Chapter 1

The blankets were beginning to stink. It was that sweat smell, the old mixed with the new. Where one day you wake up and wonder, "What is that?" The confusion coming from the fact that you've let things marinate long enough that your body has begun to disown its own odors and adopt a whole new set of scents.

I crawled out from under them and off the bed onto the hardwood floor. It was warm, and that was where the upside ended. Surrounding me were mountains of trash bags, rivers made of grease stains, and sock forests full of mold. It was an ecosystem of its own, of my own, carefully curated over the years since I had failed at the one thing I had always wanted to be. Since I had dropped out of my dreams.

It was laying there, in my filth, that I heard the knocks at the door. They weren't out of the ordinary, and always signaled the same thing. I waited to hear her footsteps before I would open up and take what was there. She seemed to be hesitating, but I knew better than to open the door too early. If I opened it while she was still standing there, she would want to talk, and words only ever made things worse for my Mom. So I waited, and eventually the footsteps went down the hallway, down the stairs, and out of my ears.

It was breakfast waiting for me there outside my door, despite being long past noon. And even though I almost never left my room, the walls and the floor itself were so thin and the opposite of soundproof that she always seemed to know when I had woken up. She was a sweet woman, always supportive, and that only made me hate myself more.

Pulling the meal inside and quickly closing the door, I chugged the leppa berry juice first, then got started on the pancakes. I should have taken it slowly and enjoyed it as long as I could, since it would definitely be the highlight of my day, as breakfast always was. But in the moment, it's never so easy to make the right choice. Before I knew it, I had nothing left but an empty plate. Pushing it aside I crawled towards my desk, knocking over towers of trash on the way there.

I was awake and needed distraction from the current reality of my bedroom. Booting up my PC and starting the download for the latest Kanto War Stories patch, I tried not to think. My thoughts only ever went in two directions, the past, or the future. Neither being a place I wanted to visit. But sitting there, staring at the patch progress bar linger on each percentage like a Pyroar feasting on a Ponyta, I couldn't help but think, I couldn't help but remember...

The sky was blue. The perfect shade of blue. With white clouds that looked like fluffy mountains sailing along in the breeze, high above the suburbs. I was ten years old then, and running through the streets to meet the local Pokémon Professor. It was time for me to start my journey towards adulthood. And on the sidelines, everyone seemed to be rooting for me. My Mom had packed me a week's worth of food while my father had given me enough money for at least two months worth of travel. And all along the route I was running were adults who gave me smiles as they sat or stood next to their own Pokémon. Old women sipping tea and playing checkers with their Wigglytuffs or Vileplumes, middle aged men mowing their lawns or fixing fences with their Arcanines and Machokes. They seemed to see themselves in me and the other children, visions of youth lost, and the potential for rejuvenation in the successes of the next generation. If any of them knew how I'd end up, they certainly wouldn't have accepted me as their avatar for vicarious satisfaction.

Reaching the Professor's laboratory, a small worn looking building on the outskirts of our community, actually older than any of the houses or shops, I came to the back of a large crowd of children and their parents, picking up their Pokémon and saying their goodbyes. With a smile from ear to ear and a sparkle in my eyes, I took a moment to catch my breath.

"I didn't think you'd make it." The words came in a voice I knew, and with each new syllable my smile shrunk and shrunk. "But I'm glad you did. You can watch me choose the best of the bunch." It was Chaz, ever since I could remember he had always been there to do a Rain Dance when he saw the sun shining in my direction. He stood in front of me, decked head to toe in official Pokémon League trainer's gear, tufts of his curly blonde hair poking out beneath his red and white cap, while I was just wearing my normal everyday clothes.

I tried to think of something to say, but before I did another voice chimed in, one I was a lot more thankful to hear.

"Make like a Beedrill and buzz off, Chaz. I'll be the one getting the best of the bunch." Sarah Livia, my next door neighbor, beaming in her blue tracksuit. Her dark brown hair was tied into a knot above her head, it being only slightly darker than her skin, which was slightly darker than her eyes. We'd known each other since we were babies, when our mothers would roll us around town together in our strollers. And ever since we learned how to speak all Sarah wanted to talk about was Pokémon. From Spearows to Slowpokes, and breeding to battling, she knew it all.

"Pfff, whatever nerds." Chaz wandered off towards a different group of kids who were already cringing at his approach.

"You really need to stick up for yourself, Josh. This is the first day of the rest of our lives and more importantly than that we're going to be responsible for not just ourselves, but our Pokémon too. Whoever you end up choosing, you're going to have to stick up for them. I can't do that for you."

"Geez, you know Chaz is wrong about a lot of things, but you're definitely a nerd. And I don't need a nerd doing anything for me."

She seemed to frown and smile at the same time, "You can play it off if you want, but am I wrong?"

"I stick up for myself all the time. You're just not there when I do."

She gave me a squinty glance then changed the subject, "So, who do you think you'll choose?"

"I don't know who there will be to choose from."

"You didn't watch the broadcast last night?"

"Broadcast?"

"Oh my gosh, Josh. Professor Buckeye recorded a video showing off the Pokémon he currently has to give out. They're from a breeder up north. Three different types. Grass, Fire, and Water. They're specific to our region, the Unova regi-"

"I know where we live. I'm not an idiot."

"Yeah, well, could have fooled me. Anyways, the Grass one's name is Snivy, the Fire one's called a Tepig, and the water one is Oshawatt. They're all pretty good, but I'm going for grass if there are any left by the time we get to the front of this freaking thing." The crowd was starting to form a line, with us closer to the back than the front.

As the minutes and the inches passed I listened to Sarah explain the intricacies of her plan to collect as many badges as she could, her theories on Pokémon only rumored to actually exist, how the events of the Pokémon War really don't add up if you put them all together, and inbetween all of those topics, why she believed herself to be such a wonderful person. She was so talkative that neither of us seemed to really notice that Chaz had stepped in line behind us.

Eventually we reached the front, Buckeye standing beside a device resembling a pedestal, with tubing running from its base all the way back into the laboratory. It held three Poké Balls on top, in neat little spots, and each time someone would take one of the balls off a spot, a little trap door would open and another ball would come shooting up. Each spot was also marked by a little emblem signifying its type, Grass, Fire, and Water, just as Sarah had said.

"Miss Livia!" Buckeye crouched down to look her in the eyes with an enthusiastic smile on his face. He was a fat man, with coarse curly white hair, and skin far darker than Sarah's. "I was wondering when I'd see you. Still deadset on a Snivy, or have you changed your mind since last week?"

"I was right then, and I'm right now." Sarah stepped forward and grabbed a ball from the Grass spot. She seemed to vibrate as she held it close to her chest. "Professor, Josh, I'll see you two after Snivy and I have caught ourselves another Pokémon!" With that she turned around and ran down the road. Out of my sight, yet never my mind, from then to now.

I stepped forward and looked over the balls.

"I'm sorry, I don't think we've met before. Josh, did she say?" Buckeye now stood at his full height, an imposing figure.

"Yeah, Josh. Josh Phailsen, and yeah. Well, no. I think we met, or I heard you speak to my class, when we went on a field trip to your lab once."

"Is that right? So, Mr. Phailsen, are you as certain as Sarah was about who you'll choose? I'd caution that by pointing out that they're all top notch Pokémon. Can't make a wrong choice with these three. Unless of course you choose one you don't like, which I suppose would be a bit of a wrong choice. But even then I bet you'd grow to love them. Have you made up your mind?"

"No, I don't know."

"Oh, you've gotta be kiddin' me!" Chaz chimed in from behind, then pushed in front of me. "Just gimme one of those water suckers, will ya'?" He grabbed a ball, pushed me a second time on his way past, and went out of sight as quickly as Sarah had.

"I take it that was a Mr. Chandler? Sarah's mentioned him once or twice. A real character there. Certainly seems sour about something."

I hardly heard the professor as I stared at the balls before me. Grass, Fire, Water. Snivy, Tepig, Oshawatt. I didn't know a thing about any of them, but I knew that if I chose either a Snivy or an Oshawatt, I wouldn't be able to not associate or compare mine with either Sarah's or Chad's. I reached out and slowly wrapped my hand around the center ball. Tepig it was.

"Can I-Can I bring him out now?" I asked, worrying that somehow something would be wrong and that my ball would be empty.

"Of course. To tell you the truth, I'd prefer everyone would at least say hello to their new partners before running off with them."

With a slight tremor in my arm I extended it out and pressed the release button on the ball. A wave of red energy surged out of the splitting red and white halves, and in front of me materialized a small spritely creature with four legs. A black spiral tail with a reddish ball like tip at the end of it protruded above its rear and stuck out into the air as it wagged back and forth, while a short snout with a reddish flat nose positioned itself at the front of just about the silliest face I'd ever seen in my life. It smiled and ran around with its long black ears bouncing back and forth the whole time.

"I should give you a name." I turned to the professor, "I should give him a nickname, right?"

"It's your right, not everyone does of course, but I sure wouldn't like it if people just called me human whenever they wanted my attention."

I crouched down to make eye contact with the Tepig and he jumped on top of me, gnawing at my nose with his weak little teeth. As I fell back onto my butt, laughing and scratching his sides I saw that his pupils were black as coal. "Cole."

Head slightly turned, he looked at me curiously as I said it.

"Your name's Cole, isn't it?" I asked while scratching his tummy.

Cole giggled and snorted, rolling over to expose his belly for better rubbing...

"BEEP!" The loud noise roused me from my day dreams. The update had finished. I moved the cursor over the play button, but couldn't click on it. Tears blurring my vision, rolling off the tip of my nose and onto my hand, mouse, keyboard, and desk. I could hardly breathe with the watery mucus coming out of my nostrils as I gasped and cried. Falling out of my chair and inching over to the closet beside my desk, I slid aside one of the hanging doors and looked for my Poké Balls.

There were three of them in there. Two empty ones that were given to me for free from Professor Buckeye a week after he gave me Cole, and Cole's old ball, now just as empty as the others.

It was only hours after I had got him that I lost him. While heading through the woods to make my way from the suburbs to the city itself, and then continue on my journey from there, we came across a wild Pidove, the tiny pigeon Pokémon. I knew I would have to toughen up Cole throughout the journey, and thought that was the perfect place to start. Letting him out of his ball and telling him to tackle the little bird, he jumped forward, while it leapt to the side, then flew off into the woods. Before I could say another word, Cole ran after it, into the brush.

I ran after him. Yelling and calling his name, telling him to come back. I tried to keep up, but he was smaller and faster than I was, ducking beneath thick bushes, and jumping over large roots. I ended up tripping on one of those roots, and when I lifted my head to see where he had gone, I was lost.

I spent four days and five nights in those woods, ended up losing my backpack to a Pansage on the third day, along with my food and water that was in it. But I refused to give up on finding Cole. I searched and searched, until eventually I passed out from dehydration. Waking up back on the edges of the suburbs, inside Buckeye's makeshift laboratory. He had found me out in the forest while he was looking for Pokémon droppings to bring back to the lab and examine. I had apparently been delirious, and he had nursed me back to health.

When I told him what happened, he feigned sympathy, everyone did, but I could tell they were all embarrassed by me. No one I knew had ever lost their very first Pokémon. It just wasn't something that happened.

So for the next two months I kept going out into the woods as early in the morning as I could, searching until nightfall. I kept at it every day until finally my parents made me start looking only on the weekends.

Eventually Buckeye offered me another Pokémon, another Tepig. That was the breaking point, the tears started welling up in my eyes right there in the laboratory and I ran back home, slamming shut my bedroom door and curling up beneath my blankets while the sun was still shining.

The hours lying there became days, and those days became weeks, and the weeks months, and the months years. And despite all the days that have existed between this current one and the day that all happened, it still feels like yesterday.

I wrapped myself into a fetal position around those three balls, my body halfway inside the closet. I cried and cried, occasionally sleeping, only to wake up every hour or so and resume my crying.

By the time my eyes had dried out, the sun was setting and my room became completely dark. I needed to go to the bathroom, and while sometimes I did it in my room, with the jars I kept in the corner, they were all completely full. So I grabbed a few of them to pour down the toilet and tried to make my way to the door. I hoped that no one would be in the hallway, but before I could even make it to the door, I tripped over a squishy bag of trash.

Falling forward, onto the jars that I held in my arms, they all broke. The disgusting liquid soaking my shirt and floor. But as foul as that was, I was completely distracted by the sound I thought I heard behind me. It was a low murmur or a squeak.

Flipping myself around, I leaned upwards and saw the silhouette of something hop from the floor onto a tall pile of trash. It looked like a bag, with tendrils on its sides. A Pokémon?

"Hello?"

It shook and murmured again, louder this time.

"Are you a hallucination?"

It went quiet.

"Because I really don't want to have to change meds again."

Then it murmured again, curiously.

Not quite sure what I was doing, I leapt for it. My face going straight into the pile of trash as it effortlessly hopped over onto my bed. Stray beams of light from the streetlamp outside made it through the window blinds and exposed the creatures face. It had slightly unsymmetrical white oval eyes, with little black pupils, and a sharp toothed frown below and between the eyes.

As I brought myself up onto my knees, and as my head moved into a slightly elevated position, I got a better look at it. Its body almost looked like a trash bag, albeit slightly greener and more textured than any bag I'd ever seen. The tendrils I saw were more like fat paddles or arms without hands, they seemed to be bursting out of its bag like skin, consisting of a different quality of flesh that looked a bit like thick oatmeal. Below its fat body were two little feet, and on top of its narrow head were two long ears.

I felt strange looking at it, like I had seen it before. It reminded me of something. And then as it shifted, and the light outside reflected off its stupid eyes, I saw that it was just like Cole. It was a sweet, innocent, wonderful, little Pokémon.

Overcome with the urge to hug it, I jumped forward, faster than it could leap away. Grabbing it and holding it close to my chest, wrapping my arms around it and crying the whole time. It struggled and murmured some more, its sounds starting to sound a bit more recognizable. "Tub?" "Rubbish?" I didn't know exactly what it was saying, and I didn't care.

But then one of its fat paddles wrenched itself out of my arms, and slapped me right across the face. While a smell more horrible than anything I had ever inhaled began to come off its body and, growing nauseous, I loosened my hold.

Falling backwards onto a sea of trash, I tried to reach out my hand towards the Pokémon as it stared at me from a nearby pile. But the smell overwhelmed every sense I held. My vision going blurry, I closed my eyes to the sight of the strange creature whose frown seemed to be flipping into a smile.