The Long Walk Home
The sun was setting over the mountains to the west. Grace watched them with trembling hands and wide eyes as she ran through the forest, shouting for her sister. Her feet pounded to the rhythm of her heart – a jackhammer that throbbed against her ribs and threatened to stutter out of control.
“Marcy!” she called, over and over. “Marcy!” Forever faithful, her Growlithe, Rex, ran slightly ahead, howling to get the lost girl’s attention. “Marcy!”
“Hey kid!” The shout came from behind Grace and she stumbled to a stop. She spun, eyes wide at the ranger behind her. “What are you doing out here? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to be in the forest at night?” Grace looked at the trees around her, thick and dark and full of Pokémon she couldn’t see.
Grace nodded. “Yes sir, but my sister is in here, I couldn’t leave her alone,” she said. She gnawed on her lower lip. “She can’t see and she’s lost and…” The first howls of the Houndoom and Houndour packs started up. Grace moaned quietly. “Oh no.”
With a shake of his head, the man jogged up to her and jerked his head toward the forest. “Let’s move,” he said. Grace nodded and jogged alongside him. He pulled out a Pokeball and released a Pidgeot. She flew high into the air to spread her wings.
“Whiz,” he called. “Find the girl.” The Pidgeot took off over the trees with a frightening shriek. Grace flinched at the bird and turned her attention back to the trees. Marcy could be anywhere by now, especially if she hadn’t taken Rex. Why oh why did she let Marcy leave her side with just her Petilil – the plant Pokémon wasn’t trained as an aid yet.
“Marcy!” Grace cried in desperation. The two matched pace with the Pidgeot as best they could, scouring the forest while sticking close to one another. With every howl, Grace feared she’d hear the screams of her baby sister close behind. But they never came. She wasn’t sure which was worse.
“When was the last time you saw her?” the ranger asked.
“A few hours ago,” said Grace. “I was going to go get milk and she just wanted to walk down to the baker’s.” Grace scrubbed her fingers through her long, tangled hair. “If Mr. Fischer hadn’t told me he’d seen her wander into the forest, I might have never found out.”
The ranger nodded, rubbing a hand over his face. “All right, we’ll keep looking.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Marcy!”
The howls were getting worse and worse. Soon they’d have to stop calling out altogether and just pray they found Marcy before anything else did. Grace tried to block out the howls as best she could, but no matter how hard she focused on something else they’d etch back in. Every sound was right over her shoulder; every movement was the Houndoom coming to chase her down. Even Rex couldn’t handle the burns of a Houndoom – they burned forever. Whether you wanted them to or not.
“Help!” The scream came from ahead. Grace’s head snapped up and she took off. “Help!” The howls grew excited, eager. The pack had found Marcy.
“No,” said Grace, her voice barely above a whisper. Her feet pounded the dirt. “Marcy!”
“Grace.” The voice was a whimper, carried by the breeze. “Grace, help.” Grace kept running, her head swinging from side to side in a desperate attempt to find her sister. Rex plowed ahead, fire dancing from his fur and mouth. With every howl of the Houndour and Houndoom he howled back – as loud and as angry as he could.
“Wait!” called the Ranger as she left him behind. “Please wait!” The Pidgeot swooped over Grace, darting ahead to find the source of Marcy’s voice. Grace’s eyes followed the Pidgeot long enough to see her dive into the trees. There. That was her destination.
With a final burst of speed, Grace pushed through the underbrush and dangling trees and stumbled into a clearing. On the other side was Marcy, shivering and terrified as she clutched at her Petilil. Halfway across were the Houndour and single Houndoom that stalked Marcy. They growled and snarled and snapped their jaws at the little girl. Her unseeing eyes, baby blue and slightly cloudy, poured tears down her cherub face.
“Gracie,” said Marcy. Some of the pack turned their attention toward Grace. She shifted, balancing her weight on the balls of her feet.
“Ready?” she asked Rex. The Growlithe snarled at her in response, fire already dripping from his maw.
The Pidgeot shot out of the trees, faster than any bird Grace had ever seen. With a great shriek, she slammed into several of the Houndour. They were lifted off their feet and tossed into the forest behind the pack. Marcy shrieked and covered her ears. The Petilil cowered beside her.
Now the attention of the pack was on Pidgeot, but Grace wasn’t backing down. She and Rex bolted around the edge of the clearing. Their eyes stayed on the pack that attacked Pidgeot relentlessly, but she never stopped attacking back. She swooped high into the air and dived hard and fast at the remaining Houndour – Aerial Ace, Grace knew. The sound the bird made was not of this world. And then she was hitting the Houndour. The crunch of bone and the shriek of the dogs could not be hidden by the Pidgeot’s cry.
All that remained was the Houndoom, which had decided Marcy was the easier target.
Grace stumbled to her knees as she reached Marcy. The little cry threw her arms around her big sister and cried into Grace’s hoodie.
“I’m sorry,” said Marcy, her voice muffled. “I didn’t mean to wander away.” Grace stroked Marcy’s hair, her eyes having turned to the approaching Houndoom.
“Rex.” It was a simple statement – one harshly edged and full of meaning. “Take it down.” It was impossible, Grace knew. The power difference was too great, and that was assuming the Houndoom used a fire type move to give Rex a little boost. Still, she had to try.
Rex stepped forward, fires burning deep in his core, and unleashed a massive wave of red hot flames. Heat Wave exploded out of him, targeting the Houndoom and sending heat bouncing back to Marcy and Grace. Sweat broke out on Grace’s brow. Rex slid back a few feet from the force of his Heat Wave. The Houndoom stumbled under the power but remained standing. When Rex was done, it grinned at them. It was the Houndoom’s turn now.
Grace swallowed hard. “Oh no.”
The Houndoom charged, its fangs crackling with electricity as it reared up to attack and – a Swampert burst through the trees and tackled the Houndoom, sending it sprawling to the ground. The electricity died before the attack could form. The Swampert swung around and drilled the Houndoom with an Aqua Tail. The spiralling water crushed the Houndoom into the dirt and left it unable to move.
Pidgeot crowed in victory and Swampert joined her. The Ranger came through the trees, panting.
“Is everyone all right?” he asked. Grace and Marcy nodded. “Good,” he said. Then, pointing to Grace. “You are far too fast.” Grace shrugged.
“I’m on the track team at school,” she said, but even she knew the defense was weak. She’d always been taught to stay with a Ranger in an emergency. But this had been different – this had been Marcy. And besides, he was too slow. If Grace hadn’t gotten here in time, what would have happened? Grace shuddered at the thought.
“Can we go home now?” asked Marcy, still pressed tightly to Grace’s side. Grace nodded and pressed a kiss to the top of her sister’s head.
“Of course,” she said. “Let’s go.” She helped Marcy get to her feet and took the girl’s hand, noting that Marcy had, once more, lost her red and white cane. Petilil climbed onto Grace’s shoulder, much to her dismay, but she let the little Pokémon ride along. Rex trotted beside them as they walked back to the Ranger. He nodded and gestured toward the forest.
“Shall we then?” he asked. “I should walk you home.”
Grace nodded. “Thank you,” she said, honestly grateful. He merely nodded in response and led the way. Marcy clung to Grace’s side the entire way home. They passed through trees and underbrush and were careful to step around raised roots for Marcy’s sake. All around them the forest was full of noise now that the Houndour and Houndoom had been silenced. Grace wondered if they would be all right. Bruised and broken and Aqua Tailed, would the pack survive the night? There were Audino in these woods, but would they come to the aid of such vicious beasts? It was hard to tell. It was even harder to tell how much Grace cared about the creatures.
The flowers were in full bloom as they made their way back to town. Even with the night sky blotting out most colour, Grace could just make out their shades. Vibrant oranges and reds of the ground flowers, and the blues and purples of the taller. A lum berry tree hung off to the side, its green fruit not quite ripened yet. It was mid-May and the world was beginning to enter Summer, and with it, the colours of Pokémon and plant-life alike were growing more vibrant by the day.
“Where about do you two live?” the Ranger asked. Grace realized then that she didn’t know his name – nor did he know hers. It was such a strange realization, knowing that someone had saved her and her sister without so much as a name in return.
“Daly Street,” said Grace. Marcy was still silent, her head swinging from side to side to try and catch all the sounds and smells of the forest. “We’re not too far from the edge.”
“Indeed you aren’t.” The Ranger sighed and tugged at one of his earrings – a pair of tiny Treeckos tucked against the lobes. “Ever since Eterna gained all those suburbs, ‘bout twenty years back, they’ve been getting closer and closer to the forest.” He shook his head. “Dangerous place to be sometimes.”
“Its home,” said Grace simply. The Ranger smiled.
“Yeah, I get that.”
“Where do you live?” asked Marcy. They were approaching the edge of the forest now. The trees were thinning and so were the Pokémon. A few Hoothoot and Joltik lingered here and there, but for the most part the Pokémon were hidden away. Grace’s fingers itched for a Pokeball or two to capture something more adept at protecting than that damned Petilil.
“Anywhere I need to,” replied the Ranger. He gestured to the trees around them, and then up to the starry sky. As the leaves broke, Grace could make out the constellations. The Eight Eevee Sisters, Ursaring Major and Teddiursa Minor, and even the infinity loop formed by the twenty-eight stars thought to represent the twenty-eight forms of the Unown.
“I’ve lived in Sinnoh for a while, of course,” said the Ranger.
“Of course,” said Marcy, mimicking a tone that she called “Important Business Man”. Grace snickered and the Ranger shook his head, covering his mouth with his hand.
“But,” he continued, grinning. “I go where I’m needed. I’ve lived in Hoenn, Johto, Unova, and I even spent some time combing Orre and Almia, back when we were still looking for where Mewtwo was holding up.”
Grace cocked an eyebrow. “Did that ever pan out?”
The Ranger snorted. “You know, it should have occurred to us that a psychic Pokémon could conceal itself from any form of detection, but it never did.”
“So what happened? Did you find him?” asked Grace. She hopped over a root and led Marcy over it. Petilil whined on Grace’s shoulder, but she ignored the creature. Useless thing.
“Not quite,” said the Ranger. He seemed to be stifling a laugh. “Three of us awoke one day to find ourselves about to walk off a short cliff.” He shook his head and ducked under a tree branch too high for Grace to worry about. “Needless to say, we left after that.”
“So he is in Almia then,” said Grace, her voice full of wonder. Mewtwo was one of the four known Pokémon species created by humans – which also included Ditto, Castform and the Porygon line – if he was still walking on this planet (or flying, as it were) then a great psychic power continued to watch over all the wild Pokémon. She broke into a grin and nearly stumbled over a bush for her troubles. Those were the last bushes before the edge of the forest, and then the three were breaking free of the trees and could breathe easily on the flat ground at the edge of town.
“Mewtwo is wonderful,” said Grace vehemently. “I’ve always wanted to meet him.”
The Ranger chuckled. “If you ever do, get an autograph for me, will you? I’d be the talk of the Rangers if I ever got one of those.” Grace nodded and bounced on her heels. He didn’t sound patronizing, like the other adults always did. He sounded eager, hopeful even, and completely pleasant.
And what a strange word “adults” was. She was only two years below being considered a legal adult herself, at sixteen, so it made no sense to her that her elders still treated her like such a child. Then they complained when she didn’t bend over backward to please and respect them. They wanted respect? They’d have to treat her with respect too – just like everyone else.
“I will,” said Grace, with perhaps a bit more force than necessary. Marcy’s hand tightened on Grace’s.
“He’s here,” she said simply. Grace scanned the streets they were walking and found the man Marcy was referring to. He stormed up to them, still in his own Ranger gear. His belt twisted with the tools of his trade; his off-the-shoulder bag bulged with papers and berries and potions and antidotes. And he was scowling. Oh was he scowling.
“Gracelynn Eleanor Monette, just what do you think you’re doing out this time of night?” he said, his cheeks flushing a deep red. The Ranger to Grace’s right skittered backward a few steps, his eyes wide and terrified.
“Hi, Uncle Benji,” said Grace, forcing a smile. “When did you get home?” Uncle Benji wasn’t a big man, no, he was positively scrawny by Ranger standards, and he stood only a few inches taller than Grace – and a few extra shorter than the Ranger to their right – but he knew how to hold himself. That, right there, was why Grace was trembling despite her even tone.
“About twenty minutes ago,” he said through his teeth. “Imagine my surprise when I found that my two nieces had gone missing in an area with Houndoom attacks!” His voice jumped to a screech at the end. Marcy jumped, diving behind Grace as best she could.
“I’m sorry Uncle Benji,” said Grace, her voice shaking and soft. “It’s all my fault.”
Uncle Benji growled. “Damn right it is. I can’t believe you.” Then, seeing the trembling of Grace and Marcy’s hiding, he seemed to sag. “Girls, please. With all the attacks going on, I worry.”
“I know,” said Grace. She gestured to the Ranger to their right. “He saved us though, him and his Pidgeot and his Swampert. They were an amazing team.” The Ranger tipped his hat and smiled at Uncle Benji.
“Sorry for the trouble, sir,” he said, still half-hiding behind his hat.
“No trouble,” said Uncle Benji. “You saved my girls, so that puts you in my good books.” His gaze swept over the man, eyeing his worn leather boots, his cargo pants, and his sleek camouflage jacket. “You got a name, son?”
“Erik,” replied the Ranger. He stuck out his hand, which Benji shook. “Pleased to meet you.” The two faded into their own conversation then about Ranger business, leaving Grace and Marcy on their own.
“Is he really mad?” whispered Marcy.
Grace sighed. “No, Marcy, I don’t think so. I think he’s just scared.”
Marcy frowned. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Uncle Benji doesn’t get scared.”
“Yes he does.” Grace turned to face Marcy, though she doubted her sister noticed, and took her by the shoulders. “We both do, Marcy, and what we did tonight was very dangerous. If it wasn’t for the Rang- Erik. If it wasn’t for Erik, we wouldn’t have all made it out of that fight.”
Silence. Then, “I know.” Grace nodded, patted Marcy’s cheek, and straightened up. The Petilil jumped off her shoulders and into Marcy’s arms. The little girl snuggled the creature close.
“Girls.” It was Uncle Benji. “Home. Now.” The girls nodded and grasped hands. Petilil tumbled to the ground and shook herself off.
“Yes, Uncle Benji,” they said. Grace led Marcy home, with Petilil and Rex following alongside them. They travelled down Daly Street and Grace couldn’t help but look through the windows. There were families sitting down to dinner with happy shrieking babies alongside them. An elderly couple was tucked on a loveseat together, watching some Pokémon trivia show. A pair of teenage girls painted nails in a room filled with posters of Derrick Fitzgerald, the biggest teen pop sensation of the year. And there were so many more. Dozens of lives that went on without interference from a night like tonight. A night where Grace and Marcy had almost died.
“Gracie? Are you okay?” asked Marcy. It was then that Grace realized she was shaking. She flexed her free hand and pressed her lips tightly together, suddenly grateful that Marcy couldn’t see her fearful expression.
“Yes,” said Grace. “I’ll be fine.”
The two stepped into the bungalow that had been their home for the last four years. Once inside, Marcy let go of Grace and darted off to her room, quick as lightning. Her Petilil followed close behind, cooing its frustration and distress in an annoying tone. Grace headed for the living room, where the TV was still on.
She dropped into the overstuffed blue couch with its fuzzy fabric and stared at the television mounted to the wall. On either side the pale brown walls were covered in bookcases that were so stuffed she often worried they would fall over. She eyed them carefully, spying several books only half stuffed in – those would be the ones Uncle Benji had brought home tonight.
“And in other news, Gengar and Chandelure join the ever-expanding list of Pokémon banned from competitive use. This makes five Pokémon in total banned since the start of the year,” a female newscaster was saying.
“Yes, indeed, Lisa, Gengar and Chandelure join the ranks of Aggron, Salamence, and Alakazam.” He shook his head. “It’s such a tragedy to see such wonderful Pokémon banned for a few outliers.”
The woman frowned at her cohost and continued. “Rumours of the Unown and Garchomp joining this list later on this year linger, but the Pokémon League refuses to comment.”
“If someone ever manages to get an Unown in a Pokeball, I’ll eat my hat,” said the man.
The door banged open, interrupting Grace’s scowling at the television. Chandelure and Gengar she understood, really. They were ghosts, and everyone knew that ghosts were dangerous. This was even worse than when the protestors in Kalos started pressuring Iris and Lance to drop out of the League due to their “dangerous teams.”
“Grace?” called Uncle Benji. Grace turned off the TV and stood, dusting off her clothes.
“Living room,” she called back. Her uncle appeared in the doorway and paused, his arms folded tightly across his chest.
“Gracelynn,” he started, a sigh on his lips. Grace flexed her hands, forcing herself to stay calm. “I want you to know how upset and angry I am about what happened tonight. You know your sister isn’t supposed to be off on her own, especially not with that Petilil.”
“Yes, Uncle,” said Grace.
“Furthermore, I want you to know how disappointed by how irresponsible you were in all this. You ran off without Erik, nearly got both of you killed, and that was after you let Marcy get away from you in the first place,” said Uncle Benji. His frown was tight across his face, and the Murkrow lines around his eyes were more prominent than ever.
“I want you to sleep tonight and think about everything you did wrong tonight.” He sighed. “Tomorrow we will work out your punishment, once I think of something suitable for what you’ve done.”
“But-” started Grace.
“No buts,” said Benji firmly. “You will listen, you will take your punishment, and you will apologize to Marcy and to Erik for all the distress you caused them. Good night, Gracelynn.” With that, he turned and walked out of the room, heading to tuck Marcy into bed.
Grace sighed and slumped against the couch, the heel of her hand pressed into her eyes to hold back tears she refused to let fall. Colours swirled behind her eyelids, a mix of blues and purples and reds. It reminded her of her dreams, not of the dancing colours from pressure. She shook her head.
Something else to figure out tomorrow.