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Pokémon Postcards

1. Wilderness and Wonder: Route 119
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    Summary: You mean to write more than you actually do, but you do think of home often. A series of self-contained vignettes about relationships between people and place, inspired by Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities."

    Status: COMPLETE.

    2nd person POV. Started as a world-building junk drawer and gathered a momentum of its own. Each chapter stands on its own, but the entire set also has an arc of its own. I'll post on this thread every few days or so until the entire things is up.

    Some of these episodes were originally in a different order. You can enjoy them in the threadmarked order or hospscotch around Cortazar-style and forge your own path. A suggested alternative reading order: 16/8, 9, 4, 14, 1, 13, 2, 10, 5, 12, 15, 3, 6, 11, 17, 7.

    I am open to constructive crit! I'm unlikely to make any major changes here, but I'll keep feedback in mind for future works.

    Other places to read this journey: FFN / AO3

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    1. Wilderness and Wonder: Route 119

    Leaving there and continuing east, you eventually reach a plateau that overlooks the clouds. A rainbow arcs between two clouds where the waterfall splits them. Beads of moisture cling to your eyelashes and stream down your rain poncho. Below you are the miles and miles of gentle but insistent rain you’ve been hiking through for two days.


    And there are still miles left to go.


    On either side of you, your mightyena and sceptile are like living sculptures, glittering with each movement. Predictably, your mightyena shakes himself, casting off mini rainbow sprays and the smell of wet fur. You cover your face, but not quickly enough. All week, everything has been damp, so it shouldn’t matter. But the endless cold and wet began to wear at you quicker than you expected. Any patch of you that you can keep dry is precious.


    You wrap your backpack in a second rain poncho to keep it dry (you hope) while you take a break and enjoy the view. You alternate between doing shoulder stretches, munching on jerky, and tossing a mini frisbee for your mightyena to catch in the air. Each time he makes an impressive leap or catch, you toss him a piece of jerky. Your sceptile carves strips of inner bark off a nearby tree and eats them before shimmying up its trunk.


    All around, water drips and plinks from every surface.


    Then there are new sounds behind you: crunching footsteps and rustling leaves, heavy splashing, a trumpeting cry.


    You turn in time to see a tropius come swaying out of the jungle, so close you could count the wrinkles around each eye. Your mind boggles at the creature’s proportions: it’s the size of a car, and yet it somehow nearly snuck up on you. It glances at you briefly and continues walking past unfazed. Before you can make a move to grab a pokeball, a second tropius pushes its way out of the trees, and then a third, and then a forth.


    A herd of tropius makes its way onto the plateau, first stepping with surprising gingerness for their size and then picking up into a gallop. They move with no regard for you or your pokemon, forcing you to dive out of the way or be crushed. One thunders over the place where you crouch. You watch as each one reaches the cliff edge, spreads its enormous leafy wings, and glides over clouds broken by snatches of rainbow. They call to one another as they fly. The power and joy of that sound immobilizes you with awe.


    You army crawl to the edge of the cliff and watch for over an hour, chin resting on your fist, as the tropius herd sink and rise and wheel about. You don’t care at all that you’re soaked by the time you stand up.
     
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    2. Wilderness and Seeing: Route 34
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    2. Wilderness and Seeing: Route 34

    The northbound route to Goldenrod is pocketed with pools. You can’t see the ocean yet, but you can smell it. Unsurprisingly, the water is too salty to drink or refill your water bottles, but you leave your boots and socks among the reeds to wade into one pool and you find it’s delightfully cold. Not so long ago, you would’ve been put off by the pond skaters and the prospect of mud between your toes. Now with sweat dripping between your shoulder blades and two days of dirt on your face, you crave it.

    Once your feet are wet, you carry your shoes under one arm and squelch father through the salt marsh, your furret darting a few paces ahead, until you find a pool deep enough to submerge yourself completely. No longer caring who might see, you go in nude.

    As the water closes over your head, you think of the bikini wadded in the bottom of your backpack. You remember telling your sister that it was a practical choice (even as you scrutinized your shape and tan lines in the mirror) because it wouldn’t take up much space. You imagined swimming laps at a gym with the dewgong you hoped to train, inventing need for the purchase. You haven’t used it once since you started your journey. You’ve become less vain.

    However, you can’t help but wince looking at yourself more closely. Tens of bug bites and tiny cuts sting as the salt water washes over you. The bruise on your hip is turning yellow, a sign it’s healing but nasty-looking all the same. It’s been months since you’ve shaved your legs or painted your chipped toe nails. And why would you out here? Maybe you’ll treat yourself when you get to the city, look impressive for your next gym challenge. You clamber onto a rock with your cake of biodegradable soap and scrub at the dirt in the cracks of your callouses until your skin burns.

    The scream of a predatory bird makes you look up. You spot the pidgeotto circling overhead. Not until it dives, surprisingly close by, does it occur to you to scan for your furret. You hear a squeak of terror and your stomach drops.

    You splash to the edge of the pool and snatch your belt off your pile of clothes. As you raise the pokeball, the pidgeotto flashes past with something wriggling in its talons. You manage to recall your furret to her ball, and she dematerializes out of the pigeotto’s grip. The pigeotto visibly falters, off-balance at the sudden change in weight. With a scream it wheels and flies past you so closely you’re forced to duck. For a moment you worry you’re going to have to fight off a wild pokemon in the nude, but the pidgeotto pushes higher into the sky to continue its circling search.

    Chastened, you towel off and throw your clothes on with your hair still dripping and the taste of salt water in your mouth.
     
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    3. Wilderness and Silence: Viridian Forest
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    3. Wilderness and Silence: Viridian Forest

    When you walk a long time through the wild, you begin to crave a city.

    It’s not loneliness. Or… not only that. You’re fine without playing another game of Twenty Questions or I Spy.

    For several months you traveled with a girl from your hometown named Olivia. “Challenge accepted,” she said when you invited her along. And it was a challenge. You’d been friends for several years, through high school and the trainer certificate program, and had spent most days after class at your house or at the arcade together. You were unprepared for how different it would feel to have only her for human company all day every day and all night every night. Even the silences were different, more crowded.

    The two of you had a routine: You packed the tents while she made breakfast (usually oatmeal) and cleaned the cook gear. She made camp while you cooked dinner (usually EZ-Mac with soy protein bits and dehydrated greens). After dinner you ran your pokemon through drills together and sparred. You miss that the most. She trained a delcatty (Darcy) and a swellow (Lurie) that paired perfectly against your manectric and golbat, blow for blow. You haven’t had a partner as driven and eager without taking losses personally, and you know your team was leaner and faster when she was around.

    But with Olivia there was always too much else going on. She masked her sentimentality with bathroom humor and punches, but she constantly took on strays. She would catch a pidgey with a broken wing or a rattata missing a fang sooner than something she actually wanted to train — she had a sixth sense for finding them, whether it was in a back alley of Saffron City or under a rock ledge. They were endearing to her because they were pathetic, and her fascination with the sickly repulsed you. She named them after her favorite movie characters and athletes (like a scrawny rattata she inexplicably named Tebow), and had detailed theories about what flavor of retiree or housewife in the next city would be best to adopt each of them as pets. She dragged you with her to knock on doors and make adoption pitches only once — you didn’t allow a second excursion. You spent a lot of time reading junk magazines and waiting for her when you traveled together.

    One day, after a fight about Darwin and ecology, you told her you were going ahead and you’d meet her in town. You both knew without discussion that you wouldn’t meet up again. You also knew you both accepted the loss.

    You still exchange emails when you pass through a town.

    Since then you’ve shared your campfire a few times, but never for long. Always when it was someone who was headed the same way on the same trail and it would be more uncomfortable not to speak.

    Tonight you sit on a blanket next to your fire, shuffling cards furiously and slapping them down. You hum a few lines of a song that was popular before you left home, but your voice sounds tiny and silly against the enormity of the forest at night. Maybe even disrespectful — of what, you couldn’t say. So you stop. Insects spiral in your lantern’s light, flinging themselves at the cards and at your hair, but you ignore them. Pokemon call to each other far off in the darkness, but you don’t even notice it anymore unless you think about it.

    You like the heat of the fire along one side of your body and the cool air through your unzipped parka. Your manectric rests his head on your thigh while your golbat hunts moths and maybe bigger things. You’re comfortable, but you wish it were a bar.

    It’s not the crowd or the noise or even the alcohol you’re aching for but the choice. To talk to the person next to you or not. To have an IPA or a cocktail. To play pool or watch. To stay or go outside and experience something completely different: a bar with better music, a quieter bar, an empty street, a room with a door that locks.

    The only way for you to exit this still night in Viridian Forest and choose something else is to walk. A lot.

    For hours, you play solitaire by campfire light. You play so much solitaire lately you’ve invented a few versions of your own. (In one, the suits represent wild pokemon of either advantageous or disadvantageous typing, pokeballs, or potions, and must be defeated or avoided.)

    What you want more than anything tonight is to play poker, not for the chance to win cash but for the thrill of an intellectual challenge, an ending you can’t guess by yourself.

    You want someone to say challenge accepted.
     
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    4. Wilderness and Hunger: Route 205
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    4. Wilderness and Hunger: Route 205

    Most of your diet comes from boxes and bags: shrink-wrapped blocks that become noodles and ground meat when water is added, dried sauce in separate cellophane with flecks meant to represent vegetables, smoothie powder. You don’t mind it.

    Re-hydrated meals have a limited range of flavors, but they remind you of childhood and the time your father bought several crates of military MREs at a flea market. He kept things like that around for the same reason he ran weekly drills with his hoary old luxray — “Just in case,” said with a wink. You ate one under your bed with your pikachu plushie, unwrapping each inscrutable component with rabid fascination, and imagined yourself camping in a distant forest.

    You’ve become an expert in repackaging meal kits for maximum efficiency. For example, the cardboard wrap is always the first thing to go. It takes up too much space, and even the lightest stuff can weigh you down if you have too much of it. Instead, you write labels and expiration dates on the cellophane in permanent marker. Sometimes you dehydrate your own food at a trainer supply store in town to save money (and you know folks who do it for their pokemon too, especially when preparing to travel through low-forage zones) but you prefer to skip the extra work if you can.

    Even trainers who gripe about re-hydrated food have to admit to one truth you learned early on: most nights, you’re so tired it doesn’t matter what you’re eating. After walking for miles with a backpack so heavy it bruises your collarbones, until you eventually get used to it— after your pokemon accidentally singes off your eyebrows or tries to eat one of your other pokemon— after crawling through brambles chasing a gible that eventually gets away— after making camp and then immediately sitting on a stump and staring into the canopy for half an hour because you’re too tired to move… anything hot tastes good. Or tastes like nothing at all.

    What you do miss, almost to your embarrassment, are sour straws, poke-O’s cereal, and especially cupcakes. Trainer meals are designed (yes, definitely designed and not cooked or crafted) with consideration for vitamins, minerals, and calories but not much else. They’re uniform in color and texture. Every now and then a meal pack might include what’s optimistically labeled as a “brownie,” which is firm, dense, and dry. (It contains ten percent of your daily recommended iron and protein intake though.) It doesn’t satisfy the craving. You lie in your tent at night, listening to the kricketunes and fantasizing about your last birthday at home with the frosted funfetti cake. The luxury of sprinkles! You want cake so badly your stomach almost hurts from it.

    When you finally arrive in Eterna City, you buy ten Hostess cupcakes at the first convenience store you pass. You plan to ration them out — and indeed, you start by pulling the first one apart and eating each layer slowly, licking icing off your fingers — but instead eat all ten in one sitting, wrappers spread around you on your hostel cot. The next day your stomach is so upset you reschedule your gym challenge.

    You never eat another Hostess cupcake again — the smell alone is enough to make you sick.
     
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    5. Wilderness and Wonder: Route 37
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    5. Wilderness and Wonder: Route 37

    Leaving there and continuing north until golden light streams between the trees, you come across a grove of pecha berries. They are sun warm and so ripe they burst upon your lips. Up to your waist in weeds and leaves, you fill an improvised sack you’ve made by tying together the ends of a handkerchief. In delirious joy you fill your stomach with at least as many as you put in your bag.

    The pidgeys watched you from the edge of the clearing at first, making low sounds of displeasure, but after a time they got over themselves and alighted on the nearby trees. Now, a few of them are so close you could almost touch one. For the moment you’re equals, just a bunch of creatures eating from the same tree.

    At sunset, licking your sticky fingers, you come to the top of a hill and see the tower peeking above the distant trees. You’ve been told some of the best restaurants of the region are in Ecruteak. There are several famous theaters with something to watch any given night, though they say the dance hall is the one that truly cannot be missed. The hostels, you know, will be pretty to look at — traditional style — but pricey, and the bars too. This time of year there will also be lots of tourists. And you.

    “Do we really have to go?” you say to your furret, who only scratches her ear. “Yeah, you’re right. Only place to get a Fog Badge."

    Though, you have to wonder… would it be so bad to stop at three badges? People do it all the time. Get bored or homesick or hurt, retire. Some go for years, others hardly go further than a few towns away before doubling back. No one would think less of you if you stopped here.

    But no. You’re not actually ready to be done being a trainer yet, even though sometimes you think you might be ready to be done with civilization.

    Before the daylight disappears, you make camp in a clearing where the tree branches reaching overhead are almost like the arms of a protective parent. You unpack your tent, start a campfire, and take stock of your rations. You sigh. “What do you think, Gretel? Crisp N Creamy Pasta Primavera or Hearty Beef Stew?”

    You should head to a trainer supply store first thing and get some new flavors. Probably some batteries and duct tape too. Though… You reach out to touch the knotted handkerchief, bulging with fresh-picked fruit.

    Do you really have to?
     
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    6. Wilderness and Silence: Route 211
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    6. Wilderness and Silence: Route 211

    Lanna complains she has a headache, and of course Cliff is at her side in an instant, one hand on her shoulder and the other holding a water bottle out to her. You roll your eyes. She repeats several times, “I think it’s altitude sickness. I really do.”

    There’s no point in saying you think she’s being a baby, even though you do. The three of you are obviously stopping here regardless of what you have to say about it.

    You make camp and, because there are still hours of daylight left even after you run your team through drills, you break out the cards. The deck is well-worn and missing a couple of green sevens, but it still works.

    Miracle of miracles, Lanna brightens when the cards come out and manages to win the first two games.

    “So,” you say, “you guys think we might be able to get in another mile before sundown?”

    “Nah, I think we should take it slow and easy. Eterna isn’t going anywhere, ya know?” says Cliff.

    Lanna purses her lips and says, “Yeah, my head’s still hurting.” Then, “Oh, you can’t play that. You have to draw.”

    “No, Cliff does.”

    She daintily plucks your card off the stack and holds it out at you. “You can’t put a plus two on a plus four.”

    You can’t keep your voice from rising. “Since when?”

    Lanna winces and brings her fingertips to her temples. “Oof. My head.”

    Cliff says, “Just draw your cards already. Jesus.”

    You slap down your hand. “You two play. I’m taking a walk.”

    You’re angry at Lanna for being Lanna, angry at Cliff for dragging her along, and angry at the mountain for being so much to deal with. And it makes you careless.

    Doubling back the way you hiked this morning until you can no longer hear your traveling companions, you come to a place where you can peer over the ledge and into the misty foothills far below. It’s pretty up here. You almost forgot to notice. To one side of you there’s a craggy boulder and you reach up for a handhold, wanting a higher vantage point. No sooner than you lay hands on it and get one knee up, the boulder groans, shifts, and blinks.

    There is no time to grab a pokeball or even to think. The graveler grabs your leg and —with a bellow you feel from the soles of your feet to the tips of your fingers — sends you tumbling.

    When you wake up, you find yourself in the dirt looking up at a sky framed by branches. Your head is throbbing, but nothing feels broken. All three pokeballs are thankfully still firmly hooked to your belt. And you see nothing you recognize.

    At first you’re annoyed. It’s going to take forever to hike back up to where you were. When you find that graveler again, you’re gonna kick its ass all the way to Hoenn.

    As long as you keep heading uphill, you’ll find the path again. You just have to keep moving.

    At least you’re not without water. You ask your floatzel to spray water into your cupped hands. After, you’re left with wet shoes and socks, but you won’t die of dehydration at least. You wish bitterly that you would’ve caught a starly when you had the opportunity so you could send it scouting ahead. Thank gods you’re not alone. You notice your aipom plucking berries from a nearby bush and you eat some too, crouching among the scrub grass.

    But as the sun begins to set, leaving you in the maddening criss-crossing shadows of the trees, you’re panicking. Delilah, your luxio, lights the way—much good may it do you both when any direction you choose everything looks the same. You might as well be doing this with your eyes closed. And your wet feet are cold. You shout and scream your throat raw, but hear no answer except the screech of a hunting noctowl.

    The temperature plummets. The tent, your backpack full of food and warm layers, and Lanna’s heavy-lidded numel are all lost in the dark distance.

    What a stupid way to die, you think over and over again.

    Finally, you’re too tired and miserable to do anything but curl up under a tree with your pokemon tucked against you for warmth…and for protection against anything that might be prowling in the dark. You desperately miss Cliff’s snoring, but you don’t die. You don’t really sleep either. The hours ghost past, sleep and not-sleep blurring: The cramp in your legs. The bark against your cheek. The dream of your little brother folding origami. The stars between branches. The dark. Bolting upright at the sound of leathery wings — no, only leaves. The smell of wet earth. The dream of more stars.

    A fog creeps in before sunrise, and you stir from half-sleep to the most perfect calm you’ve ever experienced. The only thing you can hear is your teeth chattering. For a moment you wonder if you’re in purgatory or someplace stranger. Years later the memory still gives you goosebumps. You do the only thing you can: you rise and start to climb again.
     
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    7. Wilderness and Silence: Faded Red Tent
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    7. Wilderness and Silence: Faded Red Tent

    Home means two different things: there’s the place you came from, and there’s your faded red tent. Or, the place you left and the place you return to each night. The place where you feel…content, perhaps.

    It’s hard to describe.

    You’ve lost some of your skill with words. They’re not so important in your trade. When you meet new people, you find yourself either too eager to share your thoughts, having held them to yourself for days or weeks, or too impatient with small talk. But others don’t seem to know what to say to you either, so you hardly see it as a personality flaw. Being with pokemon, being in wild spaces, you’ve stopped expecting perfect understanding, of anything. The world doesn’t need your understanding for it to keep turning.

    Sometimes as you lay in your sleeping bag you imagine you can almost, almost hear it, that turning.

    The first night on the road, the very first, it was too quiet to sleep. You hadn’t realized how accustomed you were to sounds of traffic, humming appliances, and your neighbor’s teenage son practicing guitar. You hadn’t even noticed those sounds until they were gone. All that space, the quiet, all the things it could be hiding—it frightened you. The radio was the only thing that got you through that night, an unfamiliar station that didn’t come through to your side of the mountains back home.

    You can’t remember the last time you played the radio. You’d rather be able to listen for sounds of an approaching trainer or pokemon. A nearby river. Thunder. You’ve learned to recognize more than ten bird pokemon by their calls alone, and you know the difference between mating calls and songs that warn others from their territory.

    When you enter a city now, first it’s too loud. Then, in your hostel bed, it’s too quiet. Or, the wrong kind of quiet. It’s not an absence of sound, it’s an absence of life.

    Most mornings, the birds sing you awake. The drone of bug pokemon in the bushes sings you through the day. The wind in the trees sings you to sleep. And you, in return, keep your peace.
     
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    8. Liminal Space
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    8. Liminal Space

    8. Liminal Space

    Summer is around the corner, the nights still chilly but not too cold to pitch the tent in the backyard. Mom supervises the setup, just in case, but you’re proud to do it without help. Well, James helps, but that’s different. The tent pops up more easily with two pairs of hands stretching out the corners, but he doesn’t tell you what to do.

    You know, of course, that you are still lying only feet away from the barbecue, the chair where your mom smokes and watches the sunrise every morning, the empty cola can where she stuffs the butts, your father’s zucchini plants, the neighbors’ always barking growlithe, the off-key wind chimes your aunt sent as a holiday gift last year. But once you’re inside the tent with the door flap zipped shut, you can imagine yourself elsewhere.

    Summer means freedom from homework and early mornings waiting for the bus. But it teases you with bigger, truer freedoms, held still out of reach. You used to imagine you would start your journey close to home and return often with souvenirs for the entire family. Now, you imagine Hoenn, Sinnoh — the furthest places you can think of. The greenest places. The wildest places.

    You know James is thinking about it too because he says, “My brother is leaving next week.” There’s a flashlight between you and James, propped up on the tent floor with a pillow and a book, and he makes hand shadows as he talks. Swanna. Cloyster. Scrafty.

    “It’s not like you’ll never hear from him again.” You make your hand into a growlithe, moving its mouth along with your words. “That’s what vidphones are for.”

    “I know, but… still.” He makes a numel, one hand becoming the curve of its back and the other its mouth and ear. “Things won’t be the same.”

    It’ll just be James and his dad after that.

    “Yeah. I guess not.”

    Your butterfree hand-shadow suddenly twists on the tent wall, even though you haven’t moved.

    You and James look at each other, wide-eyed. In a whisper, he says, “That’s not me.”

    The butterfree-shadow jerks and becomes long and toothy — an impossible shape to make with human hands. It forms eye-holes and winks.

    You sit up and grab your water bottle, the closest thing to a weapon in arms’ reach, as you calculate how quickly you could get to the back door if you run. Probably not fast enough — whatever it is, it’s close.

    Before you can decide whether to throw something, bargain, or shout for help, the shadow moves again. For a moment you can see the outlines of the gastly’s vaporous body passing outside the tent, and then it rearranges itself into a thumbs up sign.

    You and James stare.

    After a beat, the thumbs up flickers and becomes a question mark.

    James whispers, “What is it doing?”

    The gastly-shadow reforms itself into a copy of the butterfree hand shadow you made before. After a moment of waiting, it dissolves. Then out of the haze a butterfree again, a bigger one this time, wiggling its finger-wings.

    Tentatively, you reach across the flashlight beam. “Playing…?”

    You make a two-handed magcargo shadow, and the gastly rushes to copy you. Abandoning its pretense at having hands, it shapes itself into a slugma to go with your magcargo, complete with bubbles shifting across the surface. It blows a smoky kiss to your magcargo.

    “I’ve got one!” James pushes you aside and makes a hand shadow of the head and horns of a sawsbuck. The gastly becomes flowers bursting and falling from its antlers.

    You’re not sure how long the game lasts, only that you and James are both laughing all through it, and there’s a third, almost-human voice laughing too. Finally, the gastly mimics a hand again, fingers spread. It waves, and then it’s gone.

    You and James signal shadows into the night for a while, but it doesn’t come back.



    Summer is almost over, but it’s still warm enough to pitch the tent in the backyard one last time. You’re clumsy handling it alone, but you manage. Just as well that you start getting used to it now.

    With the door flap zipped shut, the tent feels both smaller and larger than it used to. You’ve grown taller, but now there’s empty space beside you. You’ll lay your pack there each night. Maybe your starter will curl up there too.

    James agreed weeks ago to join you out here, for old time’s sake, but you’re not mad he canceled.. It’s a family thing. You know how that goes.

    The closer you get to graduation, somehow the more there is to do. Finalizing paperwork. Accommodating family members from out of town. Farewell dinners. Posing for photos — struggling suddenly not to cry even though you’d been fine a minute before.

    In fact, you remind yourself, it’s good to have a moment to yourself for once. Time to sort out your thoughts.

    Staring at the tent ceiling, you think about the stories you and James used to tell together, imagining your future journeys. He would talk until he ran out of ideas, and then you took over, inventing encounters with wild pokemon and discoveries of ancient treasure. Then it was his turn again. You haven’t done that in years — way before the last time you pitched the tent — but you miss it now. Dreaming up the future is frightful work by yourself.

    You haven’t changed your mind about your journey. But now there are logistics to consider, details that hadn’t factored into your childhood fantasies. Have you packed enough food, the right kinds? What if you need to take a bus when you get to a city — how will that work? Will you be able to get your pokemon to listen to you? And then there’s James.

    Stretching towards the empty space to your side, you grab your book. It’s just dark enough to need the solar-powered lantern, which you prop at an angle with your folded sweatshirt. The words slide past you, each one forgotten the moment your eyes move on to the next, but it’s still something to do.

    When you’re on the road for real, is this how nighttime is going to feel, like time to fill?

    Maybe it’s intuition that makes you turn your head, or maybe it's just a flicker of movement in the corner of your eye. All you see is your own shadow cast on the tent wall. But you close your book and say, “Hello?”

    You think you hear a ghostly giggle.

    Very slowly, you sit up. “I’m leaving in a couple days. For an adventure,” you say. And then you wait. Your shadow is still just your shadow. Maybe you were too slow. Or maybe it was nothing at all.

    You keep talking anyway, in the same low voice you used late at night to avoid waking Jame’s parents. “I don’t really know what it’s gonna be like. I could get lost out there. Sometimes people don’t come back. It’s risky, traveling alone.” You stop to pick at a loose string on your pants. “We used to talk about treasure, like it was a guarantee. One per trainer. Sounds stupid now, but I guess part of me still believes it, in a way. Maybe not treasure but… something. Secrets. Forgotten places. If I don’t go, I’ll never find out what is out there.”

    When you look up again, your shadow is lying on its side to watch you, head propped in its palm, even though you’re sitting up cross-legged. Goosebumps run down your arms, but you smile and ask, “Have you ever been past the city limits before?”
     
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    9. Cities and Wonder: Slateport
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    9. Cities and Wonder: Slateport

    On your way to the coffee shop, you pass a sunburned trainer playing ukulele on the corner. She’s taught her combusken a few dance moves, modified from battle tactics and even punctuated with some pyrotechnics. The performance would be better suited to drums or even a violin —anything more aggressive than a ukulele— but it’s charming all the same. After the chorus, you’re not the only one inspired to drop a few bills into the open ukulele case.

    You’re still humming it to yourself as you enter the coffee shop. You pay for thirty minutes of computer time and a caramel macchiato to make the task of checking your emails less… You sigh as you approach the monitor and bolster yourself with a sip of the sugary drink.

    First is an email from your mother, which isn’t so bad. With a little distance — or, okay, a lot — you’ve begun to appreciate her more. Your emails tend not to follow a cohesive narrative, less like conversation and more like volleying stories at each other, back and forth across the void. You like it though. You learn more about her this way than you ever did when you were living at home arguing about the merits of different brands of dishwasher detergent.

    She never was a trainer, but she has stories of her own. Her latest email is the story of the time your father convinced her to go skydiving with him and how, no, it did not cure her fear of heights. You know this is her way of saying that your last report had worried her— you told her about the battle from the back of your altaria with a would-be thief, omitting some of the details you knew would upset her — but that she trusted you.

    You trade her the story of your arrival in Slateport, including the ukulele player. The locals walking barefoot, flip-flops in one hand, unbothered by the hot sidewalk. The wingull that tried to steal your lunch. “With love,” comes easily at the end.

    After that, there’s an email from the bank, a few from mailing lists urging you to donate now to save this-and-that forest from development, and one from the insurance company. Nothing too scary.

    Then you scroll back up to the one that makes your stomach clench just looking at it, the one you knew you’d find waiting in your inbox. Jess wants to know when you expect to arrive in Slateport because she wants to hire a local trainer with a ludicolo to ferry her across the river so she can meet up with you in the city, see the sights together. A couple days ago, a reminder: Not sure if you saw my last message…

    You skim, catch yourself, and drag your eye back to read more carefully. You know what you ought to say, but your hands freeze over the keyboard. Moments later, you catch yourself tying knots in the straw from your drink. It shouldn’t be so hard. It’s only words. It’s only pixels. You slurp down the last of your drink and muscle your way through a clumsy explanation of your feelings and, sheepishly, your whereabouts. You end, “With love,” but after staring a moment at the screen you erase it. Then you erase most of what you typed.

    Over and over, your gaze drifts to the people sitting nearby. Some look like students. Whatever the contents of your bank account and your inbox, you smile thinking that at least you’ll never be expected to write a paper about The Kanto-Berry Tales. You wonder if they think something similar looking at you with your dusty boots and scars.

    To your right is an old man who wears a feather in his cap — a real dandy. You notice with a start that he’s also wearing a trainer’s belt, all six slots filled. He types slowly with two fingers and you wonder who he’s writing to across the void.

    You accidentally lock eyes with a pair of girls curled up in arm chairs against the far wall. They’re trainers too, possibly waiting for their chance on the computer. You offer a small smile, which sends them waving and giggling, clutching each other’s arms. They’re young — they have neon green and pink hair respectively and in their laps their backpacks are swarmed with buttons and patches and sequins. You shake your head but keep smiling.

    When you return your gaze to the screen in front of you, twenty-seven minutes have gone by. Rather than paying for another half hour, you save your email as a draft, promising yourself to finish tomorrow.

    Outside, the sun is beginning to sink. The cars and buildings are cast in sherbert pink and orange. The air is warm and smells like the ocean. Tomorrow you’ll walk the shoreline until you win enough battles to earn back the money you lost in Mauville. Tomorrow you’ll have to figure out how to tell Jess about all the ways you’ve changed. For now, there’s just this.

    While you wait for the bus that will take you back to the hostel on the other side of town, you watch the people on the sidewalk: lawyers, poets, trainers, joggers, thieves, surfers, and who knows who else. Each of them passes without knowing or caring who you are, and with each come snippets of stories whose endings you’ll never learn. They delight you and also make your heart ache, all those unfinished stories. All those possibilities.

    How is it that — even now that you are finally free to go anywhere and do anything you want with your time — you’re still looking for something else, something just out of reach?

    Maybe the beachfront battle scene doesn’t matter. Maybe you should continue on to Dewford, where you’ve heard interesting rumors of caves and tiny islands, each with their own micro-climates…

    The bus finally comes. You sit near the back. Fine white sand scatters the floor. At the front, you see ukulele girl sit, placing on the seat beside her a bulging backpack with the ukulele case strapped to the outside with bungee cords. Go figure. You smile, close your eyes, and lean into the seat back. Only the drumming of your fingers on your leg belies your racing mind.

    For tonight, the noise of other humans is enough to distract you from yourself. As the bus rips through the dark, the hum of traffic and unintelligible chatter and ringtones carries you to a place that might not be home but is as close as you need. For all the thoughts churning beneath… there’s always tomorrow.
     
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    10. Cities and Seeing: Goldenrod
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    10. Cities and Seeing: Goldenrod

    Water, you thought, implied beach.

    You stand beneath a sign that warns against swimming and diving, wondering who would dare. Oil shimmers on the water’s surface. Plastic bottles and Rage Candy wrappers mass beneath the pier. Your rain coat is zipped over your swimsuit to hide your error, and your belt is clipped over the coat for ease of access. It’s not raining hard, but it’s enough to soften the city’s electrical buzzings and distant sirens. You’ve been here for over an hour, half-waiting for someone to challenge and half-waiting for a better idea to come to you. It’s only been raining for fifteen minutes, and you can’t decide if it’s worth waiting for it to stop again.

    At the sight of a growlithe you straighten, but you quickly realize it’s a pet, leashed to someone who looks like one of your mom’s friends. An occasional jogger passes. Not as many now as there were earlier.

    The city is perhaps ugliest at twilight, when the shadows writhe with unpleasant possibility. The odds of earning a quick buck from a battle are waning fast. But as the orange streetlights come on, you watch another trainer approach from across the street. You count six pokeballs on the studded belt that shows under his hooded sweater. You guess he’s in his mid-thirties or early forties—not the oldest trainer you’ve encountered but still outside the norm—and has a strange, asymmetrical hairstyle. He stares straight ahead at you.

    You try to guess what type of trainer he might be based on his clothes and gait. Perhaps dark-types? You palm your poliwrath’s pokeball. Then again, what if he favors electric-types and the rain drew him out to take advantage?

    As the trainer draws closer, you realize what you mistook for his hair was actually a facial tattoo: a line of bones and barbed wire along his jaw and hairline. There’s an unpleasantness in his stare, communicating something beyond a challenge. It occurs to you that he might not be looking at your belt but at your body. If there were other people here it wouldn’t feel so creepy, but there aren’t and it does. He smiles, and it’s not a friendly one.

    It’s the smile that does it. You jump up from the railing where you’ve been leaning and tug your raincoat down over your belt. You start speed walking away, head down. Your pulse is loud in your ears.

    “Hey!” he calls after you.

    You release your haunter to cover your back. “Let’s go, Keats!” you call, and you break into a run. Keats makes no sound — you have to trust he’s there. You dash through a red light, grateful the rain has slowed the traffic.

    Five blocks pass before you turn to see no one is chasing you, maybe never was. There’s only you, Keats, and the rain.
     
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    11. Cities and Silence: Driftveil
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    11. Cities and Silence: Driftveil

    “You have a light?”

    A younger or drunker version of you would’ve brought out your typhlosion, delighting both in watching the large pokemon perform the delicate task and in gently threatening another trainer. Instead you hand over your lighter and accept it back without comment.

    You lean against the back wall of Judo Cufflink, a bar and music venue locals call simply The Cuff. Like every Driftveil joint you’ve been in, it’s a dive with cracked leather booths and peeling murals out back. You’ve heard it’s also known for occasional fights (both the kind that involve pokemon and the kind that involve just fists), but the courtyard is calm now, hazy with smoke and conversation. You don’t smoke anymore but it’s cooler out here. Quieter too. The first band of the night — Something Punch, or maybe Punch Drunk Something — sucks. Too nasal, not enough bass.

    You hoped to run into the cute girl from the hostel front desk who’d recommended this place to you but no such luck so far. It was a long shot anyway. You remind yourself, turning and turning the lighter in your pocket, that you’re almost certain to make a new friend or two in the next city. There are usually at least a few trainers from other regions on the gym circuit this time of year, easy connections over shared nostalgia-mixed-with-defiance for your respective hometowns. If you could lock eyes with someone who isn’t that drunk or who’s the right kind of drunk and muscle your way through the small talk, you could probably find several such friends here in the courtyard, or maybe even something more. Flashing your badge collection has gotten you far before. Tonight though, the possibility and potential sits sour in your stomach along with the cheap beers you drank earlier. You’ve talked to so many people exactly like the ones here before. You’re weary of temporary friends, of not knowing what to put in letters to your old friends.

    From inside you hear the lead singer howl, Shallow, shallow, shallow! I don't care if you don't care.

    It doesn’t matter that you already paid to see two more upcoming bands, you decide. You stand suddenly and walk through the wooden gate, down the sidewalk, past giggling punks and posturing trainers, past the convenience store, past the empty football field — you walk until the music and shouts fade into the distance and your stomach settles somewhat.

    You find yourself in a new part of town, far from the gym and the hostel. Here feels more real, and also like a secret. You’re off the tourist track now. For a moment, you allow yourself to feel curious again. In the middle distance you can see some kind of complex, like a modern castle, and it draws you closer. You step softly as if to avoid startling away the stillness, to allow the moonlit path to reveal itself to you.

    Churches and homes give way to rectangular concrete buildings, suddenly, as if they’ve abandoned you to this cold truth. Warehouses under harsh light cut sharp shadows. The lights, you imagine, are to dissuade thieves and pot-smoking teens from coming too close.

    These are factories, you guess, or shipping centers. It doesn’t matter which. These walls will always be closed to you, and there’s nothing inside you’d want to see. This place — the entire city— is designed to house machinery, not to inspire. No matter how far you walk there is no other hidden beauty to discover here. Only unrelenting purpose.

    You stop, hands in your pockets, unsure where to go next.

    At a flicker of shadow in the corner, your hand darts automatically to your belt. The motion sensor lights hit the trubbish before you can. With an unsettlingly human-like grunt, it bustles down a side street and out of sight again.

    In a flash you remember the summer Goldenrod City was so overrun with grimers that the city actually paid trainers to catch and remove them. The sour-smelling air gave your mother headaches, so she spent most of that summer in a dark room with a wet washcloth over her face. One grimer managed to ooze its way up the pipes and into your bathtub. An exterminator with a slowbro had to be called, and there was still a purple ring around the tub for weeks. After all this time, you’ve still never caught a poison-type.

    You’ve worked so hard and crossed oceans…and still. There’s only more of this.
     
    Last edited:
    12. Cities and Seeing: Saffron
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    12. Cities and Seeing: Saffron

    At first, it’s just another battle, if a frustrating one. Sure, your opponent is dressed shabbily, but so are you. Your nice shirt is for gym battles and important events, not fast cash battles in the parking lot of a foreclosed grocery store. You assume he wants the same thing you do.

    You’ve fought his skarmory and now his weezing, both surprisingly good at taking multiple hits and slowly wearing your pokemon down. Very slowly. You made the mistake of thinking one or two good blasts from your magmar would be enough to knock the skarmory out of the sky—quick and forceful. But your magmar never landed more than a glancing blow, and the head-on approach only tired him out faster.

    “How long do you want this battle to go on?” you asked, half-joking, while you contemplated who to send out next.

    The other trainer smiled and shrugged. “As long as it takes.”

    To win, you thought he meant.

    So now you’re fighting on his terms. You don’t have a choice — smoke hangs over the field and your hitmontop can barely see where she’s aiming her kicks. Each collision between your hitmontop and his weezing is brief — hit, pull back, hit pull back. It’s less of a race and more a test of stamina, slogging towards the gradual accumulation of small wounds and hoping your pokemon can wait it out longer.

    It’s not the quickie you planned on, but now seeing it through is a matter of pride. You’d hate to lose to some nobody this way.

    Finally, there is a muffled slap and another burst of foul smoke as your hitmontop’s foot flies through through smokescreen and connects with the weezing, hard. The weezing falls, dented and deflated, and you let out a sigh of relief. “Great job, Paladin! You finally did it.”

    The other trainer seems unfazed though. “Last one,” he says with that same infuriating smile and the same drawl. “How are you feeling?”

    “Great,” you say, too quickly. “You ready?”

    On three, you each release your third and final pokemon for the tie-breaker. You send out your xatu and grin at the sight of his rhyhorn. This won’t be the same kind of fight as before with a pokemon like that. He’ll have to deal with you directly.

    “Alright, Wicked! This one’s all you, baby,” you call out. “Blast its brains out!”

    As your xatu begins beaming psychic energy across the parking lot, plastic bags twisting through the air in its wake, your opponent commands, “Knock it down. You know what to do.”

    With a roar, the rhyhorn stomps and thrusts its horn into the air. The asphalt quivers, cracks, and heaves. Some big chunks are already lying loose from past battles, and those shoot into the air right away, towards Wicked. She flaps out of the way, eyes glowing white as she turns the smaller chunks aside with her mind. But soon there are more, coming down like hailstones. Wicked bobs, weaves, and occasionally cries out as one finds its mark.

    You watch with clenched teeth, waiting for an opening to give the next command.

    The other trainer shouts, “Now, Zodiac!”

    A weird name for a rhydon—

    You don’t realize what’s actually happened until you see the umbreon flicker into view from out of the other trainer’s shadow. In its mouth, you recognize your distinctive orange wallet, a gift from a friend back home.

    Your backpack — still at your side, but hanging open.

    Your mouth flies open, but nothing comes out.

    The trainer grins, pats the umbreon’s head, and palms your wallet. “Smash it, Bruce!”

    You finally find your voice again. “Wicked!” She swoops to your aid, but a falling asphalt boulder cuts her off.

    All etiquette thrown aside, you send out your last two pokemon, a flaaffy and a krabby. “Stop him!”

    But the massive rhydon has no problem keeping your pokemon at a distance. With a stomp, it sends seismic waves rippling across the parking lot and upends flaaffy, krabby, and you. Then it turns and slashes Wicked as she passes, knocking her aside.

    The other trainer calmly trades out his umbreon for a kadabra. He salutes in your direction and smirks one last time before linking hands with the kadabra and laying his other hand on the rhyhorn’s haunch. The air begins to shimmer and, in an instant, all three are gone. Your krabby’s water gun splashes onto nothing.

    Of course you cry.

    Eventually you stop, stand up and, because there’s nothing else to do, drag yourself towards the pokecenter to heal your team and file a police report.
     
    Last edited:
    13. Cities and Hunger: Veilstone
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    13. Cities and Hunger: Veilstone

    Cities, like dreams, are expensive. Tonight is your eighth night in a row of beans and rice for dinner. You eat with your badge case next to you, “for flavor,” and as a reminder.

    You’ve got work to do.

    There are still some things you won’t do to save money or for convenience. You never eat street food anymore, even when it’s cheap — especially not when it’s cheap.

    A few months back, after eating a bad sausage roll, you spent most of a night either kneeling over the toilet or half-dozing on the tile beside the basin. One of the other girls who shared your room at the hostel banged on the door for almost ten minutes straight before leaving to fetch a manager. While she was in the shower, you threw up into a grocery bag next to your bunk.

    But there’s a lot you will do to support your lifestyle.

    For the past few weeks you’ve been pitching your tent in the hinterlands at night, spending $3.50 in quarters on a hot shower and laundry every other day or so, and restocking shelves at a VitaShop in the mornings. VitaShop offers employees a fifteen percent discount, climbing to thirty once you hit the three month mark, which is nice but unlikely to do you any good. You don’t plan on being here that long.

    A not-so-nice thing about working there is the bag check at the end of each shift. Your backpack is your entire life and livelihood. You don’t think there’s any shame in that, but still you hate having to let your manager see your entire existence laid out like that, rummaging through your clothes and mementos because you can’t be trusted not to take company property.

    It’s definitely a temporary situation…but you also definitely need the extra cash right now. The journey from Pastoria wasn’t kind to you. Two potions and a rare stone lost in the muck when the seam in your bag burst open. And those two kids who wrung out your team and your wallet. Now you’re just this side of dead broke and therefore stranded until you can recover your funds and, with luck, climb back up the ranks of the battle-for-cash scene.

    After your VitaShop shifts, you wad up your apron and head to an abandoned bowling alley turned casual battle arena to train. There’s a different name on the side of the building from when it was still a bowling alley but now locals call it Trash Canyon. Sometimes you walk to the gym instead, but only to watch. Maylene herself is lithe as a cat, and her pokemon are almost unnervingly graceful even when they’re hurt and slow. You’re seeing some progress in your team, you think, but not like that. You wonder what she gives them — there must be something.

    The front of the shop, where you’re usually stationed, is all general supplies: gauze wraps, multivitamins, both Silph and value brand potions, key chain fobs. The back is where they stock stranger goods. One aisle carries the things you used to laugh at in infomercials: vegan protein powder, seaweed extracts, fibrous dried kelpsy berries (imported from Hoenn). The remaining aisles are subdivided by pokemon typing, with a few lines of supplements that claim to be calibrated for individual species, all the most popular ones. It sounds impressive, and you might have been tempted by it once, but you’ve started to wonder how delicate the constitution of a wild-caught creature could really be. By far, the formulas advertised for dragon-types are the most expensive, some literally worth their weight in gold. You’ve never been close enough to a dragon-type to be able to see eye color, let alone catch one, but you understand why someone would steal the stuff for the resale value alone. Each bottle bears an electronic lock that explodes if not removed before leaving the store, spraying thieves with red dye.

    You see all kinds of trainers in the checkout line. Some approach the register with a single precious pill jar and others, astoundingly, with shopping baskets full to the brim. Most manage to seem both bored and anxious. You’re practically invisible to them in your apron, leaving you free to size them up.

    How far behind have you fallen?

    You used to feel more disdainful, more jealous. But after a while you realized they’re no different from you. None of you knows what you’re doing, not really. You’re all just trying and hoping and pushing through as best as you can. You all want the same things: to win more than to lose, to be seen, and to earn enough money to keep going. You’re all still hoping, in your way, for miracles.
     
    14. Cities and Seeing: Lilycove
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    14. Cities and Seeing: Lilycove

    You never see fat trainers on billboards or magazine ads. LeyLine is just as interested, if not more, in selling to fashionistas and to the young hopefuls who quit after a few weeks, the ones who are more dedicated to dressing like a trainer than to doing the work. Those kinds of girls don’t aspire to be fat. By the time you earn your third badge, after all the hiking, you should be in the best shape of your life — you’ve never actually heard anyone say it in so many words, but everyone knows it. That’s how it works.

    And yet here you are.

    Sometimes people don’t believe you’re a trainer. They certainly don’t assume it. “You in town for work or for fun?” the clerk asked when you checked into the hostel. “Most of the folks who pass through here are doing the gym challenge.”

    “Yeah. I’m a trainer,” you answered, pointing towards your belt.

    The clerk politely tried to hide her surprise. “Sorry, I didn’t notice! Silly of me.”

    “Mm. So, which room did you say I’m in?”

    You used to work hard to disappear. Now you’re on display, online and in the flesh.

    Today the contest hall is packed with trainers, pokemon, and spectators alike. All down the long hallway to your left and to your right other trainers stand at attention beside their pokemon, smaller ones placed atop a pedestal draped in a tablecloth in the color of their contest category. A few water-types occupy enormous tanks instead. Behind you is a second row of trainers and pokemon. The trainer behind you keeps bumping into you as he animatedly answer passing spectators’ questions about his loudred. You’re wearing shorts because the city is hot and humid this time of year and a halter top with horizontal stripes because it’s your favorite shirt. You don’t care if people look at your thighs or your jiggly arms. You care that they look at Squish, playing with her own tail on her pink-draped pedestal, and vote for her to win.

    Joining the contest circuit wasn’t part of the original plan. The first time you registered for one had been because of Frankie, your high school friend and traveling partner. She had been curious — mostly interested in hearing praise for her spinda, you observed but didn’t say — but too nervous to go it alone. And you thought, Why not. You thought your azumarill was pretty cute. Frankie quickly decided she hated the scene: the waking up early, the paperwork, the constant repeat questions from spectators, the standing and waiting for things to start. She never signed up again. You, however, thrive in it.

    You still battle sometimes, mostly to earn quick cash to pay for Squish’s special skin oils and other accessories. Never with Squish anymore, though — you can’t risk her scarring or bruising. She wasn’t a bad battler, especially in gym battles where the hard floors let her roll around and pick up speed, but it delights you to pamper her instead. She’s silky soft and fat and happy.

    It’s not that contests are easier, just a different kind of work. Different drills, different supplements. More time on social media. Fewer rolled ankles, more carpal tunnel.

    “Oh my gosh,” you hear through the crowd. “Aren’t you MissSquish on the Trainer Network?”

    You flash her your brightest smile and stand straighter. “Yeah, that’s us. Did you want to meet Squish?”

    “Yes! I love your feed so much. I was actually hoping we could take a selfie? For my blog?”

    “Oh, sure. Just make sure to tag us.” You sidle out of the way and gesture towards the azumarill as if to say, all yours!

    “You should be in it too!” She steps close and digs into her purse for her phone, which you notice has a case shaped like an azumarill, ears and all. “I love that top.”

    “Oh! Okay.” And you smile for real, because this is the first time this has happened, but the way things are going… you’re not afraid to hope that this won’t be the last.
     
    Last edited:
    15. Cities and Hunger: Nimbasa
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    15. Cities and Hunger: Nimbasa

    When you walk a long time through the city, you begin to crave wilderness.

    It’s not anxiety, even though cities do make you anxious. All those other trainers vying for crumbs of fame, the violent crime in the headlines. Or, at least, it’s not only anxiety.

    You just want something that lasts. There’s comfort in seeing a tree that was planted long before you were born, in knowing the rocks will outlast whatever legacy you leave behind.

    The trees and the rocks can’t keep you warm at night, but your pokemon do. Your liepard, Prince, has claimed one side of your tent as his, and Swift, your whimsicott, likes to sleep at your feet. You get lonely sometimes anyway — they’re not much for conversation.

    Sometimes talking to strangers makes you lonelier.

    New trainers, all wide eyes and new clothes, stop you and your pokemon on the street to plead for advice they’ll ignore. In bars, trainers lonelier than you tell you things they ought to keep to themselves. There are others you could talk to, maybe even some you’d like to travel with, if only for a little while. You know you hold other trainers at more of a distance than you have to. But…

    You haven’t forgotten last year in Nimbasa City. The trainer with the seviper tattoo winding down her leg. She caught your attention the second she strode into the hostel common room. First her foreign pokemon, a big one — a crobat, dozing atop her backpack. Then that look in her smoky eyes, wordlessly daring the world to just try her. You didn’t have the guts to talk to her — what would you say to someone like that? But when she caught you sneaking glances, she came to you.

    “Where I come from locking eyes is a surefire way to start a battle.” She didn’t sit, forcing you to crane your neck to look at her. “What kind of pokemon do you train?”

    You battled more with Prince and Swift, but her crobat stirring awake and stretching its wings prompted you to answer, “I just started training a woobat.”

    “Then you must be batshit crazy too.” She grinned, and immediately it was like the two of you were the only ones in the room. Electric. “I was thinking about checking out the amusement park later. You been yet?”

    You hadn’t been planning on it, but now you were.

    At first you were shy, but she wasn’t. She took your hand as the roller coaster started its slow climb. Her hand was surprisingly cool. Later, behind the popcorn vendor’s stall, you kissed until you were dizzy with it and the vendor’s assistant came out to chase you away. The two of you ran laughing between the aisles of flashing lights.

    “I feel like I’ve known you for years,” you told her.

    She laughed. “You don’t know the first thing about me.”

    “So tell me.” You asked where she grew up, her favorite movie, her biggest fear. One right after another. You also wondered but didn’t ask whether kissing strange girls was something she did a lot — because you sure didn’t.

    She only laughed again and silenced you with another kiss. “Questions later.”

    You weren’t so naive that you expected it to become something, at least not right away. You hadn’t even found out yet whether you were traveling the same way. What you hadn’t expected was for her to leave before you even woke up the next morning. No note at the hostel’s front desk—nothing but a memory of the smell of popcorn.

    Your return trip home for your sister’s high school graduation takes you back through Nimbasa for a night. You can’t resist the call of the amusement park. Wandering slowly through the arcades and past the rides, you tell yourself you’re just people watching. The popcorn stand is gone, or maybe you’ve misremembered where it was. You find a bench shaped like a scolipede and sit.

    The people of Nimbasa dress loudly, many of the girls choosing fashions inspired by the local gym leader. Emolga is a popular pokemon here, both as a companion perched on the shoulder and as a design motif: emolga-head purses, emolga-patterned tights. You see lots of couples.

    Of course, you see no sign of the girl with the seviper tattoo. You didn’t really expect to.

    There are other travelers here though, and they stand out. They’re quieter, dressed mostly in shades of brown, charcoal, or sage. You try to guess which ones are from Unova and which ones have come from farther away. Even with their rugged simplicity and clothes full of patches, each of them seems lit from within. You recognize that fire in their eyes. You see it in the mirror, sometimes.

    Someone drops onto the bench beside you, and you look up with a start. Another trainer, you see by his belt. “Hey there,” he says.

    “Hi.” For a moment he only looks at you with an odd smile on his face, so you add, “I’m not really looking for a battle right now.”

    “Oh, no.” His smile falters for a moment. “I just wanted to meet you.”

    “Why?” You don’t mean for it to come out like that, but you’re startled and put-off by how close he’s chosen to sit. Something about this reminds you of a con you’ve witnessed once from a distance — one person to distract while the other sneaks up behind. You drape a protective arm over your pack and put a hand on Prince’s ball.

    The trainer leans away reflexively but doesn’t stop smiling. “When I saw you here I thought, that girl’s too pretty to be sitting by herself. Thought I’d see if you wanted to ride the Ferris wheel with me.”

    You don’t mean to laugh. When his face falls you do feel a little bad, but not bad enough to stop you from standing and shouldering your pack. “No. I’ve got somewhere to be.”

    The path out of the park takes you past the Ferris wheel, and you stop for a few minutes to watch it cycle round and round. You’re sure that trainer will find someone to ride with him. This city is dependable for at least that much.
     
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    16. Cities and Silence: Coffee Shop
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    16. Cities and Silence: Coffee Shop

    There are two ways of describing a postcard: a gift or a burden. One for each city, you told your best friend before you left. You made too many promises.

    The first few were easy, because you thought of home everywhere you went. You composed long letters in your head as you walked down unfamiliar avenues and stared out bus windows. You couldn’t wait to write to your cousin about a cafe whose walls were papered with drawings by previous guests, the way sunset glinted pink and gold on the harbor, the food. You told your mother about your visit to a famous shrine and how much you missed her.

    But, little by little, the writing begins to wear you down.

    Flicking through the spinning card racks is tiresome. Your mother would love this photo of the skyline at night, but you wrinkle your nose at it. Certainly you have never seen the city looking so tidy and still. And everywhere you go — scattered between the postcards featuring landmarks and famous residents — there is always the same saccharine pikachu, photoshopped with sunglasses, a pool float, and a margarita. Wish you were here. Many of the souvenir shops are cash only, forcing you to turn out your pockets for change or walk out empty-handed. Once, you were already at the city limits before you remembered you’d forgotten to buy any cards and had to double back.

    Every so often, you arrive at a pokecenter to see a pack of letters and cards sent ahead by your mother. Your best friend includes stickers and drawings in scented marker. The notes are sweet, but you inevitably have to recycle most of them to save room in your bag. Sometimes they do spur you into a burst of letter-writing, but other times even guilt isn’t enough motivation.

    Now, at a cafe with mosaic-topped tables, you flip through the stack of cards you bought around the corner. It’s a haphazard selection, and you’re surprised by your own choices. Is it better, you wonder, to begin with an apology? Or you could jump to the highlight reel. But even as you start trying to distill your last gym battle into the space of a postcard, you have to stop and put down your pen. There’s too much to say, and yet too little.

    Finally, you improvise a haiku about the cobblestone streets and people passing on the sidewalk. There. Done. You push the card aside and start on the next.
     
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    17. Home
  • WildBoots

    Don’t underestimate seeds.
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Partners
    1. custom/moka-mark
    2. solrock
    17. Home

    Leaving there, you finally arrive once again at the place called home. It’s not home anymore, not really. But you’ll never be able to call it anything else.

    When you walk a long time through the wild, you begin to crave home. The annual county fair. Your dad’s spaghetti and meatballs. The old fashioned candy shop where you can still buy a giant jawbreaker for less than a dollar.

    You wonder if this place has always looked so small.

    When she hears you’re back in town, your high school friend Jackie invites you out to the diner where you had Saturday brunches with your family growing up. Seeing her is both weird and nice. You order pancakes with bacon and sausage and a side of hashbrowns. When it comes to meals made to order rather than on your camp stove, you’ve never been able to control the impulse to eat like it’s your last chance. Jackie orders coffee.

    “How’s training?”

    It’s a big question. Too big. You know she expects you to say something innocuous — “It’s good!” — or that you’ll take the leap and add your own details. She can’t help that she doesn’t know enough about it to know what questions to ask. But still. You shovel hashbrowns into your mouth to give yourself time to think, to wrestle your frustration into a reasonable answer. Jackie stirs creamer into her coffee and watches you chew while you weigh stories you could tell her.

    “I mean… it’s a lot of things.”

    You try to tell her some of the highlights, but the cities and the wilderness, like dreams, are hard to describe after the fact. It all feels like it happened a thousand years ago, or to someone else. You try anyway. Jackie listens politely, but you can tell you’re losing her in the specifics. You wind down with a helpless shrug and, “I guess you just had to be there.”

    For a while, you switch to talking about your history together, which is both easier and hollow. She catches you up on your mutual friends: Louisa moved to Unova for work. Jenny and Alex got married and have a toddler. A toddler, already. You can’t decide whether to feel more repulsed or left out.

    Jackie is working as an administrative assistant for a construction company, and it’s as hard for you to relate to her office politics as it is for her to relate to your travel stories. Your coworkers, so to speak, are your pokemon. They don’t gossip or leave passive-aggressive notes on the coffeemaker. There is no coffee maker.

    She insists on taking the bill, and you let her without protest. Her income is steadier than yours. You part ways on the sidewalk, saying you’ll have to catch up again soon. Even if you probably won’t, you have to say it.

    The supermarket is on your way home — to your parents’ house, that is — so you stop there for detergent and toilet paper. You haven’t bought such heavy or bulky items since before you left. It feels opulent, but you know Mom will be pleased with you.

    You accidentally lock eyes with a woman as you squeeze your way past her cart. It takes you a moment to recognize her as your middle school math teacher, Mrs. Briggs. She looks the same, only older and deflated. When she sees you she breaks into a grin, and your gut seizes with irrational panic. You let her envelope you in a squishy hug.

    “Back from training, eh?” she says.

    “Just home for a few weeks.” Your badge case is at home, but you run her through the checklist of which ones you’ve collected. “Still a ways to go…”

    She pauses, adjusts her glasses. With a faraway smile she says, “I always knew you’d do great things.”

    You’re pretty sure you never got higher than a B minus in her classes. But you thank her all the same before saying you really should get going.

    When you walk a long time through your home town, you begin to crave the world again.

    You only last a couple more days at home before you and you mom start arguing about stupid things — the name of the neighbor’s skitty, the correct oven temperature for a baked potato, the capital of Hoenn — and you know it’s time to go. She tries to convince you to stay a little longer, listing friends you should visit and an upcoming church picnic, almost certainly knowing it won’t work on you.

    While you repack your beat-up old backpack, she leans against the doorway and watches. She asks where you’re headed this time. You lie so she doesn’t worry, but the truth is you’re not sure yet. You don’t know how to make her understand your destination isn’t the point.

    Sometimes being on the road feels like searching for some unnameable thing that doesn’t exist, getting lost in ways a map and compass can’t resolve. Other times, you know uncertainty is just the price of freedom.

    END
     
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