Molly squirmed in my arms as I struggled to swallow back the tears, to ignore the burn in my chest and the sting behind my eyes. My heart went too fast, slamming into my chest rapidly like frantic steps up and down the stairs. Each breath came harsh and ragged, desperately sucking in air thick with the reek of death. "It's okay," I gasped, holding the newborn Wynaut closely and trying to keep her calm. "Everything will be alright. Don't worry about anything -I've got you," she looked up at me with her tiny, slit eyes. Her face was alight with naiveté, her tiny body wriggling in confusion.
The floor creaked loudly and I whipped around, loose hairs swinging to cover my eyes. My mother held a finger to her lips, her expression grim. Dull light pouring in from a high window made the dirt covering her uniform stand out against the regal blue. Her badge shone beneath a thick layer of grime, the well-crafted silver gleaming like fluorescent light under a dark film. She leaned against the wall, stretching back slightly to see outside. She held between her hands a dark, strange object unauthorized for "civilian" use in all eighteen Sinnoh city-states. The gun was both terrible and mesmerizing at once, an alien object rarely seen in this world. There was nothing about her that suggested anything but confidence and concentration; she feared neither the gun nor the situation at hand.
Blood splattered across the window, blotting out the light and separating it into much thinner strands across the shadowy hallway. My mother looked away from it and turned to me, taking in the sight before her.
"What is that for?" I asked before she could say anything.
She glanced at the gun, then back at me. "Negotiations."
"You-you think they won't listen to you?" My voice caught in my throat, and I fought against the urge to crumple up and cry, "The others?"
My mother shrugged and straightened slightly, her body still tensed. "I think there's going to be a lot of panic out there, and there's very little a few loud noises can't solve." I flinched at the sound of loud screaming from outside, a man begging for his life as the undead overwhelmed him. I breathed hard, trying to focus on anything else. My mother motioned for me to follow her before leaving down the hall. My legs shook beneath me; my body longed to sit back down. Molly's weight put me slightly off-balance, but like hell I was going to leave her alone.
I moved carefully up the stairs, eyes locked on my mother's dark form. She held the gun between her legs, her weight separated over two steps. Her body was enshrouded in shadow, the only light coming in from the small basement window now hidden behind us. There was a brief pause like a quick breath before she slammed into the steel door and forced it open. Light fell in, and I saw how she raised her gun out so anyone around could see it clearly. A PokeBall glimmered at her waist, its reflective surface shining back in the sun.
I smelled the acrid smack of decay, mingling haphazardly with the fresh traces of the outdoors. The air would normally be filled with birdsong and mid-morning pleasantries; raking leaves or the rattle of a rickety bike. But I heard only screaming and horrified cries; the occasional moan of a dying victim or the caw of an undead Staravia. Molly began to shake in my arms, releasing small hiccupping noises as if to ask what was happening. I clung tightly to her, making her squeal with sudden delight. We ascended the last few stairs carefully, emerging into the chaos of my city with cautious steps on the dry autumn grass.
A bright light appeared by my mother's side, her Espeon quickly shaking off the rickety feel of inactivity. She motioned for him to start moving ahead and he nodded swiftly in understanding, tail sticking straight up and ears pricking. My mother kept close to me, telling me not to look back and making sure I stayed between her and Colin.
We stuck to the middle of the street and I struggled to keep my gaze from wandering. There were dark masses on either side of me, messes of blood and staggering corpses occupying our once-quiet neighborhood. Once I heard a familiar voice begging for help, and for a brief instant I swore it was one of my classmates. He called my name over and over, then my mother's, then made desperate, gasping attempts to get Colin's attention. My feet faltered and my chest ached to go back and take him with us. Then the Espeon glanced back at me, his blue eyes meeting mine as if he could read my mind. I felt my mother's hand on my back and swallowed the feeling of human obligation, of desire to help the pleading victim.
My hands gripped tightly to Molly's warm body and I kept forward. We were approaching the town square, coming near the epicenter of any urban activity my life had ever known. I looked up to see a massive statue, a foreboding presence built to show reverence for the great god of time. The paint was long worn off, leaving the massive beast a towering sentiment to age and corrosion. The base should have been white, but instead it was decorated with clumsy spatters of dark red, some spots darker than others. My mother gripped my shoulder and steered me away from it, from the terrifying deity resting atop a pile of sacrifices.
Then we saw a writhing crowd, a bloodied and repugnant mass of shuddering bodies ambling forward. They thrived on hunger alone, were driven by nothing more than a desire for flesh. The stench of them penetrated my lungs and clung to my throat, lodging itself forever in my memory. I could feel my legs shaking, the need to cry once again overtaking me. My stomach tightened and bile rose to my mouth, chills of revulsion running down my spine.
I swallowed hard. Like acid the flavor made my chest burn, but my mother's hand on my shoulder brought me back to reality and helped me keep it down. Colin began to bark, letting loose a deep growl in his throat. He leaned back on his hunches, holding his tail high in the air and rocking it back and forth slowly. I could see every hair on his body standing on end, every muscle ready for battle. I had never seen a Pokémon so angry before, so filled with rage and instinctual fury that I honestly thought it would kill.
Molly began to cry, her tiny body shuddering in my arms. She let out loud, earsplitting cries, each one shivering in the cold and escalating in volume until quieting for just a heartbeat. I made tiny cooing sounds in her ear, holding her so that she wouldn't see what lay ahead of us. I knew she could still smell the horde, could still sense with confused but unwavering certainty that something about all this was distinctly and clearly wrong.
Another group of people faced the horde head on, slowly making their way through the crowd with a wide variety of improvised weapons. A crowbar lodged itself deep inside one zombie's skull, only for it to get stuck on the way out. The owner began to pull desperately to free it, panic consuming his face. Several other zombies closed in on him, burying his frantic cries beneath their disgusting bodies. Blood burst forth from where he was standing, and I turned away before I saw any more.
My mother looked over them with a mask of concentration. Her gun lay ready at her hip, her finger poised on the trigger. She started to move, then stopped and looked down at Molly and I. "Let's go, I know a better way."
We backtracked to the statue, making our way south and then around the horde. Molly whimpered softly, her fur wet with tears. My arms ached from carrying her for so long, but she couldn't walk and I wasn't about to hand her off to my mother. "Shh, it's okay. You're okay," I said quietly in her ear, keeping her close to me. "Everything will be okay."
"Shit," my mother hissed, stopping dead in her tracks. Roughly twenty meters away from us was another group of undead, shambling in our general direction. I looked up at her, my throat tightening at her expression. Her eyes were wide, dark green irises completely visible and utterly panic-stricken. Her neck moved strangely as she gulped, her face turning pale.
Colin snarled but didn't bark, keeping as silent as possible. He glanced back at us, freezing when he saw my mother's face. Fear and confusion lit up his eyes, his growl growing quiet. My mother spoke low and fast, her voice strong and steady. "Cheryl, you know where the emergency kits are, correct?" I nodded and she kept going, "I need you to go back to the house and grab the one labeled CLASS ZERO. There are emergency rations in there for you and Daisy. Take all of the food we bought Molly and put it wherever it will fit. Grab any and all Vitamins in the cabinet, especially anything with C or B12. Take the big metal bat from the garage and strap it to the backpack the emergency kit should be in. The one with the red stripes. Do not come back here. Go north until you hit the mountain you and dad used to hike on. Then turn west and go through the Forest. When you get to Floaroma, go straight to Grandpa's house and nowhere else. Do you understand?"
My mouth was dry; my heart racing so fast it hurt. I had never heard her like this, never heard her so frantic or scared. My mother was supposed to be invincible. "But mommy what about you? How are you going to meet us?"
She places her gun in its holster and bends down, gripping my shoulders hard. Our eyes, the same exact shade of dark green, lock in a desperate gaze. "I'm not going to meet you. You have to protect yourself and Molly from now on, and I'm sure Daisy will be a big help." I started to cry and turn away, but she grabbed my face and forced me to look at her. "You have to do this Cheryl. It's going to be hard, I won't lie to you. But you have to live. You have to survive this and make sure your Pokémon are safe. I love you more than anything in the entire universe, Cheryl. I would do anything for you. And I would go with you if I honestly thought there was some other way. But there isn't, and there is absolutely nothing you or I can do about it."
"No, please, don't do this! We'll figure something out!" Molly began sobbing in my arms, my tears mixing with hers on her soft blue fur. I shook out of my mother's grasp, my body shuddering furiously. I cried out with every fiber of my being, unable to comprehend why a mother would have to leave her eleven-year-old daughter to fend for herself. "Please! Please!" She covered my mouth and told me to shut up, her gaze boring into mine. I closed my eyes and fell silent, pushing my face into her hand. She gently wiped away the tears and stood up, taking her gun out again. I sniffed and took in a shuddering breath, feeling heat radiating from deep within me.
"I need you to go now, Cheryl. I promise I will do everything in my power to find you again, but I can't guarantee you anything. Now go home, get your supplies, and run away from here." I stared at her for an extra moment, committing my mother's face to my memory and telling myself everything would be okay. Then I turned and bolted back toward the house, forcing my legs to move as fast as they were capable. I nearly tripped and fell when I heard a loud, terrifying blast rip through the air. Three more went off, each one echoing against my skull and sending shockwaves through my body. I kept running, holding Molly close to me and praying my arms wouldn't give out.
I scrambled down the stairs beside my house and into the basement, heading straight for the utility room in the back. Five backpacks hung on the wall; four of them identical with "CLASS ZERO" written on them in big black letters. There was one for each member of my family and their respective Pokémon, and I only took the one labeled "CHERYL AND DAISY."
I let Molly down and gathered the Vitamins and Baby Food into one massive Ziploc bag. The backpack was nearly filled to bursting, but I managed to shove the last few items we needed inside. I let Daisy out of her PokeBall and told her to carry Molly in her pouch. The Chansey was a bit surprised at first, but understood the dire look on my face and quickly swapped the little Wynaut for her egg. Molly seemed to like it there, smiling and sinking low against the warm belly.
The bat was a little too high for me to reach, so I turned over an empty trash can and climbed on top of it to grab the weapon. Daisy paced nervously, her face contorted in confusion. I pulled the rope to open the garage doors, putting my whole weight into dragging it towards me.
As the doors lifted they slowly revealed a bright, heaving form shining in the light. I ran to the Pokémon and threw my arms around him, burying my face in his soft purple fur. I couldn't cry anymore, but my eyes still stung. Colin licked my face once before leaning back and looking at me gravely.
My chest felt tight; my legs weak. That was all I needed to understand. There was nothing left for us here. Not my sister, not my father, not my mother, not my friends. After eleven years born and raised in Eterna City, I was finally and utterly alone. And as I stared into Colin's broken, grim eyes, I saw that nothing in my life could ever hurt me more than this. Nothing could ever make me feel this much pain and anger. Nothing could ever take so much away from me.