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Old February 19th, 2018 (9:13 PM). Edited May 26th, 2018 by icomeanon6.
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icomeanon6 icomeanon6 is offline
It's "I Come Anon"
     
    Join Date: Feb 2008
    Location: Northern Virginia
    Age: 25
    Gender: Male
    Posts: 1,184
    [Canceled]

    Author's Notes:
    Spoiler:
    Recently I wrote a one-shot that took place in 19th century North Dakota called Wild Horses in Winter, and the world this fic occupies grew out of that one. A main difference is that here the United States (rather, United Regions) is divided into regions instead of states, and things don't map completely to real-world geography. What I mean to keep the same is the uneasy and uneven relationship between people and pokémon in this harsher, pre-pokéball era. On the whole, though, this story's supposed to be pretty fun, so I hope you have as much fun reading it as I do writing it.

    Oh, and fun fact: if it had been fourteen minutes earlier when I posted this, it would have been on the 10th anniversary of when I joined PokeCommunity and posted my first bit of fanfiction. I think I learned a lot about writing in those ten years, and a good deal of that was thanks to PCFF&W! :)
    ( ^ Not spoilers, just there for anyone interested.)

    Disclaimer on Content Warnings: I am not well-versed in mental health issues. I have made a good-faith effort to highlight objectionable or potentially disturbing material below, but I wouldn't bet money on my judgment. If you read this and think there should be an addition to these warnings, please message me. If you have questions about the content before reading whether on your own behalf or on another's behalf, please message me.

    Content Warnings (General): Swearing. Violence. Blood. Alcohol. Adult themes. Not recommended for readers under the age of 14.

    Content Warnings (Specific or possible spoilers): Please open this spoiler tag if you require advance notice of certain topics.
    Spoiler:
    Murder. Old-timey racism (not connected to the murder).





    Roving Degenerates with Dangerous Pets

    Contents:
    1. The Worst Day of Harris Hickory's Life So Far
    2. Word Gets Around Fast
    3. The Knack
    [...]




    Chapter 1

    The Worst Day of Harris Hickory’s Life So Far

    May, 1879

    “Ticket, please.”

    Harris Hickory pulled the slip out of his vest pocket, taking great care to keep it flat and neat. There were a good number of stops left until the train reached Delta Town on Saturday, and he wanted his ticket to still be nice and legible by then. He handed it to the conductor for inspection.

    “Everything appears to be in order.” The conductor returned the ticket with a tip of his cap. “Thank you, sir.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    It was the same ticket that he had shown the same conductor for the last eight stops, but Harris still thought it best to be polite. Now that he was alone again, he turned his attention to the window. For the longest time there had only been close trees passing too quickly to see properly, but now the tracks led up and around a hill that fell away sharply to the side, and he could see the mountains. They really were blue off in the distance like he had read, even though it was midday. It was hard to believe he had woken up in Castelia City only two days prior.

    The train blew its whistle. By the time things quieted down to a low, regular chug again, Harris noticed he had company. There was a little boy pressing his face to the glass. “Woooww…”

    “Tom? Tom?” Harris looked over and saw a harried-looking woman standing in the doorway. “Oh! Pardon us, sir… Tom!”

    “No, no, he’s quite all right! It’s not a private compartment. Do you care to sit down?” She looked like she needed it.

    “Lookit how blue it is, Mama!”

    Tom’s mother sat on the other side of the table from Harris, ignored the passing landscape, and straightened out Tom’s hair. “I see it. It’s very blue.”

    Harris was having trouble placing her accent. It certainly wasn’t Unovan. There was too much of a drawl for her to come from Latchee, but it wasn’t quite a Jinya drawl either. “So, are you heading out or heading back, Mrs.…?”

    “O’Reilly,” she said with a tired smile. “And it’s a bit of both, I reckon, Mr.…”

    “Hickory, Mrs. O’Reilly.” The novelty of being called ‘mister’ hadn’t yet worn off for Harris. In the city, showing good manners meant you were either uncommonly well-to-do or currently being written up by a policeman. And they were never shown to you when you were only twenty.

    “Mr. Hickory, then. We live in Icirrus now, but I was born and bred here, sure as you can tell. This’ll be Tom’s first time meeting his gran.” So it was a Latchee accent? His friends from Picksborough sounded nothing like her. “You been to Latchee before, Mr. Hickory?”

    “This is my first time out of Unova. I’m afraid I won’t be seeing much of Latchee, though. I’m on the train until Bayuu.”

    “Oh goodness, but that’s a sore ways away. What takes you down to skeeter-country?”

    Harris had been waiting for someone to ask him that. He hoped he wasn’t too obviously bursting with pride. “Relocation, ma’am. I’m actually going at the request of Professor Cottonwood. He’s offered me a job to aid his research in taxonomy.”

    “I’m sorry, in…?”

    “Oh… in the study of species. It’s about categorizing nature.”

    Tom pulled his head away from the window for the first time. “You catch any monsters for that?”

    Harris was about to answer in the affirmative and share a small lesson besides, but Mrs. O’Reilly hushed her son and said, “We don’t talk to gentlemen about monsters, Tom. He means he studies decent critters.”

    “…That’s right. Just animals. It’s all rather fascinating.” He kept up a polite smile. Superstition abounded in all corners of the United Regions, but the Latchee Region was notorious for it. There was little point in starting a debate with well-meaning strangers on the propriety of studying monsters in captivity, so they stuck to intermittent, idle chatter until Tom decided he wanted to run somewhere else.

    *********

    “Blue Creek City Station! Next station-stop, Faxfair City! Train departs in thirty minutes!”

    Harris flipped open his pocket watch and took careful note of the time: Forty-three minutes after noon, on the dot. He looked out the window at the small handful of travelers getting off at the ‘city.’ On a crooked sign read the statistic, ‘Pop. 1,609.’ In Unova that would be low for even a town. Moreover, it looked like the ‘9’ on the sign was a freshly-painted curve applied to a ‘7.’

    ‘I suppose I ought to get used to the smaller numbers.’ Bayuu wasn’t exactly Unova either, and it wouldn’t do for him to come across as stuck-up city-folk. With that in mind, he decided the next thirty minutes would be a good chance to stretch his legs and talk to some locals. He stood to leave the compartment, but then remembered his suitcase. For a moment he thought it would be wiser to take the heavy thing with him, but in the end he just pushed it further under the seat. In truth there was very little to worry about. Train robberies had plummeted since the 1850s, and if the figures were to be believed, his luggage might be safer here than anywhere else in town.

    With that taken care of, Harris made his way out of the car and onto the platform. Even with a faint wisp of smoke in the air, it felt so clean to take a deep breath. That was certainly a point in Latchee’s favor. “Aaaaaah…”

    A pair of children standing nearby began to point at him and giggle. Harris turned a little red and imagined he was writing down, ‘To avoid ridicule, refrain from acting like breathing is a revelatory experience.’ He left the rude tykes behind and decided to explore the rest of the station.

    As it turned out, the rest of the station consisted of the ticket office and nothing besides. Before he could blink, he was standing at the foot of a dirt road that led uphill to a few more wooden buildings some ways off. Since he had well more than twenty minutes to spare, he kept on walking. As he passed an elderly couple returning from the station, he overheard the wife say, “…but never would move there, not Unova. All those hoodlums, gadabouts, forn’ers. It’s a blessin’ she’s happy there, but…”

    ‘Furthermore,’ scribbled Harris in his head, ‘don’t come across as a ‘hoodlum.’ But then again, do they think much better of high-school graduates? Try to find a middle-ground.’

    He came to a cross-road with a post office and general store, both in need of fresh paint. The post office in particular was starting to look more brown than blue. Up and down the hill there were some shacks that one might call houses and what looked like a tiny inn, but here in the supposed center of town there was more noise coming from the birds than from the people. A young lady was sweeping her porch, an old man was sitting in a rocking chair with pipe in mouth, and a few little girls were playing a remarkably subdued game of Jacks.

    It was all enough to make Harris sleepy, but then something in his peripheral vision snapped him wide awake. Just around the corner from the general store moved a small thing that was the wrong color for a child. It was gone the very next moment, and without a second thought Harris took a few steps to see what it could be. Its back was turned, but there was no mistake: ‘Monster!’

    It was of the bipedal variety, and the giveaway for its identification was the sagging lower skin it held in its paws like a pair of poorly-tailored trousers. Scraggy. If there was a Latin name for it, Harris had never heard one. So few monsters had them, and he hoped to see that change.

    The scraggy turned slightly and spotted him with the wide eye on the side of its head (which was unusual placement for a fighter’s eye). Harris didn’t move and neither did the monster until out of the blue one of the Jacks players screamed about the rules, at the sound of which the scraggy bolted to the other side of the building. Harris started, stopped, checked his watch, then followed after the creature. One saw so few monsters in the city, so he wasn’t about to blow his first chance to see one so close to nature.

    As he rounded the corner, however, the first things he noticed were the two unshaven young men leaning on the back of the store. “Where you keep scampering off to? Quit it,” said one of them to the scraggy. Incredible! Only his third day away from home, and here were two real, live monster handlers! On the shoulder of the second one was perched what looked like a giant robin but was in fact a fletchinder, a monster known to spit flame.

    “Good afternoon!” The two of them looked at Harris like he had just spoken in Chinese, but that failed to dampen his enthusiasm. “Do you mind if I take a closer look at your monsters? I’ve never seen these species in the flesh until today!”

    The young man with the fletchinder scrunched his face up further. “Spee-whuh?”

    “…Er, scraggy and fletchinder. I’ve only seen them in books.”

    It took a worryingly long time for either of the two to move a muscle, much less answer. Then the scraggy’s handler gave the other an inquisitive sort of look, and after another several seconds was shown a nod. Success!

    “Knock yourself out, Perfess’r.”

    Harris was about to correct him and provide an overview of the long path to certification following graduation, but stopped himself as he realized that ‘professor’ probably meant, ‘someone who’s read a book before.’ “Much obliged!”

    The scraggy seemed antsy, so Harris inspected the fletchinder first. Its gold-tipped black wings stood out beautifully next to its red crest. It paid him no mind, but instead let its gaze wander from tree to tree with quick jerks of its head. “Does it get hot keeping it on your shoulder?”

    “…Nah.”

    “You’re not just trying to sound tough? I’m honestly interested in the efficiency of its internal heat containment.”

    The young man just gave him an odd, annoyed-looking stare. Then with a touch of embarrassment, Harris realized it probably meant, ‘You’re standing too close.’ He backed off a little before he got absorbed in his observations again.

    “I think what fascinates me most might be the proportion of its legs and talons to the rest of its body,” said Harris. “It’s a ratio you usually see in smaller birds. It must be have remarkably sturdy yet light bones.”

    “Yeah. He’s real strong.”

    At this point the other handler spoke up from somewhere behind Harris’s back, but he was too focused to turn around. “You out here alone?”

    “Why, yes. Why do you a—”

    Harris felt his brain move around in his skull as something struck him hard against the temple. His legs buckled underneath him, and on his way to the ground he heard a shrill, scratchy growling noise.

    *********

    It couldn’t have been more than two minutes since Harris started talking to those two, but for some reason he wanted to check his watch. It was difficult though when he couldn’t seem to move his arms. For that matter, his eyes wouldn’t focus no matter how hard he tried to convince them. And since his head was ringing like mad, he couldn’t decide in which order he should get them working again. The din reminded him that he couldn’t really hear anything outside of his own head either, but he couldn’t check his watch with his ears (he didn’t think) so he couldn’t afford to focus on that. He really needed to know what time it was.

    “…er……ster?… Mister?”

    There was something touching his forehead, he finally noticed. All of the sudden his arms and legs responded. He kicked and flailed violently as his eyes found themselves again, and it sent a stab of pain just inside his skull.

    “Aagh! Goddamn…”

    “Iiiii!”

    That was a noise he didn’t recognize. He pushed himself up in a start and saw a pink creature stumble away from him and hide behind someone.

    “Don’t move! You’re bleeding!”

    Harris only now took real notice of the girl—rather, young woman—kneeling next to him. He saw first that she had a tough-browed face that was softened by freckles, and second that the hand she was holding up had blood on the fingertips.

    “…Hey… I think you’re bleeding,” he said.

    She took hold of his head and got him to lie down again. “That’s cause you keep moving. Now hold still.”

    She had the same long vowels as the woman on the train. That settled it: the Latchee accent had more of a drawl than he’d been led to believe. But it still didn’t tell him what time it was.

    “Clara, please come listen.”

    The strange creature slowly poked out its face from behind her back. It had blue eyes, and the division between the pink top of its head and the cream-colored bottom made it look like it was wearing spectacles. That description matched a monster he’d read about. Adauni. Andauno? …Aunido. Short for aunidoran. If he could remember correctly, then his head must be improving. In any case, it crawled over to him, and then extended a curly-ended feeler that grew from the base of one of its large, fluffy ears. It pressed the tip close to where his head hurt.

    The young woman tilted his head skyward so he could no longer see the aunidoran so easily. “Mister? Can you tell me your name, please?”

    “…Harris.”

    “Can you count to five for me, Harris?”

    Odd question. “Of course I can.”

    “Please do. Out loud.”

    It broke his heart. The illiteracy rate in Latchee must have been in direr straits than he ever imagined if she needed him to teach her such a thing. So, so sad. “One. Two… Threeeee… … Fourfive.”

    “What year were you born, Harris?”

    “Eighteen-hundred and fifteen-nine… What about you?”

    “Eighteen-hundred and sixty. But that’s not something you ask a lady.”

    It wasn’t? Obviously one would never ask a woman her age, but that was just her birth year. It wasn’t like he could just extrapolate one from the other. Worse yet, it didn’t help him figure out the time of day, which he still desperately needed.

    She said something that wasn’t directed straight at him, which made it harder to hear for some reason. “Bleeding inside, Clara? …Just outside? …Good. Thank you.”

    Then he heard something else: a train whistle. That told him all he needed to deduce the time! Excellent! The train was due to depart at thirty minutes past forty-three past noon. Forty-three after noon plus sixty minutes was forty-three after one, and subtracting forty from that gave three past one, and adding the remaining ten made one-thirteen, on the dot. Which meant…

    Harris jumped again. He spun over onto his front and pushed himself up. He had to run because it was exactly time for his train to leave which meant he was late which meant he wouldn’t make it in time which meant he would miss the first day of his job which meant everything was going wrong which meant he was falling over again which—

    Harris landed on his face with a thud. It hurt terribly and his eyes were filled with faint blotches of color.

    “Hey!” Someone was grabbing his shoulders. “I said hold still! What on earth are you doing?”

    “Ufff… Traim…”

    “What?”

    He tried pushing himself up again. “I said, ‘traig,’ ‘traing!’ I have to get to my traim!”

    Now he was on his feet. The world spun and shook, but he managed to stay upright this time. Was that because of the hands on his shoulders? He couldn’t tell, but that didn’t matter because this was an emergency.

    “Oh… Harris, I’m so sorry, but the train just left.”

    It had? Then things were even worse than he thought. “Uggggh…” He clapped a hand to his forehead.

    “Oh, lawdy—” The young lady sounded frustrated. She pulled his hand away and pressed a handkerchief there instead. “We need to get you to the doctor. It’s opening up.”

    What? Doctor? No, that had nothing to do with the matter at hand. And the matter at hand was… No, not his clothes and things on the train, but…

    “Telegran.”

    “Pardon?”

    Did he truly need to spell out something so obvious to her? He spoke quickly. “I’m going to be laid, very laid. I got to ship a wire to the oppressor to let him know I’m going to be ate!”

    He started walking before she could say anything else to slow him down. He started to lean closer to the horizontal as he did so, which seemed about right, but she pulled him more vertical again as he went. There was no time to discuss his manner of movement in committee—he had to send that telegram. They were back at the main street, and she tried to pull him to the left. That wouldn’t do. The post office was to the right, and that was the first place it made sense to try. He started to amble rightward.

    “No, Harris, this way!”

    “Post office! They can send one!”

    “Doctor first!”

    How was she finding this so hard to understand? “There’s no time, Miss… Miss…” Confound it all, how had he forgotten her name already? O-something. O’Ryan? And why wasn’t she on the train?

    “Irwin. Emily Irwin. Now we have to—”

    Criminy, he was way off.

    “—Time is of an essentience, Miss Gershwin.” He looked her dead in the eye. “We can see the daughter after I wire the possessor!”

    Miss Gershwin looked confused for a moment. Then her brow hardened something fierce and she said, “Doctor. Now.”

    She pulled one way, so of course Harris pulled the other. He nearly fell over in that direction, but with a brief shuffle of feet on both their parts he was steady again. Miss Gershwin seethed.

    “…Fine. But we have to make it quick.” She started walking with him in the right direction. “Clara, follow!”

    Who? Anyway, before he knew it (literally. Where did that half-minute go?) they were standing in front of a postman who had the most indescribable look on his face.

    “Sir, I need to mend a telegraph.”

    The postman stuttered. “Errr… I believe you want the Western Wire office, by the station. They—”

    Miss Gershwin interrupted him. “Please, Gus, if you could just jot it down and send it off with Bobby? He delivers for them too, right?”

    “Well… I suppose.” He called over his shoulder to a back room. “Hey, boy!”

    Now there was a lad of ten or so here. Where did he come from? In any event, he soon had a pad and pen at hand. So now it was on Harris to take his thoughts and compress them to a thrifty number of words. Time to speak slowly but surely.

    “To… Pro-fess-err… Cot-ton-would… Del-tuh Town… Ba-yuu Ree-gion. Way-laid… in Latch-ee… Stop.”

    Something occurred to him. He felt for his vest pocket. After four tries he realized the twenty dollars was gone. Suddenly his stomach hurt. “Robbed and… missed traim… Stop. Will… wire… uh… uh-gain… when have new es… es… es-ti-mutt of uh-rye-vull… Stop. …Hick-oh-ry.”

    Everyone was staring at him. Whatever for? The boy, who looked exceedingly uncomfortable, was letting ink from the pen drip on the paper when he said, “Uh… that’s two bucks and two bits, but uh…”

    That would sound steep even if Harris hadn’t just lost all the money he’d brought to make sure he got on his feet in Delta Town. Then he remembered… yes, in his shoes. He tried to bend over but Miss Gershwin stopped him.

    “Can you give it to him on credit, Gus?”

    “Well, I…”

    “Oh, look at his vest! He’s good for it!”

    Harris gave up on bending over and instead tried to pull his feet up to him. Eventually Miss Gershwin caught what he was doing and tried to help him. Soon they had two one-dollar coins removed from under his soles. They clanked loudly on the wooden counter (ouch, his ears), but that still left him four bits short. No, three.

    Miss Gershwin reached into one of her pockets and placed a nickel next to the dollars. “Can you give him twenty cents credit, then?”

    The postman opened a box on the table with some reluctance and pulled out another dime and two nickels. “There it is, boy. Off you go.”

    Harris found himself being pulled along by Miss Gershwin again. “Us too. Time to see the doctor, Harris. Oh, Bobby, mark the doctor’s place as the return address!”

    He went along with it. She was awfully insistent about this whole ‘doctor’ issue. He hoped whatever was wrong with her wasn’t too serious.

    *********

    Harris was lying on a cot. His head still hurt, but now it was propped against a pillow and was held more watertight by a thick bandage. It was lucky he hadn’t needed stitches, otherwise Miss Irwin might not have found him in time. But it was hard to feel lucky just then. He’d blown it. All he’d had to do was stay on the train and he would still be on his way to his dream job. Instead he was following Dr. Fitzpatrick’s finger with his eyes to prove he wasn’t too damaged. Miss Irwin was here as well: she sat on a stool with her audino crouching behind her and was paying the utmost attention to the examination.

    “You’re lucky, Mr. Hickory,” said the doctor. He had white hair, a stiff face, a stiffer voice, and none of what Harris would call decent bedside manner. “With a day or two of rest, I don’t see much lasting harm.”

    “I can’t thank you enough, sir.” But it was a struggle to sound thankful instead of resentful at his situation.

    “Hmmph.”

    Dr. Fitzpatrick took out a pad of paper and began to scrawl something out. “I’m prescribing you laudanum. Take it for a week or until the pain goes away.”

    “I, uh…” He was about to say something to the effect of, ‘I haven’t a penny within hundreds of miles to pay for any laudanum,’ but before he could, the doctor tore the slip from his pad with such force that it would feel like Harris was interrupting him.

    “I think Mr. Braddock might be fresh out,” said Miss Irwin. “You remember, after that scuffle at the bar last week? But I can go check.” She got up.

    “No, please,” said Harris. “You’ve done more than enough on my account already, Miss Irwin. And besides, I—”

    The doctor cut him off. “I’ll decide when my assistant is through with a patient, Mr. Hickory.”

    “Eh?” Harris thought for a moment, which hurt a little, but then everything made much more sense. “…Oh. Beg your pardon. But—”

    “You’re pardoned,” she said. “And Emily’s fine, by the way.”

    Dr. Fitzpatrick shook his head and pretended to spit. “Your generation will be the death of surnames.”

    “It’s new theory, Doctor. It’s supposed to make the patient more comfortable.”

    Between the suddenly contentious social dynamics and the fact that he still couldn’t afford any pharmacist’s bill, Harris wasn’t feeling very comfortable at all. “—I’ve been trying to say that I can’t pay for—”

    “Relax,” said Emily. “The doctor has a tab, and you can pay him back as soon as you’re able.”

    Harris’s tongue got caught in his throat. Would expressing relief be presumptuous, or would refraining from doing so be ungrateful? He looked over at the doctor, who was covering his mouth with his hand.

    “…You said you were moving to where the work was, correct?”

    “Yes, sir. Once I’m settled I can mail you any fees with interest.” Of course, that would only be after he got together the money for another ticket. Did that mean he was obliged to pay the doctor first, and the train second? How much longer would that delay his arrival? Dared he ask Cottonwood for an advance? And he could only afford to communicate by mail now, since he’d spent his last two dollars on a telegram, so how long would…

    The worry on his face must have shown. “I don’t sweat details, Mr. Hickory. ‘No more and no faster than one’s means,’ is my only policy on fees. I don’t need much assurance to give you a few months.”

    It was a greater relief than Harris could have asked for. “That would be exceedingly generous, thank you. And as for assurance, I think I can arrange—”

    Just then the loud voice of a boy came from elsewhere in the doctor’s home. “Hey, Doc? Em?”

    “Door’s open, boy!”

    Emily added a hasty qualification. “Wipe your feet first! I better not see mud-prints!”

    When the lad poked his head into the room, his bare but dry feet soon followed. “Telegram,” he said, “for Mr. Hick’ry.” He jogged over to the side of the cot and handed Harris a folded, sealed piece of paper. “Four cents, please.”

    Harris bit his lip. It was so embarrassing to have to beg for pennies. But the doctor waved the boy off before he could say anything. “Just get ’em from the jar on my desk, boy.”

    “Thank you, Bobby,” said Emily, while the doctor muttered something about how it wasn’t natural to get word back all the way from another region in a few days, much less in a few hours.

    With that settled, however, Harris opened the reply. He was eager to be on the same page as the professor so he could start planning the resumption of his trip in earnest. It took him a little effort to bring the words into focus, but he managed it.

    Mr. Harris Hickory, c/o Dr. Ross Fitzpatrick, Hollow Street, Blue Creek City, Latchee.

    Dreadful. Best wishes.

    So far so good.

    Regret timing. Original position choice suddenly available.

    His hands shook.

    Your services no longer required. Reiterate condolences, best wis—

    The paper slipped out of his grasp and fell to the floor. He stared into space and tried to gather himself again, but it was no use. Parts of him kept twitching, and his bladder felt full even though he knew it wasn’t. Everything was over before it even began. He had come this far from home only to lose his destination.

    Off in the corner of his eye, Emily picked up the telegram, read it in silence, and showed it to the doctor.

    He tried to think of something, anything he could do besides making his long, miserable way back home. But there was nothing. Pleading his case to the professor over mail would be a hopeless venture, and keeping on to see him in person would be digging a hole he might never get out of. Unova, then. Unova, where his parents would resent him for coming back empty-handed, and where none of the universities had any interest in you if your family hadn’t been attending for at least eighty years.

    “On second thought,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick, “laudanum’s probably more than you need, anyway. I know some bark you can chew on that’s almost as good. Miss Irwin, if you don’t mind holding the fort here, I think I’ll take a walk and find some.”

    “Of course.”

    Harris said nothing. There was nothing to say. The thought came into his head to make his way to the train tracks and start hiking north. Since the place he had to go wasn’t anywhere he wanted to be, why bother scrounging together the money to get there quickly? Slowly his hands balled up into fists.

    “Iii?”

    He jumped a little when he saw that the audino had climbed onto the cot next to him. Immediately the monster retreated to the floor and scurried behind Emily’s dress.

    “Oh, Clara…” Emily bent down to corral the audino back in front of her again. “Your blood pressure must be rising,” she said to Harris. “It seems Clara heard it and gotten concerned.”

    “Heard it?” Surely she couldn’t mean ‘heard’ in a literal sense, but the notion was just interesting enough to grab Harris’s attention again.

    “Yep. Those big ears aren’t just for show. That’s how we found you, by the way: she can hear an abnormal heartbeat and distressed breathing even from a short distance, and she’s trained to listen for them.”

    Emily gently rubbed the back of one of Clara’s ears, and the creature’s face began to relax. “If I could just get her less scared of the patients, she’d really be a world of help.”

    “That’s simply fascinating.” To think that in Latchee of all places he would find such an example of a monster being used in a novel, legitimate fashion. Harris found himself paying more attention to Clara’s features. She seemed to prefer standing on her hind legs, and she had a low center of gravity. “Is she still growing? I had the impression that audino were larger; more like four feet.”

    Emily took the doctor’s thatched chair and pulled it closer to Harris’s place on the cot. “She’s been about this size for a few years, but to tell you the truth I’ve got no idea how old she is or when they become adults.”

    Neither did Harris. The books were all sparse on such details when it came to audino.

    “Now, if you don’t mind…” Emily’s face grew very stern. “I probably should have asked earlier, but I wasn’t sure if you were up for it. Can you describe to me the man who robbed you? That ought to get to the sheriff.”

    Harris now realized he remembered almost nothing about the men themselves, and frowned. “There were two of them. I think they were… young. At least, not old.” Then the obvious occurred to him, which was disturbingly long in the coming. “They were monster-handlers. They had a fletchinder and a scraggy.”

    Emily clicked her tongue and fumed. “They’re from nowhere around here, then, I can tell you that much. Probably miles away by now.” She pounded her knee, making Clara squeak in alarm. “We’ve been getting more and more of them lately. Gosh-darn, monster-loving…”

    “Pardon?” Had he heard her right?

    “Monster-handlers. They keep coming through town, and something’s got to be done.”

    Harris glanced at the audino, now sitting on the floor. He must have been missing something. “You mean, ones who break the law, then; delinquents who happen to handle monsters?”

    She looked confused for a moment, then said, “Well, I can’t speak for anywhere in Unova, but in Blue Creek you’re already breaking the law by keeping monsters for pets.”

    Again, Harris’s eyes went to the audino. It seemed like she was perking her ears up at the concerned voices. “But what about your… uh…”

    Emily’s confusion mounted until something must have clicked. She took on a glare that could have curdled milk. “I hope your head’s still cloudy, because if it’s not and you’re calling my Clara a monster…”

    “I… I’m not! The book is!”

    What book?”

    He had to recover quickly. “Karlsson’s Monsters of the New World, for example, among others! Granted, they all contradict each other, and none of them say too much, but they all state quite unambiguously that audino is not an animal, but a monster. I’m not trying to cast judgment on her—it’s just the scientific consensus!”

    There wasn’t an ounce of credulity in Emily’s face. She opened her mouth to offer some kind of retort, but stopped there. She read Harris’s face with an uncomfortable level of intent. He hoped he came across as the type who would know this sort of thing.

    Harris broke the silence. “So, umm… How would you classify an audino, then? You think they’re animals?”

    Now Emily’s eyes went astray. “Well, no, of course not. She’s more… Everyone knows Audino’s more like a pixie. I don’t know what they call those in Unova.”

    He had nothing to tell her, as nobody called anything such a name unless they were telling a fairy-story. “Let’s start from the basics.” He slowly pulled his legs over the edge of the cot and faced her more directly. “What would you say is the defining characteristic of a monster? Any answer is fine; I just want to know what you think.”

    Her expression grew somewhat softer, but that brow stayed rather hard. “They’re, ah… They’re creatures that aren’t natural, I think is what’s usually said. They can do dark things, or worse, they…” She seemed to struggle over whether to say the next bit out loud. “They sometimes have some demonic element. Unnatural transformations, conjuring wind or fire, that sort of thing.”

    Before he realized it, Harris was no longer acting on the defensive, but rather in his normal professional capacity. “Uh huh. That’s a typical response, and that’s why I find it surprising that you call audino pixies. In Unova, at least—I can’t speak for anywhere else—the general understanding among folk—and to a certain extent this is reflected in academia—is that audino possess ‘knowledge of the unknowable,’ or just the sort of demonic characteristic you describe.”

    Emily’s face became stricken, and Harris followed up in a hurry. “—Which, I can see now, is almost certainly a misunderstanding. If Clara’s hearing is as prodigious as you describe, that would explain that misperception in other parts of the country. Like I said, the books are all in a state of total confusion. If I had to guess now, I’d say that whatever audino is, it’s probably not demonic. And wouldn’t it be a wonderful chance if yours was the one to get the books in the northeast and even overseas corrected?”

    It would have been more precise to say that Harris still thought that audino was a monster, but that the connection between ‘monsters’ and the pits of Hell was looking even more dubious than before. It seemed wiser to play it safe, though. And it appeared to be working: Emily no longer looked furious, aghast, or anything of that sort; rather interested, if a little shaken up.

    “I can scarce imagine a whole region of people who wouldn’t be happy to see an audino—so if you can help fix that, please do. I gather that’s your field of study, natural sciences?”

    Harris smiled. “As a matter of fact—” And then the smile was gone. “…Well, it was going to be my field of study. You saw the telegram. I may have to ditch studying altogether and find an ordinary job.”

    “Just like that? Surely a man of your learning must have other options. I mean… I’ve heard more words out of you today than most of the men here even know.”

    Such was the reputation of the region, but somehow Harris felt bad about agreeing: it was like insulting her by association. “I’m flattered. But honestly, making a living off taxonomy is more about who you know and what resources they have access to. And Cottonwood was who I knew, unfortunately.”

    Emily sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “Well, it’s your business. And for what it’s worth, I’m awfully sorry.”

    I should be sorry you had to put up with my abominable behavior earlier.” He was pretty sure he could remember all the embarrassing details, and hoped to God he wasn’t missing any. “Anything I can do to repay you for your kindness…”

    “As far as I’m concerned, you owe me a grand total of five cents, and the rest you can settle with the doctor and the postman. And I don’t suspect you’ll find that difficult, either. Despite how loudly the doctor will claim the contrary, he all but runs the place like a charity. If you pay him in chores and pleasant company, I’ll bet you the five cents again he’ll let you stay here until you can buy your ticket.”

    Harris blanched. “I couldn’t possibly…” Surely there was a limit to how much graciousness one could accept from strangers.

    “I’d accept it when he offers. It beats the woods, and I can’t offer you my place on account of how little my father trusts city-folk.” At this she leaned forward and changed the subject with surprising eagerness. “Now if you don’t mind, can you tell me what else they call ‘monsters’ or ‘animals’ in Unova, so we can see how it matches up with here?”

    Harris was all too glad to forget everything else and oblige, and they got into the weeds of the matter. Before long, it became clear that there were more differences in classification between the two regions than he ever would have dared to guess. To some of these Emily reacted with indignity, to others with brief outrage, but after a while she took to most of them with laughter.

    “Ha! You don’t think Meowth is a monster? How do you think he gets all those coins?”

    He eventually took note that she tended to personify when referring to a species of monster, animal, or pixie. ‘Meowth’ collectively was ‘he’ and used like a name; and it was the same with Wolf and Elephant. “I think the coins are an old wives’ tale, myself! But I’ll write it down later, anyway.”

    “And what would Unovans call Persian, then?”

    “A grown meowth. No different than growing between a calf and a bull, just unusually fast. The coin story I suspect comes from how it sheds its adolescent forehead-metal.”

    “You can call it a ‘story,’ but my friend who went to Picksborough swears up and down the stray meowth there spread coins; and coins from all over the world, at that! I’ve half a mind to go there myself just to show you!”

    At some point the doctor came home, but for whatever reason he didn’t interrupt them. They ended up talking well into the evening.
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    Old April 17th, 2018 (4:28 PM). Edited April 18th, 2018 by icomeanon6.
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    icomeanon6 icomeanon6 is offline
    It's "I Come Anon"
       
      Join Date: Feb 2008
      Location: Northern Virginia
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      Chapter 2

      Word Gets Around Fast

      Harris was improving substantially at chopping wood, but he was still never quite sure when it was time to keep the axehead wedged in the wood and just pound it against the stump. He wiped his forehead. Two weeks in the country was no substitute for growing up there. When he was ready, he heaved the handle along with the log (ow, his back) and brought it down again. Crack, split, and he was done for the afternoon.

      “Splendid, splendid,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick. He was relaxing on his back porch with a book and pipe in hand.

      “I might have been faster at it, I think.”

      “An hour of your time’s quicker than thirty minutes of mine, from where I’m sitting.”

      Harris sat down on the stump to let his breath catch up with him. “That makes just little enough sense to sound wise, Doctor.”

      “Indeed.”

      It was a warm day with no clouds, but the trees provided all the shade you could want. It was a cooler, better shade than what tall buildings provided, too.

      The doctor asked him, “Have you heard there’s a square dance at the tavern tonight?”

      Harris had, and nodded. “I’m going over after it’s done to wash glasses.” Every nickel helped.

      The old man scoffed at him. “Go dancing first and stick around for the glasses. What do you think being young is even for?”

      “Oh, no, I couldn’t.” Harris pulled his shirt away from where it was stuck to his skin. “I’m not nearly presentable enough to go dancing.” And there was no time to make himself presentable either, as interesting as it sounded to observe a local dance. He didn’t have any clothes to change into, and it was too late in the day to wash his.

      “You think you’ll smell worse than the coal-miners and farmers? It takes more than a dip in the river and a dry shirt to make yourself as clean as you have in mind. Now go, or I’ll make my evening’s entertainment giving you grief about it.”

      Harris had to think about it. He still didn’t feel decent enough, but he also had to consider why the doctor might be so insistent. It was possible to read his position as, ‘I live alone for a reason, now go somewhere else so I can have the house to myself for an evening.’ When he thought about it that way, he could hardly say no. “I suppose you’re right.”

      “Always a good supposition.”

      “Yes, sir.” With that, Harris went back into the house to do the bare minimum of freshening-up, and all the while he was conscious of his good fortune (all things considered). If it weren’t for the doctor’s gracious provision of food and shelter, he would be much more than three dollars short of the nine and thirty-five cents he needed for the train home right now. And the house was comfortable and the company was pleasant—to the point where sometimes he found it bitterly backwards that he was working this hard to go somewhere he didn’t want to be.

      Then he would always remember that the only thing worse than facing his mother and father was the guilt of exploiting hospitality. Each time the doctor got a little short with him—even when it was only about something as silly as missing a dance—he worried it was a sign that his welcome was running thin. The longer he stayed, the less comfortable the situation felt, and he was starting to feel it more frequently. One could only earn money so fast through odd jobs in a town that was already poor. Here, wealth was found in land and in backs, not in wallets. It just wasn’t a place where train tickets were earned quickly enough.

      *********

      The tavern (it had no proper name, as there was no other to confuse it with) had an unusually low roof for Blue Creek. Harris had supposed at first that the proprietor was ignorant of building conventions. But looking now from the street at its good number of lamp-lit windows, he realized that this way they saved on wood to allow for as much floor-space as possible. The place would need it tonight, as it looked like the entire town was pouring in.

      There was something a smidge intimidating about it, but Harris took a deep breath and walked over to join the chattering crowd. He held the door open for two sisters of highly respectable age whose names escaped him, both of whom greeted him with, “Good evening, P’rfessor!”

      “Good evening, ladies!”

      A hair familiar, a hair formal, and completely polite: the exact social tenor that Harris was most comfortable with. It was a good sign that he would have no trouble navigating the evening’s festivities, even as an outsider. He walked in with a smile on his face, but immediately the sight of the dance itself robbed him of much of his confidence.

      ‘…I don’t know why I expected the steps to be simple.’ On the contrary, the dance was fast, precise, and required coordination between no fewer than four sets of two partners at a time. Between that, the loud fiddling, and the raucous shouting, Harris found himself a tad overwhelmed. It required intense concentration for him to recognize the abstract ‘squares.’ At a glance they looked more like octuple-knots.

      “Inside Out, Outside In!” came the voice of the caller, whose age had done nothing to limit his volume. Other calls that were equally unintelligible to Harris included ‘Star Promenade!’ and ‘Right-Left Grand!’ Clearly, this was a night for those who already knew the steps as well as they knew how to walk, so Harris kept to the periphery of the crowded hall and tried to blend in by clapping along with others who didn’t have partners yet. It was the ‘yet’ that had him awfully worried.

      That was when he noticed a particular partner-less lady on a diagonal from him: Miss Emily Irwin. She was conversing with one of her friends but still happened to look over and notice him. She smiled and waved, he smiled and waved, and then he felt oddly anxious. Again, she didn’t have a partner, and it seemed there were more ladies without partners than gentlemen. Would it be impolite to stay where he was and not greet her properly, and if he did greet her properly would it be impolite not to ask for the next dance? And if he did ask, how much damage would he deal to her poor feet with his own in the dance to follow? Or would asking at all be considered too forward? Among the dancers, were the unmarried partners strangers, acquaintances, friends, courting, betrothed? Why, oh why hadn’t he asked the doctor about the etiquette and social expectations of square dances!

      In the midst of his critical deliberations, someone clapped a hand to his shoulder and made him jump.

      “Hey, there!”

      It was a man a few inches shorter than Harris with a bright but well-worn face and an intimidatingly strong grip. He looked to be thirty or so, but Harris had the feeling he looked older than he was. “…Er, how do you do.”

      The man pointed a finger at him and asked, “You’re that travelling professor, right? The one got in an accident, eh?”

      “Yes, that’s right.” His reputation preceded him, though it was a hair inaccurate. Harris had all but given up on correcting the ‘professor’ label. More importantly, he noticed yet another odd accent: certainly from nowhere nearby. He guessed somewhere farther west and north. Was there a hint of a Canadian region in there? Saskavut, perhaps? Definitely not the francophone Nordec region. Maybe—

      “What’s your name, stranger?”

      “Oh, uh… Hickory. Harris Hickory.”

      “Folks call me Bobcat.” He gestured to the bar. “Can I buy you a drink?”

      Harris was not entirely convinced that folks called this man ‘Bobcat,’ but he was too busy being dragged along to the bar to question him about the matter. In any case, Bobcat was offering him a ready-made excuse to avoid dancing.

      Bobcat slapped two coins on the wooden counter. “Two whiskeys over here!”

      They pulled up some stools, and Harris said, “Awfully generous of you. I’m much obliged.”

      “Nah, don’t worry about it.”

      All the same, Bobcat didn’t look like the sort who could afford not to worry about buying an extra drink. His duster-jacket looked beat to hell and back, and his vest had a few conspicuous holes. Then again, perhaps this was the consequence of not worrying about buying perfect strangers a round of whiskey.

      Two glasses came sliding their way. They each took one, and Bobcat raised his in toast. “To Blue Creek’s visitors—may we all leave soon!”

      Harris hoped none of the other drinkers had paid attention to that, but he still raised his glass in kind. “Yes, cheers.”

      Skål!

      What? Anyway, Harris took a sip of his whiskey. It all but set his sinuses on fire, and he started coughing.

      “Not bad, eh? Don’t have quite that Takoda-moonshine kick, but it’ll wake you up before it puts you to bed!”

      Ah, a Takodan accent, then. About as north and west as you could get while still being American: south of Saskavut and east of the No-Man’s Mountains. “Yes, quite… forceful.” Harris then noticed that Bobcat’s glass was already drained, which seemed impossible.

      “Let me get right to it, Harris.” Bobcat lowered his voice a little. “I hear right that a couple of monster-trainers did a number on your head and belongings?”

      Harris took another sip, coughed, then said, “That’s correct.”

      “Mm-hmm. In that case, I’d like you to consider that drink my apology.” He lowered his voice further and leaned in closer. “See, I happen to train monsters myself, and I’d hate for you to walk away with a bad impression of all us together.”

      Now that was interesting, and suddenly Harris felt no qualms about having a drink with Bobcat. “Is that so? I happen to have something of an academic interest in monsters, but there aren’t many people to talk to around here.”

      Bobcat was delighted. “Hot damn! You saying you’re a professor of monstertography?”

      “Well, uh… Strictly speaking I’m… the proper term is ‘taxonomist,’ and—”

      Harris’s companion suddenly seemed less than enthused. “Well, the world needs all kinds and it’s your life, but you ain’t gettin’ a red cent from me.”

      He started to wonder if anyone he met besides Emily was going to know what that word meant. “…Let me start from the beginning.” He proceeded to share the entire dumb story of his last few weeks. And as soon as the semantic confusion was cleared up, Bobcat was positively enthralled. He had a mountain of questions about the differences in monster-animal classification between Unova and Latchee in particular.

      “You mean to tell me they don’t know Audino’s a monster here? And nobody thinks twice about this one that’s a nurse? Here? In Latchee?” Bobcat was now doubled-over with laughter.

      “I know! It’s the last place I would have expected to see such a thing!”

      “Hoo boy… Can’t tell you how great it is to find a respectable sort willing to talk monsters in these parts. You can likely guess from the ‘Bobcat,’ but my whole life turns ’round the weird critters.”

      That last bit didn’t make much sense to Harris. Maybe it was the whiskey, but it took him a few beats to piece it together. “…Bobcats aren’t monsters.”

      “Are so.”

      “It’s a wild cat!”

      Bobcat grew a hair indignant, but mostly he was just amused. “How do they walk on water then, genius?”

      “I’m not convinced of the validity of your argument’s underlying assumption.”

      “Huh?”

      Why did alcohol make it harder for Harris to speak in simpler terms? “I’ve never heard of bobcats walking on water.”

      “Well, how else are they gonna cross a lake? No cat likes to swim.”

      Harris set down his second drink and waved off the discussion. “In any case, you see why I wanted to sort out this sort of thing for a living: nobody seems to agree on any of this, and someone has to set the record straight.”

      “Hear, hear!”

      (Though Harris hoped nobody did hear, as they weren’t sticking to the most discreet of subjects.)

      Bobcat continued, “So why not do it?”

      And there it was: the downer. Harris sighed. “Like I said, the telegram came back and it said—”

      “I heard all that! And what makes you think this so-called ‘professor’ and all his books can help you with any of that? You said all the books are junk, right? The answers are out there!” Bobcat pointed off somewhere, nearly hitting a local in the face in the process. “Take it from me: I didn’t learn all I know about Drilbur, Rapidash, and Bobcat by going to some schoolhouse. Nothing’ll keep you knowing nothing about monsters like staying in one place, and that’s the Lord’s truth.”

      Bobcat finished off his third drink, then continued. “So, how’d you like to tag along? I’m off for other parts at earliest convenience, and it could very well be mutinally beneficial.”

      Putting aside Bobcat’s defective vocabulary, it was an entirely unrealistic notion. “This was going to be how I made my living, though. I can’t just—”

      Bobcat showed the lining of his jacket and smiled. “Who bought the drinks tonight? You don’t need much money where it don’t do much good, and I always find a way to get enough.”

      Harris was about to refute the idea again, but for some reason he didn’t. Despite every ounce of good sense in his head, the suggestion seemed pesteringly plausible all of the sudden. But even if it wasn’t exactly absurd, there was nothing that could make him want to spend yet more time this far away from genuine civilization. And who was this prairie yokel to tell him how research was supposed to be done? Naturally you had to spend time on field-work, but you also needed a plan, context, direction, things you could only get in an academic setting with what work had been done so far. Furthermore—

      “Well, think about it,” said Bobcat, “But I can’t give you much time. If you wise up, meet me at the hedge at the bottom of Rolling Road by midnight. I’m out of here before dawn.” Then he stood up from his stool and started to walk away.

      “Wait.”

      The word came out of his mouth before Harris knew why he said it. He gave himself a few seconds to recover while he still had Bobcat’s attention, then continued. “I’d like some more details about your itinerary if you don’t mind.”

      *********

      The dance wasn’t over and the glasses certainly weren’t cleaned, but Harris was walking down the path back to the doctor’s house anyway after two or three wrong turns. His mind was moving too quickly to focus on any particular thing. Bobcat’s next destination was Green Hollow, thirty miles west-northwest. That meant no more than three nights on the trail before they could resupply, which meant he didn’t need to go overboard with packing, but in case something went wrong he still…

      He took a deep breath. He had done quite enough overthinking for one lifetime, he had decided, and this was his best chance to pull himself out of this rut. It was time to start over, this time on his own terms. All he had to do was stop looking so far ahead and just stay on his toes. The first steps were easy: gather a few things, verify that his account with the doctor was settled, and say his thank-yous and goodbyes. Soon he was picking apart every last, minute detail of those easy steps in his head, even as he opened the front door, walked inside, and said, “I have the most extraordinary news,” before the doctor was finished asking, “How was the dance?”

      “The what? …Oh.”

      Dr. Fitzpatrick was sitting in the good chair with the same book and pipe as earlier. Nothing in his face or posture suggested he was interested in taking anything in a hurry. He pointed Harris to the lone other chair in the sitting room, and Harris took it. Things finally slowed down again in his head, leaving only a faintly alcoholic buzz where before there had been a mess of competing thoughts.

      The doctor closed his book. “Now, then. Let’s hear it.”

      For the second time that evening, Harris took on the role of storyteller. The doctor listened to his thorough explanation and rationale for why he was trading Unova for parts unknown. He didn’t interrupt, though his eyebrows went up at a few points when Harris described Bobcat. At length, and to Harris’s immense surprise, the old man said, “Sounds like a plan.”

      “You really think so?”

      The doctor nodded. “Never thought much of cities. And no reason for a young man like you to hurry to settle down. Can’t say it sounds like the safest thing in the world to do, but Lord knows we coddle you young people too much these days.”

      “I thought you might have something to say about teaming up with a monster-handler.”

      “I don’t think your soul’s in danger if that’s what you’re getting at. That’ll only be if you conjure a monster from nothing. Ones you find in nature get the benefit of the doubt—at least that’s what my great-grandpa always said.”

      Harris made a mental note of this (yet another) interpretation of the morality of monster-handling. The doctor continued. “No, the only things you have to worry about are getting lost, burned alive, or robbed. This fellow you met sounds handy enough, and if he were interested in robbery he wouldn’t waste time on someone he already knew had just been robbed.”

      “Ah, indeed. That’s a good point.” It was probably one that Harris should have thought about himself to know he was safe, but he didn’t dwell on the oversight.

      Then the doctor slowly came to his feet, giving his knees all the time they required. “I suppose you could use a hand in packing.”

      “Oh, yes!” Harris jumped to his own feet. “That would be invaluable.”

      Of course, every one of Harris’s possessions in the region was already on his person. Fortunately, the doctor had some things in odd corners of the house that he was willing to part with, though Harris had to insist on offering a dollar more as reimbursement than the man asked for. When all was said and done, Harris was the proud new owner of a canteen, a cup, a spoon, six pieces of hardtack, five pieces of jerky, a worn but rust-less knife, and a blanket and rope to bundle it up in. In addition, and most importantly, the doctor had a spare pen, pad of paper, and bottle of ink.

      Before he knew it, Harris had his bundle in hand, and the writing materials in his jacket’s inside pocket. Who would have thought that freedom was cheaper than a train ticket? A smile came over his face. “Well,” he said, as he looked at the grandfather clock in the corner, “I guess I’m ready. And over an hour to spare.”

      “Quite so.”

      The doctor clapped a hand to his shoulder and walked him over to the front door.

      “Doctor Fitzpatrick, I cannot thank you enough.” Harris shook the old man’s hand with all the respectful firmness he could muster. “If I’m ever in a position to repay you in full—”

      “We’re already settled up now, Mr. Hickory. You were less trouble than you think, and your company was nothing to sneeze at. I’ll have to get used to dumping the chores on Miss Irwin, again.”

      Harris laughed. “Oh, dear. I hope she won’t mind too m—”

      It was at this point that a feeling not dissimilar to the sensation of missing a train hit Harris in the stomach and stuck there. “…Good God! I was about to leave without saying a word to her!” He slapped his forehead, which was not quite free of the whiskey yet. “And after all she’s… and I just went and forgot and… oh, damn!

      “Now, hold your horses, son. You didn’t see her at the dance?”

      Harris groaned. “I did, momentarily, but I ran into Bobcat before I got a chance to talk to her. Oh, and now the dance will be over and I couldn’t possibly call at this time of night…” Not that he even knew where she lived to go call on her.

      “I said, hold your horses.”

      With an anxious peek at the clock, Harris did as he was told and listened for a second.

      “Before you go and make a mess of your plans, let’s consider what happens if you say your goodbyes to Miss Irwin in person. Again, this is Miss Irwin, whose temperature jumps a degree whenever anyone so much as brings up the subject of monster-handlers.”

      “…Oh.” Harris suddenly felt that he had dodged a bullet, though there were still a few bullets inbound. “That does complicate things.”

      “Rather. In your shoes, I’d feel best to leave on as good terms with everyone you’ve met as circumstances allow. You’ve got the time, so why not write a letter? I can see she gets it tomorrow.”

      “That still leaves the problem of how angry she’ll be at the contents of the letter. I’m still teaming up with one of the enemy, after all.”

      “Naturally. But it wouldn’t be too hard to believe that your fortuitous meeting tonight resulted in a seat on the morning train with respectable company, rather than a partner on the trail. She won’t be in tomorrow until noontime.”

      It sounded perfect except for one glaring, inexcusable problem. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly lie to her, especially not in writing…”

      “Then be vague. And don’t tell me you don’t have the skill with words for it. If she doesn’t put all the pieces together, I can say a few carefully chosen words.”

      Somehow, that felt even worse. It would be such a condescending, self-serving abuse of trust. All the same, the clock was ticking. “I don’t know…”

      “Mr. Hickory, trust me. If you owe her more than nothing, you certainly owe her better than making her furious and souring a few weeks she might have remembered fondly. It’s surprising I admit that you’ve been able to talk about monsters with her at all, but I promise telling her about this would push your luck too far. I’m not keen on having a furious Miss Irwin helping me out for the next month and a half.”

      Despite himself, Harris felt the scales budge a little. After all, he wouldn’t appreciate it if he’d learned that a partner in conversation turned out to be a royalist, slavery-apologist, or worse. To Emily the true story could very well be analogous. And leaving without any kind of word really would be intolerable. But still…

      He took one last look at the clock and sighed. He had to write fast. It felt slimy, but he was in a corner. “If you’ll let me borrow your desk for a few minutes…”

      “It’s yours. Don’t overthink it.”

      *********

      Twenty minutes later, Harris had bidden Emily his indirect farewell. He’d spent five minutes of the twenty debating “Miss Irwin,” versus “Dear Emily,” and eventually settled on the latter. When it came to his apology for not providing any prior notice of his departure, he chose to emphasize his desire not to “put any more burden on the good doctor,” rather than get into the specifics of his sudden opportunity.

      “If chance brings you someday to my neck of the woods, everything I have will be at your disposal,” he wrote near the end, following not too few words of profuse thanks “for your immense charity, patience, and kindness at my time of need.” Then as with the beginning, the last snippet gave him far more trouble than the middle:

      “With gratitude and fond regards,

      “Harris”

      And now he was one step outdoors. Outdoors, and with no certainty of when next he would be indoors. Once again, the doctor shook his hand.

      “We’ll keep it short this time, son. Best of luck.”

      Harris smiled. “Same to you, Doctor, and thanks again!”

      Then he was off with one last wave (it wasn’t right to leave a goodbye quite that short) and with the bundle under his arm. It was a perfect night for starting (dare he call it?) an adventure: it was warm, the moon was out in full, and the crickets were just noisy enough. There may even have been the distant, melodious cry of a kricketot mixed in there. As he followed the path up hills and down hills, the grin on his face only grew wider, even as the alcohol in his system quieted to nearly nothing.

      At length, but with ten minutes to spare by his guess, Harris entered a small valley. This was where, according to his directions, Rolling Road ended and became Flaherty Way. Technically they were the same ‘road,’ but the name changed because one of them was flat for a few miles until it reached the county line. To the right there were trees, and to the left was the tall hedge at the boundary of a small farm. He’d made it.

      Of course, it didn’t mean much to have ‘made it’ if Bobcat wasn’t here yet. Perhaps his travelling companion intended to show up at midnight on the dot. In any case, it was time to wait. Harris set his bundle on the dirt and stuck his hands in his pockets. After a few minutes, it occurred to him just how high up in the air everything about his life was, with no predicting of how everything would look by tomorrow morning. In other words, he was moderately worried about whether Bobcat would actually appear. All the same, he wasn’t too bothered. If his present situation was a mess, at least it was on his terms for once and not his prospective employer’s or worse yet his parents’.

      Just then, Harris heard some rustling on the other side of the hedge. Surely Bobcat was coming from the road, so who could that be? Before he could think about it any further, a bag of some kind came flying over and landed on the ground with a thud.

      “What on…” Harris approached it and looked up just in time to see the outline of a girl coming up and after it.

      “Hey, give me a hand?”

      With a stammer, Harris held out his arms and caught the young lady as she came tumbling over (almost through) the trimmed bushes. ‘Caught’ might have been generous, in fact, but at the very least he slowed her descent and she landed without a problem.

      “Thanks!” She was a head shorter than him and had a voice that was pure summer, Latchee accent or no. That aside, Harris was about to ask what she was doing out of doors so late when Bobcat came barreling over the hedge as well.

      “Hoo! Oh hey, Harris, you made it!”

      The girl clapped her hands together. “Oh, you’re the taxologist! I’ve heard about you! My name’s Miriam.”

      Word got around fast, but Harris was too far at a loss for words to say so.

      “Well,” said Bobcat, “We’re burning moonlight, so let’s get a move on!”

      Harris got his grip again just before the situation totally ran away from him. “Now, hold on a second!”

      “Eh?”

      He took Bobcat by the shoulder a few paces away from Miriam and whispered, “Are you seriously bringing a young lady onto the road with two men she doesn’t know?”

      Bobcat whispered back, “Yeah. Am I missing something?”

      “Excuse me? Why… Yes, clearly you are missing something. This goes so far past the boundaries of propriety—”

      Now Bobcat put a hand on Harris’s shoulder in turn. “Relax, friend. Nobody’s asking you not to be a gentleman. You just leave the impropriety to me, no trouble.” Even in the dark, Harris could tell that Bobcat was winking at him.

      “Are you listening to yourself? She’s a child!”

      “Heh, hardly, I’ve seen her in the daylight. She’s old enough to know what she wants. Now if it’s all the same, we really ought to—”

      A gunshot from the direction of the farm interrupted Bobcat, and the two of them jumped a little.

      Miriam sighed. “Papa…” Then she gathered up her bag. “Don’t worry. He’s shooting in the air. Thinks he can make me scared for you.”

      In a hurry and with great urgency, Harris asked her, “How old are you, Miss Miriam?”

      “Thirteen. Why?”

      Harris glared at Bobcat’s silhouette. The man’s silence was deafening for a few seconds, and when he did speak up there was this distinct mortification beneath his show of confidence. “Anyway, looks like we’re in a bigger hurry than I thought.” Then he placed his fingers to his lips and whistled loud and sharp.

      Almost immediately Harris heard several things: a second gunshot (louder than the first), some angry-sounding words coming from the direction of the shot, and also the low rumble of hooves coming from the trees. Then he saw the red glow moving left and right between the branches.

      It burst out of the edge of the woods, and Harris’s legs failed him. He fell on his seat. Standing on the path was a yellow horse with a single horn and a mane of actual fire. “R…r… A…”

      Miriam did not sound as intimidated. “Rapidash! You weren’t lying!”

      Bobcat hoisted Harris to his feet again. “I swear,” he whispered, “She looked grown.”

      “What?” squeaked Harris. What had they been talking about, again?

      Now Bobcat spoke aloud and quickly. “Here’s the story: they’re going to chase Shungkawakhang here, but they can’t catch her, not even with the two of you on her. She knows the way to my campsite, and I’ll meet you on foot in an hour after a shortcut through the woods. All clear?”

      “What!” More specifically, Harris meant, ‘What do you mean, “on her?”’ Anyone with a brain knew you couldn’t sit on fire. That would be insane. But Bobcat shoved him the direction of the rapidash all the same.

      Miriam was already on the beast’s back when Harris raised his objections. “You can’t be serious! How am I supposed to—”

      “You ever ride a horse?”

      No!

      “Ah.” Bobcat ignored him and bent down to get his hands under one of Harris’s feet. “Don’t worry: she never drops anyone. Loves people, seriously. Come on, now, step up!”

      It was more confused instinct than decision that lifted Harris up and onto the rapidash in front of Miriam. His trousers were on fire. No, they just should have been. He felt the awful tickle of the flames under his legs and somehow just above them as well. It was unbearably hot, and he wanted nothing more than to get down right away and have nothing else to do with monsters of any sort.

      Then the rapidash turned her head slightly and he was just in her self-illuminated gaze for a second. It was terrifying, and the message she sent across was something to the effect of, ‘Stop being so terrified or I really will get terrifying.’ Harris gulped and did his best to comply.

      “I’ll carry your bags. You two just hold on tight!”

      Harris held on tight to Shugnakawang (Shunwakahang? Shangkuwackan?), and Miriam held on tight to him. Very tight. “Having fun yet?”

      Before Harris could answer in the negative, Bobcat slapped the rapidash’s hindquarters. “Yah!”

      They bolted. It was a small miracle that Harris didn’t void his bladder. No experience with trains could have prepared him for the sheer force that carried them forward, nor for the noise of the hooves and the shrillness of the monster’s whinny.

      Miriam was handling it better. “Woo-hooooo!

      They stormed by an opening in the hedge as one last shot rang out. Soon they were far away down the long road—far away, that is, from the sign that Harris never saw by the opening in the hedge which read:

      Irwin Farm

      No Trespassers
      *

      Author's Notes:
      Spoiler:
      Some of you who've read Wild Horses in Winter may be wondering if Bobcat and Hal are the same person, and the short answer is no. In my early notes they were, but I realized pretty quickly that Bobcat's past wouldn't work if it were identical to Hal's. It is still the case however that they grew up in similar environments and under similar influences. If there's a connection between them, it's that Hal was a very rough draft for Bobcat, as in how Wild Horses was a rough prototype for the world in Roving Degenerates.
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        #3    
      Old May 26th, 2018 (9:46 AM).
      icomeanon6's Avatar
      icomeanon6 icomeanon6 is offline
      It's "I Come Anon"
         
        Join Date: Feb 2008
        Location: Northern Virginia
        Age: 25
        Gender: Male
        Posts: 1,184
        It isn't easy to write this, but I'm afraid I have to cancel this story. Moreover, I'm afraid this is also effectively my retirement announcement from fanfiction. I've known for a while that this fic was going to be my last one, and I'd hoped to end my stay here on a high note, but I don't think I can stick around that long anymore. There are two main reasons, the first being that I'm burned out. Reading or writing even two words on Pokemon feels like a huge chore now, and I'm of the opinion that when your hobbies feel much more like an obligation than fun, it's time to find a new hobby. Normally I'd just say, "taking a break, be back in a year or so," but that brings me to the second reason: Between my job and my hobbies, I want to start spending way less time in front of screens and on the internet. Over the last year especially I've used "I should be writing" as an excuse not to go outside or see people way too often, and knowing how my habits work the only way to fix that is to go cold turkey.

        I sincerely apologize to anyone who was looking forward to seeing where this story went. Very sorry to leave you hanging.

        It's been wonderful to get to know a lot of you as friends. I'll still see email notifications for private messages, and anyone can feel free to contact me that way. This is goodbye to PokeCommunity (and Serebii; I'm cross-posting), but before I go I want to say that I certainly would have moved on from fanfiction earlier if you all weren't so fantastic.

        Love,
        icomeanon6
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        Gary Stu's Unpredictable Adventure
        Complete and FULL of lame jokes
        Kanto: The Disputed Frontier
        Canceled
        (Now with MST3K'd chapter 1!)
        One-Shot Fics
        Wild Horses in Winter
        2017
        Hubris Island
        A&D Collab 2016
        Giovanni Destroys the World and Everything in It
        2012
        Small Writing Contest
        2009, 2010, 2011 (1st), 2013 (1st), 2014 (1st), 2016 (2nd), 2017 (1st)
        Family (kind of?): Strange person who calls me strange names
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