Wish You Were Here
ADR 007 Summer
The crags of Grampa Canyon glowed with the birth of sunrise, their rough surfaces like hot coals in the darkness. Light inched across the canyon's inner valley, a curtain that slowly revealed red, yellow, and orange rock. The surface was practically devoid of life, except for one napping Nidoqueen's exposed back, protecting the entrance to her burrow. The sun's warmth was comforting, the same sun as it had always been. It was everything else that had changed. She chose to ignore that fact. For a moment, she was a little Nidoran again, pushed up against her trainer Melina's belly in the woods. In her mind, they were traveling through Kanto together, and she'd just won her a badge. Her mind then fast-forwarded, and she was safe at home with Melina and her husband in Neon Town, watching Melina's little baby blow bubbles. The world was still a child's playground, a place for their adventures. Wild Pokémon and humans didn't hate each other, kill each other, and she hadn't been living in this canyon for seven years.
But small cries from the burrow jolted her from the fantasy.
Reality was calling. On a summer night seven years ago, she and all other Pokémon had awoken to a strange sickness, writhing in pain until they blacked out. They'd awoken with power they couldn't control, fires burning, voices telling them to kill, running for their lives as wild Pokémon attacked humans in a purging bloodbath. They'd run from the fires, the voices, the Pokémon with blood spattered on their mouths, the cries of death. Somehow, they'd found this place, decided to hide, to wait until it was over. It was never over.
Seven years of keeping Melina alive in this desolate place.
In a matter of minutes, she was gone.
The nidoqueen shifted in the burrow's entrance, loosening herself from being wedged in the rock. It gave way, and she allowed sunlight to filter into the little cave she had created when they'd first escaped. She had drilled out benches and stocked it with small chests of food and supplies. In the center, there was an old mattress with faded red sheets that were now in a little cocoon. She crawled into the burrow and sat next to the mattress, poking it with her foot.
"Maya, it's morning," she said. Her voice was a low, raspy grumble, but tender. The sheets tightened into an even smaller ball. She poked it gently. "Maya?"
"I don't want to come out, Nida," the ball said.
Nida poked the ball again. "You're going to have to come out eventually," she said.
"I'm never coming out," the ball whispered.
Nida rested her paw at one end of the ball, stroking it. "What would momma think? Hmm?"
"Momma wouldn't have gone away," the ball said. It moved completely off the mattress, curling up against a wall. "She left me, so I don't care."
The nidoqueen picked it up and cradled it in her lap, pulling back the layers. The child inside was seven years old, but she looked five, with a tiny frame and eyes like teacups. Using the sheets, Nida rubbed the girl's face clean, as her little hands clung to Nida's arm. She looked into Maya's eyes, two colored drops of water.
She took a deep breath and said, "Maya, Melina did not leave us."
"Yes she did! She left just like Growlithe and Bulba and everyone," Maya said.
"No, Maya, she didn't," Nida said. "Melina…momma, she died," the words dried out her throat, constricting it. Nida shook, her back prickling, her ears low. "She got very sick and she died." Nida was paralyzed, staring at this still and silent child, waiting. Doesn't she understand? It's not like this is the first time.
"Why, Nida? Why?" She started pounding her fists against the Nidoqueen's breastplate, though Nida barely felt it. "Tell me why!" Maya thrashed and screamed, crying for Melina, all the while Nida making hushing sounds frantically, dripping tears into the girl's hair.
"Stop, Maya. Please?" She wrapped her arms around Maya's torso, enveloping her in warm scales, bowing her head. "Please?" The cries turned into slow whimpers, and so Nida rocked her, held her, knowing it wasn't the same as Melina's touch.
I raised her, she thought. No, she corrected herself, I helped raise her, and she can't just be left alone. But I'm not going to be enough, she needs people. Humans. The words circled around and around in Nida's head. She needs humans.
"Maya, I need you to listen carefully," Nida said. Maya pushed up against Nida's belly, shaking her head no against it.
"We're going to have to leave," Nida said.
The shaking head popped up. "What? When?"
Nida put Maya down, and began to pack all of the things she had collected for them over
the years: a spare change of clothes, cooking equipment, and other effects from destroyed and forgotten cities nearby. From the cooler, she piled the remaining berries and seeds they'd collected, a few pieces of game meat, and three cans of poké food. She had never actually taken Melina or Maya into these destroyed places or to search for food, even when Melina's other Pokémon were still alive to help her protect them. Maya had never been more than a mile from the burrow. She'd had no reason to risk it before.
"Where are we going?" she said.
"Get dressed, Maya. Now." The girl jumped to obey. Within a half hour, they'd
gotten the essentials packed up, and Nida sat on the mattress, looking over a map of the Kanto region they had salvaged their first year. It was almost illegible, smudged and in pieces. Maya walked around the burrow, brushing her hand over the carved benches. She stopped suddenly, rushing to her crate.
"Nida, Nida, what about the story books?" There were two, slightly charred, with pictures of trees, houses, and people, things Maya had never seen, only dreamed about.
"We have to carry only the essentials, Maya," Nida said, focused on the map.
Maya clutched her books tighter. "I'll carry them," she said.
Nida got up and put her paws on Maya's shoulders. "Where we're going, there'll be lots
of story books for you to look at."
The child's face broke into smiles. "Really?"
Fissures snaked through Nida's heart. She nodded, desperately hoping she was right. Maya held her books close for a moment longer, and then put them back in the crate. They put on their backpacks, and walked into the shimmering heat of the canyon. The nidoqueen closed up the burrow with a boulder she had found, and pushed sand and rocks around the edges, until they couldn't see it anymore. Heart racing amidst the calm around them, she grabbed Maya's hand and led her away.
Within a half hour they had reached the edge of Grampa Canyon. There was nothing around them to signal the change, save a broken sign with the faded words, "Route 15, Forest Path." Maya ran ahead to the sign, picking up broken splinters of wood.
"Nida," she called, pointed to the sign, "This says, 'Forest', right?"
"Yes," Nida sighed.
"Where is it?"
Nida had been on this route before, but it was like seeing it anew with Maya there. She
had become numb to it, but now she felt, all too clearly, the dead earth around them. Not a tree stood, the ground devoid of grass. The dirt had turned a malignant, ashy color, mixed with windblown sand. It kicked up around them and into their faces. Maya dropped the sign, covering her eyes with her arms. Nida shielded the girl with her girth, and wrapped a rag around Maya's head, over her nose and mouth.
"Everything ok?" She rumbled over the wind. The girl nodded, puffing out her chest.
They pressed on, past the sign, seeing only arid flatland for miles, no path left to guide them. Here and there, a weed stuck out, flailing against the wind. Cracks deeper and longer than Onix wound through the landscape. Tremors shook the ground, which Nida knew meant the remaining ground and rock Pokémon were tunneling, trying to revive the place with artificial springs. They'd been at it for four years with little to show for it.
After a few miles, the two travelers met a patch of black, charred spikes shooting from the ash. They were fifty to a hundred feet tall, but their edges crumbled as they approached. Nida began to walk around the little patch, but Maya stopped before their height, awestruck. The nidoqueen snatched the girl up around the middle and hoisted her onto her shoulders, but Maya squirmed to look back at the spikes.
"We need to keep moving," Nida said. They only had so much time before dark.
"Nida, were those trees?" Maya said, wide eyes watching the spikes.
"Not anymore," Nida said.
"Wow," the girl exhaled.
Nida's eyes closed, feeling the soft skin of Maya's legs as she dangled over her.
Suddenly, the girl twisted up to sit on Nida's towering shoulder.
"Nida? Are we the only ones here?" she said. Nida remained silent. "Are we?"
"I don't know for sure," she said finally.
Maya thrust her arms out and into the ashy wind. "I'm queen of the world!" she shouted, scoping out the wasteland. She tumbled off Nida's shoulder. Nida froze, but the girl jumped up immediately, laughing.
"See? No one said I'm not, so I must be queen," she laughed. Nida tried to smile. "And you're a queen, too, Nida."
The nidoqueen circled around, trying to see something, a bush, a Pokémon, something left of the forest that she remembered. Queens of what, she thought.
It was mid-afternoon, and they were still surrounded by wasteland. The terrain, however, was no longer flat, but carved into huge trenches and mounds of gravel, an old battlefield of sorts. It had happened three years ago. The bug, grass, flying, and ground Pokémon had banded together against the fire and electric types, and the battle raged, growing and growing, covering more and more land in the fray. Nida could only watch the slaughter from a distance, or else be noticed and intimidated into fighting for a side. For two days, she watched, unable to turn away. When the smoke and stun spore cleared, the dead Pokémon outnumbered the living, and having the same type didn't matter anymore. Every other species was an enemy, something that would either take your home for itself, or destroy it. She had secretly grabbed a few edible carcasses and walked home, hoping that this wasn't the whole region, that they just lived in a terrible place. She held on to that hope even now, as they walked through the aftermath.
Now, neither plants nor Pokémon could live here, the land uprooted and burned as it was. It was a lonely place, with high hills and low holes that cast certain areas in endless shade, whatever time of day, almost like torrential waves caught mid-crash. Gray clouds had overtaken the sky, changing everything into even duller hues. At least here, she was sure they would be left alone. She decided they would rest.
"Why don't we eat this meat before it spoils?" Nida said, pulling it out of its careful wrappings. Maya's head bobbed in agreement. They pulled out a pan and some dead shrub branches they'd picked up along the way. Letting a tiny thunderbolt escape from her hand, she set the wood on fire, and stomped it out as soon as the food was cooked. They ate their meat with chesto and nutpea berries, drinking water from a cracked mug hung from a backpack strap. Maya brought the mug to her lips, drinking greedily.
The earth suddenly shook.
Nida's scales bristled, paws outstretched for an attack. Sandslash? Or worse, Onix? Her head turned this way and that. Not here, not now. This land is supposed to be dead.
The tremors stopped, and the world was quiet, but Nida remained poised. She scanned the space around them, waiting. Sputters and coughs interrupted her, Maya choking on the water, her face and bangs dripping. Nida calmed, a rumbling laugh tumbling out of her, turning Maya's cheeks red.
"Quit it!" she said between coughs. She hid her face behind the mug.
At that moment, the clouds darkened, and it began to rain in sheets. Drenched, they scrambled to get their things together, Nida pulling out a plastic tarp to cover them. She brought Maya close and curled into a mass around her, Maya's head resting on her breastplate. The girl curled up as well in the little space.
"Nida? Are we gonna get to see Pokémon?" Maya said. The nidoqueen bit her tongue.
"Uh, maybe," she said, "But I think they just want to be left alone."
"Oh," Maya said. "Where are they? And the trees, and the flowers?"
"We'll see them soon," Nida said. With another rag between two claws, she dried off the child's arms and legs, and squeezed the water out of her dress. The girl's eyelids started to close.
"Promise?" It was a whisper, and Maya didn't wait for a response. She was asleep.
"Promise," Nida said.
The rain pattered on for hours, filling their encampment with puddles. Their gray tarp made the nidoqueen's mass look like an ordinary boulder. The wave-like mound had also created a cover to avoid the water, so Nida decided to wait it out. As the sky darkened into night, she fell asleep.
The howls of the wind and skittering of the ash woke her constantly, but no Pokémon made an appearance. Nida was grateful. Their loneliness meant their safety until they could find humans; hopefully, they were just beyond the bridge she'd seen in Fuchsia City a few years ago. The city had been completely desolate then. Now wild Pokémon fought to claim it as territory, destroying the rows of buildings in the process. If they could just skirt around it and get to the bridge entrance from the hills, they'd be home free. At least, Maya would be. That would be enough for Nida. She pushed her jaw deeper into the scorched dirt, trying to relax. Eventually, the sun peeped into the crack between the tarp and the floor, and she was wide awake.
"Maya," she whispered, "It's morning." Maya yawned big, sat up, and then fell back onto Nida's breastplate.
"It's too bright, Nida," she whined, "Close up the burrow again." When the nidoqueen didn't move, the girl was jolted awake, her eyes saucers.
"We're not in the burrow," she said.
"No, Maya, we're going to find people," Nida said.
"It wasn't a dream, we're really out here," Maya said. "Momma's gone."
"Yes, I'm afraid she is," Nida said, picking up their things.
Nida folded the tarp, watching Maya carefully. The child looked at the ground, folded her legs into her chest, and stayed that way, completely silent. She didn't even look at the nidoqueen as Nida tossed a wrinkly leppa berry at Maya. What is there left to say, Nida thought, I can't keep coddling her. I know it's hard, but I'm hurting, too. She has to grow up if we're going to survive, right?
Nida and Maya set off, and by the time the sun had gotten to its highest point in the sky, they'd covered another eight miles. They'd passed the first battlefield and were back to arid flatland. Once populated by trees, the land was only ash and small, random hills dotting the horizon. At the farthest corner of that horizon, a grey mass jutted from the flatland. Fuchsia City. Clouds of smoke billowed around it, blurring out the sky, but tiny patches of green, the first green they'd seen, sat at its base. It was a withered, almost brown green, but it was green. They were almost there.
"You see that, Maya?" Nida pointed. "It's a city."
Maya shaded her eyes with her hands. "That little thing?" she said.
"Yes, yes, do you see the-" There was a crash.
Nida's ears pricked like a Houndoom's at the noise.
Far off to the northeast.
Dodrio? Rhydon? Tauros?
She didn't want to find out. She charged into Maya, scooping her up in mid-run.
She had to get them away, far away.
Her thoughts raced.
Don't look back.
She glanced back, anyway.
The dirt was kicking up in the distance.
The earth trembled.
A black presence in the distance, growing larger.
"Nida? Nida!" Maya hollered, but the nidoqueen kept running, her scales rising, her spikes already oozing poison in anticipation, her bounds creating tremors of their own. Her pounding, rushing heart drowned everything out.
"Nida!" Maya screamed.
Nida unleashed a deafening roar, shaking the earth, scattering the sand around them.
"MAYA, SHUT UP!" she roared.
The threat was gone as quick as it had come, like a banished spirit. She skidded to a stop. Maya fell off and backed away. The world was completely still. Silence blanketed them, broken only by Nida's huffs as she tried to catch her breath.
"Are you ok?" she said between breaths. "You're not hurt?" It was then that Nida saw Maya's face. She was pushed up against a mound of upturned sand, trembling. Tears were growing like wildflowers in her eyes. Scratches adorned her knees and elbows from where she'd fallen. Her mouth opened and closed, but nothing came out.
"Maya…" Nida took a step forward, and Maya's arms shot up over her head. "Maya, I... I'm not going to hurt you," she begged. "You know that, right? Right? Maya, say something. Please. Please!"
The girl shook her head, and closed her eyes.