-first-

Stanley Warren sat in the aging rocking chair, watching the minutes turn into hours on his clock. It was a digital clock, and the first of its kind he had ever owned. A sad smile flickered across the elderly man's face. The clock was the first new thing he had bought since Matilda died.

The scarlet numbers gleamed in the otherwise dark house. No candles burned, no moonlight filtered in through the windows. There was only the clock, boldly proclaiming that it was fifteen minutes until midnight.

Midnight. It always came around midnight. Stanley turned a small, silver cross over in his gnarled hands. If it came again tonight, he knew what to do. He remembered what Matilda had told him about these things.

Ten 'til midnight now. Footsteps sounded from the kitchen, and Stanley took a shaky breath. If he got up to look, there would be nothing there. If he turned on a light, there would be nothing there. And in the morning, he would go to his fridge and find food missing. That was how it had been for the past three nights. The first time it had happened, he had called the police, but they had found nothing, had just written it off as the imaginings of a crazy and forgetful old man.

Five minutes. Was he crazy? Could it all be in his head-caused by stress from being alone for the first time in over fifty years?

Crash.

Stanley was startled by the sound of shattering glass. He leapt to his feet, clutching the cross tightly. Something had broken. What had broken? He laughed into the night, unable to stop himself.

Whatever it was, it was very real.

The footsteps were closer now. In the room with him. The red light cast by the clock fell over a vaguely humanoid figure, hunched over and limping. It clung to the shadows, watching Stanley warily.

...Why do you wait for me? Do you know who I am?

Stanley took a step back. It had... spoken? He swallowed and held the cross up in front of him. "...Yes. I do. You're a ghost, a restless spirit. And I'm telling you to move on! Whatever you're looking for, it's not here, so just move on to the next world!"

The figure stepped into view, and Stanley gasped. It locked gazed with him for a moment before its expression contorted into a snarl.

Not today, human.

A scream pierced the night. Lights flickered on in nearby houses as neighbors rushed to see what was happening. But when they arrived, all they found was the still body of an old man, a cross, and in the kitchen, a broken picture of a young man and his wife on their wedding day.

On the clock, the time flashed brightly: 12:00 am.

-second, third, fourth-

She hid in the forest. For two days, she hid. Hunger drove her back to the city. But she couldn't go back to the last place. They didn't suspect her yet, but that was no reason to abandon caution. She needed to make her time in this town last as long as possible. So she searched. And she found herself hiding in the foliage outside of a well-kept house, watching a little girl play in the yard.

The girl swung gently on a makeshift swingset attached to the bough of a large tree. A voice called from inside the house, and the girl rose, skipping towards the house. "Coming!" she called. On the way, she passed her hiding place. The girl glanced her way, then froze. Her eyes widened.

For a heartbeat, neither moved. Then she rose from her hiding place, and the girl felt a thought enter her mind that wasn't her own. A question.

Do you know who I am?

The girl started to shake her head, then stopped. "Are you...nice?"

Perhaps.

The sound of a growling stomach caused the girl to look at her pityingly. "You're hungry. Wait here and I'll go get-" she stopped mid-sentence as a car rolled into the driveway. "Oh. Mom and Dad are back. I have to go tell my babysitter 'bye'"

She was already backing into the forest, her eyes trained warily on the car. The girl waved at her as she retreated. "My name's Olivia! Come back tonight and I'll get you some food!"

Already out of sight, she sighed. She had no reason to believe the girl. It would not be the first time she had been lied to. Her mind said it was pointless to trust. Her stomach said otherwise.

That night, she returned to the girl's house.

Olivia was lying in her bed when she heard footsteps in her room. She sat up, rubbing her eyes, but grinned when she realized who it was. "You're back!"

They went to the kitchen, and Olivia took the cookie jar from the counter. Within minutes, most of the cookies had been eaten by the two of them.

A startled gasp made both of them look toward the doorway. A man and woman stood there, their faces pale. The man looked from his daughter to her friend. "Olivia! What are you doing? What is that?"

He began to back away. "I'm calling the-"

He never finished his sentence. All control of his limbs abandoned him and he crumpled to the floor. Then he was lifted up and flung against the wall by some invisible force. He lay there, unmoving. Olivia's mother screamed and reached for the phone on the wall, but the same force seized her and slammed her into the ground.

Olivia gave a shrill cry and ran to her parents' sides. She shook them, begging them to get up. They didn't. She turned to her "friend", her face full of tears. "You hurt them! You're not nice!"

I am. I like you, little girl. But your parents will make people come to take me away. I have to get rid of them so we can be friends.

"No!" Olivia rushed forward, arms outstretched as if to ram the beast that hurt her family. She was quickly flung away.

She closed her eyes briefly. It had been like this for so long. Going from town to town to steal food, because it was easiest. Getting caught. Killing.

Tonight would be no different.

Who was to blame for this? He was, obviously. He had made her what she was. Every time she was in a new town, she looked for him. She hadn't find him yet. And it hurt, because she desperately wanted to kill him.

It was his fault. Everything that had happened was his fault. Killing him would fix everything. Just the thought of it made her feel giddy. She could fix everything...

On the floor, the man stirred. She couldn't let him wake up. Or any of them.

But it was fine if they didn't.

Because she could fix it later.

-sixth-

The rumors spread through Blackthorn City like an epidemic. Four deaths in a week were hard to explain, and theories of murderers, ghosts, and monsters were on everyone's minds, and in every conversation. Then the information leaked that Warren had called the police three days before his death about hearing things in his home. Several of Claire's gym trainers quit out of fear, and the gym was closed until she could find replacements. A curfew was instilled on account of "dangerous wild Pokémon activity." Not a single person bought the excuse.

The news about the gym closing was the first thing Holden Taylor heard upon arriving in Blackthorn. Initially, he was disappointed. He had come through the Ice Path for nothing? Then he began to notice the rumors. And the more he heard, the more a twisted curiosity blossomed inside of him.

So he found himself stepping over the line of police tape that sanctioned off the location of the latest murder. He looked around to make sure no one was watching before skirting around the edge of the house. He didn't bother trying the door; it would be locked. There was always the chance that a window was unlocked, though.

A short search revealed what he was looking for. An open window that led to what Holden presumed had been the family's daughter's room. Pink sheets covered the bed and Pokédolls scattered the floor. Holden reached down to pick up a Meowth doll. Its button eyes stared blankly up at him. He sighed and set the doll gently on a pillow. He stepped back towards the window he had entered in. It was wrong of him to be here. There was nothing supernatural. It was just sad.

Do you know who I am?

Holden froze. That voice... he wasn't hearing it. It was more like he was sensing it. It was a feeling he recognized. Telepathy.

He turned around, his heart thudding against his chest. The creature watching him wasn't a monster, like he had heard. A Hypno. Scars crisscrossed her body, and one of her paws was held at an awkward angle against her chest. She stood hunched over, a single bright eye following Holden's movements. The other eye was milky white and stared unseeingly ahead. It was when Holden looked past the deformities that the real terror set in. A single name slipped past his lips. "Meg."

The Hypno looked like Megaera.

Holden fell to the floor, clutching his head. Memories came back unbidden: The sound of screeching metal, cries of pain, the acrid tang of blood.

If only-

If only he had been paying attention. He might have seen the train. She wouldn't have had to leap in to save him.

Megaera had saved him. Megaera was here. But she couldn't be.

Megaera was dead.

He reached up to touch the pendant he wore at his neck, the pendulum she had always carried. It was all he had left of her. Even her pokéball had been broken.

Tears filled his eyes. "Meg. How..."

He felt himself shoved to the ground before he could finish speaking. As if of its own volition, the hand holding the pendant pulled away, snapping it from his neck and tossing it across the floor. Holden's eyes widened. "What-"

I'm glad you're here, Trainer.

Megaera leaned over him, her good eye sparkling excitedly. I saw you come into town. I followed you. I didn't have to look for you! You came here!

"Meg. They told me you died. They said…" Tears spilled down Holden's cheeks now, partially because of the way Megaera was twisting her arm with her Psychic.

Scorn crossed Megaera's expression. It was dark. Apparently, the "good Samaritan" who was so concerned about getting you to the hospital didn't see me lying there. And you never came back. I had to drag myself away, into the forest. I've done bad things since then. So I've been looking for you. I can fix the things I did.

Holden squirmed in Megaera's grasp, trying to pull free. His gaze strayed to the window as he noticed the strobe of blue lights outside. The police? One of the neighbors must have seen him sneak in and called.

His attention was drawn back to Megaera as she tightened her grip on his arms. A cry of pain escaped Holden. His breaths were becoming shaky. "I don't understand what you mean. What did you do? How do you think you'll fix it? Please, stop. I'm sorry, Meg. I'm so sorry. If I had known, I would have gone back. You were my starter. I never would have left if I had known."

But you did leave.

"I almost gave up training because of what happened!" Holden's words were rushed, desperate. "I thought about it every day. I missed you!"

Do you think I-

Megaera was cut off by the sound of a door clicking open. A police officer barged into the room, his firearm drawn and aimed squarely at Megaera. Megaera turned to look at him, and her lapse in attention was enough to allow Holden to escape from her hold. Her focus was on the officer now, and he stumbled forward as his gun was jerked out of his hand and thrown onto the floor. She shoved him forcefully to the ground. No interference, please. There was a sharp crack as Megaera snapped the officer's arm. He gasped in pain before falling into unconsciousness.

Holden glanced at the gun on the floor. Hesitantly, he picked it up. "Meg."

The Hypno turned back to him. For a brief moment, alarm registered on her face. You wouldn't. You still love me, remember? You said.

"You killed those people," Holden said softly. "That's what you meant by 'bad things'. And you think hurting me will fix it, right?"

It's all your fault. If you're gone it will be better. It will be!

"No, Meg. Just no." Holden said. "I'm so sorry. I really am."

When he looked back, he would remember the next few moments as a blur. A shot, a scream, a thud. Collapsing to the ground and letting the gun fall from his hands. He already regretted the action. But her thinking had become so warped. Not like the Megaera he used to know.

He reached out to Megaera's still body, pulling her head into his lap and cradling her. Tears flowed freely as he buried his face in the ruff of fur around her neck. He had used to fantasize about finding her again.

But never like this.