It was a dark and stormy night - yes, I know that's rather a cliche, but, in this instance, it was true. The rain was coming down in torrents and forming puddles on the ground and lightning crashed in the air, lighting up the landscape for a moment, as the four of us searched for shelter. The four of us were myself, Carrie Dickens, and my three best friends, Tony, Michelle and Gavin, plus the Pokemon each of us carried with us.
Right now, all we wanted was to get under cover so we could make camp for the night. We'd hoped to reach Olivine City tonight, but it looked as though that would have to wait; the wind was so strong that it was nearly impossible to walk against and the rain was stinging our faces, making it hard to see more than a few feet in front of us. Still, I would much rather have had a decent bed for the night instead of having to struggle with the tent again - especially in this weather . . .
"Any sign of somewhere we could make camp?" I called to Tony and Gavin, who had gone on ahead.
"No!" Tony called back, brushing a strand of his dark hair out of his eyes with one hand and reaching for his Poke Balls with the other. "You want me to have Spearow fly round and have a look?"
I immediately dismissed the idea. In a storm like this, any Flying Pokemon smaller than a Pidgeotto was at risk of being blown off course and I knew how much Tony's Spearow meant to him. He was his starter Pokemon, the one he had received from his town's professor, and I knew the bond between a trainer and his or her starter could be especially strong - it was the same with me and my Chikorita.
"Maybe that's not such a good idea," I told Tony, shouting above the noise of the storm. "The storm's getting pretty bad - I don't think Spearow would stand much chance of getting through this!" To be honest, I didn't know if we were going to make it; the others all looked like drowned Rattatas with hair plastered to their heads and clothing that had been completely soaked through so I was sure I must look much the same. It was great weather for Water Pokemon but not for humans . . .
Just then, Michelle's voice called to us from nearby. "Hey!" she shouted. "You guys gotta come take a look at this!"
At the sound of her shout, Tony, Gavin and I headed in the direction it had come from, a little way off the path we had been travelling along. It was then that we saw what it was that had drawn Michelle's attention, a large and crumbling mansion with paint flaking off the walls and several wild Zubats fluttering in and out of a broken window. What with the storm and everything, it was so eerie that it bore a strong resemblence to the set of a horror film and we all shuddered at the thought of what unnamed horrors might lie within.
"Maybe a mad scientist lives there," Gavin suggested. "And he's going to capture us and use us in some evil experiment."
"No way!" Tony retorted. "It'll be a blood-sucking vampire!" I should have figured he would say something like that, largely because he's been obsessed with vampires ever since I've known him, but I really wished he and Gavin would quit making such wild speculations - especially since it looked as though we would be spending the night here. I wasn't too keen on the idea and nor, judging by the way she was clutching her Poke Balls, was Michelle, but it didn't look like we had much option.
I turned to the others. "Look, it doesn't matter what's in there," I told them. "The point is that we need somewhere to shelter from the storm and this seems to be the only building within reach . . ."
"So you're saying we're going spend the night there?" asked Michelle, flicking back one of her blonde pigtails as she spoke.
"If we have to, yes," I replied. "But let's at least get out of this storm . . ."
The door creaked on its rusty hinges as we pushed it open, sounding as though it was complaining to itself about being disturbed after a long and pleasent sleep. It was dark inside, so dark that I could hardly make out the silouettes of the others, and there was a gloomy air about the place as if some unspeakable horror had occured within these walls. Maybe whatever that was had been the reason this house had stood abandoned for however long it had been, I speculated as I steeled myself and stepped over the threshold. But, when you were miles from the nearest town, you could hardly afford to be picky about where you spent the night . . .
I could feel a light switch on the wall and flicked it in the hope of giving ourselves some light. But nothing happened - the chandelier whose outline was visible on the ceiling continue to hang there unilluminated. "The electric's off," I told the others as they crowded close to me in the darkness. "Do any of you have a torch in your packs? Something we can use for light?"
"I do," said Gavin, rummaging in his backpack and pulling a small battery-powered torch out of one of the many pockets the pack contained. He flicked it on and held it in front of him so that the beam lit up part of the room and we could see at least some of our surroundings. These appeared to consist of an old parlour of the sort once found in relatively wealthy households. A large fireplace and mantelpiece dominated the wall immediately in front of us, the chairs were made of red velvet with high backs and craved wooden armrests and an Arcanine stood tall and proud in the corner. But there was something odd about it - it hadn't moved a muscle and, when we got closer, we immediately saw why . . .
"It's stuffed," said Gavin as he shone his torch on the Arcanine and revealed its glassy lifeless eyes. Beside me, Michelle shuddered at the sight of the Pokemon frozen into a position that made it look as though it would come to life at any moment, but I was quick to try and reassure her.
"It won't hurt you," I told her. "It's just a dead Arcanine and dead things can't do you any harm . . ."
"Well, why didn't its trainer bury it?" Michelle demanded, keeping a wary distance from the Arcanine. I couldn't say I blamed her; after all, who in their right minds would want to come within touching distance of such a thing? But I also had an idea what the unknown trainer's motives had been . . .
"I expect whoever its trainer was couldn't bear to be parted from it," I suggested. "All the same, I don't think we'll be spending the night here. Let's go look upstairs . . ."
Gavin held his torch in front of him as he led the way up the creaky old stairs, which squeaked loudly as we stepped on them. None of had any idea what we would find in the upstairs rooms, but I hoped there would be some useable beds. Not only that, I thought to myself, there had better not be any unpleasent surprises lurking round the corner. But, if I knew anything about abandoned mansions . . .
I was distracted from my thoughts by Michelle grabbing me by the shoulder and whipped round with the intention of scolding her for startling me. But the words died on my lips when I saw the terrified expression on her face.
"Carrie," she whispered nervously, "did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" I asked, cupping my hand round my ear. "I don't hear anything."
"That sound - kind of like laughter . . ." I strained to listen, but I still couldn't hear so much as a whisper. It looked to me as though Michelle's imagination was starting to get the better of her again, not that such a thing was unusual; she'd been like that for as long as I could remember. All the same, it might be best not to take chances.
"All right," I said as I pulled out Chikorita's Poke Ball and pressed the button to activate it. "If it'll make you feel better, we'll each let out one of our Pokemon and they can keep watch for trouble." As I spoke, Chikorita emerged from her Ball in a flash of light and stood beside me protectively. "Tony, Gavin," I said to the two boys, "pick one of your Pokemon to let out of their Balls . . ."
In reply, Tony released his Spearow and Gavin pulled out the Poke Ball that contained his Ariados, both of them loyal Pokemon who would do anything to protect their respective trainers. Last of all, Michelle picked out one of her Poke Balls and, with the words "Azumarill - go", sent out her blue rabbit-like Water Pokemon. Chikorita, Spearow, Ariados and Azumarill - four Pokemon assembled beside us, all of them alert for the slightest hint of trouble. We could only hope that they would be enough for whatever was lurking here; this was exactly the sort of place where Ghost Pokemon liked to hang out . . .
As if even thinking about Ghost Pokemon had tempted fate, the sound of mocking laughter issued forth again - and, this time, we all heard it. "Haunt haunt haunt," came the eerie whispering laugh of a Ghost Pokemon from somewhere nearby, although none of us could tell where. That was the problem with Ghost Types - they were notoriously tricky to spot and were inclined to play mischievious tricks on unwary trainers.
The sound clearly spooked Chikorita - whose memories of a hard won battle against Morty must still have been fresh in her mind - because, the next thing I knew, she had retreated to the safety of her Poke Ball. And the other Pokemon seemed rather nervy as well - Spearow was squawking threateningly, Ariados was bracing himself to launch into his Spider Web Attack and Azumarill was clinging to Michelle's legs. Then, they emerged - a small colony of Haunters, dark purple Ghosts with a reputation for trickery. I wished fervently that one of us had a Dark Type, but none of us did . . .
"What are they doing?" whispered Michelle as she tried to prise Azumarill's paws from around her legs.
"I don't know," Gavin replied. "But they seem to be . . ."
Before he could finish speaking, the Haunters converged and sent a blast of shadowy energy in Gavin's direction. I immediately recognised it as a Nightshade - Morty had used the same move against my Pokemon when I was battling him - but I also knew there was no way a human could withstand that amount of punishment and walk away unscathed. Sure enough, the Nightshade caught Gavin full in the chest and sent him careering into the far wall where he lay in a crumpled heap.
"Gavin!" yelled Tony as, heedless of the fact he was outnumbered by about ten to one, he rushed headlong into the midst of the Ghost Types with his Spearow flying close behind. What happened next occurred so fast that none of us had time to react - one of the Haunters seized Tony with its hands and pulled him towards its spiteful-looking head. Then, the Haunter's tongue slid out and licked Tony full in the face . . .
Instantly, Tony fell to the floor and lay trembling. At the sight of this, Michelle and I knew we were in serious trouble; something I'd once seen in my Pokedex had sprung to mind the instant I saw the Haunter use its Lick Attack on my friend:
Its tongue is made of gas. If licked, the victim starts shaking continously until death eventually comes
Not if I could help it, I thought as I hurried to Tony's side and helped him to his feet. He was still conscious, but I wasn't sure how much time we had to get him away from those Haunters before they did any more damage. "Michelle!" I called as, with Tony leaning on me heavily, I made to get out of there. "Michelle, come and help me!"
She left Gavin, who was starting to come around, and hurried over to Tony and I. "What happened?" she asked anxiously.
"A Haunter used its Lick Attack," I explained briefly. "So we'd better get him out of here . . ."
We went into what had, judging by the four-poster bed draped with shabby red velvet, been the master bedroom. Michelle and I helped Tony to lie down on the bed and Gavin barricaded the door with a chair as we wondered what to do next. That Pokedex entry about a Haunter's lick being potentially fatal echoed in my mind; until now, I had thought it was some old superstition, but this was making me wonder if there might be more to it than that.
"Is there anything we can do?" Michelle asked anxiously as she glanced at Tony, who was now huddled in a blanket.
"We can call for help," I replied as I pulled out my Pokegear and used its autodial feature to select the number for the Pokemon Centre in Ecruteak. Even though Pokemon Centres usually deal with sick and injured Pokemon, I figured that, given Ecruteak's long history with Ghost Pokemon, their Nurse Joy might know what to do in a case like this. The small hand-held device rang for a few seconds before I heard a beep followed by the familiar cheery voice of a Nurse Joy.
"Ecruteak Pokemon Centre."
"Yes, hello?" I said into the transmittor. "I hope you can help me - a Haunter just Licked one of my friends and I was wondering if you had any advice on what we should do."
"Licked by a Haunter?" Nurse Joy asked next, a slightly anxious edge to her voice. A pause followed and I could picture her flipping through her Pokedex in search of information relevent to our situation. Finally, she got back on the phone and asked me where we were.
"In an old house about halfway to Olivine," I replied.
"And do you have the address or could you describe it for me?"
I told her as completely as I could, even mentioning that we hadn't seen anyone since we had arrived. But, just as I was describing the room we were in, the Pokegear let out a brief blast of static, distorting Nurse Joy's voice so much that I couldn't understand the questions she was asking. "Hello!" I shouted into the speaker. "Hello? Can you hear me?"
"How . . . ma . . . you . . . the . . .?"
Nurse Joy probably said "how many of you are there?", but I couldn't be sure since the sound was so distorted. I gave up in disgust and switched the Pokegear off before turning to the others. "The signal's gone to pot," I told them. "The storm must be intefering with it . . ."
"Oh crud!" Gavin groaned as he stood at the window and watched the rain lash against the glass. "What on Earth do we do now?"
I knew exactly what he meant - with the weather as bad as it was, there was no way Tony would get through it in his current condition. All we could do was hope Nurse Joy had been able to trace my Pokegear call and, in the meantime, try to make Tony as comfortable as we could. Trouble was, none of us had any experience of dealing with the after effects of a Haunter's Lick Attack . . .
Even so, I felt we had to at least try - after all, it had been my idea to shelter in this old house. So I dumped my pack on the floor and rifled through it until I found the supply of Potions and Antidotes I carried with me in case one of my Pokemon got sick or injured when I couldn't get to a Pokemon Centre quickly. I looked at the various bottles, trying to decide which I should use - it had to be something strong enough to give Tony a fighting chance of resisting the effects of the Lick but not so strong that it made him worst - before settling on a Potion whose label said it was Pokemon around the size of an Electabuzz . . .
"Tony?" I whispered as I gently nudged my friend, who lay trembling visibly as if he'd just had a terrible fright and had yet to recover from the shock. He looked up and smiled when he saw me but frowned when he saw the bottle of Potion in my hand.
"What have . . . you got there?" he asked, clearly trying his best to control the constant tremors that racked his body. I could hardly bear to watch but forced myself to make eye contact as I explained.
"You were Licked by a Haunter - do you remember?" I told him. "It's made you quite ill so . . ."
"Yes - I remember . . ." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Carrie, are the others here?"
I nodded. Then, realising that every second I spent talking to Tony wasted precious time, I unscrewed the top on the bottle of Potion. "Tony," I said as I measured out what I hoped was the correct dose - I'd never had to use this stuff on a human before so I wasn't sure if this would work, but this was a emergency, "I want you to drink some of this. It's Pokemon Potion, but it's the nearest thing to medicine we've got . . ."
But, before I had chance to administer the dose, Tony was suddenly racked by a convulsion so violent that it was all I could do to keep him from hurting himself. As it was, he knocked the bottle of Potion out of my hand and it ended up being spilled on the floor. Our best chance of keeping alive until help arrived slowly began to soak into the worn out old carpet . . .
I still don't know how we coped with being cooped up in that old house, out of contact with the outside world and with the life of one of our group of Pokemon trainers in danger. Michelle and Gavin were both sleeping soundly, but I felt obliged to stay awake for Tony's sake. It pained me to see the state he was in - and I found it hard to believe being licked by a Haunter could cause so much harm - but I dared not nod off for even a second in case something happened to him while I slept. I don't think I need to tell you what that means . . .
I don't know how long I sat there beside my stricken friend, but the first faint traces of dawn had just appeared when he turned to me and gripped my hand as firmly as he could muster. "Carrie," he whispered, looking me full in the face.
"What is it, Tony?" I asked, sensing that it had to be important to him.
"Will you . . . let my Pokemon out?" he asked. His voice was barely audible and I had to strain to catch each word. "I want to . . . say . . . goodbye to them . . ." He heaved a long sigh and lay back on the pillows.
"No!" I said out loud as I realised the enormity of his words but refused to let myself believe it. "That's not going to happen, Tony! You're going to get well! It's nearly morning and the storm's over so we can get help!"
"Carrie, . . . please?" The expression on his face looked so hopeless, so sure that his time had come, that I didn't have the heart to refuse. So, my hands shaking and my mind already filling with the feelings of numbed shock typically experienced at times like this, I reached for Tony's backpack and extracted the five Poke Balls within. A brief flash of light later, they were all gathered around him - Spearow, Larvitar, Electabuzz, Gligar and Wartortle - their heads bowed as if in prayer for their fallen trainer. Tony turned to face them and a faint smile appeared on his face . . .
Then, he turned to face me. "Carrie, don't . . . grieve for me," he pleaded as our eyes locked for what I thought would be the last time. "Remember . . . the adventures we had togeth . . ."
He was cut off abruptly by a commotion outside the door. "Through here - hurry!" Michelle's voice was calling. And, the next thing I knew, a Nurse Joy had entered the room and was leaning over Tony to check his pulse. She could only be the one from Ecruteak City, but how had she known where to come after the way the storm had interfered with the reception on my Poke Gear?
"I'll explain later," Nurse Joy said, sounding as if she'd just read my mind, as she stooped and lifted Tony off the bed. "Right now, we've got to get your friend seen to - the van from the Pokemon Centre is outside."
It was while Tony was being treated using a drug developed especially for victim's of a Haunter's Lick Attack that the rest of us learned how Nurse Joy had known how to find us.
"It was me," Michelle said as she, Gavin and I sat with Nurse Joy. "I didn't want Tony to die so I sent for help . . ."
"But how?" Gavin asked. "We couldn't get through on the Poke Gear and you never left the room the whole time . . ." Michelle grinned and patted one of her Poke Balls.
"I didn't - Azumarill did," she said. With that, she reached into her pocket, pulled out a sodden piece of paper and unfolded it to show us the writing on it. The ink was badly smudged, but I could still make out the words: "My friend has been licked by a Haunter. We're in the old mansion. Please help." The more I thought about it, the more it made sense; in the previous night's storm, only a Water Pokemon like Azumarill would have any real hope of coming through for us. So no doubt Michelle had given her Azumarill that note and sent her to fetch Nurse Joy . . .
"That's right," Nurse Joy said, smiling as she acknowledged Michelle's story. "I was just about to close up for the night when two of my Chansey came to fetch me and I found a very agitated Azumarill outside. At first, I thought it was hurt - until I saw the note it was carrying and realised it wanted me to help someone, a human, possibly its trainer. Since there's only one old mansion near here, I knew immediately where we had to go . . ."
"Who did that old mansion belong to?" I asked next. That question had been bugging me all night, but the need to keep Tony alive had forced me to push it to the back of my mind.
"From what I recall, it was the home of the Charlton family - they still lived there when I was growing up and they'd been Haunter trainers for as long as anyone could remember. Then - no-one really knows why - they all left, emigrated to Hoenn and left the house to fall into disrepair. Didn't try to sell it or anything," Nurse Joy explained. "As for those Haunters you saw, I'm guessing the Charltons left some of theirs behind and they must be waiting for their old trainers to come back . . ."
It was an interesting story, but it still didn't explain why one of the Haunters had attacked Tony and I pointed this out immediately. "There's a simple explanation for that as well," Nurse Joy told us. "That Haunter may have felt threatened by your presence and it's in the nature of Pokemon to want to protect themselves - in this case, by using Lick Attack. It's a good thing scientists have developed a drug to combat its effects - before, no-one who got Licked by a Haunter lasted more than a few weeks."
At that moment, a Chansey wearing a nurse's cap on her head waddled in and smiled at us. "Chansey chansey chans," she told us. I did not need to understand her langauge to know she was saying: "Your friend's going to be fine."