Little Girl Lost
Seven days ago, her father left them behind. He was leaving to go on a pokémon journey. He would call and check in with them all the time. He promised them.
Her mother screamed “Liar! Liar! Liar!” over and over when she was alone in her room late at night, and her little six year old self would listen in behind her mother’s closed and locked door.
This, Ashelia Ketchum realized, was the beginning of a different life for her.
In Pallet, it was a rather small population and everyone knew everyone and eventually “everything.” Her father’s abandonment (this was a word she’d learned from “Mrs. 1273” when she walking passed her one day, after school was over) was widely spread and gossiped about. She tended to listen closely and observe everyone, and notice little things that people liked to think she wouldn’t understand or catch in the first place, because of her age.
She didn’t have friends her age. There were a lack of girls around her age, and the few girls close enough didn’t like the same things she did. She loved pokémon, she played rougher and more actively, didn’t dress up, and tended to hang around boys more because of this. She was even more content to shorten her name to ‘Ash’, because it was shorter, catchier, and easier to say, despite how boyish it sounded.
Ash didn’t care.
But even if she played more and hung around the boys, she wasn’t really friends with them either. They didn’t want to be “friends” with a girl. Some of them were dumb enough to even think she had cooties. She always rolled her eyes at that –it was so stupid and immature.
And so, a lack of friends led a friendless her to be alone and compensate by paying attention to everyone and everything. She noticed a lot of things, saw stuff she was sure she wasn’t supposed to know. Listened and probably learned about things she was too young to know about. Watched and knew things that she was much more comfortable not knowing.
Sometimes she wished she had been born a male and could just play with Gary Oak and the other boys, and be dumb with the rest of them.
But she was a girl and she hated how lonely that made her.
Gary, the famous Professor Oak’s grandson, was technically her only real friend, despite how much he always said he wasn’t and called her “a stupid girl!” Whenever she became too bored or lonely, she would always walk the long way to his house and pester him until he agreed to hang out with her, and the two of them would secretly play together. She was doing that right then too. Only, Gary saw her coming while he was walking out of his house and his nose scrunched up.
“What are you doing here?” he asked snottily.
She visibly bristled. “Visiting you, duh!”
“Hmph! Well, I’m going to go to the park to play with my friends, so I don’t have time for you,” Gary folded his arms across his chest.
“Can I come?” Ash became excited.
“No way! Boys only!” he pulled down an eyelid and stuck out his tongue. After, he straightened and began walking away from her. “Anyway, maybe I’ll play with you some other time. Smell ya later!”
Ash pouted and wondered what she was going to do now. The door opening again caught her attention, and she saw Professor Oak getting ready to fetch the newspaper she just noticed was by her feet.
“Asheila! What are you doing here? Ah, if you’re looking for Gary, I believe he just left,” the professor told her apologetically.
Ash’s pout worsened. “It’s Ash, Professor. And I know. He just left.”
Oak smiled at her, reaching out to ruffle her hair. “I know, why don’t you come with me and look at the pokémon out back. You can even help me take care of some of them, if you’d like.”
Her eyes brightened up. “Really? I want to, Professor! Please?”
He chuckled and soon enough Ash was looking over a multitude of pokémon. After lunchtime, Oak was observing a flock of bird pokémon that Ash didn’t know what they were, while she frolicked around with a few Rattata and Pidgey.
She loved poké́mon. They loved her and would never leave her, so she would love them and never leave them back.
Ever since, she spent even more time at Gary’s home (which was also Professor Oak’s home too). But she didn’t really play with Gary anymore, who had also taken to playing more with his friends and pretending to have pokémon battles.
It was okay, because she played with pokémon for real and “Sammy” would tell her and teach her all about pokémon, which was much better than playing with all those dumb boys anyway. Sammy, which Professor Oak let her call him, had quickly become her best friend (even if he was actually her only). He would tell her lots of stories, and she especially loved the ones about his pokémon journey, back before he decided he’d rather become a Pokémon Researcher. Her absolute favorite was about Sammy meeting a boy named Ash (just like her!), who he had met when he had rescued a Celebi and had traveled to the future. He’d even showed Ash a sketch he’d drawn of Celebi and the Pikachu that had belonged to the Ash from his story. She decided she would definitely want a Pikachu for her starter just like Ash the Boy.
That had led to Sammy smiling sadly and chuckling, and she had watched him in confusion.
“You remind me a lot of him, Ash,” Sammy sounded really sad and wistful. “Although, he was a lot more…dense and louder. And much more impulsive and rasher than you, certainly. At least you have a good head on your shoulders and think more before you act or say anything. Hopefully that’ll stay with you while you grow up, huh?”
But Sammy had still sounded really sad and like he’d missed his old friend, which made Ash want to have a Pikachu as her starter even more.
Drawn into her thoughts, she’d only broken out of them when she heard the doorbell. She curiously and eagerly began to make her way from her bedroom to the ground floor of her home, when she heard Sammy and her mother talking. Guessing it was Sammy who’d come, she guiltily stayed hidden and listened in.
“Professor, there’s no way I can sign this,” her mother sounded unhappy. “In fact, I refuse to.”
“Delia, think of your daughter. Ash absolutely loves pokémon. Won’t you just let her come and enjoy the summer camp?” Sammy tried to reason with her.
Ash bit her lip as she waited for her mother’s reply. She knew now what was going on –Sammy was trying to get her mother to sign the permission slip for Ash to attend the Pokémon Summer Camp he was hosting. She wasn’t sure how well it’d work; her mother seemed to really dislike pokémon these days.
“I don’t want to get her too interested in pokémon,” her mother suddenly
confessed. “She might…she might want to go on her own pokémon journey when it’s time.”
“Would that be so bad?” Sammy asked in confusion. “Unless…Delia, you wouldn’t feel it would be like she would be leaving you just like Faron did, do you?”
“Don’t mention him to me,” her mother said sharply. “And no… not completely. It’s just….she’s all that I have, Professor…Samuel. She’ll go off so young –she’s pretty and she can be so naïve. She’ll be taken advantage of, and who knows what else can happen to her. If she’d been born a boy, like the doctors had told me she was supposed to be, I sometimes wonder if I would feel this anxious. I know I’d still fuss over him, but…Dear Arceus, there’s just this buildup of anxiety and stress and terror inside of me at the thought of her going out and traveling by herself, and I have nightmares of all the things that could happen to her.”
Sammy was trying to be reassuring. “Don’t be afraid, Delia. There have been plenty of girls who have gone on their own pokémon journey. Ash would be fine.” But even he didn’t sound so sure.
For a moment, Ash didn’t hear anything else. And then her mother quietly spoke.
“Just for camp. That’s it. I’ll…sign the form.”
As they finished up, Ash quietly stayed where she was, sliding to sit on the floor and resting her chin on her knees as she wrapped her arms around her bent legs in comfort.
She was happy she got to go to the summer camp, but now…now she wasn’t so sure how she felt about pokémon journeys and going on one. A part of her felt sad she was probably not going to be allowed on one, and another felt the creeping fear of going on one, after hearing their words.
Sometimes, she really, really hated that she paid so much attention, and wished she could just be cocky, confident, and brash in ignorance like Gary.
The summer camp had been great so far. Ash was having a lot of fun! The best part was that she got to play with a lot more kids her age, even boys who didn’t care she was a girl and girls who liked the same things as her. To them, the most important of anything was pokémon –exactly what Ash had always thought!
Maybe they weren’t lifelong friends, but she was happy to be included and liked all the same. And they were friends for now at least.
“Ash, are you busy?” Sammy came looking for her.
She shook her head wildly, all giddy and feeling childish. “Nuh uh.”
He smiled at her and knelt to where she sitting on the ground. “There’s a Poliwag I brought in earlier, except it’s been moving about. I think it’s lost in this forest. I know you really know the forest around here clearly, so would you mind looking for it for me? If you can’t find it, come back. It shouldn’t have gone too far, so I don’t want you going too deep into the forest either.”
Ash scrambled and gave him a toothy grin, straightening up the slightly big on her miniature lab coat Sammy had gotten for her. She gave him a thumbs up.
“Don’t worry! I got this, Sammy.”
She was going to set off on an adventure! Ash giggled to herself and headed to the woods. It actually hadn’t taken her too long to find the Poliwag. Only it was with a young girl with honey-colored hair and blue eyes that were tearing up, and she was holding onto her knee. Looking closely, Ash could see that it was bleeding a bit.
“Hi! Are you okay?” Ash bounded up to her.
“I’m Serena,” the other girl sniffled. “I got lost from Professor Oak’s Summer Camp, and I tripped over this Poliwag.”
Ash whipped out a handkerchief and knelt by Serena, wrapping it around her injured knee. She tapped Serena’s nose playfully.
“That’s a good luck charm, Serena! It’ll make the pain go away.”
“It still hurts though,” Serena rubbed her eyes.
Ash surprised her when she all of a sudden grabbed Serena and carried her like a bride, easily lifting her up despite being slightly smaller.
“Don’t worry! Don’t give up until it’s over, okay? But for now I’ll be your Knight Without Armor!”
She hadn’t realized it then, but for the first time she had made a lifelong friend, and with another girl at that.
“Professor Oak, we just brought in a wild Pikachu,” Ash heard one of Sammy’s aides say. “It’s really injured, but it doesn’t want to let anyone come near it. It shoots off electricity at whoever comes near it. We’ve tried to get it back into the pokéball we originally put it in to safely and quickly transfer it here, but it’s refusing to.”
“I see,” Sammy replied. “It’s in the Corral, right? Leave it be for now. Perhaps if it can see how happy and cared for pokémon are here, it’ll feel better about being here and around us. We’ll still have to monitor it to make sure its condition doesn’t worsen.”
Ash curiously left them behind and headed to the Corral, going on a search for the Pikachu. She saw it lying by the area usually inhabited by the grass pokémon, where it lay on soft grass and practically hid in it. It was quick to notice her approaching, but she only slowed down and didn’t completely stop. Plopping onto her knees, she started to crawl towards it. It watched her warily. An arm’s length away, it shot electricity at her, so she stopped.
She tilted her head and stayed on all fours, staring at it.
“Pika? Pika Pika, Pikachu,” Ash blurted out and it stared back at her strangely. “Pika?”
It unwillingly giggled and slowly, slowly came to her, hesitantly butting its head against her bowed one.
“Pika,” it replied smartly, and then lightly slapped her head a few times with his tail.
Ash giggled too and reached out to pet Pikachu’s head. Gently, she reminded herself. Gently. She couldn’t be rough, like how she played rough with the boys, or play rowdy just because she usually was, girl or not.
Later, Sammy found both of them lying in that pasture, curled up around each other. He scooped them up into his arms and carried them back to the main part of the lab.
A little after all that, Ash turned seven. As a birthday present, Sammy was bringing her along to a medical convention in Celadon City, where after he’d take her around the city and show her everything. While he was at the convention, she was supposed to stay in the hotel room and watch TV, order room service, and whatever else was available to her in the room.
She missed Pikachu. She wished she could have brought him, but her mother had seen them off and she wasn’t supposed to know that Ash kinda, sort of, maybe already had a pokémon. Or was preparing for a pokémon journey. Neither of which her mother would approve of.
But that was just details.
Even though she was supposed to stay in the room, she was bored and restless. If she was quick…maybe she could just, only a little…go outside for a bit and see what the city looked like. She wouldn’t stray too far.
Mind made up, she snuck outside and wandered around the area close to the hotel.
“Hey there, love. What are you doing around here, by yourself? Are you lost?” Ash blinked and looked at the man that had been talking to her.
He wore a kind smile, dressed in a forest green tracksuit, and was holding a Vulpix in his arms.
“No, I was just exploring,” she told him, eyes wide.
He laughed. “I see. An adventurous girl, huh? You want to come over and pet Vulpix? She’s shy, but she likes attention. Little girls like cute things, don’t they?”
She made an agreeing noise, coming over curiously and reaching a hand towards the quiet pokémon. Without warning, her wrist was snatched by the man and he was pulling her closer.
“Now, now. Don’t make a fuss or else,” his voice had turned menacing and he was gripping her wrist tightly. She whimpered. “Cute little girls like you should keep quiet and just stand around looking pretty.”
“And I think disgusting men like you should find themselves bereft of their life,” another man’s voice spoke up and Ash saw a taller man, with broad shoulders and dressed in an expensive vivid orange suit, stand behind the man.
For some reason, the man holding onto her stiffened. He then quickly let go of her and moved away, and Ash only caught a glimpse of something dark and metallic disappearing back into the well-dressed man’s suit jacket, before the man took his hand back out and let it rest by his side.
“Be gone,” he barked at the man that had scared her, and immediately he was gone. Then he was turning to her. “Should you be out here alone?”
She looked down. “…No. I should be in my room, but I was alone and bored.”
For a moment he was quiet, before he sighed. “Come. Let us return to your hotel. I’ll escort you back, little one.”
She followed behind dutifully, though she did make sure he was going to the right place and that he was leading her there in the first place. There, he brought her to the hotel restaurant, where he ordered her a sundae and she delightfully dug in. She was confused, but pleased that he was staying with her.
“Have you ever heard of not talking with strangers, much less going with one?” he asked her wryly, but also ironically.
She ducked her head timidly.
“Next time, scream when someone grabs you like that,” he told her firmly. “No matter what they say. Screaming attracts attention, and you’ll likely be saved.”
She gave him a small smile.
His name was Giovanni, she found out. He had a Persian that he let out and let Ash pet and hold tightly onto after she ate. He listened to her patiently and actually talked to her. It was the first time she actually felt wanted, and not a burden.
His hand settled heavily on her head and rubbed it gently. He looked at her seriously and she watched him intensely in return.
“This world is an ugly place. You shouldn’t be so trusting, dolcezza,” he murmured. He rubbed her head one last time and then stood up.
“Remember that, little blackbird. Remember the true, ugly face of this world.”
He began to walk away, his Persian rubbing up against Ash’s small legs before following after its master.
Ash bit her lip and stared into the melting mess of her sundae.
Was the world outside of her life in Pallet really so terrible?