the blue."

He filled a tiny jar with white cream,
added a few drops of blue, then
stirred it with a little spatula.

Carefully he cleaned all of
the broken skin, then started
spreading the cream over it.

"I think it's working?" Luther said
after a minute had passed.

"That's good," Ansel said.
"Keep paying attention and
tell me how it changes."

By the time he finished and
was setting aside the supplies
for essential oils, Luther was
smiling. "It stopped hurting!"

"Wonderful," Ansel said. He
would have to pass the word to
the paramedics and the hospital.
"That may have cut any lingering tie,
or it could just be blocking the air
from the exposed nerves. Let me
spray on some liquid bandage
to keep the raw area covered."

"Will it hide the marks?"
Luther whispered, looking down.

Ansel checked the bottle, then
shook his head. "No, this is
transparent. It might blur them,
but it won't blot them out."

"Oh," Luther said glumly.

"If the marks bother you
a great deal, which is natural,
then consider seeing a counselor,"
Ansel suggested. "It might help."

Luther sighed. "Shad is great,
don't get me wrong, but I don't think
he'd understand this," he said.

"Perhaps not," Ansel said, recalling
the pinkish-fair man he'd seen earlier.
"The community counselors we have
right now are mostly white too. Hmm ...
Bouchet College must have some
black ones, almost all their staff is."

"I thought that's just for students,"
Luther said, and waved his free hand
over his shabby clothes. "I'm not
really college material, here."

"Primarily for students, but some of
the staff cover both the college and
the wider community," Ansel said.

"Maybe," Luther said, not looking
particularly convinced by it.

"Tell you what, how about I call over
to Bouchet and say the police would
appreciate them sending a counselor
for a racially sensitive incident, which
is true," Ansel said. "Then it's up to you
if you want to participate. No pressure."

"Yeah, that works," Luther said.
"It's ... probably a good idea for me
to talk with someone about this,
but I just can't right now."

"It's okay," Ansel said. "Some folks
need to talk right after a trauma, but
others want time to regroup a little first.
Someone from Victim Support will contact
you about rights and resources later, and you
can make a statement about what happened."

"Guess I need a sweater for the time being,"
Luther said, looking down at the ugly message
that was scrawled across his forearm.

"Heavy fabric over a bad scrape?
That sounds unpleasant," Ansel said.
He had learned that lesson the hard way.
"Let's see, though -- yes! Brown bandages."

He held up the roll of gauzy stuff.
"This will keep it protected and
make sure nobody stares," he said.

"Good. Do that," Luther said.

So Ansel sprayed liquid bandage over
the raw spot -- there was just enough
to cover it -- then added a dark wrapper.

Finally he copied the treatment details
onto the patient tag and stuck that
to the front of Luther's shirt.

"All done," he said, patting Luther
on the hand. "Send in whoever
is next in line, would you please?"

"Can do," Luther said. "Thank you
for ... not taking me too personally today.
I'm really not at my best right now."

"Forgiven," Ansel assured him.
"Touchy people make bad police."

"Tell your brother-in-law
to be careful," Luther said
as he stood up to leave. "It's
getting rougher out there."

"I will, but it's my sister who will
be keeping an eye out for trouble,"
Ansel said. "I love Jermaine, but he
is a journalist to the bone. If he was
going to hell in a handbasket, he would
lean over the side to shoot pictures."

Luther laughed. "Yeah, I know
guys like that too," he said.

Quickly Ansel peeled off his gloves,
then took out his phone. He jotted
a note asking Bouchet College to send
a therapist with experience in racial issues.
Likely the police would be calling backup
from all over town to help with this case.

He also sent a message to Incident Updates
notifying everyone that blue chamomile
seemed to soothe the soup injuries.

When the privacy barrier swung open, Ansel
found that he had not one but two patients,
a middle-aged mother and her daughter.
Both of them looked like they had been
strangled, cruel words rising out of
a ring of bruises around their throats.

Ansel introduced himself, and the woman said,
"I'm Leighann Applewhite and my daughter
is Nevaeh. We came here last week, and
then a few days later ... this happened."
She waved at the large, mottled wound,
her silver cross swinging with the motion.

"That's pretty harsh," Ansel said
as he put on some fresh gloves.
"May I take a closer look?"

"Go ahead," Leighann said.
"Start with Nevaeh -- I may deserve
what mine says, but she doesn't."

Ansel looked at the word TRASH
on Leighann and MISTAKE on Nevaeh.
The first was similar to Luther's injury,
lighter letters on a darker background,
but the second looked as if it had been
scratched into the skin with a nail.

"I don't think anyone deserves to be
mistreated like this," he said.

"It's not what I meant, though,"
Leighann said as Ansel treated
the ugly wound on her daughter.
"I meant that getting together with
her no-good father was a mistake, not
that she was. Nevaeh is the best thing
that has ever happened to me."

"So you said something that got
misinterpreted?" Ansel said, switching
his attention from daughter to mother.
Unlike Luther's fresh-bleeding wound,
these were livid bruises beginning
to turn brown in some places.

"Yes," said Leighann. "I know that
I should have kept my mouth shut."

"No, you have a right to talk about
whatever bothers you," Ansel said
as he dabbed pale blue cream over
the injury. "The shelter is supposed
to help you find a counselor if you
need to talk about your troubles."

"That'd be nice for a change,"
Leighann said with a sigh.

"When you leave here, look
for a chunky guy called Shad,"
said Ansel. "Okay, do you two
want these covered up?"

"Yes," said Leighann, and
Nevaeh said, "Do you have
any princess bandaids?"

Ansel checked the kit,
but it only had plain ones.
The rescue center tended to buy
cheap supplies so as to stretch
a limited budget farther.

"Not in here, but I think that
I have some left in my utility belt,"
he said. "Yep. Which one do you
want, Rapunzel or Tiana?"

"Tiana!" said Nevaeh.

"Okay," said Ansel. "Given
how big that bruise is, though,
one bandaid isn't going to cover
much of it. How about I use gauze,
like a scarf, and button it with a bandaid?"

"Uh huh," said Nevaeh, who was doing
a better job of sitting still than Luther had.

When Ansel finished wrapping them up
and writing their tags, he sent them off to find
Shad, and waited for the next person.

To his horror, he realized
that it was someone he knew.

"Clio, honey, I'm so sorry!" he said,
beckoning her toward the chair.

"It's just -- I feel so --" she said,
motioning to where the word USELESS
cut across her cheek and forehead.
She hiccupped a sob. "It's true."

"It is not true, and whoever said that
to you was a rotten liar," Ansel said firmly.
"Haven't you done puppet shows for us?"

"Yeah," she said, her voice hoarse.

"See now, that's not useless,"
he said. "Is Melpomene okay?"

Clio pulled out a white sock puppet
with black braids. "Of all creatures
that can feel and think, we women
are the worst treated things alive,"
Melpomene said in a squeaky voice.

Clio's lips didn't move at all. She
was an amazing ventriloquist.

Ansel applauded softly. "Well done,"
he said. "Will you let me take care
of your face now? I'd like to help."

"I've already tried, and nothing
seems to help," she said.

"Have you tried blue chamomile?"
Ansel asked, and when she shook
her head, he said, "Let's try that.
It has helped some other people."

She watched intently as he mixed
a few drops into the cream base, but
closed her eyes when he spread it
carefully over her freckled skin.

After a minute, she sighed in relief.
"Yeah, that does help. Thanks."

"That's good," Ansel said. "Listen,
if you're not feeling up to it, there's
no obligation, but how about doing
a puppet show for us at the station?
Sometimes it helps to keep busy."

"I can do that," Clio said. "What
topic would you want me to cover?"

"Whatever you like, though if you
don't have any ideas, then I think that
tolerance would be timely," Ansel said.

"It's human; we all put self-interest first,"
Melpomene squeaked, black braids bouncing.

Clio never failed to come up with something
astoundingly apt. She knew the classics
backwards and forwards, and excelled
at matching them to current issues.

"Thank you," Ansel said. "Drop by
any time and work out a schedule."
He shook his head. "I'm not sure how
I can cover this, since it's on your face."

"Don't they have Gatorskin?" said Clio,
looking at the first aid cabinet.

"Well, yes they do, but --"

"I'd rather be green than go around
looking like this," she said firmly.

"Gatorskin it is," Ansel said, fishing out
the syringe of moss-green gel. When
dotted over the injury, it spread slowly
to form a thick, protective film. Then he
filled out her patient tag and put it on.

"Thanks," she said, smoothing
a hand over the paper tag.

"I'll see you around, Clio,"
said Ansel. "Take care."

Clio slipped out of the space,
taking Melpomene with her, and
closing the screen behind them.

Ansel swept the used wrappers
into the wastebasket as he waited.

The screen jerked open so abruptly
that it almost toppled over.

"Careful!" Ansel said as he
reached out a hand to steady it.
"That's not a regular door, so it won't
stand up to much roughhousing."

The teenaged girl was back.
"I don't want your help," she said,
dropping a first aid kit on the table.
"I saw the kids, I saw -- it was --"

"It looks pretty bad, doesn't it,"
Ansel said gently. "I'm doing
my best for them, though."

"Here." She popped open the box.
"This is my road rash kit. You'll want
these, they're good." She gave him
a handful of hydrocolloid bandages
and some plain gauze squares.

"Thank you, this will help a lot.
I was wondering if I would run out
of bandages before I ran out
of injuries," Ansel said.

"Yeah, there's a lot of folks
who got hurt," she said,
then turned to go.

"Hey, wait!" Ansel said.
"You need your receipt."

"What?" she said, staring.

"I write down your materials,
then you take your receipt to
the police station and they will
reimburse you for the cost,"
Ansel explained as he pulled
his official stationary pad from
his utility belt and wrote on it.

"Okay, I guess," she said.

As soon as Ansel handed her
the slip, she darted away.

He wasn't sure that she would
brave the police station for
the sake of redeeming it, but
that was her decision.

Next there came a trio,
all clinging to each other.

"I'm Sadie Lou and I'm eighteen,"
said the taller girl. "This is my sister,
Georgia Dean, and our little brother,
Terry Mack. We just need bandaids."

"I don't think bandaids will cover
those marks," Ansel said. Hers read
SLUT across her right cheek, even though
her mulberry top covered her shoulders
and her blue jeans had no holes. "Also,
I'm not buying eighteen -- maybe sixteen."

"I'm an adult!" Sadie Lou insisted, and
it looked like all of them were about to panic.

"Okay, let's worry about that later," Ansel said,
patting the air with his hands. "In the middle
of an emergency, I don't have time to report
incidental observations until the end of the day.
But let me guess: Family Services messed up
by the numbers somehow, didn't they?"

"Maybe," Sadie Lou hedged, looking away.

"They're mean," Terry Mack said, sticking out
his lower lip. "I don't like those people."

"We're investigating some mistakes on their part,"
Ansel said. "I suggest that you three drop by
the police station later to talk about that. If
someone has to come looking for you,
then that is not going to be fun."

"We'll think about it," Sadie Lou said.

"That's all I ask," Ansel said.
"May I take a look at your face now?"

"Yeah, go ahead," Sadie Lou said.
"It showed up yesterday, and it still hurts.
Georgia Dean's appeared the day before,
and then Terry Mack's came in today."

She let Ansel clean it, but not cover it.
"Just leave it alone," Sadie Lou grumbled.
"Everyone says it all the time anyway."

"All right, it's your face," Ansel said.
"Georgia Dean, it's your turn now."

Harsh red letters spelled Retard
along her right forearm, reddened skin
surrounded by a rim of fading brown.

Ansel dabbed it with blue chamomile cream
and covered it with hydrocolloid patches.

"Can you tell me what happened up here?"
he asked, waving at her scraped chin
and the remains of a black eye.

"I got in a fight. That was wrong.
I am sorry. I will do better next time,"
Georgia Dean recited in a flat tone.

"Okay, thank you for telling me,"
Ansel said. "It looks like these are
healing fine, but let me put something
on them just to make sure."

Georgia Dean sat still while
he cleaned her other injuries and
coated them with all-purpose cream.

"You're up, Terry Mack," said Ansel
when Georgia Dean left the chair.

"I don't want to," the preschooler said,
clinging to Sadie Lou. "It'll hurt."

"It already hurts, you ninny,"
Sadie Lou said, pushing her brother
toward the chair. "Go get it fixed."

"I think we've had enough of
nasty names today," Ansel said.

"Yeah. Sorry," muttered Sadie Lou.

With light, careful strokes Ansel
cleaned the boy's cheek -- which
read BRAT -- and covered it
with blue chamomile cream.

Terry Mack wouldn't let him
put a bandage on it, though.

"He doesn't like bandaids when
they pull off," Sadie Lou explained.

"You know, companies make releaser
that you can put on to melt the glue,"
Ansel said. "Then they just fall off."

"Huh," she said. "I'll watch for that."
She waited while Ansel filled out the tags
for each of them, and then herded
her siblings out of the way.

After they left, the next person
was someone else Ansel knew.
"Hello, Breanna," he said.
"How are you doing?"

She burst into tears.
"It's not true anymore,"
she sobbed. "I'm not just
a hired cunt. It's not true, but
nobody will ever let me live it down."

She used to work as a prostitute,
but then she fell in love and got married.
It should have been a happy ending,
except Bluehill was small enough
that everyone seemed to know
what everyone else was doing.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Ansel said.
"I still think you've made great progress."

"It won't come off," Breanna said.
Her fingers rubbed at her throat,
coming away red. "I scrubbed and
scrubbed, but it won't come off."

That explained why the four letters
cut into her throat were blurry and the skin
around them was raw in some places.

"That's because it's an injury,
not makeup," Ansel said gently.
"Stop rubbing it and let me
take care of it for you."

"Okay," she said, sniffling.

"Here, blow your nose first,"
Ansel said, handing her
a packet of tissues.

He tucked the ragged ends
of her hair behind her ears
to keep it out of the way.

She used to have beautiful hair
down to her hips, back when she
walked the streets, but after she quit,
she hacked it off with a knife, almost
all the way down to the scalp.

It had grown back over time, and
now almost reached her shoulders,
but it got in her face, and he didn't want
the stray ends touching her throat.

Ansel cleaned his hands
and put on the gloves, then
then set to work disinfecting
the oozing scrapes on her throat.

"I'm trying," Breanna whispered.
"I'm trying so hard, but it's like
people don't want me to change.
They say they hate what I was, but
they won't let me be anything else!"

"That is their problem," Ansel declared.
"You went straight. That's a big accomplishment.
Your husband loves you. That's a big payoff.
Let the gossips yammer if they must.
They aren't living your life."

"I know, but it's so difficult,
and this makes it all worse,"
Breanna said. "I hate it."

Ansel finished smoothing
blue chamomile over the abrasion.
"Of course you do," he replied.
"Anyone would feel that way."

"Thank you," she said. Then
she rubbed at her throat again.
"Can you cover this? I don't want
people to keep staring at it."

Gently, Ansel tugged her hand
away from the broken skin, then
added more cream over that spot.

"Yes," he said. "Gauze is working well
over the throat area, is that okay?"

"Sure," she said, and held still
while he wrapped enough layers
that CUNT no longer showed.
"I just get so wound up, and I
don't know how to unwind again."

"Let me check the essential oil kit,"
Ansel said. "What scents do you
like? I could make something
for relaxation if you want."

"I like lavender," Breanna said.

"How about lavender, eucalyptus,
and frankincense in sweet almond oil?"
Ansel suggested. "I can put that in
a half-dram bottle. Rub a little on
your wrists and you should feel better."

"Yes, please," Breanna said. "My husband
and I were going to therapy, but now that
we're homeless, we had to give it up."

"They offer some here, and if that's not
what you need, try community counseling,"
Ansel said as he put a few drops of
essential oils into the tiny bottle and
topped it up with the carrier oil.
"Here you go. I hope it helps."

Breanna dabbed her wrists,
then cupped her hands over
her nose to inhale the scent.
"Oh, that's nice," she said.

"Good," Ansel said as he
wrote out the patient tag for her.
"I'm happy that I could help."

As Breanna left, a boy
slipped in alongside her
without touching the screen.

He looked somewhere between
thirteen and fifteen years old,
his brown hair cropped short.

Crystal studs winked in his ears, and
a pendant cross hung around his neck.

The word FAGGOT made pale lines
in the purple bruise on his right cheek.

"I'm Spenser Etheridge," he said, sliding
a consent-to-treat form across the table.
"My parents signed this. Please don't
bother them, they're ... um, busy."

"Hi, Spenser, I'm Ansel," he replied
as he accepted the form. "Are you and
your parents not getting along well?
The other kids have had someone
with them. It's a scary time."

"We love each other, we really do,
we're just ... going through a rough patch,"
Spenser said. "We're in family counseling.
It's helping with some stuff. I would
really rather not drag them into this.
They're in the chapel praying."

"Okay, that's your choice,"
Ansel said. "Something to do
with personal discoveries, perhaps?"
He nodded toward the ugly word.

"I don't want to be this way!"
Spenser wailed. "I know it's not
very Christian, but I can't stop."

"That's a really hard place to be,"
Ansel said. It was bad enough when
a gay teen accepted himself but then
his parents didn't. It was worse when
he didn't want to be gay either.

"Yeah, it is," Spenser said, slumping.
"People pick on me, and it's awful."

Ansel sighed. "We're having
some problems in town, aren't we?"
he said. "Some of us are looking into
the increased rate of bullying and
discrimination. If you want to help,
come to the police station and
fill out a report on your incidents."

"I'm tempted, just to get back at them,"
Spenser said. "What they say
makes me feel terrible."

"Most people would," Ansel said.
"Do you think you might feel
a little better if you let me
take care of your face?"

"Maybe, if you can make it so
nobody sees this," Spenser said.

"I've got Gatorskin," Ansel said as
he cleaned his hands and gloved up.

Spenser grimaced. "That stuff
looks ugly," he said. "I guess
it's better than this, though."

"That seems to be the consensus,"
Ansel said as he disinfected the skin
and then put on the blue chamomile.
Covering it with Gatorskin took longer.

"I don't know what I'm going to do,"
Spenser said, twisting his hands.

"You'll grow up, and things that feel
overwhelming now will shrink down to
something you can handle," Ansel said.
"If you need help in the meantime, it's there
for you. This might not be the best place for it,
though. You can try community counseling, or
there's a QUILTBAG club at the high school."

"I know, but I've been too scared to go,"
Spenser said. "What if they don't like me?"
His voice dropped even lower. "What if they do?"

"Either way, you'll deal with it," Ansel said.
"Hmm ... the community center offers mentoring
for gay youth, too. They have a flyer for it on
the bulletin board by the one for Big Siblings."

"That might actually help," Spenser said.
"I'm having trouble imagining what my life
is going to be like. I don't think I know
any gay men, or if I do, they're not out."

"Give it a look, then," Ansel said as he
put on the last few drop of Gatorskin.
"Okay, you're done. Let me write up
your paperwork, and then you can go."

"Thanks for helping me," Spenser said
as he watched Ansel fill in the tag.
Then he picked it up and left.

Behind him came a large, tall man
with a bald head and a short beard.

"Hi, Oscar, how are you doing today?"
Ansel said. He knew the Marine veteran
as a day worker on his grandfather's farm.

Oscar turned to show the word WORTHLESS
splashed across his left cheek from his nose
all the way under his ear, the end wrapping
a little around his neck. Like Luther's was,
this wound was raw and oozing red.

"Oh, how horrible," Ansel said as he
grabbed the hand sanitizer and gloves.
"Sit down and let me see to that."

"It's how I feel," Oscar said as he
took a seat, "especially on my bad days."

"It's awful when our feelings lie to us,"
Ansel said. "You were a Marine; that's
important. It left you with traumatic stress,
but you're working through that. Remember
that it takes time to heal, sometimes a lot of time."

"Conrad says that too," Oscar replied.

"Well, where do you think I learned it?"
Ansel said. "My grandfather is a very wise man.
It took him decades to get over the stuff that
he saw and did in the war, but he managed.
You can too, if you keep working at it."

"Yeah, it's just --" Oscar flicked a hand
at his face. "-- harder with this."

"Doesn't that hurt?" Ansel wondered.
"It looks as bad as the other really fresh one
I saw earlier, and that client said it hurt."

Oscar got a thoughtful look, then grimaced.
"Ow. Yeah, it does," he said. "Can I
turn my brain back off now?"

"Go ahead," Ansel said. Soldiers
learned how to ignore pain.

Just like that, Oscar relaxed,
the pain shunted off to some corner
of his mind where it didn't bother him.

"Felt a lot like a steam burn,"
he muttered. "Hot, wet."

"Hmm, let me see," Ansel said.
He put a hand on Oscar's chin for
balance and leaned to look closer.
"I think you have tiny blisters rising."

"Yeah, that matches what I felt,"
Oscar said. "What do you have for it?"

"Regular burn gel, essential oil burn spray
with aloe vera and lavender, burn dressings,
and hydrocolloid bandages," Ansel recited.
"However, I started out with blue chamomile
in a cream base, which is working great."

"Aloe is my go-to for burns. Try a spot test
with that and the blue chamomile," Oscar said.

"Sure," Ansel said, and dabbed those on
opposite ends of the long, ugly wound.

After a couple of minutes, Oscar said,
"Can't feel any change on the front,
but the back is definitely better."

"That's the blue chamomile," Ansel said.
"I wish this kit had plain aloe vera gel
as a carrier, then I could just mix
the blue into some of that."

"Use what you have," Oscar said.
"That stuff is helping already."

Ansel spread the cream over
Oscar's face, then frowned.
"I don't want to put Gatorskin
over a burn," he said.

"The hydrocolloid will work
if you trim it a little to fit around
my mouth," Oscar said. "It's
a soft gel, so you can cut it
with bandage scissors."

It took some trial and error,
but soon Ansel had it covered.

"Thanks, man," said Oscar.
"I feel a bit better now."

"That's good," Ansel said.
"Listen, if you need something
to do or just a familiar refuge,
head on out to the farm."

"I don't know, winter isn't
the busy season," Oscar said.

Ansel laughed. "For planting, no;
for livestock, yes," he said. "This time
of year Grandpa has goats dropping kids,
cows dropping calves, and horses dropping
foals. He always needs people to sit up
at night and watch for trouble. If you
can make a phone call, you're good."

"I can do that," Oscar said. "Okay,
then, I'll swing by there later."
He stood up and left.

Next came a Hispanic couple,
the man fair with black hair,
the woman light brown with
curly brown hair and holding
a much darker little girl.

"I'm Ben Paredes," the man said.
"This is my wife Agueda and
our daughter Jimena."

"I'm Ansel," he replied.
"Who's hurt and where?"
He couldn't see any injuries.

Agueda coaxed her daughter
to turn around. The wound was
bright pink, almost purple, against
the warm caramel of her cheek.
Pale lines spelled out FAT.

"Well, that's a mean thing to say,
isn't it?" Ansel said. "Sweetie, you're
not fat, you're just a little plump. I doubt
you're even out of the average range."

Jimena didn't respond at all.

"She doesn't speak much English yet,"
Ben explained. "We adopted her last year
from somewhere in Central America --
the agency wasn't specific -- and she
was a refugee, so it's been rough."

Agueda leaned down and whispered
to Jimena, who whispered back.
"She still feels like a fat cow,"
Agueda said, shaking her head.

"That's sad," Ansel said. "Jimena,
would you show me your wrist?"

More whispers, and she held it out,
hiding her face in her mother's chest.

Ansel measured it with his fingers
and then said, "That's what I thought.
You have pretty big bones, so you're
always going to be a sturdy girl. It's
absolutely not okay for anyone
to tease you about it, though."

"I don't know what to do,"
Agueda said. "We worry."

"Moving to a new country is hard,
and it's harder when you feel like you
don't fit in," Ansel said. "She could talk
to a counselor about liking her body, or
a doctor about making it a little smaller."

"What about her face?" Ben asked.
"That just started happening this morning."

"It's not as bad as the others yet,"
Ansel agreed. "I've been waiting for her
to uncurl a little before I try to fix it. Maybe
getting some blue chamomile on it early
will stop it from getting any worse."

When Agueda translated that,
Jimena unwound enough for Ansel
to get a better look at the damage.

"That goes right over your eye," he said.
"Can you see okay out of that side?"

Jimena listened to her mother, then nodded.

"That's good," Ansel said. "I've got some stuff
to put on your face that should make it feel
better. After that, you're free to go."

Jimena seemed wary and withdrawn
as Ansel cleaned his hands, put on gloves,
and spread the cream over her cheek.
She wouldn't let him cover it, though.

Fishing for a way to cheer her up, Ansel
finally thought to search the first aid cabinet
for emergency candy. He came up with
a handful of Testamints alongside
the Chuckie's Tummy Tabs.

Jimena finally smiled as she
tore into the little packet and
popped a mint into her mouth.

"Thank you," Agueda said.
"Everything has been so awful
since a tree fell on our house, and
now this -- it's hard to keep going.
We can barely find any work."

"What do you do?" Ansel asked.

"I'm a construction worker and
Agueda is a cook, but both of us
take whatever we can get," Ben said.

"If you're not having much luck here,
check the bulletin boards at the YMCA and
the People of Jesus Nondenominational Church
and Interfaith Center," Ansel suggested.
"Sometimes they post different things."

"We'll do that, thanks," said Ben.

Ansel filled in the patient tag for Jimena
and said, "Please keep in touch so we
can find out whether blue chamomile
stops that from getting worse," he said.

"Yes, of course," said Agueda,
and carried her daughter away.

Ansel cleaned up the mess
and then stretched, back popping.
It had been a long day already.

"Can I change my mind?"

Ansel looked around and saw
the leather-clad teen from earlier.
"Probably," he said. "What about?"

"Can I get something for ..."
She waved a hand at her
left eye, which read LOSER.
"I heard some folks talking
about the blue chamomile."

"Sure," Ansel said. He
cleaned his hands, which
were starting to sting, and
then changed gloves again.
"Want to give me a name?"

"I'm Casey," she said. Every touch
made her twitch and flinch, no matter
how gentle Ansel tried to be with her.

Like Jimena, her injury went around
the eye. "Is your vision all right?"
he said as he cleaned around it.

"Yeah, it's fine, just hurts," Casey said.
"I can take a punch. This sucks, though."

"I'm sorry that you got hurt," Ansel said,
spreading the cream over her skin.
"The blue chamomile should help."

She skittered out of reach as soon
as the cream started to work, but to
Ansel's surprise, she said, "Do you
need a messenger or anything?
I got a motorbike if you do."

"That's very thoughtful of you,"
Ansel said. "Look for Arilda in the vest
marked Building Incident Command.
She can probably find you errands
to run. Lots of people feel better if
they can keep busy after a shock."

"Yeah, that's me," Casey said, and
fled before he could write up a tag.

The privacy screen slid aside
to admit a boy who looked calm,
or perhaps just resigned.

He had fair skin, dark hair
buzzed short, and a Roman nose.
His almond-shaped eyes were
an arresting shade of gray-green.

"I'm Bolin Lyle and I'm fifteen," he said
as he offered a consent-to-treat form.
"My parents are volunteering in
the cafeteria if you need them."

"If your injury is as superficial
as the others I've seen, then I
shouldn't need them," Ansel said.
"Can you show me what's wrong?"

Bolin twisted in place, revealing
the left side of his face, where
FREAK scrawled across the skin.

He was nibbling on his lower lip, too,
and Ansel could see the dark red line
where he'd chewed the skin off it.

"Well, that's unpleasant," Ansel said.
The hand sanitizer stung; he had used it
so often that it was drying out his skin.
Then he put on fresh gloves. "Let me
see what I can do for that now."

"Okay," Bolin said, leaning forward.
A pendant swung at his chest,
some kind of Asian symbol that
Ansel couldn't recognize.

"Are you Chinese?" Ansel said,
offering a distraction as he started
cleaning the nasty wound.

"A little," Bolin said. "I'm
mostly American, but I do
have some Chinese ancestors
who came over from Liqian.
I'm studying Taoism myself."

"Oh, that's interesting," Ansel said,
dabbing blue chamomile cream
over the broken skin. "I have
a Chinese-American friend who's
into Taoism, Buddhism, and
Confucianism. It's cool."

"The Way that can be told
is not the Way," Bolin said,
the uninjured corner of
his mouth curling up.

"I think that I've got
just enough hydrocolloid
left to cover this," Ansel said.

"Okay," Bolin said. "I know it's
silly to worry about something so
shallow, but I'll feel better if people
aren't asking about that anymore."

"It's a difficult word," Ansel said
as he measured the materials.
"Do you want to talk about it?"

Bolin sighed. "I try to make myself
useful, but no matter what I do, I can't
fit in," he said. "Nobody else my age thinks
about the things I do, like what life is for
or why people die. I always feel ..."
He motioned to the vicious word.

Ansel felt an eerie ripple of energy,
as if something was stirring under
his skin, but it faded before he
could really identify it.

"Do you think you might
be flickering?" he asked.
Gentle fingers smoothed
the bandage over the wound.

"I don't know," Bolin said.
"Earlier, I would have said no,
but the last couple of days
have been ... extra weird."

He offered no further explanation,
and Ansel didn't want to pry.

"You could just be rattled
from the incident," Ansel said.
"Acute stress reaction is normal,
and it typically fades within a week.
If you still feel 'weird' after that, then
you can talk with a counselor or doctor.
If you notice flickering, call me or
get in touch with SPOON."

Peeling off the gloves, Ansel
took out a business card
and handed it to Bolin.

"Thank you," the boy said
with a graceful bow.

"You're welcome," Ansel said
as he wrote up the patient card
and handed it over. "Send in
whoever's next, please."

"I'm the last one in line,"
Bolin said, shaking his head.

Ansel slumped over the table.
"Oh, thank goodness," he said.

He really wasn't looking forward
to using more hand sanitizer, and
happily shoved the almost-empty bottle
back into its space in the first aid kit.

"If you've been using that stuff all day,
you should probably wash your hands
with real soap and put on some lotion,"
Bolin said. "I've seen childcare workers
mess up their fingers like that." He
nodded at Ansel's hands.

Ansel looked down and realized
that the skin was starting to split on
the first two fingers of his right hand.
"Nuts," he said. "I didn't notice."

"You were busy," Bolin said.
"Maybe ask your partner for help?
He looks like a pretty nice guy."

"Justin?" said Ansel. "Yeah, he is."

"Okay, I'll send him in," Bolin said,
leaving Ansel to wonder how
that just happened.

Moments later Justin arrived
and helped Ansel pack up the kit.
"Show me your hands?" he said.

Ansel showed him. "I think
I overdid the hand sanitizer."

"Yeah, that looks unpleasant,"
Justin said. "Let's borrow a dottie.
You can wash your hands for real,
and I'll wrap the fingers that are
splitting. It'll be easier than trying
to do everything for yourself."

That was true. Putting on bandaids
with only one hand was a nuisance.

"Deal," Ansel said. They hung up
the first aid cabinet on its bracket,
then went to the dottie that hadn't
been occupied by the paramedics.

The crowd was thinning out, though,
now that some people had been
transferred to the hospital.

Ansel washed his hands, but
then the harsh paper towels on
his sore skin made him wince.

"Pat, don't rub," Justin said.
"You know what, that's dry enough.
Here, put some of this on." He offered
a tube of Neutrogena hand cream.

"You're carrying that all the time?"
Ansel said, spreading the thick stuff over
his chapped hands. It seemed oddly specific.

"Yeah, Celia's skin is really delicate
right now, and it keeps breaking down,"
Justin said. "This stuff is good -- it's
what her dermatologist suggested.
So I swapped it for the sunscreen
I usually carry in my utility belt."

He examined Ansel's hands,
then put fingertip bandaids over
the first two on the right hand
where the skin had cracked.

"Okay, you're good to go,"
Justin declared. "Just be aware
that cream takes forever to dry, so
try not to touch anything for a while."

"Gee, thanks," Ansel drawled.

"You'll thank me tonight when
the itching doesn't keep you awake,"
Justin said. "Ask me how I know this."

"Celia's really having a hard time?"
Ansel guessed. "I hope she's okay."

"Our bathroom looks like a sales floor
for skin products," Justin said. "At least
we found a hand cream that really works.
She's still experimenting with belly balms."
He shook his head. "I dread the search
for nipple salve after the baby comes."

"She's still set on breastfeeding, huh?"
Ansel said as they left the dottie.

"If it's possible, yes," said Justin,
stepping aside for a teenager of
ambiguous gender. "The midwife
says a touchy pregnancy lowers
the chance of success, though.
Celia is not happy about that."

Well, no wonder -- her sister who
lived in Illinois had so much extra milk
that she worked as a wet-nurse for
babies who couldn't use formula.

"I wish you both the best of luck,"
Ansel said. "Let's go see how
this incident is progressing."

They went looking for Bert,
who headed the BASH team,
and soon found him talking with
the Building Incident Commander.

He was also clutching his forearm.

"That does not look good," Ansel said,
who had just seen a whole line of folks
showing similar body language.
"Hey Bert, what's up?"

"Guy clocked me," he said,
lifting his hand away from his arm
to show scarlet, oozing skin.

"Tiberius?" Ansel read. "That seems
like an odd thing to call someone."

"Well, I had these two uncles,
Tiberius and Tybalt," said Bert.
"Grandma was a big fan of classics
and history -- my mom is Cleopatra and
my aunt is Cordelia. Keeps life interesting."

"It does that," Ansel said. "So how does
that lead to the mark on your arm?"

"Our perp was trying to weasel out of
the accusations, saying nobody could prove
that he had anything to do with the injuries,"
Bert said. "So I told him about Uncle Tiberius,
who was a real bastard, and who was also
my favorite negative role model, always
showing me what shit not to do. I hoped
it might encourage some responsibility."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out that way,"
Ansel said. "Where is that guy now?"

"He's not going anywhere," Bert said.
"I left him with Maude for a while."

"You're not worried that he'll do
the same thing to her?" Ansel said.

Bert snorted. "If she winds up with
'abrasive' written across her skin,
I think she'll laugh in his face,"
he said. "She's been through
enough therapy to be so over it."

"What about you?" Ansel said.

"Like I said, negative role model,"
Bert replied. "Sure it stings, but
I don't begrudge the reminder
to be gentle with my strength."

Since Bert was big and beefy
and also their knocker, this was
probably not a bad thing.

"Okay," Ansel said. "I think
I have enough blue chamomile
left for one more batch of cream,
it just might not be as strong as
the earlier ones were. Let me
take care of your arm."

"Oh no you don't," Justin said.
"You've already roughed up
your hands enough. I will
handle first aid this time."

Ansel glanced down at his hands,
one with two bandaged fingers
and both still wet with cream.
"Yeah, that's a good idea."

"Thank you for all your help today,"
Arilda said. "If you need anything else,
just let me know. I have to go check on
the office staff and give them an update."

"Go ahead," Bert said, waving her off.
"Okay, where's the first aid stuff?"

Justin led the way back to the study room
and retrieved a few items from the cabinet.

"You okay, bro?" Luther asked,
looking at Bert, who had gone back
to clutching his forearm protectively.

"I will be," Bert assured him.
"I just need a bit of first aid."

"Aw man, he hit a cop?" Luther said.

"More or less," Bert said, lifting
his hand to show the mark.

"Less talking, more patching,"
Justin said firmly, steering Bert
to a table. Then he hesitated.
"Ah, what were you making,
Ansel? You said something
about blue chamomile?"

Ansel took out his bottle of blue,
now almost empty. "Put some
cream base in a jar, then a few drops
of this," he said. "It shuts off the pain,
but we don't know yet if it will aid healing
or stop things from getting worse."

"Can do," Justin said, and started
working on Bert's injured arm.

At least Bert wasn't freaking out
over the damage like some of
the earlier casualties, but then,
police tended to be pretty stable
while homeless people were
vulnerable to begin with.

It wouldn't take much to push
an already-shaky person
right over the edge.

"I ran out of hydrocolloids,"
Ansel said. "There should be
some burn dressings left, though."

Soon enough, Justin had Bert's arm
slathered in blue chamomile cream,
padded with nonstick gauze, and
wrapped with brown bandage tape.

"So what's up with the perp?"
Ansel asked. "Are we arresting him,
or handing him over to SPOON?"

"We're arresting him to start,"
Bert said. "Maude thinks that
a muzzle will prevent him from doing
any more damage with his superpower,
and we've got those back at the station
for cases of extreme verbal abuse. If
that doesn't work, SPOON is Plan B."

"Yeah, they try to stay out of our way
once the crooks are caught," Ansel said.
"That's probably for the best anyhow."

He still wasn't looking forward to dealing
with this perp, but if Bert wasn't balking,
then Ansel certainly wouldn't either.

Justin filled out a patient tag for Bert
and then tidied up the first aid supplies.

Bert stretched out his legs and led the way
toward the back of the building. "We stashed
the accused in the loading area," he said.
"Less chance of hitting innocent bystanders
back there, and some of the staff still wanted
to talk with him before we took him away."

In fact, Ansel could hear that "talk" as
they approached, and it didn't sound happy.

Three men stood together in a triangle:
a quiet black man in an argyle sweater,
a trim white man in a dark blue suit, and
a pudgier white man in a button-up shirt
and dark trousers a size too small.

Nearby, Maude leaned against the wall
and watched them with veiled amusement.

"That's Reverend Sutherland in the back
wearing argyle," Bert said quietly. "The suit
is Leopold Beale; he's the chairman here.
The big whiny guy in the sky-blue shirt
is Enos Massenburg, our suspect."

Maude drifted over to them and said,
"Are we ready to wrap up this mess yet?
Massenburg's still making lawyer noises, but
the other staff are losing patience with him."

"I'm ready," Bert said as he slipped
the handcuffs out of his utility belt.

"Mr. Arnoldson is right, you're
too soft on these bums," Enos said,
glaring at the suited man beside him.

"That is enough," said Mr. Beale.
"Enos Massenburg, you are fired
for verbal abuse of our residents."
He turned to Bert. "Please remove
this man from my building now."

"Yes sir," Bert said. He began
reading the rights while pulling
the man's hands behind his back.

"You can't just fire me!" Enos protested.
"You owe me unemployment at least."

Instead of answering him, Mr. Beale
turned to Ansel. "If he tries to push for
unemployment, would one of you come
testify about his abuse? I'd rather not
bother the victims about that. They
have enough to deal with already."

"Yes, of course," said Ansel.
"We will do whatever we can
to shield them from further distress.
Ideally we'd like to get at least one of
them to testify about the abuse, but
people can submit a statement instead
if they don't want to face him in court."

"I'll do it," Bert said as he clicked the cuffs
closed around the thick wrists. "That way
we've got an eyewitness report of him doing
direct harm, and assaulting an officer."

"Thank you," said Mr. Beale. "He has
done quite enough damage already."

"What do you mean?" Justin said.
"Some of it's obvious, but you sound
like you have something particular in mind."

"The words with which a child's heart is poisoned,
whether through malice or through ignorance,
remain branded in his memory, and
sooner or later they burn his soul,"
Mr. Beale recited slowly.

Ansel shivered. Emotional abuse
could cause all kinds of problems,
some of which didn't heal easily.

Behind them, the pastor finally
unclasped his hands and looked up.

"Are you okay, Reverend Sutherland?"
asked Ansel. "You seemed to zone out there."

"I am well," said the pastor.
"I was just praying for God to shed
some enlightenment on this sad situation."

Ansel turned to watch Enos marched out
the back door to the parking lot shared with
nearby buildings, where Bert put him
into the back of a waiting police car.

"Looks like it worked," Ansel said.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long enough to need the notes in a separate section. Meet the characters.  Visit the settings.  Read the topical footnotes.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 01:27 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
wow.. that is one nasty power!

and for once, I hope the prison system drops the ball, just a little, with Enos...just enough for a little rough justice. Let someone he branded in prison do the same to him with a hot iron.

and then let him see the error of his way and spend the rest of his life with his own shame.

Although, I really hope Ansel gets the day off after this... and that Casey and Bolin turn up again. They're interesting!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 01:37 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Thank you.

Need some time before anything else.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 03:25 am (UTC)
mama_kestrel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mama_kestrel
*shiver*. Lends a whole new meaning to words dripping vitriol. Talk about punching down! Bad enough with vulnerable adults - but to do that to children? Pure, petty, spiteful, evil.

I'm trying to think of a good use for such a power. I can't.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 03:34 am (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A nebula shifting in rainbow hues from red to blue (Rainbow Galaxy)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
Maybe in the body mod and scarification community, or with a consenting masochist...

And that's only if that ability can be controlled to whatever preferences the recipient has. It *sounds* like they're inflicted through negative emotion, in a literal sense lashing out, so maybe they could be used differently or to different degrees with other emotions? But he would probably have to be willing to develop that level of control, which I doubt he would be. :/

- Sg

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 03:28 am (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A nebula shifting in rainbow hues from red to blue (Rainbow Galaxy)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
This was very satisfying to read.

*winces* at Ansel's hand injuries - the body gets dry skin in winter, and when we were in ceramics regularly (and having to wash hands very frequently in the studio) they chapped horribly. Having that happen with hand sanitizer would *not* be a pleasant experience. It's good that Ansel has people around to help him clean up.
I keep meaning to check that there are lotion bottles by the sink, now that we're volunteering there again.

- Sg

EGADS

Date: 2017-09-28 04:56 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
That was... hard... to read. I mean, I had to take several breaks on the first read through, and I'm NOT ready for a second yet.

But it made me sit and think of the /opposite/ power. Of someone warm and gentle offering a temporary 'tattoo' somewhere chosen by the recipient, no larger than palm-sized. Imagine how a person's outlook could change if, for two to three weeks, they had the word "brave" or "lovable" or "precious" indelibly on their skin, as a SHIELD against the nasty labels people toss around to make themselves seem /more than/.

I'd certainly love to see it offered as a 'treatment' in the catalog of other options given to the victims.

Re: EGADS

Date: 2017-09-28 07:05 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Actually, I had an -IDEA-!

ouch

Date: 2017-09-28 05:06 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was....well....I'm not coherent enough to make a nuanced and coherent comment right now ...ECR...but ouch, and good, and ouch....

On a similar ouch note...the outreach must really be stretching The budget if they have the craps hand sanitizer that dries you out like that...or the person doing the ordering was clueless about which brands are use and glove compatible...always go for a foam with built in moisturizing propperties if you're gunna be gloving up right after slathering sanitizer on, save your hands the grief of alcohol chap and sting and chap and sting

Re: ouch

Date: 2017-09-28 06:40 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Bulk sanitizer gel is the stuff that REALLY dries out the skin, it doesn't dry well and will leave gummy or tacky residue after enough applications...it can make even getting a glove on your hands impossible. High end sanitizer comes in liquid and foam options with moisturizing ingredients so it dries fast and leaves very little in the way of residue on the hands...hospital grade sanitizer even comes in aerosol powered foam canisters and dries so fast you hardly even feel it on the skin after rubbing it in. Still leaves a bit of a residue and you should still wash your hands often.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 02:55 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
Whoof. That's a gruesome power. I'm glad they picked him up; there's no call to be treating people like that.

Very interesting to see a mass casualty aftermath with such a strong emotional and mental injury focus. The physical injuries were there, yes - but the worst sting is in the word, not the loss of some skin.

Ansel is such a boss.
I'm glad Turq wasn't along for that one.

I went and watched We are the Others as an antidote for the creeps. (Warning to anyone feeling sensitive: song references bullying, assault, and murder in supportive context.)

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-09-28 06:52 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>> I was also intrigued by the challenge of a scene where conventional triage did no good at all, because everyone was in the same category. They had to think of some other way to sort the casualties.

That was interesting too. Having people self-sort made sense in this situation. I liked the range from "oh gosh help NOW" to *nope out* across the affected people, too.

>> Gah, I usually write antidotes, not things that need antidotes.

My own fault - I saw the warnings, assessed myself as feeling shaky, and went and read it anyway because a) I trust you as an author to do the right thing by the characters and b) I like Ansel. (Edit: And c) I know where to find some quick pick-ups afterward if I need them.)
Edited ()) Date: 2017-09-28 06:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-09-28 11:03 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>> That's what I put on my heavier stuff -- body horror, graphic descriptions, canon-atypical violence, etc.

Yup. Honestly, I saw and recognized the warning; sometimes heavier h/c is really helpful when in shaky space. Today, I miscalculated. I want to be clear that it's not /your/ fault - I pay attention to your warnings, which is why I'm nowhere near certain threads and will revisit others only when steady enough to read without going splat.

>> Did I handle the material well, or was there too much hurt in proportion to the comfort?

I thought you did well in the balance. There's some serious whump, yes - but everyone comes out of it, and comes out of it with at least part of a solution, which is better than local normal by a bound or two.

>> Reading as a coping skill is awesome.

Yay! :D
Edited Date: 2017-09-28 11:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-09-29 08:22 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>> I just wanted to make sure that I hadn't missed a warning or muffed the balance.

Nah, you did good by my lights.
This one provoked a lot of thought, in a good way. I keep mulling it over and going, what else would help? So that's a benefit in itself, because it flexes a type of problem-solving I don't often have cause to use.

Like many other touchy people, I'd make a lousy cop, but that doesn't mean "don't learn how to triage."

>> I think Diminished Expectations has about 3 fans.

That's one of the ones I read only when in exactly the right headspace. It's ... intense.

>> Maybe it will help improve local offerings -- I know some of my readers have taken these ideas to use at work.

Here's hoping. I've swiped several things from you and notably improved the trainings I give. ^^

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-28 09:50 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] daisiesrockalot
Huh, need some time to digest this.

One thing that just popped out at me as I was read; I'm really curious what word he would try to brand on Ansel.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-30 02:24 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Intense; well worth the read. I liked seeing the wide range of ways people coped with it, and watching Ansel at work is always a pleasure.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-03-16 01:43 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Yikes. I had to take breaks while reading this too. Then I went and looked at the pictures of the victims and OMFG was that ever a gut-punch. Sent my brain straight to a line out of the Lord Darcy books: "Black magic is a matter of symbolism and intent."

What I want to see done to this guy is the same thing that was done to the clipper who mutilated Cassandra -- have his power stripped from him so that he can NEVER EVER DO THIS TO ANYONE ELSE EVER AGAIN. I don't care if there might, eventually, be some way for it to be used beneficially; I don't trust him to get there, and I'm not willing to risk anyone else in the process of waiting for his miracle. (Same reason I support life imprisonment for serial rapists.) And then I want him to have a permanent record so that he can never, ever work with poor, homeless, or disadvantaged people ever again, or do any other kind of charity work. Let him find another career; he's a white dude, so it shouldn't be hard.

I'm not sorry I read it, but it was rough going.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-20 02:01 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I like this one, I like seeing Ansel in action, helping people.

Lanolin. Medical grade lanolin is the best nipple cream. I have a tube of it from when I had my youngest, the hospital gave it to me. You can also buy it in stores. It's edible and very hypoallergenic.

You're welcome.

Date: 2018-06-20 02:47 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
In which a clue is had. :D

Well, the hospitals and Health Department around here are very keen on breast feeding. There is a lot of support to be had. Nursing rooms are easy to find in places like malls and large department stores, and there are even ads, commercials and billboards, and free magazines about breast feeding and the benefits thereof.

Re: You're welcome.

Date: 2018-06-20 03:54 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Well, the WIC office is great. And they've got a huge jar of condoms on a shelf right by the door, you just go in and grab some, don't have to talk to anybody. With pamphlets! In all kinds of interesting flavors and colors. The condoms, not the pamphlets.
Edited Date: 2018-06-20 03:54 am (UTC)

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