Grounded

You might as well just call me Noctowl; after all, everyone else does. As a young Hoothoot, I lived wild and carefree with no need to worry about when I would acquire my next Attack - wild Pokemon rarely need to know anything beyond the basics anyway and usually learn just enough to be able to defend their territory. But, when you're a wild Pokemon, you never know when some human is going to catch you and add you to his or her collection . . .

For me, it happened one evening in late spring. I was sitting on a fencepost watching the world go by when I heard the excited voice of a human child coming from nearby.

"Wow! A Hoothoot!" I looked round and saw a boy of about ten or eleven standing only a few feet away, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. Judging by the backpack that lay on the ground nearby, I knew this boy had to be a Pokemon trainer - and that suspicion was confirmed when, moments later, he pulled out a Poke Ball and sent it spinning through the air. As the Ball burst open with a flash of light, the shape of the Pokemon housed within became clear. A Totodile stood before me, looking for all the world like he was ready for a good scrap.

"Totodile - Water Gun!" I heard the boy commanding.

In response, the Totodile sent a powerful jet of water in my direction, doubtless with the intention of knocking me off my perch. But, rather than give the little squirt the satisfaction, I flew off at the last minute and countered with a swift Tackle Attack . . .

To cut a long story short, the Totodile kept coming at me no matter what moves I used against him - even an attempt to use Hypnosis failed because the trainer told his Totodile to keep his eyes shut. Presently, I began to falter and was only dimly aware that the boy had changed tack and was pulling something out of his backpack. Before I had chance to react, he threw something in my direction . . .

"Poke Ball - go!" I heard him shout. Next moment, I felt a strange sensation as if I was being miniturised somehow and felt myself being drawn inexorably into the Ball's core. I felt the walls of my spherical prison vibrating and felt sure there must be some way to break out - but I was too exhausted from the battle against the Totodile and could only wait as the Ball pinged shut, sealing me within.

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The boy, it turned out, was called Andrew and he had begun his Pokemon Journey only the previous week. The Totodile was his starter Pokemon, but he also had a Growlithe, a Phanpy and a Pikachu and I soon made friends with them as we travelled from Gym to Gym, helping Andrew to win matches against the Gym Leaders and pick up Badges along the way. Before I knew it a year had passed, during which I experienced many changes. Not least of these was my evolution from Hoothoot to Noctowl . . .

It happening just after a gruelling battle against a girl and her Teddiursa, whom Andrew encountered as we travelled along the Ecruteak to Mahogany road. It had been a closely fought battle - the Teddiursa was wearing an Everstone on a chain round his neck, presumably because his trainer didn't want him to evolve into Ursaring - but my Swift Attack had finally decided things. Then, just as Andrew was about to recall me, I suddenly felt strange, as if I was growing rapidly and my body was changing shape . . .

Describing how it feels to go through the process of evolution is not easy, so I won't go into details. But I will tell you that it is a relatively painless process, although it can come as a shock if it happens without warning - as Andrew's Pikachu (the only female Pokemon in his party) told me. She had been a wild Pichu playing in the forest when she suddenly felt the changes that heralded her evolution into Pikachu, a sensation that her body was getting stretched, that she was becoming bigger and stronger.

So, anyway, I evolved, the second of Andrew's Pokemon to do so - his Totodile had evolved into a Croconaw some weeks earlier. In time, Phanpy would become a Donphan and, once Andrew had acquired a Fire and a Thunder Stone, Growlithe and Pikachu would be able to evolve as well.

Before I knew it, Andrew had earned all the Johto League Badges - the battle against the Dragon Pokemon of Blackthorn City was especially difficult - and we were preparing to compete in the Johto League Championships.

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But, in my first League battle, something happened that would change my life forever . . .

Andrew was facing a girl named Isabella, who came from one of the Orange Islands (I can't remember which one) and seemed to specialise in teaching her Pokemon Electric Type moves even if they weren't actually Electric Types. I was in my Poke Ball for most of the match, but it finally came down to a tie-breaker: me, a Noctowl, versus Isabella's Clefable. When I first emerged from my Poke Ball and saw the dainty fairy-like Pokemon standing opposite me, I thought the match was over - after all, Clefables do have a reputation for being excessively gentle.

"OK, Clefable!" I heard Isabella calling. She had short auburn hair and wore denim cut-offs and a red t-shirt with the word COOL emblazoned on the front. "Start things off with your Double Slap!"

"Noctowl - Fly and ambush!" countered Andrew as Clefable ran at me and started slapping at me, first with one hand, then with the other. Before she could do too much damage, I soared up to the roof of the stadium and hovered above the heads of the watching crowd as Andrew waited to give me my next orders.

But Isabella thought a fraction of a second faster. "Clefable - Double Team!" I heard her order. And, before I had time to react, the whole stadium was full of Clefables - or at least that was the way it appeared. Double Team, I heard Andrew explaining while teaching his Growlithe that move, was a useful little trick which enabled Pokemon to create doubles of themselves and thereby increase their ability to evade attack.

"Don't let 'em fool you, Noctowl!" Andrew called. "The real Clefable's here somewhere and you have to find it! Try a Confusion Attack!"

Bracing myself, I concentrated all my energies in sending out a wave of mental energy that had the potential to confuse any Pokemon it hit. I was so absorbed in preparing for my assault that I was totally unprepared for the jolting sensation that I felt seconds later as a powerful bolt of electricity zapped through my body courtesy of a Thunder Attack from Isabella's Clefable. I'd been on the receiving end of Electric Attacks before, but it had never been as bad as this. I felt as though my insides were being rearranged as I plummeted towards the ground . . .

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I had landed awkwardly and my left wing seemed to be injured, but I could hear Andrew's voice calling to me, asking if I was able to continue. I tried to hoot a reply, tried to stagger to my feet, but my wing trailed uselessly on the ground and I soon passed out from the pain.

Dimly, as Andrew called me back into my Poke Ball with a shout of "Noctowl - return!", I heard the judges awarding Isabella the victory . . .

I woke up in a building I'd been in many times since Andrew caught me, a Pokemon Centre. I felt rather groggy - probably from the effects of some sort of anaestethic - but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing, that something I'd had all my life had been taken away. I also felt strangely lop-sided.

At length, a Chansey wearing a nurse's cap waddled in to check on me and I took the opportunity to ask her what was going on here. "What's going on, Chansey?" I hooted as she hurried over and tried to get me to lie down.

"Don't try to talk," she warned. "You were hit by a Thunder Attack and your trainer brought you in - he's waiting outside."

As the Chansey spoke, I remembered the battle against Isabella's Clefable and how the latter had felled me with her Thunder Attack. That at least made sense; Flying Pokemon have long had a weakness against Electric Attacks, probably because we have such light bones, making it easier for a current to pass through our bodies. But that did not explain the feeling I had that something was missing . . .

"How much damage was there?" I asked. And, when I looked into that Chansey's sorrowful eyes, I knew it was bad news, that I must have suffered a serious injury when I fell. I recalled hearing my wing snap as I landed, feeling a shooting pain that caused me to collapse - my wing no longer hurt me, but nor did it feel even remotely like a wing.

"From the Thunder, nothing worse than we'd expect for a Flying Pokemon," Chansey informed me. "But," she hurried on before I could exhale a sigh of relief, "your wing was badly broken when you fell. Nurse Joy tried everything she could, but there was no way it could be saved. I'm really sorry . . ."

"What do you mean?" I demanded, feeling a strong sense of forboding at the Chansey's news.

"We had to amputate your wing to keep it from trailing uselessly for the rest of your life - there was no other way," the Chansey informed me. She carried on talking, but I wasn't really listening. All I could think was that my life was now worthless; with only one wing, I would never fly again and what use was a Flying Pokemon who couldn't fly?

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I couldn't bear to look at the bandaged stump of my wing for more than a moment and spent the next few days sitting on a perch refusing to speak to anyone. Andrew had been in to see me and said he didn't mind if I couldn't fly again; I was his Pokemon and he would stick by me no matter what. But his looks of understanding forgiveness only made me feel worse, knowing that the rest of his Pokemon would continue to develop and hone the skills required of them. I, on the other hand, had lost the thing that defined what I was. I had lost the gift of flight. I would never soar through the skies again . . .

Sometimes, the thought would depress me so much that I refused to do anything except sit hunched up looking sorry for myself. Nurse Joy noticed this and grew concerned enough to call Andrew into the Pokemon Centre . . .

When Andrew walked in, I perked up slightly at the sight of my trainer and allowed him to scratch my head the way I liked. For a moment, it felt like old times, as if his was congratulating me after I'd won a hard-fought battle. But surely my battling days were over now that I was - I hated to use the word - a cripple, a worthless waste of a Poke Ball.

At that point, Nurse Joy walked over to us and began to explain the situation to Andrew. "Frankly, we're getting worried about your Noctowl's lack of progress," she said, her normally cheerful face dark with worry. "It's been over a month and there's been no sign of improvement psychologically . . ."

"Can anything be done?" Andrew asked. I couldn't help noticing that his voice caught slightly as he spoke and this reassured me that he still wanted me even though I only had one wing.

"We've done all we can with its physical injuries - it's helping it overcome the trauma of losing a wing that's going to be difficult," Nurse Joy explained. "I know of a Pokemon rehabilitation centre over in Celadon City - they help Pokemon who've suffered similar injuries to your Noctowl . . ."

For a moment, Andrew brightened and so did I - maybe there was some hope after all. But Celadon City, I had learned on my travels with Andrew, was in Kanto and getting there could be expensive. And then there would be the cost of any treatment I might require . . . I knew Andrew's parents could never afford it on his dad's construction worker's salary.

"There won't be any charge," Nurse Joy said when Andrew voiced his concerns. "You see, the man who runs it is the uncle of the girl whose Clefable's Thunder contributed to your Noctowl's injury. Naturally, she's been feeling really bad about all this, so her uncle has agreed to treat Noctowl for free."

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Sure enough, it wasn't long before I found myself and Andrew in a large airy building overlooking Celadon Gym. The place was called Halton House after a famous nineteenth century Pokemon trainer who gave it all up to care for Pokemon who had been injured in ways that prevented them from using their usual Attacks. The aim was to train the Pokemon to make the most of those Attacks they could still manage which, in my case, meant learning to launch attacks from the ground instead of the air.

I won't pretend it was easy - many times, I was on the verge of soaring into the air, only to remember at the last moment that I only had one wing and could never hope to fly again. But that, as they emphasised constantly, did not mean I couldn't battle - I just had to work with the limitations the lack of a wing imposed on me. I also began to meet other Pokemon like me, other Pokemon who had lost the ability to perform the Attacks expected of them. One of these Pokemon was a Flaaffy named Woolikins . . .

I met her during a break period when all the Pokemon had been let out of their Poke Balls to stretch their limbs for a while. I was sitting in the far corner, feeling rather at a loss since I was the only bird Pokemon in the place, when she ambled over to me and bleated a greeting. I turned round and hooted in reply.

"Hi, yourself. What's your story?"

"Same as every Pokemon here - I can't use the Attacks I should have," she informed me with a slight laugh. "If you want to know the details, it happened just after I evolved from Mareep. I developed a rare syndrome which meant I lost control of my Electric Attacks - I'd just . . . go off for no reason. At first, Katy - that's my trainer . . ." She nodded towards a group of girls standing nearby sipping Cokes. " . . . didn't mind too much and said I was still her little Woolikins. But then I started to have more and more trouble controlling it - in the end, there was no other option . . ."

I realised Woolikins had trailed off at that point and gently pressed her to tell me what had been done to her. She heaved a deep sigh and continued her story.

"The parts of me that generate Electric Attacks were surgically removed." She turned round and showed me two faint scars on her back. "It had to be done - chances are I would have killed someone if I'd been left - but I really miss being able to Thundershock my opponents . . ."

I couldn't help but feel a pang of empathy for her. "I know," I said, patting her with my remaining wing. "I broke my wing in battle and it had to be amputated since it was beyond repair. I've been really down since it happening, thinking about how I'll never be able to fly again . . ."

"And I'll never zap my opponents again," Woolikins responded. "But we can't change what's happened to us - we've got to make the best of the abilities we do have . . ."

She paused to laugh again.

"In fact, Katy says my Dynamic Punch has been coming along nicely."