Chapter 1 - Ten Things I Hate About Littleroot
The nightmares are getting worse. This time, the sun has barely dawned when I bolt upright in my bed. I'm surrounded by an unfamiliar room - wooden panels and a pile of discarded clothes; the Spartan accommodations of a tiny cottage - and I slump back onto my pillow with a long exhale.
I'm still in Littleroot. I'm still lost and living on the kindness of strangers, and I still can't remember who I am. One nightmare is over but I've woken from "darkness to Darkrai", as Norman would say. Sure, you're no longer being devoured alive in your sleep but, shucks man, now there's a shadowy monster looming over your bed and it's going to rip you apart for interrupting the meal!
My name is Virgil. I'm still fuzzy about my last name, so it's "just Virgil".
I know that I'm sixteen years old and from Goldenrod City. I think I lived in an apartment because I remember looking down on the never-ending city from an impossibly high balcony. I know I'm a student because I remember nodding off at school one morning and immediately waking up because I dropped my head on the desk. I remember the juice of a fresh Tauros burger running down my lips while someone (a girl?) giggled behind me, and I remember the excitement of visiting the Pokeathlon dome to cheer my favourite team - the Electabuzzers.
Oh, I'm sorry - you want to skip the trivial junk and get on with the story? Well screw you! When a meal or a Monday morning is all you can remember about yourself maybe you'll understand why I'm hoarding these memories like pearls! I have to remember everything I can. Everything.
Even the nightmare. It came infrequently during the first two weeks - that dream of being tied down in the darkness, drugged and loaded into the back of a truck - but now I've been reliving it nightly, like a subconscious playlist looping over a single track. I'm frightened to think that it's less of a nightmare and more of a memory. Which raises a lot of disturbing questions, namely, who tied me up? Why did they drive me out to the middle of nowhere, and why can't I remember anything?
Just listing my troubles gives me a headache. The sun is raising itself over the village and that's excuse enough to get up. I stumble to the bathroom, then downstairs. Linda is already awake and fully dressed, of course; wrapping fresh bandages around her left arm before she goes out for her morning chores.
"Good morning, Virgil," she smiles. "You're up early. Can I fix you anything? Coffee?"
I grumble out a 'negative' and drop myself into the remaining kitchen chair. When the villagers first found me there was some debate as to where I would stay. Linda volunteered immediately. She's nice enough, I guess - in her forties but with a bit of gray creeping into her brown hair. Her eyes have this weathered look, like she's constantly sick or tired, but she's helpful, pleasant and with energy to spare. Some of the neighbours have even taken to referring to her as my "mother".
She's certainly fits the role - giving me her bed to sleep in, sewing me new clothes and enduring all of my panic attacks - but I'm not sure I like what that relationship implies. Being part of the family suggests you're staying permanently.
"Couldn't sleep?" I waggle my head 'no'. "That's a shame," she sighs. "Are you hungry? A full stomach might perk you up."
Another grunt. She tries again. "I could use a hand outside. You could run the wheelbarrow for me, and maybe the work will clear your mind." She's at her motherly best, trying everything to cheer me up. Even Megumi, her zigzagoon, is working on me - standing on her hind legs and pawing at my knee for a response. I push the raccoon away.
"Look," I tell them, "I appreciate everything you've done - letting me stay with you and all - but I'm just not in the mood. I need to take a walk."
Linda's eyes betray a hint of shock. "It's terribly early, Virgil. If you're going beyond the village gates, I'd feel safer if you took Beatrice with you." The little wurmple nesting atop the kitchen cupboards gave a frightened squeak at the suggestion.
"Thanks, but I won't go far," I lie. At the door, I add, "and I will come back." My last attempt at escape taught me just how futile it was to leave the safety of Littleroot. Beatrice would serve as a fine diversion from the outside horrors, but only once. After you've been eaten it's hard to stay helpful.
Outside, I scan for the glow of lights and find only the lanterns of the night watchmen. Littleroot village is asleep and at peace. Must be nice. If you looked up "small, backwater farming collective" on the Internet, I'm sure you'd find Littleroot as your first hit. If I had Internet out here maybe I could pinpoint this place on a map and find my way back to Goldenrod.
Patch is manning the village gate this morning. (It's a nickname he's earned thanks to the black covering over his right eye.) Patch has gotten better, but he still flinches a bit whenever he sees me. "Mornin', Virgil," he smiles - a forced smile. "You headin' out for a walk too?"
I force myself to grin back. "You betcha!" I've seen Patch without his eye covering and it infuriates me that someone as ugly as he has the nerve to startle at my face. A little sympathy among freaks, maybe? "Think you can open 'er up?"
"Sure! Ain't no problem, Virgil." I'm in the mood for as little human contact as possible, but a tinge of scientific curiosity prompts me to chat up the guard.
"Hey, Patch," I ask, "how long have you been in Littleroot?"
"Me? Three years, give or take."
"And before that?"
Patch stops. His eyes squint and his brow knits in a deep thought. "Well, shucks, Virgil, I can't really remember." Just as expected. Patch laughs it off, though. "Who knows - maybe I came from that fancy Golden city of yours, too."
Not likely, Hillbilly. "Don't matter much to me, though," Patch continues. "Littleroot is my home now, and I'm grateful to be here with Norman and the Leader watchin' out for me."
I nod my thanks and exit the village gates, adding to my mental tally of amnesia victims. There is something seriously disturbing about Littleroot.
When Linda first took me around the village I pegged it as one of these religious farming communities that shun modern technology and the outside world. Candles and outdoor pumps assume the roles of lightbulbs and indoor plumbing, while telephones, TVs and even pokeballs are foreign concepts. The villagers are simple people - they grow vegetables in their gardens, visit their neighbours during the evening and preserve food for the winter months.
The "lost world" story seemed to explain why no one recognized Goldenrod or the cities of Johto: everyone simply grew up and died within the village walls, and after generations they had lost all recollection of civilization. To the villagers, the outside world is Hoenn - an ancient term for Nothing.
Then I started talking to people like Patch and discovered just how thinly the roots of this little town run. No one has lived in Littleroot longer than five years, and while groups will introduce each other as "brothers", "sisters" or "parents and children", just looking at the spectrum of flesh tones informed me that the happy families of Littleroot were all informal adoptions.
As to how they arrived in Littleroot, the phrasing differed but everyone had the same story: "I just sort of woke up in the grass outside of town." The residents greeted them, got them a hot meal and a change of clothes and welcomed them unconditionally into the community.
I'd ask, "Didn't you panic? Weren't you worried about contacting your family and friends?" And the person will just shrug, avert his eyes and pick at his bandage wrappings, muttering something about being "happy with things as they are."
No one can remember who they were or where they came from. It's like there's some poison in the air here that fogs up memory! Maybe I have some slight immunity - that would explain my ragged bits of memory - but my knowledge has only made me the village oddity (well, that and my face); restless and panicky where everyone else embraces the bliss of ignorance. I describe Johto or Goldenrod to these people, trying to spark a recollection, but they just smile, tell me I've got an amazing imagination and that I should become a writer.
I really wish that Norman would make another visit to the village; I'd gladly endure another wild animal attack if it would bring him to our rescue. I really need to talk to someone who understands...
A solid 'clunk' against my foot wakes me from my ponderings. I've traveled a surprising distance from the village, somewhere among the grassy meadows separating Littleroot and neighbouring Oldale. My ruminating has caused me to wander off the main road but has lead me to a nice discovery: an over-the shoulder satchel clinking with goodies. I try it on (finders keepers, duh!), proclaim it a good fit and proceed to rifle through my new treasures when a man's scream cuts through the air.
It's coming from the trees bordering the meadow, and now I see that this satchel is the first in a breadcrumb trail of discarded items: a chewed-up sandal, and then a shredded strip of white cloth direct me into the forest. The ongoing screams urge me through the trees.
You might be wondering why I ran so quickly towards such obvious danger. Well I'd like to know too! Linda had cautioned me about leaving the village beyond the safety of daylight, and I'd seen first-hand what sort of nasty creatures lived outside the walls of Littleroot. I dunno - maybe it was some primal instinct to protect a member of the herd; maybe it was morbid curiosity and the hope to see something exciting after weeks of repetitive chores. Maybe I just took my stupid pills that morning. Arceus knows I would have spared myself a whole mess of trouble if I had just walked away.
Instead, I trampled through the trees towards the snarls of a wild animal and the screams of human misery, pushing into a clearing where I found a fat, bearded man in a lab coat, ("oh," I thought at the moment, "it's that ... Guy. That guy who checks up on everyone's pokemon and smells really bad. That ... Pokemon Professor Guy,") writhing around on his back, begging Arceus to, "GET IT OFF! OH PLEASE, GOD, GET IT OFF!!", and a bloody zigzagoon working its fangs through his left kneecap.
Now, I refer to the animal as a zigzagoon out of pragmatism: I have to give you a working reference, and a zig is the closest living thing it resembles. But please bear in mind that this was not the sort of urban zigzagoon that sleeps under your porch and pries through your refuse bins on garbage day. It wasn't even the sort of wild zigzagoon that nests in tree hollows and competes with taillows for berries.
Because zigzagoons are - on the whole - cuddly, furry and good-natured creatures. They are certainly not black shadows branded with lightning bolt streaks and glowing hellfire eyes. Zigs are also solid matter. This thing moved fluidly like a storm cloud. On my approach it didn't so much as turn to face me as it rotated: head and tail sliding across the body to exchange spots, and legs twisting one hundred and eighty degrees in their sockets. It roared, spraying spittle and human blood over the field.
Fantastic! Never come between a wild animal and its meal; you might just become dessert. I started back-pedaling but the zig matched my every step. It was a homing missile, target-locked and ready to launch at the moment I moved faster than a jog. What was the proper behaviour for this situation? Play dead? Yeah, right. ... Wave my arms and make loud noises? I think the Prof had been plenty loud already. Blast, why hadn't I taken Beatrice? Better that slimy bug sausage than me!
Then I remembered - the satchel! I rifled through it, tossing whatever I could grab at the black monster: a journal, a sandwich, some old binoculars. The Zig didn't care; in fact, whenever my projectiles connected they phased through its vaporous body, ruffling its fur without causing so much as a flinch!
My hand seized a solid sphere - the item that would mark the beginning of my adventure and my misery. Back at that moment it was just another object to toss, but I remember thinking to myself - praying, really - please let this thing hit. Please let it work! Please, just put something between me and that monster!
And then I threw it.
And then I thought, "grenade!", because the sphere burst open in mid-flight and a fiery ball of energy launched out at the black 'goon, hammering the monster off its feet and face-first into a tree. A wet smack would have been satisfying, but the impact only made the zig burst into black smoke.
The sphere flew back into my hand - it ... it was a pokeball! - and the fire missile fluttered to the ground, shaking off its protective flames and raising its curious, coal-black eyes my way. "Tor," it chirped.
A growl. The black cloud had reassembled itself into zigzagoon form and was snarling with freshly stoked rage. The torchic spread her wings and clawed at the ground, daring the zig to "come at me, bro!"
It charged, and the torchic held her ground, storing up energy. The grass under her talons singed and smoked, and I swore I saw flames flicker along her scaly legs. The zig lunged, jaws wide, and at the last moment the torchic sprang into the sky so, while the astonished zig flew through empty air, the fire chick dove downward, raking her super-heated claws through the raccoon's back. The zig shrieked and crash-landed into the dirt. Knock-out!
The torchic was bracing herself for round two but the zig had taken enough punishment, limbs and head scrambled out of their proper sockets like a poorly-assembled Mr. Potato Head doll. It lay moaning in the dirt and then went limp - dissolving into formless smoke that slithered into the earth.
That was when I remembered to start breathing. Crisis resolved, the torchic looked me over, offering another inquisitive "tor?" I zapped her back into the pokeball before she could realize I wasn't her trainer.
"Is it gone?" That was the Pokemon Prof, still on his back and wheezing for air. Too freaked to form proper words, I responded with a vigorous shake of my head. My hands were shaking too. "Good boy. Good work," he panted. "Now lend me a hand, would you, and pass me my leg."
Ah yes, his left leg. Currently it was a bloody stump terminating at the knee cap, little jets of blood squirting out wherever the Prof was unable to clamp down on the wound. Everything from the tibia downward had been tossed into the bushes after the zig had turned its attention to me. "Hurry up, boy, before more of them come!"
That set me racing to the amputated limb - covered in blood and old man hair and still warm to touch. I stripped off my shirt, wrapped it around my hand as a makeshift glove, and even then I only dared grab it with a thumb and forefinger, holding it at arm's length while I ran back, muttering, "ew, ew, ew, oh god," with every step. I tossed it at the Prof, and it fell short. I could tell he was thoroughly impressed by my little girl antics.
"Wow, real brave, kid. Real brave." I tossed it far enough, I suppose, because the magic of Littleroot kicked in at that point and the leg dragged itself through the grass towards the Professor like iron filings towards a magneton. The bone fragments clicked into place (the Prof hissed and flinched), and muscle fibres grew towards each other at super-speed, followed swiftly by a weave of skin. It sounded and looked like the crawling of a thousand slimy maggots but when the ordeal was finished the prof's leg looked fresh and undamaged.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this last little factoid about Littleroot. You see, whenever anyone gets hurt, be it a paper cut or a scraped knee or - as I've just shown - an amputated leg, the injury heals itself. It hurts like a hot poker, but your injuries always heal.
No one gets hurt in Littleroot. No one grows old, and nobody dies. Happy and ignorant, you have to stay here in Hoenn.