Chapter 8. Moving.
Eusine picked up a cake pan from the library table, probably something he'd lifted from the kitchen, and reached inside, closing his hand around a pack of Fiery Flareon brand matches, which he threw at me. "There are some candles in the drawer—you light them while I go fill up this pan with water."
It had somehow not occurred to me that this activity, this crystal-less crystal-gazing, would take place in the dark, but before I could comment, he'd already left for the bathroom sink. I tried to tell myself not to let it shake me. After all, changing the light source from electric to flame shouldn't have really made that much of a difference. And this would all be over soon. All I had to do was stare at water for a few minutes.
By the time Eusine came back, I'd lit the candles and set them on the table, mindful that a few feet behind me there were piles upon piles of extremely burnable material. He carefully approached me, trying not to slosh water out of the pan he was carrying. He set it before me on the table, before running over to the light switch and flicking it off. He jogged back in the relative dark, slightly tripping on a rogue book as he did so.
"Well?" he said, having reached the table. "Get going! What do you see in the water?"
I took a seat before the pan, feeling more than a little foolish. "Just water, Eusine," I said.
"Try concentrating on Suicune," he ordered. "…And Ho-Oh, too, I guess."
"…I still don't see…"
"Then try agitating it a little," Eusine suggested. "There can't be patterns to pick out unless there's movement in the water."
Hesitantly, I placed the fingertips of both my hands in the water, prodding it gently so that ripples lapped around my fingers. I had to admit it then, that the effect was more eerie than I'd anticipated. The constantly moving flames of the candles cast strange reflections in the water—shadows and lights that seemed to dance organically.
If a person looked into the moving tide long enough they'd see… yes. Was that moving light a face? No… no, it looked more like an eye now that the shadows moved. Currents crisscrossed around it to create a pattern of spikes that drifted back and forth and back and forth.
I glanced upward to where a ghostly image of the water was cast on the ceiling—a white shadow that bobbed and gurgled as water flowed through my fingers.
I looked back down, trying to focus on the pattern of shadows and gleams I saw before me, and not on the rash of goosebumps spreading up and down my arms. But yet they seemed… to fade inexplicably. Rather, the shine of the water seemed to vanish; the shadows deepened as though the fluid was losing its sense of clarity.
"Wha… what the?" I began, trying to lift my fingers out of the basin, but encountering unexpected resistance. The liquid sucked at my hands, as though loathe to let them go.
"What do you see?" Eusine demanded, leaning forward to get a closer look. "Is it Suicune?!"
Black sludge. Somehow the water had been transmuted into some kind of vile, disgusting ooze. I pulled myself away from the pan in revulsion, knocking the chair back in my hurry to get away from it.
I'm not sure if it was my sudden movement or Eusine… or perhaps something else entirely, but a candle tipped and fell straight into the newly transformed substance. The hairs on the backs of my hands were burnt away as a fireball bloomed into existence, filling the room with the smell of a burning tire yard.
The pan was not enough to contain it; whatever it was. It spilled from its container with no regard for gravitational forces. It lifted upwards, sludge dripping down and fire burning upwards as its core floated.
Fire has a voice. It crackles and hisses and even roars as it billows and engulfs. My singed hands throbbed as the tide of flame sucked at the oxygen in the room, furious and starving. I knew this fear. This was how I felt when I dreamt of Falkner's near-death. This must've been what Falkner and Eusine felt as they believed Sprout Tower was burning around them.
The ooze was nothing more than a dribbling mass as it rose—liquid sliding in sheets off of some kind of invisible core. But then the core seemed to expand until it was much bigger than the contents of that pan could've possibly held. It was our own private supernova. And it shuddered as though it was only seconds away from explosion.
"What did you do?!" I heard Eusine shout, but my eyes couldn't leave the ball of fire for even a moment.
Ball of fire… that's what it started out as. But when it finished expanding it began defining itself. Parts were cut away until and smoldering, spikey mass remained. It lifted something that might've been a limb, if such a thing could be anthropomorphized enough to say it had limbs. Whatever the case, a plume of fire jutted out toward me. I felt as though I was being pointed out. It made a sound like a maddened furnace and sank toward me—not quickly, but with a slow, inevitable force.
I crossed my hands in front of my face as the specter moved toward its final destination. My head felt light and strange, as though it had sprung a leak. I thrashed back and forth, trying to get away from the ghost of flame and tar, knocking my chair over as I went. But no matter how I dodged it, it always corrected its course toward me with tireless determination. I had been selected.
"No! No!" I shrieked. "Not me! Not again!" I said these words as though by saying them I could somehow tear myself away from whatever this reasonless intelligence, whatever fate had in mind for me. I wouldn't be taken over. Not again.
And to my surprise, the creature stopped. It looked at me. I could see no eyes on it, but I know it looked at me. Its halo of smoke felt around the room, searching for something. And then it turned and began its slow, definite descent toward a new target. Eusine.
Eusine had fallen on the floor and was backing up as the thing drew itself hungrily toward him. His eyes were wide and his mouth was moving in incomprehension. This was something that he couldn't turn away—that his bluster and pomp would have no effect on. A shaky hand reached for his Pokemon, but what could they do against the forces of hell? What could I do?
"No that's…" I began. "That's not what I meant!"
What was I supposed to do? Shout "take me instead?" The thought occurred. It has occurred to me several times since that night.
I acted blindly. I reached out and yanked at the old rug that covered the floor, upending the table on my mad shot of adrenaline. I held it in front of me like a shield and dove for the light that I could see easily even through the threads. I knew its threadbare material would provide me little protection against the flame. Still, I leapt forward and smothered the fiery beast with my body. It let out an enraged shriek as the rug went up in flames—taking me with it.
I know what it's like to burn to death. I am very much alive today, but I know. Because my body wasn't burning then, but my mind and soul certainly thought it was.
I think when I do die, it'll be like that moment stretched out to infinity.
My clothing bore the marks of being splashed by water, not stained by sludge. Fitting, considering the fire hadn't left a single scorch mark. The moment has evaporated and I was still me. Nothing had crawled into my soul with me during that baptism of fire. Nothing but panic.
I didn't bother to change my clothes. I just climbed into my bunk back at the dormitory and folded my hands over my chest, eyes closed defiantly.
"Look… you know that's not how I wanted that to go," Eusine whispered from the floor. His voice was reedy, shaken, but he seemed to be trying to regain control of it—to hold on to good sense and purpose. "But at least it proves I was right. You do have power. How else could you have brought something like that here without even trying?"
I didn't answer.
"You… obviously couldn't control it," he admitted. "But that'll come with time. Imagine the possibilities if you could just…" he trailed off, uncertain how to finish. "…Not let it go haywire like that."
I said nothing.
"Morty?" he tried.
Again, I said nothing.
"Morty… what did you mean by 'not again?'" he asked.
I turned over, facing the wall away from him—willing to answer his questions only with silence.
I knew it was day again and well past the time I should've gotten up. The darkness I tried to hold in my gaze was dispelled by the ceiling lights of the dorm shining through my closed eyes and tinting my quiet world of sleep with a flesh-colored glow. There was a bustle from below me—people stomping in and out, packing things away, and chatting mildly to one another. I knew I could not get back to sleep, but still, I stubbornly kept my eyes closed and tried.
"Hey you," a voice said, accompanying his greeting with a knock on the wooden bedpost. "Sleepy McNap-Nap, did you hear a word I just said?"
Giving up, I let my eyes plop open and slid to a sitting position, taking in the surroundings from my top bunk. Moving day—that's what it was. Graduation was over and everyone was packing their things away to take them… where? Home, or maybe college—perhaps they were going to strike out on their own, find an apartment in Violet's lower rent district, or hitchhike to Goldenrod and try to make it big.
I blinked blearily and turned my attention to the person who had been addressing me—our RA. He was holding a piece of green, photocopied paper which he kept glaring at.
"Sorry… what?" I asked.
He heaved a sigh, as though he found it rather annoying that I couldn't take in his words of wisdom while I was unconscious. "I'll give you the short version," he said. "Clean your shit up. We want this place to look nicer than when you guys moved in."
"We're not miracle workers, Charlie," one of my classmates griped as he tried to zip up and overstuffed duffle bag, with the help of his Furret who was bracing herself against the bag.
"Ha ha," Charlie dead-panned. "And hey, before I forget," he added, glancing at his sheet of paper before looking back up at me, "if you stole any of the mugs from the cafeteria, you can drop them off in the blue collection bin by the door."
I twisted myself around so that my legs were hanging over the ladder to my bunk. "I didn't steal any mugs," I commented.
He rolled his eyes. "Look… nobody cares if you took 'em or not," he said, as though my stealing mugs was not a possibility, but a certainty. "They just want 'em back—no questions asked."
"Fine," I said, deciding not to argue the point as I climbed down the ladder. As I hit the ground, I found myself swirling in a sea of people hurriedly shoving things into boxes and bags. So much activity, and I could not bring myself to partake in any such busyness.
Instead I looked around. None of the bodies racing across the room were wearing bow-ties.
"Where's Eusine?" I asked, unsure at this point if I meant t locate him to seek him out or to purposefully avoid him.
The boy nearest to me gave a sour frown. "Haven't seen him since breakfast," he said.
"Oh," I said.
"Better get moving if you want to get out of here anytime soon," Charlie commented. "Not that you have much," he added, giving my meager possessions a sidelong glance, "but you've got a late start."
"Yeah…" I said, pulling on my pants and trying to put-off the inevitable moment of boxing my life up. The others were enthusiastic about leaving, but they had places to go. They weren't packing to be homeless—directionless.
"Oh, right and don't forget to clean out your mailbox before you go," Charlie put in, prodding at a point on his to-do list with his finger. "Save the school from paying the extra postage to forward it."
I pulled on a sweater that it was far too warm out for. "I'll do that now," I decided, looking around for my shoes.
"…But you haven't even started packing," Charlie said, raising an eyebrow.
"I'll do it when I get back," I said, tying my laces and hoping that the next step in my life would materialize by the time I got back from my walk.
I fished around in my pocket for the key to my mailbox as I walked along the sidewalk toward the communal hall, dodging students lugging couches and piles of boxes toward waiting cars as I went. I had no car, but it was just as well; I had no destination.
Ecruteak was an automatic no-go. After talking with Nico, there was no way I could buy into the notion that Madam Antonella could be absolutely counted on to keep Gastly under her control if I went back. Anyway, even if she could… what would I be going back to? Aunt Polly's house was no home of mine.
Eusine would be of no help to me. Even after what he'd seen the night before he still persisted in using me to the point of sacrifice to find Suicune. I could no longer go to him in search of direction.
Falkner was an appealing choice to turn to, but he knew nothing of my situation and I didn't know how I'd tell him. There was little hope he'd be able to help even if he knew.
There was the idea of a Pokemon journey—always in the back of my mind as a Plan B. Surely I wasn't the first to consider using it as a means of delaying a decision—a decision of home, occupation and future. Perhaps I could… just leave it all behind; go to a different region and cut away everything that bound me to Ecruteak.
…A different region. What a joke. Could I honestly have believed that even for a minute after what had happened the night before? This wasn't just about my Gastly and wasn't just about Ecruteak. Something had reached me even in Violet City. …And back at Sprout Tower the ghosts there had reacted to me as well. I couldn't run away from the entire spirit world. There is no region on earth where the living population is not outnumbered by the dead.
So where did that leave me? With Brother Nico's suggestion of religion? Should I have taken it upon myself to use a shield I doubted the strength of? Surrender myself to fasting and prayer? Wall myself up underground and become a recluse? Live like a dead man to escape the dead?
I entered the hall only to see that I seemed to be among the last people to remember to clean out their mailboxes. Most of the doors hung open along the bank of metal squares, revealing nothing but emptiness inside. I shielded my eyes from the sunlight filtering through the wide window just up above the lockers and fed my key into the box.
I didn't expect much. All I seemed to get these days were credit card offers, pleas from the Audino Foundation to donate blood, and the occasional money from Aunt Polly enclosed without so much as a post-it note.
When I opened the locker, a single cardboard box sat in the cold, black center of the compartment. I took it out, momentarily jarred from my thoughts of the future by its oddity. I never got packages.
The box was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. It was tied with frayed brown thread and bore no return address. I tore at the thread—an easier task than simply untying the knot—and flipped open the cardboard slots.
A newspaper article had been cut out and placed at the very top of the package so that it would be the first thing that whoever opened the box would see. It was black-and-white, an Ecruteak paper but not the more popular in-color Ecruteak Examiner. The top of the page proclaimed it to be The Lower-Ecruteak Gazette. A blocky, sans serif font blared from the top of the cutting, commanding all attention and rendering the rest of the article a mere blur in my mind. "Local Businesswoman Antonella Karas Dies in Staircase Fall" it proclaimed, its bluntness reverberating in my ears.
Local Businesswoman Antonella Karas Dies in Staircase Fall. Antonella Karas Dies. Dies.
I couldn't read the article. The headline was already too much. I tore the newspaper away, letting the clipping fall to the floor. I almost thought I heard a sigh as the covering was removed and the item that hid below it was revealed.
Its scratch-resistant surface was still just as perfect as I remembered it. Red and white, split down the middle. I reached out for it numbly, wondering if the red would smear away if I touched it. As though something besides paint colored the half that was no longer pure white.
I held the Poke Ball in my hands and knew that the smartest thing I could possibly do would be to get rid of it as fast as I could—any way I could. It would've been better to bury it in the forest, beneath a hollowed-out and ghostly tree; to toss it into the ocean and never so much as look at the water again; even to shove it into someone else's locker or drop it in a donation bin. Selfish was better than what would be in store for me if I opened it.
I brushed my thumb across the button on its seam. There are days when I tell myself it was an accident, but this is not one of them.
The two halves split open with the pop of an air release valve. Light shot out of it—it shouldn't have been so bright, so white, so clean. It did not stay light. It grew dark and less ethereal as it formed. It wasn't quite a solid, but it wasn't quite a gas. It had substance, but it was dimensionally separate.
As its shape solidified in front of the window, it eclipsed the sunlight, leaving only shreds of golden light to pour in around it, outlining every spike, every horn.
At first I could say nothing. My eyes were locked with the creature.
"You…" I murmured, as I began breathing again—not normally, mind you—ragged, fast and uneven, but I was breathing. "You've… grown."