Shit. Shit. I furrowed my brow and tried to desperately remember the combination to my bike padlock as the summer sun beat down on the back of my neck. The air was as heavy and still as a winter blanket, and dust settled on my jeans as I crouched down next to my only way out to the next town-frustratingly out of my reach, despite being locked up by me only an hour or so ago. The heat had been unbearable these last few days; and that combined with my scatter-brained memory made the all-important pin number fade and disappear from my head like water turning to mist in sunlight.

I cursed under my breath as I turned the lock over and over in my hands, chestnut hair fanning down and hiding my blue-grey eyes from the interested look of a trainer hanging around outside the Poke-Mart next door, curious eyes angled in my direction. I baked slowly, simmering on this inside as well as the outside with futility, and began trying numbers that sprung to mind.




3576. No luck. Damn. Pushing a few stray strands of hair out of my face, I stood up just as Curious George from the Poke-Mart decided to wander over and take a closer look. He loped over, his mouth twisted into a lopsided grin, and peered at the bike, asking cheerfully, 'Need any help?'

'Not unless you know the combo to my bike lock.' I replied, plastering a sarcastic grin on my face, and planting my hands on my hips. I wasn't in the mood to chat.

'You know, those things are really pointless.' He pointed out helpfully. 'Anyone with a half-decent Pokémon could cut it easy.'

'Thank you for the input.' I replied. 'Please go away now.' The sarcastic smile was beginning to slide off my face. Secretly, I was wishing that I had thought of it before. Harley could have handled something like a bike lock easily.

I waited until he had winked charmingly (in his opinion) at me and returned to the Poke-Mart, before swallowing my pride and deciding to take his advice. Tugging an Ultra Ball out of my pocket, I chucked it at the floor and stepped back, muttering, 'Come out, Harley.'

White light flooded out of the Ultra Ball, engulfing the tiny thing in a column of light taller and wider than me, and I saw Curious George (the nickname had become his official title in my head) look over sharply as the column died and revealed a Rhyperior, bulky physique and gun-like appendages not easily overlooked in a town like Sandgem. He looked patiently over his shoulder, waiting for me to tell him what was up.

'I, um, forgot the combination to my bike lock.' I even felt embarrassed admitting it to my Pokémon. 'Could you cut the chain for me?'

Harley nodded, deciding not to comment (but allowing himself an eyebrow raise) and grasped the chain, crushing it in his palm until there was a tinkling snap.

'Thanks Harley.' I reached for the Ultra Ball, which had rolled to my feet, and once again saw a now-familiar loping figure out of the corner of my eye. Quickly, if a little rudely, returning Harley, I turned and received an eyeful of him as he said, 'That's quite a Pokémon you got there.'

I studied him carefully. He looked about in his late teens, at most a year or so older than me. But I had never been an item of affection in the general eye of the boy population, so I had no idea why this guy was suddenly so interested in me. What was his problem? I felt a little glow at his praise despite myself, and muttered a grudging, 'Thanks.', stowing Harley back into my pocket. 'I challenged the Pokémon League recently, so we've been keeping in shape.'

'I can see that...' he said cheekily, eyeing me up and down. I frowned at him.

Suddenly, his eyes lit up. 'That's why I recognised you! You were the girl who almost beat the Champion in the Kanto League!'

'Yup, that's me.' I said, surprised that he recognised me. Not many people in the Sinnoh region watched the Kanto League, and even fewer would remember an almost-Champion.

'Wow, it's a pleasure to meet you.' He said, and smiled genuinely. 'My little sister is a huge fan of yours-she was really disappointed when you didn't make it. She's always wanted to challenge the League.'

'That's nice to know.' Maybe he wasn't so bad at all, despite bringing up my defeat-a memory which I still winced at. Then he said happily, 'Hey, I only live a block away from here. Do you mind if you come and say hi to her? It would make her day.'

'Yeah, sure.' I replied. And with those two words, my normal life disappeared forever.

His grin widened, and as he turned to walk casually down the alley between the Mart and the Centre, turning his head to make sure that I was following. As I walked, I felt my injured pride swell a little. It was good to know at least someone remembered my League challenge, and admired me for it. Even if she was probably only six.

We walked in slightly awkward silence, past house after house, until my hair felt like an iron curtain in the heat and I finally piped up as we neared the edge of the dark forest, consisting of pines that stood like angry sentinels, throwing enough shadows on us to give slight relief from the sun.

'Hey, I know this sounds stupid, but are you sure we didn't pass your house?' I slowed to a stop, and as he suddenly stood stock still, I realised I didn't even know his name. I continued, but a little more hesitantly. 'I your house in the woods or some-'

He rounded on me in an instant, moving much faster than I would have expected, and he grabbed my forearm roughly, pulling me closer and putting something over my mouth before I could make a sound. Terror thrashed inside me blindly, whilst I wriggled desperately. His heavy panting sounded loud in my ears as he held me firmly, expertly restraining my arms and legs so I couldn't escape.

Oh could I have been so stupid ...All the warnings of my childhood, all the 'Stranger Danger' posters and horrible tales sped through my mind in an instant, and I could feel my struggles getting strangely weaker, panic making my thoughts an incomprehensible ramble, and the toxic fumes of the thing across my mouth curling into my nose and foggying my consciousness.

It was only a few seconds later before the shadows of the pines swallowed my vision and I fell into blackness.