Mary, Meet Arcanine

Chapter 1 - "You can talk?!"

My name is Mary Mackle.

I'm fifteen years old when this story happened, and I would have been starting the tenth grade, except for the fact that I was not going back to high school, because high school was for the average and the uninteresting, and I was meant for more.

Two things happened this year.

First, my mother died in a car crash back in January.

Then, at the start of July, I came home from running errands in town and found an Arcanine lying on our living room rug.

The screen door slammed behind me when I came home, that day. I had been running errands. Teenagers do that. Normal activities on a normal day.

The first abnormal thing I heard was the breathing.

Then there was the smell of must and hair. It wasn't like my brother, and by that I mean it wasn't boy must-and-hair.

Then I saw the beast sprawled on the floor, either lying in wait for its prey, or doing the greatest Snorlax impersonation I had ever seen.

I put the groceries away slowly.

I shouldn't have been afraid of an Arcanine. I was around Pokemon all the time. Pokemon were our family's business.

See, we Mackles are Pokemon Breeders.

I finished putting everything away, and then I went into the living room, brave as brave could be, and stared it down.

The Arcanine was the size of our entire sofa. The crimson and white fur moved in time with our fan, all the way in the corner. Same went for its deep breathing. The Arcanine's deep orange eyes regarded me the way I might regard a moth in my room at night.

My glasses were getting sweat patches on the bridge of my nose, and a few pieces of hair had come loose from my braids and were tickling my forehead. I did not adjust them.

Step one: establish that you are unafraid. So far, so good.

Step two: use your voice.

"Hello," I said, careful not to choke. "It's hot today, isn't it?"

The Arcanine blinked slowly. Either the heat was exhausting, or I was exhausting.

Step three: introduce yourself.

"My name is Mary. Mary Mackle."

The Arcanine was watching me, now.

"What's your name?"

It rolled around to its stomach, which was no easy feat. It left the rug covered in white and orange fur.

Usually, when I ask for a Pokemon's name, it tells me. Pokemon don't understand English the way you and I do, but they understand general questions. It's strange. I don't know how it works, only that it works. If Lincoln asks a Pokemon to say its name, it does it. Same for Dad.

"I asked you a question," I said as sweetly as I could. "What's your name?"

The Arcanine stood on its hind legs. It was bigger than I thought. It came up to my eye level and stayed there.

It was like I was looking into the proud eyes of a regal king, I swear.

The back door opened and closed, and then Dad was in the hallway.

"Mary's home!" Dad said. He ran his calloused hands through the thick black hair on his head. It was the only part of him that wasn't wrinkled and fifty-year-old-man-ish. He was in his work apron.

Dad moved between us—me and the Arcanine—the way a kid on the playground would move around a recess fight.

"Good form," Dad said in his Professor Dad voice. "I would advise breathing more next time. Maybe don't stand like a gargoyle. And what's with your face? It's all scrunched up. If Arcanine here were, I don't know, drunk or something, he'd try to clock you."

"How do you know that?"

"If I were drunk, I would." A grin. My father, everybody.

Dad patted the warhound in our living room on its fluffy head. He fished a beer out of the fridge door.

"Dad, I have a question."

"I have an answer, Mary."

"Why is there a…"

The Arcanine tilted its head down. It was examining me.

"Why is there an Arcanine in our house?'

Dad took a gulp from the can and breathed a relieved sigh, straight from a beer commercial. "Who?" Then: "Oh, the dog. Yeah, I have no idea."

"Really."

"Lincoln said one of your school friends dropped it off. Something about it being a stray? I don't know, I wasn't here when it happened. I just figured it could stay in the garage until we give it a home."

He said it like we had found someone's suitcase.

I jabbed a finger at our new couch-surfer. "Dad, we can't foster a fully-evolved Pokemon. I don't think that's even legal."

It was. I was being dramatic.

"You're being dramatic," Dad said. To the couch-surfer: "My daughter is being rude. Arcanine, this is Mary. Mary, meet Arcanine."

"We're already acquainted," I said grudgingly.

"Linc is in the back," Dad said. He went through the pantry and found the bag of potato chips. Clearly, the workday had ended. "There's a Wonder Trade shipment coming through. Help him with it?"

My hand dropped.

I became very aware of the heavy breathing on my shoulder.

"Arcanine won't bite. He's a chill fella, aren't you, Arcanine?"

Says my father to the Pokemon that had been in our home for all of two, three hours, tops.

Dad sat at the sofa and fished the remote out of the cushions. I got out of the way, and the TV flipped on to some reality show with allegedly real housewives, or something. It caught Arcanine's attention, and he went back to lying around like he owned the place.

I wiped the sweat and hair from my face. Arcanine did not attack me or challenge me for dominance.

Maybe we could get along, I thought.

I found Lincoln where Dad said he would be. We live quite a ways out: when you get to the midway point between Mauville City and Lavaridge Town, take an immediate right and deliberately get yourself lost, and you'll probably find our home. Having a garage larger than your home might seem strange to normal people.

If the Arcanine in the living room didn't tip you off, though…

"Hey," Lincoln said when he heard the door open and my footsteps come inside, and I responded with a loud "Hoooooooooy," because that's what I say.

Now, our garage isn't really a garage. It's more of a studio: we have a smaller room that's got trading machines for when we get new Pokemon from distributors to raise or train, another room for healing equipment and food, and then the rest of it is for our in-house gym.

Lincoln stood at the far end, and I didn't catch what Pokemon zipped back into his outstretched Pokeball. He flipped the ball in his hand, and on the other side of the arena, Harry—Lincoln's Hariyama—put its gargantuan hands on its Olympian hips, proud of its work.

Lincoln's hazel eyes found me, and he smiled. He always did. I think that's what got him the job.

"How's life outside?" He asked me.

Lincoln's not much older than me—seventeen to my fifteen—but the way his voice dropped over the summer, you'd think he was ancient. Relatively. Like, twenty-five.

"I've been running drills in here all day with Harry," he said. He sniffed his bicep. "Might want to breathe through your mouth."

I went up to the arena and rested my arms on the low wall surrounding it. "Dad said I'm supposed to help you with a new shipment?" And casually: "There's also something about a man-sized killer beast in our living room..?"

"Oh!" Lincoln was always saying that. You could see the exclamation mark go off over his head. "Christy brought that over."

Christy Wallach was a girl from my would-have-been-high-school.

"She was with some friends. I tried to be polite."

She joined up with Team Aqua in seventh grade. Apparently they scout early.

"It was either we take the Arcanine, though, or her people would get rid of it. I didn't want to argue with them, Mary. You know what they're like."

Some kid named Brendan beat both Team Aqua and Team Magma back in February. It was all over the news. Team Magma broke up right away, but the Aquas splintered off. The groups that remained were self-driven, and pretty mean.

"My brother," I started. "Kurt wasn't with them, was he?"

Lincoln laughed. "I think it would have been a different conversation if he were, Mare-bear."

Lincoln calls me that. He had called me that for a while, now. I don't stop him, and I didn't stop him then.

Linc jumped over the low wall, and he waved me to follow him into the Wonder Trade room. There was a nice crate of fresh Pokeballs, from all over the world, to be sorted.

"Pull up a chair," Linc said. He sat on the workbench and handed me a handheld scanner. He picked up his own, and I watched him the first time to remember how to use it. Press the button to start a red light, point the light into the Pokeball lock, print the label the scanner makes, put it on the ball. You'd think this could be automated.

Twenty minutes in, and I'm popping my lips and bobbing my head. "Boring," I said.

"Pretty much." Linc put a label on a Great Ball and tossed it into our 'done' crate. "But I prefer the company."

That smile, again. I grinned back.

Lincoln coming to live with us could have been its own event, up there with the big two I listed at the start of this book. But the way I see it, he only came to live with us because of Mom, and Mom happened for no damn good reason, so there it is.

It was a few months after it, and a couple weeks after the funeral. Dad was behind in his shipments. We had just landed the Pokemon Stadium organization as a contractor, and we were getting a ton of Pokeballs sent by the day. Mackle Farms was to open each Pokeball, go through one test fight to make sure the Pokemon inside was healthy, and send it back with a health diagnosis. With Mom and Kurt, it would have been easy.

With neither of them, me initiating Operation: Drop Out, and Dad facing one of those midlife crisis things, it looked like we were going to have our contract dropped.

I came home one day from eighth-and-last grade, and Lincoln was sitting at the dining room table.

It was weird, since Lincoln's family lived all the way in Rustboro City, on the coast. (I knew this because we went to the same grade school, and he moved when he graduated to middle school.)

It was even weirder, because I had a crush on Lincoln the size of Rayquaza, and everyone knew it, including him. In third grade, I followed him around enough that his friends thought I was trying to steal his things. That's how our parents met: Dad promising Lincoln's mother that I was not creepy.

Usually, when strange girls stalk boys, the boys make quick getaways of some kind.

Lincoln wasn't going to college, and he needed a job. His mother wasn't happy with the decision. He wanted to be a Pokemon Breeder, and there aren't many good programs on this side of Hoenn.

So, Dad brought him on as an assistant. He moved into the loft above the main garage area.

Lincoln and his stupid smiling and his hazel eyes and his boy muscles and stupid blond cowlick-y hair had been living with us for four months now.

Every moment was exactly like this:

Linc: "That's the fifth Meowth in this batch. Is this Pokemon Stadium or Lonely Cat Ladies Incorporated?"

Me: "Huh."

World around us: (Mildly-companionable silence.)

Lincoln was dating Christy. Christy, who was popular enough to be in Team Aqua—even though they're complete tools—and was older and prettier and her boobs are perky and all of that, and she even drops off random Arcanines during the day.

The best I could do was a pathetic 'huh'.

If I could drop out of liking Lincoln too, I probably would have.

Lincoln and I got through the scanning-and-labeling, and afterwards, it was time to come inside for dinner. Dad was a lousy chef, and Drunk Dad was a fire hazard, but Mildly-Tipsy Dad knew how to make a mean lasagna.

The table was already set when we came inside. "Wash your hands," Dad said, as if the hulking fire dog taking up all of the space and making the house smell like animal wasn't strange at all.

Midway into our meal, Arcanine decided to come up to the edge of our dinner table and sniff at the edge. He had as much stealth as a ninja with two left feet. I held my plate up high above my head and tried eating that way.

Dad nuzzled up to it, but Lincoln objected, to the tune of "Mister Mackle, it's getting hair in my food."

Dad snapped to attention. "Arcanine, you are committing treason by sabotaging my lasagna." He pointed to the living room. "Go on your bed!"

I said that Arcanine wasn't our pet. He didn't have a bed.

This puzzled Dad. To Arcanine: "Go away…? Please?"

We ultimately had to give Arcanine its own plate of lasagna, and I didn't know what was more bizarre: a Pokemon enjoying human food more than we did, or how this was the first time we had had four place settings since January.

I didn't mention it. But I spent the meal beaming like an idiot.

This was all set-up. So you know.

The Arcanine was the start of the story, but the start-start happened at two in the morning, when the front door opened and closed, and I heard the footsteps coming up the stairs, and saw the light flick on in the room across the hall.

Something fell over, and a boy chuckled at it, and another voice told him to be quiet.

My brother's.

I shot out of bed and went to my door.

I proceeded to stare at the closed door for the entire time Kurt was under our roof.

I hadn't seen him since school ended. He came home whenever he knew Dad and I wouldn't be, and he really stayed away from Lincoln. Linc didn't resent working for us in any way, but he did mention that someone could help out but was choosing not to.

I heard something unzip, and the sound of clothes flying. Kurt was unpacking and packing.

One of Kurt's idiot friends: "There's something sleeping downstairs, bro."

Kurt: "This is a Pokemon farm. It's probably harmless." My dad's genes at work.

The light switched off. One set of feet went down the stairs and opened the door. The other quietly shut the bedroom door, and lingered in the hallway.

I visualized myself opening the door in Kurt's face, injuring him just enough to make him stay home.

The moment passed. Kurt was down the stairs and out the door. I listened for an engine to start, and then for four wheels to steal my brother away into the night.

The sound never came. There was idiot-boy-cackle further down the road. They were walking, then.

I don't know what came over me. One moment, I was standing at the door of my bedroom, wearing my oversized Invader Zim pajama shirt. The next, I was wearing pajama bottoms and one of Lincoln's sweaters—he willingly gave this one to me—and heading out the door in my sneakers.

Kurt's friend brought a bike. Out in the country like this, once you get away from our house, you can't see your hand in front of your face. It's the stars above you, the corn stalks for miles and miles, then plains, and then nothing. So the red light on the back of Kurt's bike was a godsend.

It took me all of twenty minutes to recognize that there were six feet moving around me, and I only had two. I turned around, but I didn't stop walking.

"Go home," I huffed at the Arcanine, even though it probably didn't think of Mackle Farms as 'home' and couldn't get back if it tried.

If my own brother didn't think of our home as his, why would Arcanine?

"Be quiet, then," I hushed. I put a finger to my lips. The Arcanine nodded. (I somehow did not think that was strange.)

We followed the road up to the one and only fork, and since the corn stalks were long over, I was able to follow the bike light down the right turn. It was another ten minutes of careful staying-just-enough-behind-to-not-be-seen, and finally, with the outline of Slateport's docks coming up on the violet night horizon, I saw Kurt's friends.

Team Aqua was never a smart bunch. I knew this because they wore bandanas and shirts, but specialized with water and ice Pokemon. If I were permanently freezing, I would look as angry as Aqua members do, too.

I recognized a few of the kids from school. Park Hinton, Who Sat In Front Of Me And Never Shaved His Neck Hair was there in the crowd; Neil "Spitball" Kidd hovered on the edge of the group, hands in his pockets, probably looking for a wad of something to ball up.

A light from far down the road, and after a moment, I could hear the engine. The single light meant a motorcycle; I lay on the road and peeked up over the tall grass. Arcanine did the same.

The motorcycle seemed to take forever to pull up to the group. The driver cut the engine but left the front headlight on. He climbed off of the seat, and I could tell right away that this was a grown man. Not older high school, and not even college. He wore a leather jacket with the sleeves cut off, his jeans were shiny and probably real leather, and I couldn't see his face, but the scraggly beard was scary in itself. What was he, a pirate?

The crowd gathered toward him. The man was smart enough to keep his voice down, because even though nobody was out this far in the country, voices still carried. He said a quick spiel—I didn't catch any words, but there was a quick groan from everyone listening, and it was silenced super-fast—and then he was back on the bike. He drove off the way he came, and the Aqua members followed. Those who had bikes or skateboards used them. I couldn't tell which was my brother anymore. They all wore bandanas, and I was an idiot for not following closer and seeing what Kurt looked like with it on.

I was an idiot for coming all the way out here. Dad would kill me. Lincoln wouldn't blame him, either.

…Was I an idiot for thinking I could do something?

…Like what, Mary?

Really, what could you have done?

You could have stood up and told Mister Pirate Aqua Man, "Kick my brother out of your gang, because he has chores to do at home!" That would have gone over great.

I climbed up to my haunches and stood up, and fanned my arms. Arcanine got up on his feet, too.

"This was a mistake," I told nobody, although I knew Arcanine was listening anyway. "Let's get home. God, what time is it?"

I rubbed sleep from my eyes and started back the way we came.

I took two steps.

I stopped, wheeled right around, and even though Team Aqua was gone, I shouted the way I should have when they were here. A guttural wail, the kind of thing characters in myths write about, and the top of my windpipe hurt, and my jaw was sore, but once I was done, I felt that much better.

Sometimes, you just need to scream.

We got home easily enough. I had half a mind to sleep in the scrub. Kurt would regret coming home, because if he hadn't then I would never have gone after him, and everything would be his fault, and he would come home.

…Except then he would probably hate being home, anyway.

…And the fact that I might end up dead in the morning. Wild Pokemon live in tall grass, don'cha know.

I opened and closed the door as quietly as I could. The knob slipped out of my hands at the last minute and the door gave a very audible 'click' as the jamb hit home. I counted to five—long enough for Dad to stir—and when he didn't, I started for the stairs.

The stairs sank under me. I knew I could stand to drop ten pounds, like everybody else in the world, but was I that..?

No, of course not. That stupid Arcanine was following me.

"Get on your bed," I said. But: "You don't have a bed. You don't even live here." I rubbed my eyes again, but it wasn't keeping me awake. If I stayed here and fought Arcanine, I risked falling asleep where I stood. Dad would love to find that in the morning.

"You're coming with me, I guess."

We got to my bedroom, and I shut the door behind me. I switched out of my trekking outfit and lay in bed, and the mattress was a cloud from heaven. Arcanine spread his body along my hardwood floor.

"Hold on," I groaned. I sat up and spread a throw blanket. Arcanine lay back down, and if he was any more thankful, I couldn't tell.

I went back to bed. I blinked once, and then I was out.

A knock at the door. Followed by a sad attempt at that rooster call thing.

"Rise and shine!" Dad bellowed. "Time to start another day!" Knuckles rapping the wall as he went down the stairs. "There are chores to be done!"

I rolled over and pushed my pillow over my head.

Lincoln was already in the kitchen. Dad was being his normal loud morning person self: "Thanks for cooking, Linc." Then: "Where's our guest? I hope he didn't run out, or anything."

Our guest. That was sweet of my dad to say.

I sat up, with difficulty.

"Morning is the balls," I said, and then it was, "My brother is the balls."

Speaking of.

Dad, calling up the stairs: "Mary? Is the Arcanine up there with you? There aren't supposed to be Pokemon in the bedrooms."

Arcanine was not in my room. No, siree bob.

Lying on my throw blanket was a buck-naked boy.

It wasn't just any boy, either. This one was a looker. Wavy mahogany-brown hair, wide eyes closed, full lips breathing with a totally-normal-and-not-beastlike-in-any-way cadence, and—

Dad: "Mary?!"

He was startled because my eyes dropped a bit too far, and I shrieked like someone were stabbing me.

"I'm fine," I said through the door. "Don't come in! Not wearing anything!" Technically not a lie. I was clothed.

Linc, from downstairs: "Does the Mare-bear want waffles? I made her favorite."

"Yes!" I hollered. I tried stepping off of the bed, but…what the hell?

Why was there a naked boy on my floor?

What the hell?!

I shut my eyes and held my hand over my face, to be on the safe side. My other hand fumbled for my duvet, and I threw it on the floor, hoping it hit the parts of him that I needed it to. I steeled myself and opened my eyes again. The comforter hit the boy in the middle of his body, so his torso and…other things were mercifully covered up.

The impact had stirred him. The boy pushed himself to sitting. He had wide hands, like Lincoln. He yawned into one and brushed the back of his head with the other, also like Lincoln.

Next, he opened his eyes, and if the shade of baby blue in them was too beautiful to be human, this proved it—

"Morning, Mary," he said. His own voice surprised him. He sat straight up, a cartoon character with his hand in a power socket, and he watched me with the same stunned expression I gave him.

Him: "I'm not…I switched again, didn't I?"

Me: "I…You…You can talk?!"

Because clearly, that was the strange part about my morning. By far.


It's great to be back.

Leave a review if you like, and thanks always for reading.

If you're interested in what Mary's adventure has in store, please follow along! It'll be a blast.