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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 54: Brown 71
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Previous chapter: Chapter 53: Slade 65
Over the course of the summer, Derek eventually did catch his mouse--and a small snake, a salamander, a chipmunk, a squirrel, and a robin. He also played with insects, including bees and wasps (he was very nervous about the wasps, but having succeeded with other insects he thought he should at least get to know what their minds were like). He wanted to try larger animals, but he was still too young to be able to move about the forest on his own, and such animals did not come within his sight, even when he flew above the clearing a short distance.
Early in the fall, on a chillier than usual morning, he was watching steam rise off his hot breakfast. He was reluctant to eat it. Part of this was that he was not so hungry as he remembered being even a few weeks before, as if he did not need so much food; part of it was that he had more teeth coming in, and his mouth was sore again. So he was more poking at it and letting his mind wander than eating it. Don't play with your food, he thought. But then, if you didn't want to eat your food, what else was there to do with it? It might be interesting to play with it, even if it was a mush something like oatmeal made from gathered seeds. He wanted to play with it; the impulse to do so was strong.
He focused his attention on the steam rising from the bowl. He tried to capture it, to move it, to shift it off to the left. Gradually it moved. He was so surprised, he stopped, and it rose and returned to its normal column. But the idea was so interesting that he tried again, this time gathering the steam into a ball and moving it around the air where he wanted it.
The steam dissipated quickly into the air, but not before he was quite certain he had controlled its movement. He gathered more steam, and did this again, several times. He decided that there were other ways to do this. He focused on the air next to the steam--air he couldn't see, but knew was there--and pushed it into the steam like a breeze. The steam spread as it was struck. Derek smiled. He could create wind. Could he also create waves?
Well, he didn't have any water; but he had his cereal. It wasn't exactly watery, but it was mushy, and he could do something with that. He focused his attention on the cereal, trying to raise a column of mush above the surface of the bowl.
The entire contents of the bowl suddenly burst all over the area, as if it had exploded. He was covered in the stuff; it was all over the ground. His mother, of course, was not far off; he wasn't sure whether it hit her, but she obviously knew something had happened. Her voice was quite stern.
"Theian Toreinu Morach, what have you done?"
She used his whole name; she was not happy.
"I'm sorry, Mom; I was trying to--and I don't know--it suddenly just--"
"Do you think I was born yesterday, young man? Food does not fly out of the bowl without help. Now look at this mess, all over you, all over the clearing." She sighed an exasperated sigh. "I don't know where to begin."
"Well," Derek said, "I can probably get someone to clean up most of the mess, if you want."
"Who are you going to get to clean up the mess?"
"The mice that live in the bushes around us. I can probably call a few of them to come here and eat the spilled food. They'll probably do it while I'm down at the water getting bathed."
His mother squinted one unbelieving eye at him. "You have the craziest ideas sometimes."
"Can't hurt to let me try it," he said. "Only don't tell Dad I can call mice--I don't know if I want him to start shooting them, because then there wouldn't be any around to call."
He could see she didn't believe her; he wasn't certain whether he believed himself. But he'd put himself on the line here; it was time to do it. He sent out the summons once, twice, half a dozen times; and mice started appearing around the edges of the field. Moving away from the mess (apart from that part of it that he carried with him), he started putting the thought into their heads that they could eat this mush. Immediately they moved into it, perhaps a bit trepidatiously given that there were sprites in the area. Derek took hold of his mother's hand with his own somewhat messy one, and started leading her down to the stream where she usually washed him. "We should leave them to their work while I get cleaned up. I'm sorry about that; I was trying to do something, and it didn't work. But it's all right--I'll try again sometime, and it will work eventually."
In fact, he tried again while he was bathing. He managed, after several unsuccessful attempts, to lift the water over his head and pour it onto himself. He again played with it, making waterspouts and whirlpools, dancing columns, shower-like sprays, and liquid sculptures. It was the most fun he'd had bathing in as long as he could remember. He wondered whether part of it was that he was again a child, despite his long memories and years of life, or whether it was nothing more than the amazing new toy he had created from his thoughts.
As he lay in bed that night, the pain in his teeth returned; he had a thought. If he could increase the sensitivity of his hearing, couldn't he similarly decrease the sensitivity of his mouth? Could he feel less pain? It seemed a good idea. In fact, it was exactly the idea he had presented to his father months ago when he went through tooth pain before, but this time it was about doing it by thought, not by medicine. The ache in his gums was keeping him awake. If he could ignore it, he would fall asleep; if he fell asleep, it wouldn't hurt anymore. He just had to figure out where in his brain the pain was actually felt. After all, pain was something that you felt because your brain told you where it was. If he could deal with it there, it would be a lot less, well, a lot less painful.
He tried one thing and another. In the end he fell asleep without having succeeded. He awoke with the pain still there. But today he was hungry, and he did not want pain in his teeth to keep him from eating his breakfast. "I can do this," he said aloud. He looked to see if his mother was going to answer; but this time she seemed preoccupied with other thoughts. I can do this, he thought again, and focused on where the pain was. Turn it down, he thought. It's like releasing morphia, or whatever, in the brain, maybe. Just make it so that you don't feel the pain so much. Gradually, as his mind took over, the pain became more bearable. It was still there, certainly; but he was able to ignore it, almost as if he was recognizing the pain in someone else. That person is in pain; I feel terrible for them.
Smiling brought an extra twinge that penetrated his defense; but he quickly got it back under control. He flew over to the part of the clearing where he usually ate (the mice had cleaned it up very nicely) and enjoyed the same sort of cereal he had destroyed the previous morning. He was tempted to try playing with the cereal again, but memories of a cold bath on a cold morning, as much fun as it was, deterred him.
His teeth continued to bother him, though. It seemed that whenever he took his mind off the pain, the pain returned. That was counter-productive, he thought. It was rather silly that he had either to think about the pain or experience it; thus, pain dominated his day, since he could either feel it or focus on it. It should be possible to reduce the pain, maybe eliminate it entirely, and not have to think about it anymore.
This thought gave him pause. He remembered his father's warning that pain was a good thing, and if you turned it off completely you would be vulnerable. He didn't want to turn off pain completely; he wanted to turn it off in his gums, and only for a couple of days while his teeth cut through. This, though, was the kind of thing which would be very bad if you messed it up.
Still, when you're in pain you will sometimes do incredibly stupid things to stop it. Derek thought that people had probably killed themselves to escape persistent pain that was not so severe as his. They had certainly taken very dangerous medicines, and done a lot of other things over the years. The risk of doing something terribly wrong still concerned him. One thing he did not want to do was try to reduce the pain while in the throes of it; that was a recipe for disaster. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus, couldn't think much at all, when the pain was bad. Thus he was going to have to do something he imagined was rather difficult: he was going to have to teach himself to reduce the pain even while he was using his mind to control it, effectively splitting his concentration into two things at once. He'd played video games where you had to control objects on opposite sides of the screen at the same time; and he was pretty sure that Lauren could use two of her mind powers simultaneously. He had never done this, never used one power while learning another, but he didn't see how he could safely attempt to reduce his pain while it was raging, so he was going to have to focus on resisting the pain first, and then while he was doing that see what he could do about getting rid of it.
He managed to get the pain under control; or perhaps it was only himself he got under control, as the pain was still there. Now, he thought, how do we turn down the sensors? There are nerves in the gums; they're sending the signal to the brain. If we could put resistors in the line, sort of like potentiometers, we could turn it down. Of course, they aren't there; but we could make them. We could increase the resistance, maybe run some of the voltage to ground--well, he was thinking more like an electrician; but he'd always heard that nerves worked by electrical impulses, so how much different could they be? Cut down the amount of electricity that flows from nerve to nerve to reach the brain, and you've shut down the pain.
It probably took him an hour actually to do it; but then, what else did he have to do? By the time his mother called him for lunch, he was feeling much better, not just resisting the pain but knowing that whatever was happening in his mouth, it didn't hurt as much. Pain no longer ruled him; he ruled it.
It was a few days after that that the family returned to their hollow in the tree. Derek managed to fly by himself to the opening, which he now realized was probably forty or fifty feet above the ground. Food and supplies had already been packed away for the winter, and Morani sealed the entrance against the impending cold.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #180: Versers Focus. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: