The floor cries out when I shift my weight, crossing my legs beneath the tired wooden table. A thick layer of dust covers the surface, clear spots appearing wherever we've leaned on or touched it. Cheryl holds a small glass of wine between her hands, fingers absentmindedly tracing over a long crack decorating the side. She stares into the cool red liquid with far-away eyes, her face solemn and stoic.
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" I took the wine out again because I thought it might cheer her up, but she hasn't had a drink yet and doesn't look like she's planning to. I warned her about feeling like this, told her I couldn't help her if she got hurt. It didn't matter though, as she knew what she wanted and was going to get it regardless of what I told her.
She sits back a bit but still doesn't look up at me. A shuddering sigh escapes her lips and she nods a few times. "Yeah. I'll be okay; I just need some time to take all this in. It's…well it's hard. You know that already, I guess, but it is. I feel really drained, like I haven't slept in weeks."
"That's about how it feels." I exhale loudly and push her drink towards her. She shakes her head and I give it another little push. "You liked it earlier. And it's not like you're going to get hung over again after one glass."
She's quiet for a moment before suddenly scooting back in her chair and standing up, putting both hands down hard on the table. "No thank you," her voice is soft and distant, yet surprisingly harsh for something so faint. "Maybe in a bit, but right now I just…would you mind if I went off on my own?" I begin to object and she hurriedly speaks over me. "It's not like I'll get lost in my own house, and Colin will be with me so you know I'll be safe."
"I'm not so sure. Splitting up is pretty much the worst thing you can do in a situation like this. I mean, if this was a horror movie the killer would be waiting somewhere in this house for you…to…" I stop talking when she finally looks at me, her eyes cold and humorless.
"Don't be stupid." She walks out into the main hallway and motions for Colin to follow her. He stands quickly and scampers to her side, wide blue eyes focused purely on his trainer. I press my hands into my face and lean my elbows on the table, feeling the taught, scarred skin beneath my eye patch. Sighing, I wait until I'm sure they've gone and then run my hands through my greasy hair, looking at Scout and Scarlet across the room.
Scarlet is curled up on the dirty floor with one eye open and her tail sweeping back and forth. She looks bored, completely indifferent to whatever emotional troubles the rest of us are having. She no longer tries to play with Cheryl or any of her Pokémon, choosing instead to isolate herself. Though she was obsessed with him initially, it's obvious now that she's lost interest in Colin and has no intention of pursuing him further. I can't help but wonder if he did something to make her feel like this, but even though I'm her trainer I know very little about how the Luxio works. She's a strange little thing, acting spoiled when she hardly gets enough food to live on and blindly following my orders despite clearly disagreeing with them. I want to understand her, but doing so will require the sort of time and effort I'm unfortunately running low on.
I call her over and she rises, yawning extravagantly while stretching her raggedly muscled body. Her paw steps leave behind tiny prints in the dusty floor while she pads over to me. There's certain reluctance in her gait, but I assume it has to do with fatigue and refuse to think of it further.
"We're going to follow her." I tell my team simply, and neither of them seems surprised. Scout walks over to the hallway and yawns, crossing her arms. Her tail curls around so that it nearly touches the floor, and she leans her back against the wall. She looks so human like this that for a second I just look at her and try not to laugh. "Alright, I know we're tired. This house is creepy as hell, but I bet we'll be sleeping here tonight. It's probably like…well, it can't be earlier than maybe three or four or five, so just a few more hours and we'll go to bed." They stare at me and I exhale out of my nose loudly. "Sorry, I just don't feel like digging my PokeDex out of my backpack right this second."
Scarlet smirks slightly and pads to the doorway. I sigh heavily and stand up, stretching my arms high above my head and rolling my crowbar around in my hand. Cheryl will probably be mad at me for going after her, but I'm used to it by now and I'd rather her be safe and angry than endangered and lost in her own world. She's hardly paid any attention to anything today, so if there are any surprises waiting in this creepy little house she won't be ready for them.
The floor protests loudly as we make our way down the hall and in through the door she vanished into. I swing it open and squint into the darkness below, the steps eventually disappearing. I can hear shuffling downstairs, and what almost sounds like a mewling noise. I start to take out my flashlight, then remember she doesn't want me here and any light I make she'll notice immediately. If I go down without anything I will definitely trip and fall, but if I turn on the flashlight or even bring Scout she'll see us coming down after her and get angry.
A pool of light appears at the bottom, and I hear Cheryl gasp loudly. Without thinking, I bolt downstairs. My depth perception fails me and I slip a few times, barely managing to catch myself on the rusted old railing. Scout and Scarlet hurry down after me, their paw steps much quieter than my loud thuds and tumbles down the stairs. I reach the bottom and run toward the light, calling out Cheryl's name before I can see her. "Are you okay? I thought I heard a noise."
Her figure comes into view, silhouetted in the blackness against a bright yellow light. Her flashlight hangs on a thick string from a hook in the ceiling, swinging back and forth. She's kneeling on the ground with her hands wrapped around something I can't see. Panic rises in my chest, the fear of seeing her physically hurt surprisingly powerful. "Cheryl?"
She turns to face me, the shaking light obscuring her features. She speaks in a quiet and gentle tone, trying to keep something from squirming out of her arms. "That noise was probably you falling down the stairs. I didn't know you were so uncoordinated."
"It's not that I'm uncoordinated. If you've forgotten I'm- wait, what's going on down here? You aren't hurt are you?" She shakes her head and slowly stands. I can see Colin now, waiting patiently on the edge of the bright halo of light.
"No, I…found someone. Come closer." I walk over to her so that I can see whatever it is she's holding. With a sudden, wide smile she straightens her arms and puts something small and round in my face. It shivers and shakes, its little eyes filled with tears. "Isn't she adorable?" Cheryl holds the little thing close again, rocking the creature back and forth in her arms. "She's a Togepi. Her mother must be somewhere close by." I widen my eye at the thought of getting between a mother and her child, but Cheryl must see this because she quickly covers for herself. "She won't be angry or anything. Togetic are known for being really nice to people. They're super friendly and very rarely aggressive. If anything I think-" A pained cry erupts from the shadows, and she starts with a sharp intake of breath.
I squint and struggle to see what made the sound. Scout glances back at me and her tail suddenly explodes into a great flame. Colin is up and snarling, his ears pulled back against his head. "I knew this place was creepy."
"What are we going to do?" Cheryl asks, and I raise my eyebrow at her.
"What we do every single time we hear a bump in the dark. Check it out and end up in way over our heads." She stares at me for a moment before nodding slowly and turning to face the shadows.
"I guess that's pretty accurate." She bends down and plucks her bat from the ground, struggling with the weight of the Togepi concentrated in one arm.
"Give her here." I hold out my hands and she gives me a look of incredible shock.
Rolling my eye, I drop my arms and reach for a PokeBall. "Then just use this for now. You can release her later, but she'll probably be safer in here."
She starts to take it, then suddenly digs her hand into her pocket and produces a PokeBall of her own. She tosses it into the air and her Chansey appears in a burst of light. "Daisy, I need you to take care of this little Togepi." The Chansey is confused for a moment, but brightens up when she sees the little baby Pokémon. She reaches for her and Cheryl carefully places the baby beside the egg in Daisy's pouch. "There, that way we don't need to deal with clumsy little things like releasing." The Togepi whimpers and I give it a sympathetic glance. I really don't think it wants anything to do with us, and now we've probably scared it half to death.
"Sure. Let's just figure out what's going on and get out of here." Cheryl plucks her bat from the ground and tosses it from one hand to the other. I lower my voice and take a few steps forward, staring into the blackness beyond Scout's tail. "Do you know if there's another room back there or something?"
"Yeah, that's where our whole heating system was based…I think we had gas back there." She sniffs loudly and shakes her head. "I don't smell anything though…maybe we didn't actually use gas."
"Whatever. We'll just have to go over there and see." Scarlet snarls a bit and stops dead in her tracks, lips pulled back and exposing her yellowed teeth. Scout and Colin stop as well, glaring in the direction of the strange noise. I ask them what's wrong and they don't reply. Scout throws out her arm to stop me when I move forward. "What is it, Scout?" She blinks hard and swings her tail back and forth. There's something ahead she doesn't want us to see. I don't know what she could possibly be sensing that she doesn't think we can handle, but her behavior is making me nervous enough to consider turning back.
Listening hard, I realize there's no sound coming from the darkness. We heard that one noise earlier, but since then there's been nothing. Cheryl gives me a worried glance and I take a deep breath. My eye has had time to adjust to the low light, but I can still see only the outline of a door in the darkness.
I take a small step forward, then another. Cheryl and I approach the door tentatively, with our Pokémon reluctantly following behind. As I reach for the knob, she grasps my opposite wrist and holds on tightly. I clench my fingers around my crowbar and swallow hard. The cold metal of the knob stings my stiff hands. "Wait," she hisses suddenly. I pull back from the door and look into her darkened face. "I want to do it."
One hands still wrapped around my wrist, she puts her bat beneath her arm and turns the knob slowly. Scarlet's low, rumbling growl fills the air, and my heart races in anticipation. Cheryl's holding on to me so hard now that it hurts, but I don't care. I want to know she's there. I want to have her by my side if we're facing something completely unknown.
She pulls the door open and peers inside, shaking now as she leans toward the darkness. Something touches my hip and I jump, making Cheryl startle too. Scout looks up at me, her face pained and her body shaking. I take the flashlight she hands me and bend down to look her in the eyes. There's a small whimper escaping her mouth, and I press my hand against her warm, wet fur. I point the flashlight toward Scarlet and Colin to see that they're just as sickly. "Cheryl," I whisper, still focusing on Scout. "Whatever is coming out of that door is really bad for them."
She doesn't move, staring blankly into the dark. I say her name again and she doesn't respond. I grab her by the shoulder and shake her a bit, her head bobbing back and forth. She mumbles something and I repeat what I said earlier. She nods and reaches into her pocket. She orders Colin to return and he vanishes in a burst of light. I do the same for Scarlet and tell Scout to wait upstairs with our things. "You can let Dracula out if you want, so you won't be alone." I place the Crobat's PokeBall in Scout's outstretched paw and she looks up at me with a nervous, upset gaze. "We'll be fine. Just go get safe somewhere."
She waits a moment longer before running out of the basement and up the stairs. I take a deep breath and turn back toward the dark doorway. The flashlight creates a small pool of clarity on the far end of the room, showing us a worn series of pipes and dusty cobwebs. Cheryl's entire body shivers as we walk forward, and I try to keep myself from doing the same. As we walk deeper and deeper into the pitch-black room, a strange scent drifts to my nose. I can't identify it, can't compare it to anything else. "Jay, what is that?" Cheryl winces and tightens her grip on my wrist. "It's…I have no idea…"
My heart leaps in my chest when a tiny whimper breaks the silence. There's a terrible dryness in my mouth, and I feel an intense need to turn around and run as far away from this place as I can. But at the same time the very prospect of admitting defeat is too much to bear. I can't let this control me.
Cheryl pulls me toward the sound and I point my flashlight to where I thought it came from. At first we don't see anything, but after a second of staring I catch something shift behind a pile of boxes. The light shakes as my whole body begins to shiver with fear. Cheryl walks in front of me with her bat held out before her.
We slowly walk around the boxes, separated now so we're prepared to fight. But we don't see an enemy waiting for us on the other side. A tiny, pained squeak bursts from the wrinkled mouth of a small, decrepit Togetic. Its wings are featherless stubs, and its dull eyes are sunken deep into its skull. It doesn't seem to notice us or shy away from our light. Its breathing is quiet but with each desperate gasp its ribs poke through from beneath its loose skin. Cheryl kneels down beside it and reaches out to brush some of the sweat from its face. She recoils when she realizes it might not do the little creature any good. She whispers my name and I sit next to her. "Is there anything we can do for it?"
All I can possibly think to do is put it out of its misery, but I doubt that's what she means. There's no visible injury and I don't see any blood. I have painkillers for Pokémon, but they're only made for specific egg groups. I wouldn't want to give it anything that would put it in any more pain. "No, I don't think so."
She shakes her head slowly and reaches for it again. It doesn't react.
We kneel there for a long time. There's a faint noise coming from the room outside of this one, like a giggling child. But it sounds so alien in here I have to assume it isn't real. As the Togetic's breathing slows, Cheryl leans into me and I wrap my arm around her side. I feel something wet on my shoulder after the little Pokémon falls silent. Cheryl breaks away from me and stands up, digging an old, dusty blanket out of a box. She drapes it over the body and steps away, her face glistening with tears.
I can't sleep alone. The cold is too much, even with Scout by my side. The wind howls and the tired old window shakes. I'm shivering violently, sniffling and struggling to keep my teeth from chattering too loudly. Every warm thing I could find is piled on top of me, but it doesn't seem to be helping much.
Cheryl lies on the other side of the room, the little Togepi wrapped tightly in her arms. She decided to name it Elizabeth, but never gave a reason why. Her Wynaut is with her too, curled into a little ball by her thighs.
I turn over again and try forcing my body to stop shivering. After a few more freezing moments I shake Scout awake and stand up on wobbly legs. We carry our things across the room and make a bed much closer to Cheryl and her team. She gives me a pointed look at first, but her face softens and she turns back so she isn't facing me. I try to fall asleep with my back to her, but even with the combined body heat I'm still not warm enough.
She rolls over and carries her Pokémon with her. Elizabeth and Wynaut are sound asleep, and Cheryl looks like she's almost there. I reach out and gently pull her closer to me. Her eyes flicker open and for a moment she looks angry. Then she lays her freezing hand on my upper arm and moves so that our knees are touching beneath the blankets. I place my hand on her back and feel the comforting warmth spread between us.
She pushes her head against my chest and I hold her lightly, finally feeling a wave of exhaustion wash over me.