She speaks in a raspy, smoke-a-pack-a-day voice, “A little young for a drink, aren’t you?”
“I’m only sixteen.”
She pears in for a closer inspection. “And I don’t believe you’re a guest at my lodge. Are you?”
“Uh, no ma’am.”
She fills a glass with water, pushing it to her. “I see. Welcome aboard. I’m Michelle and this is my lodge. If you have any questions, just ask.”
Great, the owner. This is just the person she needs to talk to. She’ll help her for sure. April tells her the small tale of being lost and how she ended up here. She doesn’t mention anything about Cubone, thinking it unnecessary. She includes the bit where she’s really a detective looking for a Trainer named Jack, in the hopes that she’ll cooperate more efficiently. And perhaps a bit of a lie, she mentions there is a warrant for his arrest. It’s only a little white lie she hopes can speed up the process.
“A reward too, I figure. Well, well. Let me guess, you need a place to stay tonight.”
“Preferably, I need to go now. Anything you can do to help me get to Mahogany City to stop his injustices from continuing would be great.”
Michelle responds by tapping her nails along the counter. “You don’t know much about this place, eh. Kid, the only way in or out of here is by walking. There are no easy rides out. I have a helicopter come by once a week and drop supplies. That’s all. Sorry to burst your bubble but there’s nothing I can do to help cooperate with your search.”
“With your predicament, the only thing I can suggest is traveling with another Trainer heading the same way. There’s a tournament in Mahogany early next week and we happen to have some Trainers up here to train. They’ll be leaving in a few days. You can go with them.”
Three days. The helicopter she mentioned must not arrive until after that. At least it’s better than being lost in the forest, weak and starving, wondering if she should eat Dunsparce to last another day.
Bells ring behind her, meaning someone opened the front door. It’s the bearded hiker, wearing a regular forest green shirt and sleeping shorts. Short stubbles of hair and healing bruises cover his legs. Under his shirt, on his right arm, he wars an black colored elbow and shoulder brace. April wonders if he got in a fight. She looks away, not wanting to look at him, hoping he’d just go away. Knowing his attitude toward her, he would at least say ‘Hi’ with a negative comment then leave. He does notice her but continues walking to the lone guy watching tv to strike up a conversation.
Michelle smiles, wrinkling her cheeks with ease. She points a sharp finger at the hiker. “Hey, you, fire starter.” The hiker ignores her, finishing his talk with the guy. The owner yells, “HEY, Cage, get over here! We need to talk!”
The hiker, whos name appears to be Cage, shrugs saying his goodbye. He makes his way to the bar counter, momentarily pausing to bow. “Yes, m’ ladies. How goes your fine evening thus far?” He leans against the counter, facing the two ladies with a confident smile.
“Don’t give me that. Drink?” He waves it off. Instead, she pours a cold beer for herself. “You’re leaving tomorrow, correct?”
“As was your command. Weather permitting, of course.”
“What’s the forecast?”
“It said the rain should stop before breakfast and not start up until the late afternoon. But after tomorrow, it’s all clear skies.”
“That means, what, a six hour gap. Plenty of time to get to the cave...”
“You’re not serious. And then what, wait out the rain stuck in a cave until tomorrow? I know you want me gone, but I’m safer here for another day. You know it’s a fact.”
“Not gonna happen. You’re a strong Trainer, don’t think you can handle a little water?” Michelle squints her eyes, taking a sniff of disturbed air. The room was being enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke coming from the booth on their right. In a loud, upsetting voice, “What have I told you about smoking in here?”
One of the booth guys laughs, “Aw come on, it ain’t hurting no one. Have you seen the outside, it’s raining.”
Quickly, Michelle rushes out of the bar, her heeled boots clomp the wood noisily. She pulls the guy by the ear, dragging him out from the booth. He screams, begging for her to let go. She squeezes harder, pulling him toward the entrance. The guy’s face is red from screaming, as he stumbles about, trying to grab hold of a chair or something, but failing to maintain his grip. She throws him outside, into the rain, locking the door behind him. The guy at the bar and at the guy booth laugh their heads off seeing their friend tossed out.
“I hate when it rains. Riles you guys up too much” She says, walking back behind the bar. “Now what was I saying before the interruption?”
“You were going to let me leave after the rain ended.” Cage tries to take advantage of her forgetfulness.
She smacks his head, “Don’t be stupid. You’re leaving tomorrow. That’s final.”
“Ugh. Alright. But if I get hypothermia, I’m billing you.”
“Good, I can call us even if that happens.” She motions to the girl sitting close to him. “Have you met April? April, this is Cage. Cage, April. Oh, I heard you’ve met. Wonderful! That’ll make getting along less awkward. Cage, April here is headed to Mahogany, same as you.”
“Peachy.” He looks at her. “You sure you’re up to the task? It takes a little more effort to get lost this time.”
“Exactly my thought, my boy. I’m amazed this poor girl made it as far as she did on her own. That’s why I’ve decided that she’s going with you.”
!!!! “What!!?!” They both shout. They both give looks of shock and dismay. Both hearts skip a beat. It’s like they both won the lotto but neither are happy with how much money they won. On the one hand, she has an escort; on the other, it’s him.
“Michelle, but, why?”
“And she’s bunking with you tonight.”
He pleads with her, “You’re being unfair. Why can’t she sleep here?”
Michelle waves her finger at him. “You owe me this much.”
“I’d rather pay for the damage than this.”
She takes a quick chug and laughs back at him. She takes a couple steps away from the bar to a nearby window. “You know, every time I look outside and count the number of cabins, I’m reminded that there’s something missing.”
“I know what you’ve done, and I appreciate it. Even respect it to a degree. But for some reason, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that you burned
cabin. You’re leaving tomorrow, taking her with you, and that’s final.” She hurries back to the bar, folds her arms and stares Cage in the eyes.
Having successfully controlled the situation, she relaxes. “We’re done here. Have a goodnight, Cage.”
The hiker leaves with his mouth open, trying to find the words to argue back, but he knows nothing he says will change her stubborn mind. “Cabin 18,” he says before departing the lodge.
Not a word came out of April the entire conversation. Not that she had anything to add, but rather she wanted to listen and gather information of her surroundings. Her best detective weapons are information and finding ways to use or take advantage of it. Now that she is stuck with the last person on earth she wanted to see again, she has to dig for information from Michelle to make the best of the situation.
“So, what’s his story?”
“Who, Cage? He’s just like any other Trainer here. Came here to learn and train. Burns down cabins in his spare time. You know, typical things.” She jokes, finishing her mug. She places a small salad bowl on the counter. “Eat up.” Dinner of champions!
“He’s kinda a jerk.”
“He’s been increasingly distant since his arrival. He’s a good kid with a kind heart, but he has too much on his mind. It’ll be good for the both of you to travel together.”
The guy that had been sitting at the bar gets up, walking behind her. “I’ll- I’ll treat you real g-good.”
“Shove off, Rich.”
He thrusts his pelvis forward as he stumbles away. “Shove it all night long, yea baby!”
Cabin 18. Night has officially settled and the rain is pouring. April has to borrow an umbrella for the evening to keep dry. Her white shoes, however, slosh around in thick mud on her way over. She wishes the lodge was at least a little more civilized with paved roads and pathways. She knocks on the door, on the left side of the cabin. She’s called to come in by the hiker. What a gentlemen, huh. The cabin, much like the visitor center, retains its wooden style. Indoors consists of one bed in the center of the room, one dresser next to the bed, one mini fridge next to the dresser, one fireplace opposite the bed, one bath next to the door, and no tv. Next to the door is the hiker’s backpack, cargo style with more pockets than necessary. Between the bed and the bathroom is a rolled out black sleeping bag.
The hiker, Cage, is sitting on the bed wearing the same shorts and a shirt from a little bit ago. Still, he is perfectly dry and there is no wet umbrella anywhere. His muddy brown shoes are the only sign he’d even been outside. He’s continues combing a little red furred fox with three tails stretched in front of him. She steps forward, putting her finger tips out. The fox’s big eyes watch her, sniffing her hand. ‘Vuull..” it says, laying her head back down. Cage stops combing for a second, letting her pet the Pokemon. Her fur is sleek and well groomed, meaning he’s been taking care of her for a very long time. It’s sooo soft she can pet and hug her all day.
Cage coughs, abruptly.
April backs up. “What’s her name?”
“This is Firefox. She’s a Vulpix, if you didn’t know.”
“She’s cute,” April remarks kindly.
“Thanks. I try to keep her looking her best.”
Not sure what to say next, her detective curiosity kicks in. “So, wow, that cabin was burned down by you? What’s that all about?”
He looks up trying to hold back laughter under a serious grin. “Really? That’s where you want to start?” She doesn’t respond. Perhaps it was a bad question at a bad time. “Get ready for bed. I am leaving at nine-thirty, with or without you. The bed is all yours. Lucky you! I’ll sleep on the cold, barren floor like an animal. Any questions?”
Rude. “Not really.”
“Good. How’s Dunsparce? You should let it out for the night. There’s no Pokemon Center, which sucks but there’s nothing that can be done about it. I’d let it out for the night. Pokemon seem to heal better with company.”
As he slides off the bed, she grabs the two Pokeballs she kept in her jacket pocket. One was empty and belonged to the hiker, one is hers with Dunsparce inside. She lets the little snake out, patting him on the head. He smiles, tiredly, and slithers around the bed toward the pillow to hide under.
“By the way, how’s Cubone? Oh, too soon?” He snickers going under his cover. His fox Pokemon lay at his feet.
So, here I am. Safe and alive, but scared to death. All I had to do was follow a simple path through a mountain and I end up in Camp Nowhereville. In a bed, in a strange cabin, sleeping next to someone I don’t know, about to travel with someone I don’t even like. And I left someone, a Pokemon, behind. Commander, I made that mistake and I’m sorry. I failed what we stand and believe in: not leaving anyone behind. It kills me inside to know it is as cold, alone and scared just as I am. This is all too much. I’m not ready. But what can I do, it’s out of my hand. There’s no turning back now. I know tomorrow won’t be any better. It’s gonna be a long day.
The dark ground feels cold under her bare feet. Dirt squeezes between her toes with each step, as if swallowing her underground. The smell of decaying wood surrounds the darkness, choking her every breath. A spotlight hits the ground, showcasing Cubone beaten and bruised far off in the distance. Her feet run but the ground liquefies under her, sucking her feet down the quicker she moves forward. The muddy sand surrounds and melts beneath the unresisting Cubone. It calls out but makes no sound. She falls forward, hands into the mud. She begins crawling, almost swimming to Cubone, crying to herself. But she doesn’t make it in time. The little Pokemon is sucked below the sinking floor, gone and lost. She finds herself in the same situation; struggling against the elements, unable to break free. The mud around her forms into a sloppy hand, lifting her upward. It continues up, forming a body with a head. Sharp, rocky teeth protrude out. Eyes like black holes appear on the mudman’s head, sucking it all it sees.
It laughs in a low toned voice, watching her struggle. “There’s no escape.” Then, it swallows her whole.
It’s been a while since she’s had a nightmare like that. Not since the day she first started taking care of Pokemon at the Police Station. And here she is, on her first night away from home, without a pleasant thought to dream about. She uncovers her head from the protective blanket to make sure she is safe. Her hands stretch under her fingerless gloves, clammy and white. Light came through the window meaning it is morning. However, when she looks at the clock on the dresser, she discovers it was turned off. She finds her phone, charged and ready to go. 9:10.
She remembers setting the alarm last night. Hmmm. Upon closer inspection, the plug is knocked far from the outlet. It didn’t fall out, that’s for sure. It had to have been Cage. How can he be so devious? His stuff is gone. Hopefully he didn’t leave yet. Now she has to take a few short cuts to be ready in time. Sure, she can go in her long shirt she uses as pajamas, but walking around in short-shorts will embarrass her. No time for a shower. Girl’s still gotta look good, without question. She puts on her makeup, heavy on the eye shadow to hide her tired, nightmare ridden eyes. She selects a strong flower scented perfume. She wants to wash her sandy blond hair, but there is not enough time. All she can do is brush the knots and curls out. Finally, a quick change to her same clothes. For those not familiar, or too lazy to read the previous part: forest green v-neck shirt covered by a red wool jacket, light brown Capri pants, white (now muddy) street shoes, patchwork grey beret, copper lens aviator sunglasses, an army light green courier bag, and her fingerless leather gloves, which are never removed. Oh, and a razor scooter for travel. Got it, good.
Just like Cage said last night, the rain has stopped. The entire dirt ground is covered in a thick slushy mud that she once again has to trudge through. At least the soft ground helps reduce the pain in her leg. The wood cabins are completely soaked on the outside, like wet cardboard. Surprisingly, it kept her warm and dry last night. It certainly had nothing to do with the comfy bed.
She arrives at the visitor center, late. Inside are Cage, Michelle, some random Trainers and a couple of the hollering hooligans from last night. Cage looks shocked to see her. She’s equally shocked to see him, but happy as a croquet ball going through a wicket.
He is wearing the same dark green hooded coat and well worn jeans. “Well, well. Just in time.”
“The alarm didn’t go off,” she says, looking sternly at him. Gosh, he really needs a trim and a shave. It looks even thicker than before.
“Such a shame.”
She rolls her eyes. “Why are you still here?”
“Mama bird wouldn’t let me leave the nest.”
Michelle, dressed in a rose red robe, smacks his head. “Behave yourself.”
“Yea yea.” Cage sees the razor scooter April still carries. “You know, if it rained any harder, you might be able to surf with that thing down the mountain.”
“Don’t be silly. Being here wasn’t part of my plan.”
“Of course not. Nothing we plan ever happens the way we want it.” He walks to the door, taking a final look at the place he’d been living at for weeks. He looks at Michelle in particular. “Thanks for the hospitality. You’ve been a gracious host and I enjoyed my time here. I especially look forward to the next time, if you’ll allow me.”
“Great. Maybe you can burned down two cabins.” She gives a good laugh.
Cage smiles, “You’ll never let that go, will you?”
“Not a chance. Take care of yourself out there. Don’t forget who you are and be proud of what you do. You’ll find what you’re looking for. You too, missy.”
“Thank you,” April adds. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hey Cage,” one of the random Trainers calls out. “See you in the tournament. Can’t wait to battle.”
“Yea, you too. Come on, let’s go.”
Before April follows out the door, the guy from the bar last night, Rich, stumbles toward her. Is he still drunk? “Ahh, d-don’t go. Gimme a hug. Just... a hug. A-A long, sensual.... hug.”
Rather than turn around and walk away, April wants to have some fun with him. She drops her stuff. In a girlish tone, “Big man wanna hug?” He nods furiously, opening his arms. She opens her arms and gives the man a hug just before she sends a knee to his privates. He moans, still holding his arms extended. She lets go, grabbing his shirt, bringing him to her level. She whispers into his ear, “Satisfied?” She pushes him back and walks out like she owns the place.
It’s like his masculinity was stripped away by a girl half his age. The other older guys rage and holler, dogging the poor guy for his attempt. What’s that internet term.... oh yea, owned. His voice raises high pitched like a chipmunk, barely able to squeak a word “Callme!”
Michelle only smiles. “She’s gonna do just fine.”