"It's just for a little while, Turtwig, jeez," the grass-type refused to let go, biting down hard on my pant leg. I bent down and gently pulled him off, looking into his dark eyes. "Calm down. I'll be fine." I smiled a bit, rubbing the little leaf on his head. He took a little step back, unsatisfied. Sighing, I lifted him up and held him on my shoulder. "Fine, you can come with me. But I promise there's nothing to worry about."
My sister and my father went outside to water the garden almost two hours ago. They'd never been out longer than about thirty minutes, but I figured they were just messing around and decided to keep working on an assignment from the Professor instead of going out to check on them. After a while it became obvious that whatever they were doing was taking far too much time, and I decided to figure out exactly what it was before my mind came to all sorts of awful conclusions.
Turtwig shifted in my grasp, and I struggled to keep him in my arms. He proved too fidgety, and I was forced to put him back down. He stared up at me with his determined black eyes, and I knelt down in front of him, exasperated. "What is it, Turtwig?" He shook his head quickly and roughly, gaze still locked on mine. His feet started shuffling, stepping up and down on the freshly-vacuumed rug. I hadn't had him for very long, only a few months, but I figured by then I'd know how to read him. I could tell he didn't want me outside, but beyond that I didn't have a clue.
Completely exhausted of ideas, I stood up and walked back to the door, leaving him to his own devices. Something rammed into me from behind, throwing itself into my back, and I whipped around to see Turtwig stomping up and down on the floor. I demanded he apologize, but that just made him more agitated. Groaning, I tried to pick him up again. He seemed more cooperative, so I headed for the exit and grasped the doorknob. Then he began making very loud, obnoxious growls deep in his throat. Ignoring his ridiculous noises, I pulled open the door and stepped outside.
"See? Nothing to be afraid of." Despite it being summer, the air was still cold and the plants mostly short and fragile. Past summers had been warmer, and generally the weather in Sandgem was quite tolerable. But for some reason or another this particular year was cold and dry, leaving our garden to suffer. The light was dying, the sun slipping into its hiding spot behind the trees. A beaten path led up to our doorway, worn by years of childhood adventures and an incredibly anxious father, worried about the outlandish antics of both his daughters.
The mothers in town always talked about "that handsome young widower" who I would eventually come to realize was my father. He used to live with my mother in Hearthome before she died and he decided to relocate my sister and I to Sandgem. He would talk about her often, telling us wonderful stories about her countless adventures as a Pokémon trainer. I could only vaguely remember her, and what I did know I'd learned from him. Apparently she was the League Champion once, before choosing to step down and leave it to someone younger and, in her opinion, more capable. Not that she was old, no, of course not. She was young and beautiful, but far too modest to carry such a title. My father refused to see her as anything but perfect, and my sister and I were okay with that.
He was a very loving man, but a little on the frazzled side. He took care of us as best he could, but he was only one man and he needed to feed us too. The Professor was kind enough to give him a job and me an education, leaving my sister to be homeschooled by a kind old woman down the street. But my sister and I were crazy, always running around town and causing trouble. No matter what we did during the day, we always managed to return home incredibly dirty and covered in something sticky. We brought jars of sand home from the beach at least twice a week, and made a show out of dropping them off the roof or in the dining room. We always felt like we had the run of the place, bolting around town leaving a trail of mess behind for our poor father to clean up. He did it without question or punishment, his only tool for discipline being a kind talk and advice to try changing our ways. We had a time-out chair once, but it proved too flammable to be useful.
As he got older, I gradually learned how to control myself. My sister was still as rambunctious as ever, but after the Professor himself had to yell at me for wreaking havoc all over town I decided it was time to grow up. My father was thankful for the change, but I think a small part of him missed constantly having to pick up my messes.
It was strangely quiet, save for Turtwig's increasingly loud snarling. Starly made their home on the nearby routes, and their chirping could be heard all day long. Even more anxious than before, I began scratching Turtwig gently behind his leaf. He quieted down, but only a little. The wind carried a sudden sound, like a deep moan, to my ears. I shivered, holding my Pokémon tighter to my body. He started growling again, and this time I didn't try making him stop.
Praying the noise was just the wind, I walked a little further away from the house and took a good look around. The town seemed completely empty, devoid of any signs of life. No children playing, no old ladies standing around gossiping, no Pokémon running about in the grass.
The wind brought a other moan to my ears, Turtwig leaping from my hands in response. He ran toward the other side of the house, his voice rising up to a sound like barking. He stopped suddenly and bolted back into my waiting arms, feet pressed to my chest while he continued to bark at whatever it was he saw. I tried to ask him what the problem was, but my words just came out in a messy tumble. Something screeched loudly, and I responded with a scream of my own. I instinctively covered my mouth, stepping back towards the house. I heard shuffling, slow and deliberate, the sound of something struggling to move coming toward us. Turtwig and I held each other tight, my thoughts zooming in all different directions.
I wanted someone to just come out and yell "surprise!" Someone to tell me this was all just a joke and the whole town was in on it and everything was fine and I could stop freaking out. But the only sound was that of low moans, dragging themselves from around the corner and digging deep into our heads.
They came in a mob.
At first I laughed, thinking my friends had decided to screw with me as an early birthday present. After all, I could see their faces in the hideous creatures coming for me. Then I realized that such excellent makeup was far beyond the ability of my friends to conjure up. My heart pounded in my chest, and I began to hyperventilate. Turtwig fell from my arms, landing on the hard dirt path. He began snarling, determined to protect his petrified trainer.
The things steadily walking toward us were truly disgusting, their skin coming off in large patches and their organs spilling out of the stomachs. My knees gave out and I crumpled to the ground. Anything I'd recently eaten came back up through my throat, coating the ground before me in a thick, creamy stew. Turtwig cried out, the little leaf on his head beginning to fire off smaller versions of itself to hold back the monsters. One of them was sharp enough to slice the head off one, and I struggled to ignore the feeling of recognition that began to gnaw at me when I got a good look at its face.
None of the others reacted to losing one of their own, a simple act that sent me over the edge. These weren't my friends. This couldn't be some elaborate prank. Whatever these horrible things were, they wanted me and they didn't care what they lost in the process.
I wiped vomit from the side of my mouth with a sweaty, shaking hand. I had no proof that they would kill me, but I had no intention of dying here. "Who are you?" I yelled at them, my voice cracking. "What do you want?" They made no reply, just continued to shamble toward me with their arms spread wide. "Please…please, tell me!"
Their pace quickened suddenly, and I gasped. One of them lunged for Turtwig, but he leapt back just in time and sliced off its head with a thin, incredibly sharp leaf. The body kept moving, and the little grass-type froze up. Acting on pure panic, I got to my feet and raced toward my Pokémon. I plucked him up from the ground, narrowly avoiding the hungry arms of the headless beast. He shivered in my arms, and I rubbed his neck gently. "Shhh…it's gonna be okay." But I didn't know that for sure.
I kept moving away from them until I realized my back was to the door. I grasped the handle and yanked it open, slipping inside and slamming it closed behind me as fast as I could. I put my back against the wall, looking around desperately for something to help me get rid of these things. My eyes fell on my father's prized katana. It glinted in the lamplight, high above our mantelpiece.
My sister and I used to play with it all the time as kids, even though taking it off its stand was the biggest rule breaker in our house. I'd held it before, and I knew how the weight felt in my hands. But could I use it? I pulled a chair in front of the mantle and climbed on top, taking the sword down with great care. I blew the dust off, my pale face staring up at me in shock.
It didn't matter; I was going to.
Turtwig and I headed out the backdoor, incredibly careful not to make any sounds as we came around to the front. A strange part of me was excited for this, excited to feel like I had when my friends and I would play cowboys and Indians as kids. This was no game, but the adrenaline coursing through my veins sure thought it was.
The first creature we saw hadn't yet made it to the main mob. Holding my sword low, I sprang up behind it and tried to slice off its head in one swift swing. But the sword was dull, and the neck of the creature was much thicker than I'd anticipated. My weapon got stuck halfway through, and I opted to just pull it out and stab deep into the thing's eyeball. I had to kick it in the chest to retrieve my sword, and it slumped pathetically to the ground.
I figured these things worked just the same as they did in all the zombie movies I'd seen: destroy the brain and you destroy the beast. I looked down at my katana to see it covered in thick, dark blood. That didn't sound too hard, and I could do it if I just kept stabbing them through the eye. Turtwig took the next one, slicing off its head with ease. They still hadn't noticed us, so we took the initiative to continue our spree.
This was a cool dream. My dreams had always been mash-ups of strange nonsense all pulled together, but this was something new. Something to let me really get my anger out, something to let me really feel alive.
But the next creature made me stop dead in my tracks. My katana dropped to the ground, landing almost silently in the dirt. The blood was fresh, staining his newly cleaned t-shirt with deep red blotches. His head hung loosely to the side, an empty, quiet noise escaping from his rotted mouth. I asked him quietly what he was doing; my voice like it was when I was a child. I asked him just like I would ask him to tell me a story, or play a game with me.
"Daddy? Daddy? Dad, stop! Stop doing this!" I pounded my fists against his hollow chest, the other creatures crowding around me. "Don't you understand? Daddy, it's me! It's Dawn! Dad, please!" Something pulled me back, forcing me hard to the ground. I didn't care. All I wanted was for my dad to tell me everything would be alright. I kept saying his name, begging him to stop, to be my dad again.
I repeated his name long into the night, long after my beloved Turtwig scared all the creatures away. From that moment on, everything was dangerous. Everything was a struggle. Everything was a fight for my life, and eventually the Professor's. He saved me later that night, but from then on I was to save him.
My Turtwig protected me even after the day I almost lost him. The day he ran out into the hoard because he was having a nervous breakdown. I was lucky. Lucky I wasn't too fast for Leo to catch me, lucky Turtwig was immune. So incredibly, unreasonably lucky. I was lucky I survived the first day, and lucky for every day after that. Lucky to still be alive.