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Hoenn OT journeyfic. Updates every Sunday.
Warnings: none in general, it's clean. I will warn individual chapters, if something comes up.
Started simultaneously with Serebii.
6. Route 104
The music walks a few drumbeat steps, before it sets out into what’s waiting for it. Slowly, a circle lights up on the wood floor, and in the circle is a professor.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Welcome to the world of POKéMON!”
One hand stays raised with its palm open. The room is all empty and dark.
“My name is Professor Birch. But everybody calls me the POKéMON PROFESSOR. This is what a POKéMON is.”
There’s a LOTAD at the professor’s feet.
“The world is full of creatures known as POKéMON.” The music rises, strides, spreads. It’s both morning and evening now, sun-bright and angled.
“We all live together with POKéMON. And sometimes we play with them, and sometimes they work, together with us. But we also use them for fights!” The hand gestures rapidly without bending toward the pokémon. The music concludes a section, quiet rhythm in the dark.
The lotad’s blue skin is smooth, dark and plush. Its leaf pad is very wet. Water has splashed around it and the whorls in the floor’s panels are starting to smudge and curl up. It waddles slowly toward the edge of the spotlight.
“There are lots of different types of POKéMON. And, we’re very close to POKéMON. There’s types that we haven’t even discovered yet, and – ”
A whisper is heard that is very muffled. “Do I stop?”
The professor keeps talking. “E-even though we’re close to POKéMON, still there’re mysteries, with POKéMON, and there’s many, many secrets surrounding POKéMON.” The whisper, shriller: “Wait, it’s walking away!” Irked, the professor stomps her feet, spooking the lotad some more. The professor is a little girl with short, messy hair, wearing sandals and a white coat that she’s a little thin for.
A boy runs into view and crouches down for the lotad, and this only aggravates her more. She yells, “Who’s at the camera!” The boy gets up quickly: “Look our paper’s getting wet – ” “Ugh! That’s not your problem!”
The boy pushes the lotad into her arms, so she stands there holding it and looking into the camera foolishly. The chart paper she’s on is now ripped along with being wet, and the colors of its wood pattern are all running together.
The clip is ruined, and the boy walks back to turn the camera off. But no more takes are needed because the producer immediately gets a much better idea. Originally she imagined a yellow darkness, glint off a stool rim, and just her words, which would have been more than enough space for the sea wind she was intending to show, for looking down over a cliffside way under high light as saplings swing and billow, back and forth in slow cycles. But now she’s thinking of a small-town pilot episode, some interest for the common watchers.Soon they take the camera and get out of the old cabin where they’d set up their first idea. She’s thinking of two rivals who arrive at the Pokémon Lab at the same time, the biggest building in their tiny hometown, and the girl who gets there first can be the sympathetic one while the other girl can be more brash and arrogant. Though they arrive at the same time the professor still only has one mission to give and they have to fight for it. But the sympathetic one isn’t that hotheaded. She stalls whatever it is that’ll decide between them. There are lots of sly tricks the rest of the day but the rival is no fool either. Finally at the end there’s a proper showdown and it involves a real battle! Actually the producer likes both the characters, even though they’ve only been in her head for two minutes so far. Her brother, who doesn’t know about them yet, will like them too. But instead of helping her with this new idea, he only makes her remember that they’ve been let loose in Route 104 for the rest of the afternoon, and that the beach hides all kinds of things, if you look hard enough. They never get to the problem of getting two twelve-year-old girls in their cast. They only have the failed clip to show their father, at the end of the day, but that too sends a certain message.
She’s moving to the Hoenn region with her mother. Their new home is in Littleroot Town. “Here we are, honey! I know it’s a little quaint, but it seems to be an easy place to live in, don’t you think?” The town is dark green and homely, a very few houses surrounded by forest. She looks up at the slope-roofed box of her new home, white paper-wood walls and birch shingles out of which her attic room pokes up, its windows dark.
Inside everything is where it used to be, her room is just like before, the desk carries her PC and her notebooks, and even the Gamecube has been hooked up to her TV. But the tree shadows beyond the windows are different, and the sounds and smells outside.
She goes downstairs to meet her mother in the doorway. “Have you set the time yet?” They’re facing the living room wall, but the one on the next floor has the big red gel clock. “Run up and do it.”
They’ve moved to be closer to their father, Norman, who is the Gym Leader of Petalburg City. She has seen him on TV and friends of her parents sometimes expect things of her in her turn. But she doesn’t have any pokémon yet.
After a few minutes in the bedroom which feels a little scarce right now of amusements, her mom calls her down to meet with the neighbor’s son, who’s the same age as her. His mother is quick to welcome her, when she gets there –after she’s walked next door through the grass to the house just like hers and excused herself inside. The son asks who she is, having appeared in the living room stairway, but they’ve both heard about each other. The neighbor kids talk on the rug of Brendan Birch’s bedroom, fiddling with another game controller that’s not hers but that may become familiar to her over the coming days.
I saw her as staying home at Littleroot for weeks enough to at least make it feel like home, the rest of her vacations, and doing not much in this time, getting bored often enough, not allowed to go beyond the town except in cars. I’d only seen Littleroot once and in my memory it had exactly three buildings. She may befriend her neighbor, the only kid her age, but their friendship probably stays ambivalent. Still, once she gets a pokémon she finds him in a clearing at the very end of Route 103, alone among the wild grass and hidden pokémon, and then they have their first battle. Hardly any kind of attraction between them but maybe proto-attraction, what have I to lose by it.
All of this was the image that grew in my heart of how I wanted to become a pokémon trainer; or perhaps not wanted, but imagined in another life, and was affected by. Later she’d handle an emergency that the professor landed in during his fieldwork, and her natural talent would convince him to gift her the pokémon she’d found, which would invite more adventures, more confidences. After the first battle there would be no fear.
Certainly I had the huge, heroic, mathematical daydreams too – the self-denying, the world-denying – real epics of how one leaves home. Those were the early ones. But when we got old enough near the actual fact or possibility of training, of not seeing our house again, worrying about supporting ourselves, sleeping in strange beds, I hid my head in nostalgic domestic situations immediately. Ten-year-olds moving to new houses. As far as I know, my brother never had any daydreams, only I did.
Oh yes, your twin brother. What’s his name now?
I see, so it’s ATASHKA!
Maybe he made do with my daydreams. No, that’s a frivolous thing to say.
It was raining outside! There wasn’t any sleep left in my eyes. The curtains went dim from their yellow glow to a cool cloudy one. Air whirred around the ventilation, I pushed my sheet off me and pulled it back on. The blender was running in the floor below. Water hissed into the sink up on this floor, that was my sister. What’s her name? My sister’s name is ARAUVE. There were two cars that went by and one came up to stop at our door. I poked through the curtain. The one going away was square and bright red. I didn’t need to pee but went to do it anyway. The window from the bathroom showed the sun’d come out, it was yellow again on the dim breathing ceramic. At the bedroom window the garden trees must have been nodding their yellow flowers, two were almost as tall as me now. I stopped again by my bed, but now the sheets looked dirty and ruffled. Only when they’re made again they’ll look inviting, it’s warm weather, and that’ll be at night.
Today. No, today I get my first pokémon.
The front door opened downstairs so I got in the bathroom and brushed my teeth. The other car had been my dad coming home. Arauve’s bed had been made so she must be downstairs by now. In the kitchen… one of Dad’s friends was over. So a nice breakfast but I rolled up my pajama sleeves. They were talking as I went down the stairs, but not Arauve’s voice.
Yesterday Arauve’d pulled out a book I’d never seen before from the study and brushed atall the painted pictures of pokémon with their fact boxes and diagrams. I don’t know why she reads old books but the color ones are really good. She knew the pokémon she wanted. It was ralts. They’re very cute and small with a green cap on their heads, they’re all white. But she said they get a lot more powerful than they are now, you have to think about all this complicated stuff, she said it was by evolution. That must have been the same thing that happened with Manny. She didn’t understand what evolution really is and she wouldn’t tell me what she did know.
It’s true, when we set out we were fairly ignorant about pokémon, which now seems to me like the mark of a casual trainer. Maybe I did have a vague idea what evolution was, but we still went out with no real learning, like any rookie trainer, no understanding of battle mechanics. I couldn’t name all the status ailments. My father had offered a correspondence thing with the Trainer’s School in Rustboro, but I never took it. This was the first time he hadn’t put us up for a two-week introduction to everything by a pedagogical expert, and I was only relieved. My father is very rich and has shelves of fifty-year-old trophies and mementos, which I hate. Our home in Petalburg is very modest for us, and he never shows off (except to us two), but I still can’t stand the inescapable references to our class, random accidental reminders of our being so high-flying. Society.
What I’d wriggle out of forever by wrestling in the mud and crawling through tunnels. That can be one of the reasons I wanted to go train. I don’t have a lot of real reasons for doing it.
A research aide came to our door before lunch, who I didn’t see. Apparently he was in shorts. The brown pouch that he gave to my father was sailed up out of Atashka’s reach and locked away somewhere, and then we had to go through a meal and a long afternoon that we wouldn’t have spent outside on any other day either; we sat in our play room and tried to look for more stuff about training. But everything we’d already opened.
When I went down to the living room the door was open. The sky had cleared. Father who’d been mean the whole morning gave us a smile and said, “The professor sent a bag over this morning. There are three of them, you can both choose one. Come and see your pokémon.” Three pokéballs lying in hollows in the grass.
They were about the weight of rocks but cool like metal. Both the white and the red surfaces were shiny though not reflective, more like smooth plastic. But one ball was matte, seemed to weigh a little more, and (running your thumb over it) felt textured like metal. That one was the oldest, I could tell, because it had been darkened a smudge by dirt. The button was clear plastic too and slid around very slightly in its slot, but was otherwise totally flush. I pressed it – it clicked and the pokéball only shrunk halfway out of my fingers, instead of opening.
“Do you know how to call the pokémon out?” He took one from Atashka. “You don’t cover the button. That also produces the flash. You have to hold it like this” – hand caged around the open button – “and use all five fingers and squeeze.”
With a shower of yellow light, a pokémon flashed out onto the ground. It was the orange one (I’d been expecting) but I didn’t go up to have a look, I held up my older ball and tried to open it. Nothing clicked or anything like that, when I squeezed my fingers.Flash!
It startled me, but there wasn’t any real heat or wind, only light. These sparks were whiter.
A little blue pokémon stood on all fours, without making a sound. It was a wet, blue, watery puppy. I kneeled down to let it walk close. There was one big fin on its head and it had spiky orange cheeks. I touched the fin gingerly but it didn’t seem to notice. Atashka’s chick pokémon strode near and mine went to chew at its feathers, still looking only at the ground.The third pokémon was friends with them too; Atashka brought it out and it pounced on both of them at the same time, knocking them to the ground. This one I knew, it was called Treecko. A lizard with a big ugly head. Its chittering made them all call out, gutter and squeak, scattering and turning around to it. Atashka of course thought this pokémon was awesome.
His dad had out a letter that must have come with the balls. “Treecko, Wood Gecko Pokémon. Torchic, Tiny Chick Pokémon. And Mudkip, Mud Skipper Pokémon.” Atashka got up to face him, holding Torchic in his hands, with Treecko curled over his shoulder.
“Which will it be, hm?” “Can’t we have all of them?” “No. You always start out with one.” He folded up the letter back along its creases and turned away with it. “You two can play with them till the end of today, but tomorrow I’ve got something for you to do. Be advised!”
Atashka giggled, sitting down. “Be advised!”
We took the pokémon out in the city, finding them heavy to carry but fine to stroll around with, while our father told us not to forget their pokéballs (keep them somewhere in a very deep pocket). Atashka wanted to show them to his friend. He had a lot in Petalburg but Jared was the only one whose house he went to in the evenings, and I usually came along. We walked up the broad square yellow paths, past the red-white Pokémon Center that was starting to make more sense to us, to the flat edge of a pond pale blue with the sky’s color. Jared’s house was just beside it, bright red and wood orange. He was leading a bicycle up to the red flowers crammed behind its bordering hedge. He left the cycle when he saw us, but walked up to Atashka’s grin only staring matter-of-fact at the pokémon around us, blue red green. “They’re runty.”
“They’re not going into hamburgers,” I said, annoyed at his remark. “They’re evolution prototypes.” I wasn’t sure what that word meant, but it would be enough for Jared. He scowled at me and mumbled some nothing.
“When’s your brother going to catch you a pokémon?” Atashka said.
“When my dad likes the idea,” he said.
“The wurmple thing didn’t work out?”
“He chickened out. Now Dad wants me to do some more of school. I’m stuck here for another year, at least.”
“We did fourth year whole, too,” I offered. “You’re a year behind us. We’re eleven right.”
“Yeah, Dad was happy after that,” Atashka said. “You just have to show you’re serious.”
“You guys were the least serious in our whole class!” He shook his head, hands in his pockets. “One of these days I’m gonna run away…”
Atashka smirked. “When you do, come to the speakeasies. You’ll get a room and papers. All you need is to tell them my name – ”
“Yeah, and then they’ll beat the crap out of me,” grinning. He looked down, hands still in his pockets. “That green one’s a little cool.”
“The green one is Treecko. They’re a gang all three of them. But Treecko was the one who started it. He was the one who brought them together. When they were stuck in the research lab, he said, ‘We can get out of this cruddy laboratory, where they do experiments on us. Turn us into mutants.’” Atashka with his friends sounded absolutely worthless to me sometimes, a leech on the human race. He rambled on some more and then responded to Jared interrupting him by turning stone-faced and saying, “Treecko is my starter pokémon. Yeah. I’ve decided,” surprising himself.
Jared turned to me next. I paused only a second or two: “Mudkip, obviously. I decided way before.”
“I decided before too,” Atashka said, “I just didn’t say it.” “I decided before we left home,” I said. “I did – well I decided as soon as I made Treecko come out!” I scoffed andlet the argument go.
But then I had an idea: “Flashed Treecko. Flashed it out is what you’re supposed to say.” I wasn’t at all sure of that, but –
“Flashed it out,” Atashka said. Jared nodded.
It also turned out that Treecko was a she, something my father was able to tell, though it must have been from the letter he’d read. There are no differences between boy and girl pokémon that we can make out. She tolerated error only once, after which God forbid Atashka even call her an it (which he did, hilariously). She was entertained by those stories of evil science and rescue that must have happened during her stay with Prof. Birch (she’d hardly know), and purred with her head lowered whenever Atashka stage-whispered them in her ear.
My pokémon’s nature was quiet. I’d thought it looked slightly stupid when I’d first seen its picture, but now I knew you can’t see it that way. He didn’t need to wallow in the mud all the time but liked mown lawns, the edge of water, even dry dirt, in which he stood on all fours for long periods of time without doing much, his head slightly bent to the side. I knew there was some kind of power associated with his bright whiskerlike cheeks, but what was the fin for? He never went out to swim by himself, and I didn’t think he could swim – not like a fish, anyway.
We were on the verandah with Dad the next day too. The three pokémon on the wood floor looking up innocently at him. He said, “You’re both going to start on your pokémon journey very soon. I’m happy, because I wouldn’t have said anything if you’d wanted to do something else. But a pokémon journey is the best way to learn about the world, and also to make friends with it. It’s the right occupation for kids your age, even if you stop after a few years, the experience does you good.” That was as far as the speech got. “If you’d stayed at school, I’d be able to… have you here for a few more years…” He took out a handkerchief all choked. “But this is what you want…”
Though, now that he was asking… “Maybe, what if, we don’t?” I looked at Arauve, who also perked up. “Maybe we don’t really…”
“No take-backs!” Dad said triumphantly, his face suddenly clear. “You’ve already had one of those, more than one. Now you make good on your decision.”
I kept staring at him uncertainly,so he turned his head looking pleading: “Atashka, it’s what you’ve been waiting for all summer. Arauve. You know you want to see. At least try it out. You can come back home if you don’t like it.”
He was right. Obviously. But standing here outside the porch felt real bad. I tried to think of something to say, something to make us feel better.
Arauve said, “I’ve already made that bet about the eight gyms. I can’t go back on a bet, can I?” But that was a joke!
Dad said, “Yes, that’s right! That’s the spirit! Go out there and conquer the Pokémon League. Your old dad never got past his fourth badge, I keep telling you how accomplished I am.”
“We know,” Arauve said. “You told us.”
He laughed with us for maybe two seconds, and then his expression changed again. I nearly laughed out loud. “These three pokémon came from Professor Birch.” Stern. “He’s not doing any studies on them, but it was still a nice gesture for them to give it to you. Are you going to thank him at his Pokémon Lab or not?”
Arauve said, “Wait, we’re going to… wherever he lives?”
“Can’t we send a letter!”
“That’s not the point. You’ve also got one pokémon extra with you.” Torchic looked straight up at him, way back up.“It needs to be returned. And he wants to meet the children personally who he’s giving such rare pokémon to. He’s got some business with you.”
“But, but all the way to Littleroot! Where is that, even? Shouldn’t I be going after gyms?”
“Gyms? Your pokémon are more or less, ahm, infants. They’ve never battled in their lives. You two are going to learn about pokémon battles just like they will. Now the woods around Littleroot and Oldale are like a garden, the pokémon are very gentle and not strong at all, it’ll be good training for you. You need a sandbox to start with. Because you know, once you start your journey you’ll have to be self-reliant.” He folded his arms making me feel nervous and very determined, both. “I’m not going to tell you anything. You’re on your own.”
Arauve said, “What about Petalburg Gym?”
“Norman has said he won’t battle with you yet. Some gym leaders are more experienced and they only take trainers who can give a challenge. You’ll be going to some other gym for your first badge.”
“He’s such a cranky…”
“Hey! Norman is a very knowledgeable, established young trainer. And he’s not at all cranky, by the way. None of that childishness now. The first thing a trainer should learn is respect for other trainers.”
I was ready to respect him! If I, needed… He was really strong, of course. We had lunch early and then dad told us about some more things but I barely noticed the hour go by and then we were at the gate. Like we were going to the mart for half an hour.
He’s our adopted father. No mother, real or institutional. So yeah.
For our journey we got new camo-green backpacks that both looked pretty old. Apparently, the backpack holds all the essentials for a long stay in the outdoors: battle items, tools, medicines, first aid, camping necessities, serious meals for several days in advance. For our trip we got two sandwiches folded in a picnic towel, because our father said the route would be three hours long if we wasted time. Also he packed up 300p, hard money. It was a thick shiny wad. We had to make it last the whole way and back; I wondered if I was even going to open it.
That matter of time was essential. You could of course spend all day mucking around even in a garden stroll, and we were really supposed to, being new trainers, but our trainer cards hadn’t come in yet. I didn’t know everything about it, but clearly trainer cards gave you a lot of privileges on journeys to small towns, like free lodging or something. We were going to stay with Prof. Birch for the night, and had to get there before dark, just like at home in Petalburg.
Most of the heavy supplies were miniaturized in item balls. When they got smaller they also got lighter, somehow. I’d first noticed this with the pokéballs and their miniaturization. If you compress something it ought to be denser. That was my intuition. However, I never asked around about that science. The first aid pouches and sleeping bags were also folded a certain flat origami way, to save space; we were supposed to figure that out when we opened them. They wouldn’t go in, otherwise.
We could find out the way because our house was closer to the woods on this side. They really were like a garden. We were in a clearing of pale green grass, and trees lined its top edge with their shaggy dark leaves overhanging. Atashka mentioned the pokémon and I dug in my backpack’s pocket for the balls, took all three of them out miniature in my palm. He said, “Lemme…” taking one of them, not my Mudkip’s. Turned to face the route and hurled it at the ground, his arm going up and round in a big pitcher’s arc.
Cool, but it didn’t open. It had fallen in a soft, fluffy clump of grass. I remembered regulation fields on TV and took my pokéball in one hand, threw it with aim: it clicked on a patch of dried sand, sprung, the light scattering almost spherically. Atashka pouted at me.
Mudkip looked unsurprised by his new surroundings. He picked up the pokéball in his mouth and walked to my feet.
The other two came out in their own flashes and crouched on the ground, both in quiet moods. Atashka went ahead to survey the route. Where the trees started you couldn’t see more than a few feet in, but the wild plants still looked like you could strike a path through. Peering over them the outline of the route was visible: we were on a slightly higher ledge and below it the route zigzagged and twisted through groves of trees, wide stands of tall young plants. The clothes of other kids in the distance were brightly colored, and they stood out in patches of disturbed leaves.
There was a girl who emerged from the plants ahead of us. She looked at us avidly when we came close. “Djou know, the pokémon all stay in the wild grass. So, if you’re not up for a fight you should stay away from it.”
Wild pokémon in there, huh? I pulled up my pant legs and stepped into the rising weeds. Mudkip looked nervously around, but I knew he’d follow me. Atashka was behind, watching at the edge, then I heard him break in too. The undergrowth was freaky in here, pressed at least half a foot down under your weight, so you never knew what you were stepping on. Big curving leaves went over your eyes. The plant stems yielded when you pushed them aside with your arms but you had to keep doing it. It was… every step deliberate and nervous, a cool sparkling alertness. I saw a shape move, in the heavy background of vision.
Zigzagoon – wild jagged fur – watchful eyes. Teeth.
Then I felt a familiar smoothness, and Mudkip moved in front of me, with slow careful steps. They faced each other down and stood motionless. They were waiting for me.
What order… to give?
“Just, slam into it!” Mudkip broke into a run and collided full tilt with his mouth wide open. I heard them both grunt. The zigzagoon had been backing up before the attack and now abruptly stopped, throwing up a big cloud of dust. Mudkip sneezed. I said, “Slam, again!” but he only stood stunned, shaking his head rapidly. The zigzagoon kicked up some more dust. This time, though, blind, stumbling, Mudkip threw himself at it. There was a yelp and the zigzagoon ran back into hiding.
“Awesome!” Atashka was saying, but I’d bent down to Mudkip who was limping a little. I picked him up, brushing some of the dust off his head. I was feeling a mistaken, bent form of excitement. I put my head right up to Mudkip’s, looking for pain, trying to hunt it down. My blood was thrumming as though I might have done something wrong. Mudkip’s forelegs were curled a little, he must have been stunned by the impact of his slams, but soon he barked once in his low gutter and jumped back to the ground. I hadn’t found what I was looking for: big relief that was.
My pokémon attacks better. We found a tail hit for her, Arauve said call it ‘thwack’. That’s a bad name, I say ‘pound’. And she also did this thing with her eyes where the other pokémon just suddenly gets so timid and scared from the start. My pokémon’s a bully. She’s awesome. She went into the grass and she got into a fight with this really lean, bad poochyena with one of its ears bent, I don’t know which one started it. So but the poochyena just tried to bite hard and rough, but Treecko had technique. She twisted away and it couldn’t even get its teeth around her, and then she kept going the same way and pounded back with her tail. And that was it! And the look, from the start.
The look… must have weakened Poochyena. In its head. Enough to knock it out after a hit or two.
That’s how we went. Stomp stomp stomp in the wild grass, then a pokémon would turn up, and we’d battle it. Arauve said do they always want to fight. But it makes sense to me. They jump up in front of us, growling, with a challenge. They run when they’re finished or they fight to the end.
A wild pokémon challenges a human when it wants to get stronger. It wants to fight a team that’s got real training. And it wants a chance at being captured. Otherwise there were so many of them just running and hiding when we came to them.
Arauve grumped at me with that unsatisfied look she gives. Killjoy.
The wall of leaves in front of us started getting lighter and brighter. I smelled water. Arauve yelled but I went into the run I could do, head bent forward and feet stomping on just the right place on the ground you had to spot fast! a millisecond before you stepped. The last stems separated their leaves with my arms and there was a clearing with a girl and a clump of three big flowers.
We looked at each other. Then I looked down but she grinned scarily, her hand going to her belt. “You’re a trainer! There’s your pokémon. When we make eye contact, that means we have to battle!”
She went over to one side and she yelled at me until I went to the other. She said, “I bet you’re a rookie. Is this your first battle? Piece of cake.”
A pokémon battle with Haley! She sent out her first one. “Go, Wurmple!”
Wurmple was white red and big-eyed, a caterpillar that reared up on its back legs after the flash disappeared. It wasn’t as fast as Treecko. She ran up close to it, on forelegs too, and hit a thwack first thing. Wurmple didn’t move back but it did curl up a little, withdrawing lowered head. Then it turned round and Treecko tried to get away – why? – stumbling she fell, something white flying around her legs. String shot. She got up but right then Wurmple slammed into her and she tripped again. “Get outta there!” I said. She rolled away. Then they were back on their feet, Treecko in front of me where she’d started, and Wurmple too.
Haley just shouted, “Nnnow attack! Tackle tackle tackle!”
Wurmple came running straight at us. Treecko looked around her. The flowers in a clump of thick tall grass were on our right. She went and hid behind it. I stepped back to see Wurmple coming, it tore through the grass, didn’t hit anything, and disappeared.
We both ran up to the clump, where Treecko was hopping toward us from a totally different direction – the ground dropped at least three feet in a big ledge behind the grass – Treecko jumped, with a massive thump, and when we looked over the ledge she’d cannonballed on a curled-up Wurmple, its eyes rolling.
She hopped back to her feet, but Wurmple didn’t. Haley stared at me. I grinned and wanted to say something about the battle. The strategy.
Haley’d planned her part out from before, maybe she did every battle like this. Wurmple would get a string shot at the opponent first thing and then just attack while it struggled.
Treecko looked at the area. You could use the area to your advantage. She took advantage of Wurmple going full tilt and not caring for anything in its way. I hadn’t even seen that ledge at the end of the clearing.
“You – your pokémon’s the smart one!” she said. “You didn’t even say anything!”
“Tough luck,” Arauve said, coming up. She was pretending she’d seen everything. “He won, anyway.”
Haley swayed her head grudgingly and took a red card out of her bag. I looked at it. Her picture, name, other things. She said, “So? Give me your card.”
“I don’t have it,” I said.
“What! Why are you even on the route then?”
“We’re getting ours in a few days,” Arauve said.
“Well you’re gonna have to deal, I don’t have any…” Her eyes went down to her card – “Okay fine, it’s cut. Guess that means you’re an actual trainer.”
Arauve turned and put a hand on my bag. “Come on now!” She grunted and jumped over the ledge. I looked at her getting up from a crouch. The drop down didn’t feel like much but my ankles went spronnnng as soon as I got up. I hopped around waiting to get rid of the pain. Arauve laughed and laughed.
And I’d worn socks, so when I’d landed mud had splashed all over them. The parts that peeked over my boots. There was a pond down here and it was pretty clear of wild grass. There were berry trees, too. We picked them and put them in our bag.
The adjacent parts of this route were all visible from any position, even the ones over ledges or beyond long plant overgrowth. Generally, I found this true for all routes. It’s one of the first ways you learn to navigate on the field. We could see our journey as we made it. Beyond this brief clearing were houses.
I looked into the surface of the pond, and then up in the sky. The sun had crossed the middle of the journey. I crouched down near the edge; the water which was dark and shakily clear even now went in thin circles out away from me. I saw bugs and old weeds probably under the surface. The sun heat, that imposed on this clearing, left off a little over the water.
On the diagonal side I could see, garish and lopsided, little trees about my height with fancy leaves and big, bright fruit. They must have been berry trees. We went around to the three of them lumped in a triangle. Two were pale pink and their berries were sky blue. We picked what we could find and I looked around in my bag for a good pocket: there was a pouch hanging from its mouth, specifically for berries. It contained a rubber-banded wad of tags, at least a few of them already labeled with names, descriptive notes, and stickers showing the berry’s appearance. I shuffled through them and immediately found our tag: Oran. Quite sour. Not too firm. I held my berry against the sticker, which was pretty detailed, like a naturalist sketch, and compared it carefully, ignoring my brother’s impatience. Then I tied the tag firmly around the stems of the whole batch we’d found and deposited the clump in its right place.
Atashka got us to have our lunch by the waterside, rather than anyplace hygienic in the actual town we were only steps away from. Plastic wrapped sandwiches, butter, ketchup, cream, juice boxes, spoons, hand sanitizer. The town would also have been good for buying something beyond cucumber sandwiches, something from a bakery, pizza perhaps, or even just ice cream for dessert. I thought about the money sitting firmly enough it felt among our two bags, as well as what we’d apparently won from Haley’s battle, hidden in an account somewhere out of our reach. Maybe we had enough for a room in Oldale, in the worst case.
There was a calm pleasure in setting any kind of table. That was what I’d imagined looking at dinner when it was laid out by our father at home, but actually doing it on this uneven ground, handing around disposable plates and ketchup, was annoying. I did it patiently and conscientiously, though, because civilization while eating was what separated us human trainers from the lesser beasts and city-dwellers. Then I had a clench, suddenly remembering about the pokémon – who, having scattered all around the clearing once the threat of wild grass was over, now gathered around to watch the picnic being set. What did we have for them… I thought briefly about berries, when Atashka said, “Dad packed some for them, remember?” and knocked my head. I had no recollection.
There were three metal cans in my bag, with thick round bottoms and plastic handles. Treecko immediately snatched one and slit the lid open with a gleaming claw. I said, “You ought to use those pins in battle sometime.” Atashka said, “It’s too… sunk in, it doesn’t stick out sharp enough. Maybe when she gets older.” Treecko was trying to get at the soup inside but I grabbed it from her.
“Wait just a minute. Treecko, take the other two from Atashka and open them too. Mudkip doesn’t have claws like those. And this, this is supposed to be cooked!” I raised the can imploring at Torchic, who hopped up to me uncertainly so we stood for a moment not knowing what to do. “Can’t you do the fire thing?” I asked him. He cocked his head. I rested the can in his breast, where it started heating up immediately. Torchic settled down with a sigh.
“Don’t they like having nice food, like we do?” I said.
“This must be nice food. Treecko likes it.”
“No I mean prepared, like sandwiches or… something.” The soup appeared to be drying up, so I dashed a little more water into it. Other trainers probably didn’t know anything about cooking, and burned their first meals.
“They don’t prepare anything in the wild,” Atashka said. “The ways of pokémon are different from us.”
We grinned at each other, perfunctorily. Still there must have been a way to cook food for pokémon. I thought about trying recipes later on. What separates civilized pokémon from the beasts, as I said before.
Oldale Town waited surrounded by trees, small and dark-wooded, smoky with a sweet resinous smell. We didn’t spend a lot of time, only glimpsed the small lumber mill, the Pokémon Center and Pokémart near the town square, the two little clumps of flowers that adorned it; we passed through town like many other trainer kids. I was a little tired – well not tired, though we’d walked pretty far, but I wanted to sleep. I pushed us along the way on to Littleroot. There were two ways from Oldale so we had to ask which one was ours. They looked the same to me, though they were in opposite directions. When we left town Atashka patted a white signboard right at the head of the route and said, “You can tell from the signs, stupid.”
↑ Oldale Town
↓ Littleroot Town
For routes they probably have the gamut of four directions, → ← ↑ ↓. I can’t think of any others that would stand for anything. This route kept going down over ledges and ledges! I treated them like running hurdles. Atashka like a wounded slug lowered himself on his arms down every one, his ankles couldn’t take the fall. The trick is you don’t stop long enough to notice it. (Yeah, but when you do stop, you notice it really bad.)
There was darkening forest on either side, white 7:00 darkening, but the ledges went on straight. We broke into the clearing in the trees. The houses were bigger than I’d imagined, coming.