Metapod waited. It was what he always did. Every day. Every night.
It was harder in the day. That was when the butterfree came out to collect their honey. Metapod would watch them, swooping and diving, frolicking amongst the trees. Every so often he would even see them fall in love. Metapod didn’t know if there were other metapod in the forest. It was likely, sure. Though unfortunately, he was unable to check. He had no legs. All he could do was wait.
One day, on a sunny morning in spring, Metapod saw a trainer. He could hardly believe his eyes. A trainer, here! Such a rare sight so deep in Viridian Forest. Maybe he would be captured and trained, used in battles until, until…he would evolve into a beautiful butterfree! Metapod stood as still and proudly as he could, hardening his shell. He wanted to look his absolute best. The trainer was a teenage girl, maybe sixteen, seventeen years old. She wore denim shorts and cool black boots, a white shirt and a funky vest. Pinned to it were an assortment of badges, all gleaming in the sun. She was so cool! Metapod hardened his shell again. It was important he made a good impression.
The trainer stopped a few metres in front of him.
She smiled. “Whoa, a metapod!”
She had noticed him!
Reaching into the bag slung across her shoulder, she excitedly withdrew a pokeball. It swelled in size within her hand. She tossed it in his direction, the red and white colours swirling into a blur. He couldn’t believe it! This was really happening! He squeezed his eyes shut, the excitement simply too much to bear. Strangely, he heard the ball hit the ground before him, the fizzle of another pokemon appearing. Curious, he slowly opened his eyes. Standing over him was a red, angry looking lizard. It glared down its snout towards him. A clump of fire burnt brightly on its tail, a sight that made Metapod uneasy.
The girl thrust her hand in his direction. “Charmeleon! Flamethrower!”
The lizard leaned forward, a stream of fire billowing from its mouth. The flames engulfed Metapod completely. It hurt in ways he did not know he could be hurt. His shell crisped and crackled. His insides bubbled and boiled. He fell onto his side, broken. He heard the trainer speak, but was too weak to understand. He tried to harden his shell, but couldn’t. He fainted.
He woke up in the rain, lying on his side. Somehow, he had survived, though his lack of arms or legs meant he was unable get back up. The water felt nice against his shell. He could even harden again, though he was not sure he wanted to. He felt bad inside. Through half open eyes he saw a caterpie in the distance, slowly crawling toward him. Sometimes he missed being a caterpie. In those days he could go wherever he wanted, explore Viridian Forest in its entirety. Evolving was not something he had planned. In fact, it had actually happened by accident.
Back when he was Caterpie, he was not what one would consider to be adept at battling. Instead, he preferred to spend his days eating leaves. He quite enjoyed it. One fateful sunny morning, he spied a particularly lush branch of them high up in a tree. Carefully he made his way up the trunk, ascending to the highest branch. Wriggling his way across it was incredibly nerve racking, for this was the highest he had ever been. He remembered looking down, seeing a weedle grazing on the grass below. The height made him a little dizzy, so he decided it best to focus his attention on the foliage overhead. Stretching out his neck, he nibbled away to his hearts content. How juicy those leaves were! How crisp! So swept up in his delight, he did not notice the wind until it was upon him. The leaves around him rustled, his tiny round feet slipping from the branch. Down and down he tumbled, spinning helplessly through the air. He did not, however hit the ground. Instead, he struck hard against the back of the weedle’s head. He heard it squeak in pain, felt its body go limp beneath him.
What happened next was amazing. His entire body began to tingle, a sparkling white light spreading across his skin. He could feel himself evolving, both his insides and out shifting into something better. It didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it felt rather heavenly. Once it had finished, Caterpie was gone. Now, he was Metapod, a bug type cocoon pokemon, with the extra special ability to harden his own shell.
That felt like a life time ago. Before all of the waiting. These days, he had often found himself wondering if it had been a big mistake. That maybe life was better as a caterpie. He also sometimes wondered about the weedle. Was it okay? Did it die? Was its corpse still lying there behind him, worn and weathered by time?
He watched the approaching caterpie. Normally they didn’t come this close. Perhaps it could be a new friend, a companion in the lonely days ahead. He hardened his shell excitedly, the cute little caterpie examining him up close. Suddenly, it bit him. Right in the eye. Metapod winced in pain, hardening his shell. The caterpie crawled slowly over him and disappeared into the forest.
Days passed. The eye that had been bitten had only grown blurrier. Most of the time he simply kept it closed. While the sun was out he watched the butterfrees, his nights spent staring at the ground. Sometimes he wished that he were still standing, or that someone would come along and prop him back up. He ignored the thought as best he could, figuring it better not to dwell on things he knew he could not control.
Metapod lost track of time. His injured eye was now so sore it would not open at all. He did not care for much, did not even think about being a caterpie or a butterfree. Most of the time, he did not think at all. He simply lay there, waiting.
On a cool, autumn afternoon, an hour or two before dusk, Metapod heard something coming. It sounded bigger than any of the pokemon in Viridian Forest. It was a trainer! Metapod calmed himself, hardening his shell. He remembered last time. The cool girl. The fire lizard. He remembered the burns, how they hurt him deep inside. He would not get his hopes up like that again.
Still, he could not help but be a little curious about the young boy that approached. He looked to be a brand new trainer, no older than ten. He wore a straw hat, a singlet and shorts. Across his shoulder he held a…a…a net! A bug catching net! Metapod couldn’t believe his luck! It was a bug trainer! He hardened his shell, forcing his broken eye to partially open.
“Wow!” the boy exclaimed. “A one-eyed metapod! That’s new.” Reaching into his pocket, the boy withdrew a pokeball. It expanded in his hand. Metapod held his breath as the boy threw it towards him. He closed his eyes, too nervous to face whatever might happen next. His heart sank at the sound of the pokeball opening up in front of him. Metapod squinted through his good eye, cautiously hardening his shell.
Before him stood a tall, dark blue beetle, an intimidating horn extending from its head.
“Heracross!” the boy shouted. “Megahorn!”
The beetle charged, lowering its horn to strike. Metapod winced, bracing for the blow. It struck him in the neck, a violent blast of pain so severe it sent him soaring through the air. He trembled as he flew, spinning through the forest like some kind of helpless, flying log. He smacked hard against a tree trunk, then fell onto the ground.
It rained that night. Metapod refused to even open his eyes. He was too hurt, too defeated to face the world. He just lay there in the rain, occasionally hardening his shell.
Some time later, the rain stopped. Metapod slowly opened his eye. He could not believe what he was seeing. Lights! Beautiful, dazzling lights rising up into the night. Viridian City! It had to be. He had heard about it once, even tried to find it back when he was Caterpie. Though never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that it would be so beautiful. Suddenly it didn’t matter that he did not have a trainer. He didn’t even care about turning into a butterfree. How could he when he had this beautiful city to gaze upon? For the first time since Metapod had evolved, he felt good inside. He was happy.
The days and nights that followed were nothing short of magical. He began to consider himself as something of a guardian, keeping an ever-vigilant watch over his glorious Viridian City. Even his broken eye had started to feel a little better.
Later that week, as the sun began to rise, the trees behind him rustled. He heard a hearty chirp, the swooshing of large wings. A piercing pain stung out across his back, razor sharp claws stabbing through his shell. He was lifted up and off the ground, higher and higher. Over the forest, over the city, up, up into a bunch of sticks atop a rocky outcrop. Whatever had grabbed him cawed, dropping him with a thud. A chorus of tiny cheeps twittered in response. He could see them coming now, a brood of baby pidgeys with hunger in their eyes. He hardened the best he could as they began to peck. A bold one leapt up on him, studying his shell as its head flicked from side to side. It began pecking at his open eye, not stopping until he could no longer see. Metapod felt his strength begin to leave him, his ability to harden fade. The pidgeys chirped with delight as his shell finally split open, aggressively nuzzling their beaks to feed on his soft insides.
If it weren’t for the faint sound of static interference from the alarm clock speaker, a small herd of Pokemon could have been in the room. A young Simon Clarke pulled down the tail of his plastic Pikachu to silence the alarm, but not before letting his favorite Pokemon, Squirtle, give his final battle cry.
Simon had actually been up for over an hour. Even longer if you count the tossing and turning. He always struggled sleeping the night before his birthday. But this year was different. This year he was turning ten. This year, he would be of age.
It took all of his effort to not jump out of bed, grab his gear and run frantically out of the house. But he knew he must remain calm. A skilled Pokemon Trainer doesn’t rush. And this is to be learned at an early age if he were to ever become a Pokemon Master.
Simon slid off the bed and dressed himself in a fresh pair of trainer’s pants and jacket. He jumped back to his bed and sat firmly while examining a laminated checklist. He didn’t care that it was the fourth time he would go through his backpack.
“Pokedex, check. Pokeballs, check. Squirt Squirt….”
Simon shook his bag upside down and threw it to the side. He ran his hands through the spilled items.
“Where is it!”
Simon’s room was littered with hundreds of Pokemon items. Posters, figurines, cards, and even his “Original 150” bedspread was still around from when he was five. But only one item mattered. ‘Squirt Squirt’, his miniature figurine his father had given him the day before he passed away. Simon still remembered his father pulling the tiny Pokeball out of his bag and placing it is his tiny hands. It was the first time he had opened a Pokeball of any kind and when Squirtle popped out, his passion was cemented.
It was the very next day, just after naming him ‘Squirt Squirt’, that his mom came in with the news. Simon’s father had been on his way to a neighboring city gym to train his prized Charizard. But he made the mistake of taking shortcut through Viridian Forest after hours. The police said there was no helping him. A wild pack of Jigglypuff surrounded him without notice. They Jiggly’d him for over an hour before he was finally Puff’d twice in the head.
There was no separating Simon from ‘Squirt Squirt’ and no Pokemon that could match his love for Squirtle. Shoving his things into his backpack, Simon flew down the stairs.
“Mom! Have you seen Squirt Squirt? I can’t find him!”
“Happy Birthday sweetie,” his mom said quietly. She sat alone at the kitchen table, looking down at her hands. Simon’s stride slowed immediately when he saw her.
“Thank you mom,” he responded. “You haven’t seen Squirt Squirt have you? He was in my room before I went to bed.”
Still without looking at him, she opened her palms to reveal the tiny figurine.
“I’m sorry sweetie. I meant to bring it back in before you woke up. I was just…trying to remember him.”
Simon dropped his bag to the floor and put both his hands on his mother’s open palm.
“It’s okay mom,” Simon assured. His mother looked away.
“I know there’s nothing I can do to stop you from leaving today. But I want you to know I support you.”
Simon twitched back.
“I know I’ve shared my feelings about you becoming a trainer. But it’s important to follow your passions. Your father had the same passion. I don’t blame him for what happened and I’m not going to blame you for your passion either.”
Simon’s hand squeezed tighter on his mother’s.
“Thank you, mom.”
His mother nodded.
“Just know that I’ll always be here for you. I love you.” She slowly extended her opposite hand and revealed a second figurine Pokeball. It was worn and slightly dented. Simon lifted from her hands and the hinge popped open. Inside was a single Squirtle figurine, this one with a small red bow on its head.
“It was mine when I was a child. It’s my favorite Pokemon as well Simon. One of the reasons your father gave you your very own.”
“I…. I love you mom.”
“I know you do sweetie. And I know you’ll be great.”
Simon placed both figurines into his bag and slowly walked to the door. Now more than ever, he was sure he was ready for the next step of his life to begin. With a sigh, he pushed forward.
It was less than a minute before he was running again. He knew he wasn’t showing the patience of a real trainer, but he didn’t care. He arrived at the professor’s laboratory breathing heavily. He closed his eyes. It was time to focus. Another sigh. He casually strolled in.
“Simon! My dear boy!” Professor Oak stood behind his table, just as Simon had always seen him.
“Hello professor,” said Simon, his face expressionless.
“Well don’t just stand there. Birthday boys should be more excited.”
Simon remained calm.
“Professor, it’s not just my birthday today. It’s my tenth birthday.”
“Ah, a very important birthday indeed,” agreed Professor Oak.
“And you know it’s been a dream of mine to become a trainer.”
“I do. Much like your father before you.”
“And being ten, I am of age to get my own Pokemon. From a professor.”
“That you are,” nodded Oak.
Simon stood tall, adjusting his backpack straight.
“Professor Oak, I choose Squirtle!”
Oak’s head tilted slightly, staring at Simon.
“Squirtle, Professor. I choose Squirtle.”
The professor’s eyes shift around the room, as if looking for help.
“Simon, what are you talking about?”
“That’s the Pokemon I choose professor.”
“Uh, Simon, I don’t have a Squirtle.”
Simon’s face dropped slightly.
Simon looked at the floor for a moment, but abruptly stood tall again.
“Well then professor, I choose Bulbasaur!”
The professor paused again, confused.
“Simon I don’t have Bulbasaur either.”
“Well then I choose..”
“No Simon, I don’t have any Pokemon.”
The professor rubbed the back of his neck.
“This is a bit awkward…. I haven’t had any Pokemon since 1996.”
Simon’s mouth fell open, but was speechless.
“Yeah… I mean in ’96 I had three to give away. But they were easily gone in a day or two.”
“Oh…” muttered Simon.
“Yeah…” The professor cleared his throat, forcefully.
“So you got nothing back there?”
Simon looked down again, kicking the floor lightly.
“Not even like a Magikarp or something?”
“Christ are you fucking with me right now Simon? I don’t have anything!”
“Good lord,” muttered the professor to himself.
“Alright… well I guess I’ll…. see you later then.” Simon slowly turned around.
“Okay… you going to do anything fun for your birthday?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Cool… well have a good one then.”
A scrawny, hunched figure in an oversized lab coat lingered in the shadows behind the towering Viridian City Memorial Station. He was shorter than the trainer had expected and his beady little eyes shifted rapidly behind thick, cracked lenses. The trainer approached the jumpy little man slowly; he didn’t want to spook him.
“Did it work?”
“W-we-were y-you followed?”
“Well w-were you?”
“No! Look, I don’t have time for your spy movie nonsense tonight. Did the upgrade work or not?”
“W-why do I work w-with such a-amateurs? Yes it worked.” The little man sighed as he reached into the folds of his grubby white coat. As his bony hand searched the breast pocket, its surface bulged and a faded logo caught the dim glow of a nearby street light. “Silph Co.” The name was a relic, a long forgotten mark of prestige that some people just refused to let die.
After a moment of rummaging, the old engineer produced a single key. He threw to the trainer and held out his hand expectantly, awaiting his payment.
“Hand me the case first.” The trainer demanded.
“N-no deal, s-sonny. P-payment first.”
“You want these?” The trainer opened the ornate wooden display box he had brought with him. “You hand me the case.”
The engineer’s eyes were locked on the eight gleaming marvels within as he slid a heavy metal case to the trainer.
“Thank you.” The trainer said, taking a final glance at his prized Kanto badges as he handed them over. He never imagined he’d have to part with them after so many years but there was no price Ash wouldn’t pay to see to his best friend once again.
The kids scrambled to put away their cards as Ms. Cook stood up from her desk. Focusing in on Billy Wardell whose pudgy fingers were struggling with the zipper of his hand-me-down backpack, the slender grey haired teacher bent her knees and swooped up the boy’s deck of cards. Ms. Cook glared at the students as they skulked back to their desks. They certainly had better things to do.
They never thought they would get caught, hiding their little games in the thickets of the classroom’s desks. They thought they were so clever, but Mrs. Cook had been at the game longer than they ever had; she was more clever, she was more savvy, and she was more ruthless.
Ever since principal Elm had called on a ban on games and toys in the school, it had been open season for all the teachers. The Monster Card fad had taken up like all these kinds of things distracting the students from their studies, spreading in a wildfire of youthful enthusiasm, and it was up to the teachers to put it out.
As she walked back to her spot, she thumbed through the deck and looked at the cards. Each one had the picture of some cartoon monster and a collection of numbers. Some of the pictures were actually quite charming. The numbers would allow the little reprobates to make the cards ‘fight’ and earn points or energy or whatnot. Childish things, really.
Their parents certainly had better things to spend their money on. Mrs. Cook sat down at her desk and opened its top drawer. She tossed Billy’s cards in and slammed it shut. Not even second period yet and the desk had claimed its first.
In second, Mrs. Cook took a pile of cards from Lindsay Downs. In third she caught both Ryan Fry and Tyler Soaps trying to sneak a game in the boy’s bathroom. That availed her two entire decks. For a moment, she worried if the desk drawer would have enough space to make it through the day.
During lunch period, Ms. Cook prowled the halls looking for violators. Stopping near a janitor’s closet sandwiched between two rows of lockers, she found two girls giggling about who Henry Gierke was taking to the next dance. It was a cover. This was a swap, caught in the act.
One girl was attempting to palm a small envelope in her hand. Reaching out, the teacher cleared her throat and yanked it from the young lady’s hand. The veteran teacher remembered the girls name, Marcy White. She was from the class above Ms. Cook’s home room. The girls threw her a sour look and scampered back to the cafeteria.
Fourth period yielded no busts and fifth went by with only a few scrapings care of Jimmy Hanson who had come late and tried to get a game going with Judy Winthrope. It was an easy catch.
As the day’s bell rang, the children shuffled out. Those that had lost cards to the teacher glanced towards Ms. Cook’s top drawer. She ignored their eyes and pretended to grade math quizzes. Once taken, the cards were hers.
After finishing the day’s duties, Ms. Cook stood up and put on her jacket. Picking up her purse, she set it on the ground. Pulling out the top drawer she emptied its contents into the satchel. Standing up, she left the room and headed home.
Once there, she poured herself a glass of wine and took the day’s collection from her bag. Shuffling through the cards she sighed with disappointment. It was just as she had feared, the kids were wasting her time.
In the bunch, of the entire day’s catch, not one of those little idiots had gotten a single rare. Even the two or three uncommon were simple card stock, not a single foil or limited print. Frustrated, Ms. Cook dumped the cards in the wastebin. Their parents could stand to spend their money on better things. Specifically, a proper rare or two.
Sipping her wine, the elderly woman sunk into her chair for a moment. Then, as though hit by a bolt of lightning she shot up and picked up her purse again. Dipping her hand into its outside pocket she picked up the envelope from earlier.
Blowing it open, she gingerly dumped its contents into her hand, out fell a shiny foil card depicting a fire breathing dragon with a silver lining. Holding it up to the light she tilted and admired it like a jeweler holding prized gem. Its foil covering shined. Reaching to a shelf near her chair she flipped open a binder. Made up of 3×3 pockets, each page contained a collection of 9 cards.
Making her way through the binder, she saw the flower dinosaur thing she had taken from Georgie Krudup on the third week of classes. She flipped through Rachael Dover’s Beaver monster, Steven Hart’s Squirrel and Kevin Fieldman’s tank turtle creature. She chuckled when she passed Nelle Broker’s rare-print magic cat. The little girl had put up quite the fight for that one and had almost fainted with anger when Ms. Cook had taken it. Finally stopping at an open spot in the binder, she placed the Marcy White’s former card in its home.
After admiring the collection for a bit, she closed the binder and went to bed. Tomorrow was another day of hunting. The kids thought they were so clever, so fast, so secretive. But Ms. Cook knew she was better and that, no matter what, she would eventually catch them all.
The low sun made the moment feel as though the afternoon was holding its breath, still and silent. The advance and retreat of the rockers under his chair rolled out a low rhythm on the cedar porch. Ash Ketchum lazily opened his eyes to check on the color of the sky and glance at the condensation on the glass of iced tea in his hands. His fingers were becoming pruny and cold, so he set the glass on a small table next to him. He wiped the moisture on his pants careful not to wake the friend that was dozing in his lap. A tender smile curled up on Ash’s cheeks and he closed his eyes again. It was so easy to breath out here and so quiet that he accidentally napped until dusk.
When he woke up, the sky was deep blue and a gathering breeze trickled out a bizarre but sweet tune on the wind chimes. The ice in the glass had long since melted, but Ash’s mouth was dry, so he took a sip of his watery tea and breathed in the evening. He gently laid his palm on Pikachu’s back and glided it along the grain, stopping short of the tail. It wasn’t so much out of fear of shock, as the electric mouse had lost a good portion of his charge years ago, but that in his old age his friend hated being touched there. The buzz of nincadas undulated across the field and a flock of pidgeys scattered in flight. The unexpected noise made Ash tense and Pikachu open his eyes.
“Aww, did those pidgeys wake you?”
“I know. What do you say we get some food inside us? Are you hungry?”
“Come on, then. Off my lap with you.”
Ash laid him on the porch floor and stood up to turn on the porch light. He walked to the door, opening it for Pikachu who was slowly but determinedly making his way to his master’s voice. Ash knew the mouse could get around without the extra help, but whether good or bad, it was a habit of his to dote. As soon as his tail crossed the threshold, the door was softly shut and the porch light flicked off.
In the kitchen, Ash pulled berries out of a freezer and scattered two handfuls on a sheet pan. While he waited for the oven to preheat, Ash grabbed a stack of disks from a shelf in the hallway and set them on the dining room table where his computer sat. He walked back into the kitchen to find Pikachu waiting by his bowls and staring at the wall.
“What are you so interested in over there, Pi?”
His friend didn’t move.
“Ah, just kidding. Dinner will be ready in about 20 minutes. Can you make it until then?”
Pikachu yawned and Ash smiled. They had gotten older, but only his pokemon had gotten old. Once the color of dandelion, his fur had washed out to cornsilk yellow. His eyes were pale and milky and his vision all but gone. He could no longer play or warp on the edges of lightning trails. The only things he did with great enthusiasm were eating, sleeping, and cuddling, one of which he was eager to do now. The oven beeped and Ash slid the berries on the rack to roast until the berries were soft enough for Pikachu to eat.
Ash set his bowl of noodles in the dining room and slurped while he went over the notes from his editor. They weren’t very encouraging. Writing was tough business and regardless of the international fame he had achieved, he wasn’t the most deft at slinging words together. Also, according to his editor, the world may not be ready for another Pokedex. Oak’s Pokedex was the standard for any trainer or breeder and the market was already dangerously saturated. Still, Oak’s was more clinical. Ash wanted something a little more colloquial and despite the warnings that he should focus on memoirs, he continued to research and submit entries, which he usually did until the wee hours of the morning. He worked through the evening, pausing only to stretch or let the mouse outside. By midnight, he had finished another six entries and could have written well into the dawn, but it was his weekend and he needed to be up early for Willow.
He closed the lid on his computer, placed the disks back on the shelf in the hallway, and walked to his bedroom where Pikachu was in his bed softly snoring. Ash undressed, got into bed and dreamt until his alarm pulled him back.
Rain drizzled through a cloudy grey morning. After starting the coffee maker and preheating the oven again, the 30 year old former trainer put on his rain boots and got his umbrella to take Pikachu, who hated getting wet, outside. Once back, the porch light was turned on and breakfast was prepared. At nine o’clock, the doorbell rang.
“Princess!” Ash shouted as he kneeled to give his daughter a hug.
“Ash,” said a red-headed woman.
Ash cleared his throat and looked up. “Misty,” he said. “Come in?”
“Thank you, that would be nice,” she said, smiling politely as she walked through the doorway with Willow’s suitcase.
Willow skipped through the hallway running her hands along the walls, occasionally glancing at old photographs of her dad in his training days. Her favorite was the one closest to the kitchen. In an ebony frame, a picture of Ash in a particularly euphoric moment, holding Pikachu up as frozen flakes of confetti surrounded them. “Where’s Pi-Pi?” she called out?
“Aww, honey, I think Pi-Pi’s sleeping right now. Maybe we can wake him up later?”
“We can’t play with him now?”
“I think we should let him rest.” Ash hinted. A look from Misty was begging for a conversation. “Willow, honey, why don’t you go upstairs and unpack? If you want, you can start a puzzle up there.”
“We should do a puzzle tonight!”
“It’s a date. I also have a couple more of those comics you like.”
“Oh, yay!” Willow grabbed the luggage from her mom and did her best to run up the stairs, letting the the back of the suitcase slam against each step.
“Careful, Willow!” Ash called out. Misty nodded to the kitchen. “Coffee?” he asked.
“I don’t have any cream, but -”
“Yeah, I don’t have any milk either. I was gonna take Willow to get some groceries after you left. Milk’s on the list. I have sugar, though.”
“Great. Here you go.” Ash handed her a cup of slightly sludgy black, which Misty grudgingly sipped. She wondered if he had given her old coffee on purpose.
“It’s great, thank you. Ash -”
“How have you been?”
“I’ve been fine. Just working, taking care of our daughter. You know how it is.”
“Hey.” Misty paused for a second. “I’m not trying to bust your balls.” Ash looked down to avoid eye contact.
“I think it’s great you’re writing. I never knew you to do that kind of thing, but I think it’s fantastic, you know? But this seclusion thing is not gonna work for me.”
“I’m not comfortable in Cerulean City.”
“I know that, Ash, but I’m not comfortable with being the one that has to drive her out here every damn time.”
“I’m doing this for her.”
“Bullshit. You’re doing it for you. Saying it’s for her makes you sound like it’s some noble task you’re undertaking.”
“Okay, it’s selfish, I get it, but…what? I drive to the city to pick her up and we get hounded by paparazzi and journalists and I have to apologize every five minutes? I don’t want that, and I know Willow doesn’t want that. Do you want it?”
“Damn it, Ketchum, I am not the bad one here. I accept your celebrity, but can you accept that maybe driving up here for visitation is not ideal for me – that it’s actually really frustrating? You have a car.”
“Okay. Next time. Next time I’ll pick her up.”
“Do you promise? Is this gonna stick?”
“Yeah, it’ll stick. I promise. I’ll pick her up next time.”
“Thank you. I have to go. Thank you for the coffee.”
“Misty. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Ash. Just help me out. Deal?”
“Sure. Willow! Do you want to come say goodbye to your mother?”
“Just a minute!”
“Your mom doesn’t have a minute, Willow! What did we say about good manners?” An audible sigh came from upstairs and Willow Ketchum came bounding down the stairs.
“Be a good girl for Daddy, okay? And don’t stay up late. I don’t want to pick up a cranky girl.”
“I love you. Gimme a kiss. Mwah!”
“I love you too, mommy.”
Misty walked out, shutting the door behind her. The rest of the morning was spent at the grocery store. They stocked up on their favorite foods as well as a 5 kg bag of berries for Pikachu. For lunch, Ash baked fish bites and rice. He promised his daughter a more fun meal for dinner. After doing the dishes, they sat in the living room and played Trivial Pursuit. When the questions got too hard for a six year old, they switched gears and played Candy Land. Ash always let her win after mistakenly thinking that losing would develop character. Instead, he spent the rest of that evening apologizing through a locked bedroom door. Willow was a good winner, though. After a playful victory dance, it was naptime.
While she slept, Ash pulled out his computer and disks from the shelf in the hallway to work, which he did for about thirty minutes before he heard a strange noise in his bedroom. He stopped typing and walked quietly hoping to hear the noise again. It was a strange groaning noise accompanied by a kind of thump.He opened the door to his room and found Pikachu blindly crawling through vomit and bumping into the closet door. In an instant, Ash got a large beach towel and wrapped him up. He put him in the back seat of his car and returned to the house to wake up his daughter.
“Willow, honey. Wake up.”
She opened her eyes softly and immediately closed them again.
“Willow, I need you to wake up. You need to come with Daddy, okay?”
“No, I want to sleep.”
“Baby, I need you to wake up. We have to go to the Pokemon Center. Pi-Pi’s really sick.”
“I don’t want Pi-Pi to be sick.”
“Then we need to go, okay?” Still groggy from her nap, Willow trudged her way to the car with her father. “Buckle up, honey,” Ash said as he carefully sped down the gravel road that made up his driveway.
The Pokemon Center wasn’t very busy. There were four cars in the parking lot and Ash whispered a “Thank you” to no one in particular. He parked in a space close to the entrance, got out, opened the back door, and gently picked up Pikachu who was retching but still wrapped in the beach towel. Father and daughter ran inside and got the attention of the receptionist. “Emergency!” he shouted. “I need help.”
Ash was looking at the receptionist, but a nurse in white was the first to respond.
“It’s my Pikachu, he’s very old and weak, he’s been vomiting and retching for – I don’t know – the past 20…30 minutes?”
“A mix of aspear and oran berries. Roasted.”
“Cart please! Give him to me, sir. Gently, gently.” Ash handed the nurse his beloved friend and watched as they wheeled him into the emergency room. Ash stood in front of the receptionist’s desk while the world outside played muted noises. His skin felt sick and sweaty and cold. The receptionist returned with a clipboard and pen.
“Sir? I need you to fill out some paperwork. Sir, please. Take this.” After a number of failed attempts, she attempted to talk to Willow. “Little girl, can you have your father sit down and fill out this paperwork? It’ll help make your Pikachu better.”
Willow touched her father’s fingers and guided him to the padded chairs where the others were waiting. Ash regained his composure and lead them both to the magazine section so Willow wouldn’t be bored. There weren’t many toys suitable for her age, so he picked up a Highlights magazine and handed it to her. “Here, honey. Daddy needs to fill this out, but if you want, you can read this. Maybe there are some comics in there for you to read.” Willow took the childish looking magazine more out of duty than enthusiasm and skimmed the pages while Ash filled out the necessary paperwork. By the time he finished, Willow had skimmed through all the children’s magazines and some of the ones geared for parents. She settled on the closest thing to comics the Pokemon Center had: a coloring book. All of the pages had already been filled with crayon (poorly, she might have told her father) and probably done by kids younger than her. Ash dragged his feet all the way to the reception desk. “Here you go.”
“Thank you, Mr…Ketchum? Ash Ketchum? The Ash Ketchum?”
“Please. Yes, it’s me, just – not so loud. I don’t want to make a scene.”
“Is that – was that? Is that your pikachu?”
“Yes, but I don’t see why that -”
“Just a moment.” She hopped up from her chair and ran back to the emergency room.
Moments later, she returned and calmly sat down. “Sorry about that,” she said. “All of our patients are important, it’s just that…well, this is a very special case.”
If Ash had been honest with himself, he would have said that he was flattered, but that sense of pride had always been mixed with a little guilt. All pokemon were special and it shouldn’t matter that he was famous. He thanked her and went back to where Willow was sitting. He was glad that his daughter was always able to entertain herself. She had quite an imagination, but even a six year old has her limits and the littlest Ketchum was about to reach hers. “Daddy, is Pi-Pi okay?”
“I don’t know, honey. We’re going to find out, though.”
“Wait here, Daddy’s gonna find out.”
Ash walked up to the receptionist who was busy filing and cleared his throat. She turned around quickly and shot a menacing eye straight at him. When she realized who she was firing the look at she winced and quickly approached the desk. “Yes sir? Can I help you?”
“Yes, I was wondering how my pikachu is doing in there. When can I know something?”
“Our best doctors are working on him now. They started off with some x-rays and are doing blood work and other tests to determine what’s wrong.”
“Okay, do you know how long we might be waiting?”
“I really don’t, sir. But if you’d like to go home, we can give you a call when we’ve got more news.”
“No, I don’t want to do that. I just – it’s almost dinner time and my daughter needs to eat something. Is there a restaurant or something? I um…I don’t get out much.”
“Yes there is, just down the road. Or, if you want, we have a vending machine.”
“Yeah, okay. Thanks.”
Ash and Willow walked out and when they returned there was a doctor waiting for them.
“Mr. Ketchum?” She had a gentle, soothing voice, earned through years of dealing with the most anxious of trainers and breeders. She had long red hair in the most interesting braided pattern.
“Doctor – “
“How’d you know?”
“Will your daughter be content to wait by herself for a little while? I need to talk with you about your pikachu.”
“Yes. Yes, I think so. I’ll go talk to her now.”
Moments later, Ash was sitting in Doctor Joy’s office. It was sterile with lots of light earth tones and lagoon blues. Next to a computer was a framed picture of her family. Her daughters looked just like her, even down to the warm smile and strange hairstyle. Pokemon Centers definitely had a type.
“Mr. Ketchum, your pikachu is recovering -”
“Oh, I’m so glad to hear that.”
“We had to give him a sedative so we could do some tests. Everything we could. The x-rays actually show that your pikachu has what’s known as gastric dilatation volvulus.”
“I don’t -”
“Some breeds of animals and pokemon get what’s known as ‘twisted stomach.’ It’s not uncommon for highly active breeds to develop this.”
“How did this happen?”
“There are a multitude of factors.”
“Overactivity. Underactivity. Overeating. Over drinking. Old age. In the case of your pokemon, there’s just no real way to tell. It could be just one or it could be many.”
“I don’t overfeed him, and he’s really good about not drinking too much. He isn’t a very big fan of water in the first place.”
“I don’t doubt that. I’m sure you take wonderful care of him, but Mr. Ketchum, how old is he?”
“Your pikachu is 20 years old?”
“I’ve never heard of one that’s lived past 15.”
“He’s strong. Always has been.”
The doctor looked as though she was about to say something but thought better of it and changed course. “Mr. Ketchum, I have to be honest with you. We saved him, but not for very long. This is a chronic condition and at his age, it will get worse and eventually -”
“Please don’t say it.”
“Mortality is a sure thing.”
Ash held on to the armrests of the chair and closed his eyes to stop them from watering. a rogue tear ran down the side of his face and he quickly wiped it away with his shirt sleeve. His throat was tight and throttled, but he fought through it to ask his another question. “How long?”
“Provided he makes a full recovery, a week. Maybe two. Mr. Ketchum, his immune system is nearly non-existent. I still don’t know how he made it to 20 years. If he makes it a week, then I’m happy for you, but he will be in great pain for however long he lives. This is never an easy option to consider, but you might want to think about putting him to sleep.”
“No you don’t.”
There was a pause while both the doctor and Ash dealt with the cognitive dissonance of the situation. Ash knew the doctor could understand and relate to someone not wanting to put their pokemon down. The doctor knew of the relationship between Ash and his friend and could appreciate the bond they shared. She spoke first.
“Ash Ketchum. I know who you are. That sweet little pikachu that I operated on in there is…I know him. I used to watch your battles on television. I’m here, right now, because of you two. I don’t want you to lose him either, but right now you need to think of what’s best for him.”
The man in front of her was a mess. As a child, he faced down pokemon masters twice his age and size with a ferocity and strength few possessed. The fearless boy she idolized was a sobbing adult in a chair not six feet away from her and she wanted to apologize. She wanted to say that she was sorry because she was losing a part of her life, too. Doctor Joy bottled that part up and did her job.
“Regardless, he won’t be able to go home yet. I want to keep him here overnight.”
“Mr. Ketchum, please take this time to think about the options.” She wrote something on a business card and handed it to him. “This is my home phone number. When you make a decision, please feel free to call me. Will you do that?”
“Sure. Yeah, I’ll do that.”
“Thank you. Would you like to go see him now?”
“Can my daughter come?”
“Your daughter. Yes. Yes, she can come. I must warn you, he’s very weak and he might be sleeping. Do not attempt to wake him up.”
The drive home was quiet. Willow could see that her father was conflicted about something and only spoke to say positive things. When they got home, Ash asked her if she wanted to do a puzzle, but Willow decided that she’d just like a bath and to sit in bed and read. She was asleep by 9.
The next day was a struggle. They played games and ate their favorite food, but everything felt forced, like their fun was an itch that neither dared scratch. Before Misty arrived in the evening to pick her up, they had a brief discussion. Under no circumstances should Mommy know about Pi-Pi. Daddy would tell her tomorrow. When Willow’s mother did arrive, it was all very unemotional, the way Ash preferred it. He spent the rest of the night doing research, stuck firmly in the volume marked “P.”
At some point in the night, he went outside to sit barefoot under the branches of the oldest tree in his yard to watch the stars. He fell asleep, and now the birds and morning chill had woken him. Dew and old grass clippings stuck to his toes. The morning came on like a slow movie, all purple-grey and quiet. He slowly crawled up on himself and worked his way to the stairs of the front porch. Tears streamed down his face once again and his legs buckled under the weight of a million thoughts. He went inside and made two phone calls.
Ash cut some flowers. It was late afternoon when he made it back to the Pokemon Center. When he pulled into the parking lot, his ex-wife and daughter were waiting in a green sedan. He got out and silently waved to them as he approached, trying his best not to look pathetic. It didn’t work. Misty plunged out of the car and squeezed Ash’s shoulders.
“Oh God, Ash, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah,” his voice quivered. “Bum rap.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Just say goodbye to him. Tell him you love him. All that stuff.”
Most of the center was dark when they entered. Ash noticed a slight echo in his footsteps and then realized the television in the reception area was off. The only source of light came from a lamp at the desk, but instead of the receptionist, Doctor Joy was sitting there, waiting for them. She had on her green scrubs, which, in addition to her hair, made her look a little like a plant, albeit a rather striking one.
“Mr. Ketchum? Ms…?”
“Yawa,” Misty quickly and quietly responded. She did her best to whisper, but she could still feel Ash wince.
“Ms. Yawa and…Willow, is it?”
“Such good manners! Is she allowed sweets?”
“Sure. I think she’d like that,” said Misty.
“Willow, my name is Dr. Joy, and I’ve been helping your daddy’s pikachu for the past couple days. Would you like a lollipop?”
“Yes, please.” replied Willow.
“What flavor do you want? We have orange or blue raspberry, or -”
“Orange it is. Willow, do you want to see Pikachu for a little while? Your mom and dad can go in with you if you’d like. He’s still sick and he might be sleeping so try not to wake him, okay?”
Willow looked to her mother, then her father, for permission. “Can we see him now?”
Ash knelt down and put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Honey, I think you and your mom should see him first. Daddy needs to ask the doctor some questions. When you’re done, Daddy wants to say…to be with Pikachu for a little while.”
Misty and Willow were led into a brightly lit room. Though she wasn’t quite old enough to understand the gravity of the situation, Willow felt as though all the world had stopped to sit with Pi-Pi. She could see his chest cavity rising and falling with the rhythm of his breath. The signal from a heart monitor beeped and for a moment she was transfixed with the bumps in the line that told her he was still alive. Misty did her best to pull herself together.
“Come on, honey. Let’s say hello. He’s sleeping but we can say hello to him, huh? Hi, Pi-Pi.”
“Hi, Pi-Pi,” Willow echoed, trying not to wake him. She began a slow, secret whisper. “I love you. I want to play with you again when you go back to Daddy’s house. We can play outside. I’ll find a nice ball.”
Misty was shaking. It was all she could do keep herself from audibly sobbing. She grabbed a tissue and covered her nose. Willow looked up at her mother, confused at first, then afraid. “Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, honey. Mommy just misses Pi-Pi, too. That’s all. I don’t like to see him in the Pokemon Center. I think that Daddy should be with him now. Is that alright? Daddy wants to be alone with Pikachu.”
“Okay. Goodbye, Pi-Pi. I love you, okay?” Willow gave him a little tug on his paw and Misty gently kissed him on the forehead.
“Goodbye, Pikachu,” whispered Misty.
They quietly walked back out to the reception desk where Ash and Dr. Joy were waiting. Misty nodded and gave him a hug. “Okay. You can go. Are you sure you want to be alone for this? I don’t mind.”
Ash looked emotionally drained but resolute. “Yes. Thank you for the offer. It’s very kind.”
“You’re right. Go, okay? Take as long as you need.”
Dr. Joy gently intruded on the conversation. “Mr. Ketchum, when you’re ready, just press the button closest to his pillow. I’ll come in then.’
He stepped through the double doors and into Pikachu’s room. In the far corner next to the bed was a stand with a vase half-filled with water. Ash gently unwrapped the plastic from the stems and set the lilacs in the glass container. “I brought these from home, he said. I thought you might like them.” The only response was the beep of the heart monitor.
He stood next to the mouse’s bed and waited. He waited for Pikachu to wake up, and when he didn’t wake up, he waited for the words to come. When the words didn’t come, he spoke. “They say you’re the longest living pikachu ever. You made it 20 years. I told them that you’ve always been strong, but…well, here we are. Misty and Willow came to say goodbye. They’re outside right now, and you’ve got her all torn up. I don’t know what I’m gonna say to Willow yet. She doesn’t understand all of this. I don’t suppose I do either. You’re the damnedest little thing I ever met. We’ve saved each other’s lives more times than I can count and here we are and I can’t do a thing and I’m sorry, boy. I’m so sorry.”
The slow pulsing beep of the monitor echoed in Ash’s head. He reached over to press the button next to the pillow when he heard a very faint “Chuuuu.”
“You woke up!” Ash gasped.
“Ka-chuuu,” the mouse whispered.
Tears were streaming down Ash’s face and started rubbing his old friend’s paws. “They’re so cold! Here, let me get close to you. You shouldn’t be cold.” Pikachu closed his eyes as his master came close. “I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay with me forever.” The man rested his forehead on his pokemon’s cold nose. “I’ll give you all the berries you want. Just don’t go. I choose you, Pikachu. Don’t go. I choose you.”
The creature held his paws around Ash’s hand, beckoning him closer. “Ka-chuuu.” He opened his cloudy eyes towards his master and gave him the softest lick on the nose before he fell back asleep. Moments of time scattered around the room to the pulsing beep of the heart monitor. Finally, Ash pressed the button closest to the pillow. A few moments later, Dr. Joy entered.
“You’re ready, then?”
“Feel free to hold his hand or pet him. This doesn’t hurt.”
Ash ran his hand down the grain of Pikachu’s fur in a tender rhythm and began to hum a tune of no particular significance. He could feel the rising and falling of breath as he stroked the soft fur. Lost in the moment, Ash’s fingers trailed too far and grazed Pikachu’s tail. There was no reaction.
“He’s gone,” said Dr. Joy.
“I know,” said Ash.
Arrangements were made. Paperwork was signed. It was still daylight when they all left the building. A passing rain cooled off the afternoon and made the air feel sharp. “Let’s go for a walk,” Ash said.
They walked down to the restaurant from two days before and sat in a booth. An older waitress came by with menus and sat them on the table. “Something to drink for you folks?”
“Coff-” started Misty.
“Ice cream,” said Ash. “Three ice creams. What do you want Willow?”
“Chocolate,” she immediately responded.
“Do you have coffee flavored ice cream?”
Without even looking up from her pad, the waitress nodded.
“Then coffee for me.”
“And I’ll have strawberry,” said Ash, already gathering the menus and handing them off to the waitress.
“Be back with your ice creams.”
“Great,” he said. The sun was low and its blazing reflection shined off the windows of shops across the street. Leaves turned electric with iridescent beauty, creating fractal patterns on their spiral branches. The reverberations of melody from the jukebox fell upon themselves in layers until reaching a singularity of perfect harmony. Cars from his youth drove past in a procession of joy and peace. When the waitress returned with the ice cream and a smile, a small rainbow spilled out of her mouth. With the utmost sincerity, Ash spoke.