Chapter 1

Chapter 1
"The Nightmare Begins"

No…Not again…

My eyes snapped open. I became painfully aware of the chill of the night contrasting to the warmth of my sleeping bag. The woods were cast over with shadows hardly diminished by the pale light of the moon, half-hidden with dismal clouds…

I sat up slowly, shivering…not just from the cold…

A whole week…Why won't these dreams go away…?

Everyone else was sleeping soundly……Of course they were…They weren't the ones having these nightmares……I looked away from them and down at myself……Those…dreams……They'd seemed so real……but they also scared me…scared me bad enough to wake me up in the middle of the night for the past week…every night too……

I thought about lying back down and falling asleep again……I did think about it……Instead, I sat there for about half an hour, trying to erase what I had just woken up from from my mind……then when I couldn't, I got up and walked around the campsite, trying to cool my nerves…I thought about starting up a fire and making myself some breakfast, but no sooner than I had thought of it, I was completely sickened by the idea…The dreams that I'd had that night…They were so much worse than the ones that had come before…even…

What had happened in those dreams…They were impossible!…They were impossible……They………They had to be……

I sat alone in the cold for a long time, doing nothing but trying to forget the nightmare that I'd woken up from…It took hours for the sun to start to rise, and then even more before the others began to stir…

Brock was up first, then Pikachu, then Misty, and then she woke up Togetic. By then, Brock had breakfast ready and was already serving it out…He handed some to me first…

…Usually, it's very, very hard to kill my appetite……In fact, I don't think it's been done before……before I had that dream that is……What happened in that dream……after that…I couldn't even think about food without getting a sickening feeling deep inside of me…Having Brock stick some right under my nose was more than I could stand.

It looked disgusting. It smelled disgusting. To taste it…No, I couldn't let myself do that…I couldn't stand having it so close to me…I shoved it back at Brock.

"Sorry…" I said, trying to keep the repulsion that I felt from being voiced, "I'm not hungry…"

Of course, that was when my stomach decided to voice its own opinion…

I didn't move…I could feel them staring at me, but I had to let them know that for once, me and my stomach were disagreeing with each other…

"Are you…sure?" Brock asked finally.

"…Yes."

An indignant rumble sounded…Then there was silence again as they continued to stare at me.

"Uh…You sure you're sure?" Misty asked.

"Yeah! I'm sure!" I said hotly, finally glaring back at them.

"Um…Okay…" Misty said hesitantly, "Just asking…"

"Well you don't need to ask twice!"

Again, my stomach growled…

I growled back.

"…Hey, Ash…" Brock said slowly, "Are you feeling okay…?"

"Of course I am!"

"…You sure?" he asked doubtfully.

"Stop asking me that!!"

Misty set her food down, then stood up and walked over to me.

"What…What are you doing?"

"Hold still," she said, then placed her hand on my forehead.

"Hey!!"

She didn't say or do anything for a second or two, then took her hand off.

"No, I don't think he has a fever…" she said reflectively.

"Wha…I'm not sick!!"

She shrugged, sat down again and continued to eat. Brock watched her for a second, then turned to me.

"I dunno, Ash…This…isn't like you…"

"What's that supposed to mean!?" I demanded.

"It's not like this is something new either…" Misty commented while stuffing a biscuit in her mouth, "You've been acting pretty strange all week…"

"What…!?" I cried.

Is that true…? I didn't think I was being so obvious about it…

Brock nodded. "You're going to bed late, waking up early…You're also a lot touchier than usual…Even a rare Pokémon encounter won't excite you…And now you won't eat? You've gotta admit that something's different…and it's probably not a good thing either…"

So they knew this all along and they never said anything about it!? Did they think one day I would just wake up and be okay again…!? Well, that's just too bad…because it doesn't look like it's ever going to end up that way……Definitely not at this rate……

I stood up crossly.

"Is that so?" I asked through gritted teeth, "Well, I'll tell you what. I don't have to put up with this anymore, got it?"

I walked over to retrieve my backpack. Everyone stared as I did.

"Ash, what are you-?" Misty began.

"I'm going back…"

"Going back where?"

"I'm going home, okay!? I'm sick of this. This is stupid. It was a stupid idea to come out here in the first place. I'm ending it all right now…"

"But…Ash……It was your idea…" Misty informed me.

"Okay, then I'm stupid too…"

…They continued to stare at me.

"……And yeah, I do mean that!" I yelled finally.

With that, I began walking back in the direction that we'd come from at as fast a pace I could keep and still be walking.

"A-Ash! Wait!" I heard Misty call after me.

"Pikapika!!"
'Come back!!'

I ignored them…I was tired of everything…I was tired of this traveling business. I was tired of those nightmares I was having. And I was tired of being tired of everything. The sooner I got home…The sooner I got home, the sooner I could finally rest…I felt like I hadn't slept at all all week, but I knew that I had, and that was what was making me so tired. I only hoped that coming home again would end the dreams…the dreams that I loathed……

It took a little while before Misty, Pikachu and Togetic caught up with me, and longer before Brock did. I guess they let him pick up the whole camp while they tried to slow me down…

Well, I didn't slow down…I didn't even bother listening to them while they talked endlessly about nothing…I think they wanted to know what was going on and why I was acting the way I was…Of course I didn't answer. What could I have said even if I did? The truth? No, those nighttime dreams are pointless things. They never come true, and they fill you with false feelings……but…my dreams wouldn't leave after night, and I kept those false feelings with me all night and day…Didn't I have good reason to be a little…touchy?

I went all day without speaking a word to anyone, not even Pikachu…I didn't eat or stop to rest either…I didn't want to. I had to get home. I hadn't had any of those nightmares while I was at home…Maybe they would stop once I got there…At the very least, at least I would wake up someplace familiar and comforting…

…What I had said to the others…about it being a stupid idea to come out here in the first place……I wasn't lying when I said that. I'd left on a whim, with no reason and nothing to go by but my own desire to keep moving…After all, my only obligation was to get back in time for the annual Pokémon tournament…and even then, it wasn't like I had anything to do at the tournament. The chance of anyone getting past the Elite Four was slim to zero…but it would look bad if I wasn't at the tournament, so I had to go anyway…

Well, that was why I decided to start traveling again…I just didn't have anything else to do…One of few possible training partners was Gary Oak…and after losing to me the first few times, he said he wanted to do some training alone out in the wild before challenging me again…Everyone else I could have trained with were traveling and training all over the world too, so I figured it was do the same or just stay in Pallet for a year…I did what seemed like the right thing at the time…With those dreams though…how could I possibly concentrate on training when I couldn't even…eat, or talk…or anything?

I'd left them behind by nightfall, probably because they'd actually stopped to eat and rest a few times. I didn't want to stop. I couldn't stop……That's what I wanted at least……but by the end of the day, I knew that I didn't have a choice.

I came to a fairly clear spot on the path and turned around. They were nowhere in sight.

I guess I'll have to wait for them then…?

I looked around again…I hadn't realized until then just how tired I'd made myself. I sat down at the foot of a big tree and waited. My stomach had long since stopped complaining about its hunger. Instead, I felt as if it had been replaced by a dull, yet strong, full feeling of painful emptiness. It wasn't a new feeling for me. I had gone for days at a time without food during some of my earlier journeys, but that had always been because I didn't have any other choice…Nevertheless, I still couldn't fathom the idea of eating anything right then and there…

It didn't take very long for Misty, Brock, Pikachu and Togetic to catch up with me, although it seemed like forever…They seemed very surprised to see me just sitting there.

"…Ash?" Misty asked.

"Who else would I be?" I replied degradingly.

"…Just asking…" she muttered.

"…You doing alright, Ash?" Brock said.

"…Just fine……"

Togetic yawned sleepily from its perch on Misty's shoulder…It may have evolved, but it was still too young to be keeping up the pace that they'd probably kept.

"…You guys should go to sleep. You look beat."

"Huh…?" Misty began, but Togetic nodded and leaned against her.

I didn't feel the need to say anything and just let her figure it out for herself.

"Well, yeah," Brock said, "You had us going a lot faster than we usually go…but at least you picked a really nice spot to set up camp…Come on, let's get to work…"

Misty waited until Brock started getting busy before moving.

"Aren't you going to help?" she asked.

"No…I don't need the camp, so I won't get in your way…"

"What are you talking about? Aren't you going to sleep?"

"……Don't worry about me…Just go ahead, okay?"

"You're not gonna sleep?"

"…It doesn't matter."

"…Does that mean no? Answer me, Ash…"

"………Yeah……Yeah, it means no. I'm not going to go to sleep, okay? Just leave me alone…okay?"

"…Ummm…I guess……Don't push yourself too hard……"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"…It means exactly what you think it does…"

She went to go help Brock. I wasn't sure what to make of what she'd just said, so I ignored it. That was easy, considering what other things I had on my mind…

They finished quickly and went to sleep. I didn't move from my selected spot. I had already decided that I would just sit there until morning came and under no circumstances would I fall asleep…but it wasn't easy. I was exhausted from both the walk that day and the little restless sleep that I'd been having all week…My stomach was numb from hunger, not forceful enough to keep me awake all night…I tried to fight off the sleep and the darkness and the dreams…but it came to me anyway…and then the nightmares resumed…