Posting this up real quick before I forget, and then back to writing actual academic papers for me. Hurray. ;-; Notes and wordcount etc etc at the end.
When she was six years old and made of shards of starlight held together by a force unknown, she waited at a bus stop while the snow flurried around and the world held its breath. Her coat was two sizes too large. She sat between a pile of snow and a woman who was silent at first and had a face that sounded like sadness, which the little girl would later learn was alcohol and depression, and her feet dangled off of the bench in drifting circles in the frigid air. The little girl wasn’t afraid, though, and she let her eyes slide over to study the small creature at the woman’s side. A pokémon, the little girl recognized blearily, because it wasn't like her so it wasn't human. The creature was the woman’s companion, no larger than the little girl was, and it almost resembled a child, tiny as it was with a shaggy mop of pale green hair that covered its eyes and what looked like a pale, tattered dress. The pokémon looked up at the girl, and brown eyes met dark crimson ones for just a moment before the pokémon looked away.
The little girl looked at it in curiosity. She’d been born with a companion as well, a green psychic-type that was incredibly similar, and she wasn’t unfamiliar with the idea of companions. Compaions, Momma had told her, were manifestations of a person’s souls, and the two of them shared feelings, if not thoughts. The woman at the bus stop had a psychic-type, just like the little girl did. Momma said that children born with psychic-type companions were special. Momma’s companion was a great brown bird with tawny wings five feet wide and a magnificent red and yellow crest.
Suddenly, the woman with her strange, dress-bearing psychic-type turned. “Have you seen the taste of the world?” she asked the little girl. Red rimmed her eyes and frost peppered the woman’s hair, but what fascinated the little girl the most were the tears that leaked down the woman's face and froze on her cheeks.
She’d never smelled a grown person’s tears before, and it scared her. Grown-ups didn’t cry; little girls cried. And, she realized, she’d been told not to talk to strangers. This woman and her strange, ever-seeing companion, were strangers, as strange as the tears and the sounds interspersed in the woman’s face.
So, the little girl held her breath and pretended not to hear, avoided the crimson gaze, and pulled her own green companion closer to her chest, hugging the little blob of floating cytoplasm as close to her as she could in a form of mediocre protection. Her own companion was cold from the air and squishy to touch, but holding it soothed her, so then she caught her bus and vanished in a puff of carbon monoxide and never saw the woman and the child-like companion ever again. The bloody-eyed child watched her leave. The little girl pretended not to be looking, but she couldn’t help but press her nose into a tiny oval on the frosted glass of the bus as they peeled away, her own pokémon cheerfully nipping at her ears and floating in quiet circles above her head.
And that was the end of everything.
Except then the woman’s words kept her awake that night, and her little-girl face puckered with confusion as she lay awake staring at the ceiling, the question thumping around her mind like a heartbeat. The crimson eyes of that companion haunted her dreams as she laid in the dark, musing at the taste of sadness on her tongue, and the woman smelled funny and made her think. It left her more confused than ever when she realized there was a woman whose face sounded like sadness who did have a small green psychic-type like her own, and she had asked the little girl a question that she hadn’t been able to answer.
Had she seen the taste of the world?
What did that even mean? She and her companion had walked under the same grey skies for six years, huddled against the cold and gone to the bus stop together, but she didn’t understand. There was a special sort of desolation in the woman’s eyes, in her breath, in her tears, and the little girl could feel it and it perplexed her.
The little girl’s cytoplasmic pokémon, despite resembling the building blocks of life, was no help in this question that seemed to concern the very nature of life. They thought about it for a while, basking in the thoughts of one another and trying and failing to taste the world. But there was nothing but confusion awaiting them, young and soft and squishy as they were.
When she was ten years old and made of fragments of the sun, she asked her teacher, whose voice smelled like formaldehyde and lye and who had a pale, dog-like pokémon with paint on its tail as his companion, if he had seen the taste of the world, and she got silence in return. He seemed confused, and he stared for a long moment at her before turning back to the blackboard, and his companion began painting while he picked up a piece of chalk.
Chalk was made of the fossilized remains of shells thousands of years old, she remembered suddenly. The white dust that gathered on the carpet in fleecy drifts suddenly seemed that much more ancient and tired.
She repeated her question, her own companion floating around and surveying the class before landing back in her arms, but this time the class answered her, their voices painted with expressions that sounded like burning fire. They laughed at her, mocking fingers and faces pulled into masks their parents had taught them to make, and the little girl with her floating green companion shied away and wondered, wondered if the woman who smelled like sadness had ever been laughed at like this before.
Her companion settled on her shoulders, molding to fit around her neck and trying to offer comfort, but it could only put up thin paper shields that ripped and tore asunder from the jeers. The teacher only seemed more confused than ever and went back to grinding his fossilized shells into the chalkboard until his chalk disappeared into fine powder, and then he got another one and set about to killing it as well, as if his actions were perfectly commonplace. No one questioned him but her, and she simply burned in silence. The little girl fazed out the rest of the lesson, biting her lip as she tried to think and understand and failed. He wouldn’t tell her the answer to her question, but he was her teacher, so he had to know it, right? Grown-ups knew everything; they had to, so why didn’t this man whose voice was filled with formaldehyde tell her what the world tasted like? And why did none of her classmates care?
And then she realized a distant world, where grown men and women cried, guarded the answer. And she wanted to find out why.
When she was twelve years old and shone bright like the sun, the little girl thought she understood what falling in love tasted like.
She and her companion had watched the boy for days, looking at the way the sun laughed in his hair and how the wind illuminated his eyes in flashes of light just so in the dying afternoons while he was at recess. He was big and bold and more beautiful than anything she’d ever seen in life, and he had no right to fall into her life and captivate her like the sun, but he did. A collection of boulders with four arms and dripping in dirt played by his side, tumbling through the earth and tearing it up with flower-crushing force.
The little girl, not so little any more, knew to recognize ground-types. Children with psychic-typed companions, Momma had told her, were different somehow, but they couldn’t be so different, so surely this boy who smelled like salt and grass would understand what she meant?
Her faze ablaze, the sound of fear pounding through her veins and tickling her cheeks, she held her floating companion close to her and asked him if he liked her.
The boy gave a laugh that looked like the harsh grating of a car on asphalt and shoved her to the ground, where her face met the grass she so admired and the earth became her sky. She tumbled to a halt, and, alarmed, her companion tried to brush her off with a burst of blue energy, but the girl was burning and no amount of wiping off would fix that. She spat out the mud that sounded like piss from her mouth and saw the harsh splat it made with the dirt, but she only listened, eyes burning with shame, as the boy laughed and walked away, his sentient boulder rumbling after him with an earth-shaking murmur.
He was grounded, he sneered back at her, and she was mental.
It was then, hands wrapping around her slightly-larger clump of green, psychic-companion that sounded soft and squishy, that the little girl decided that falling in love was painful and tasted like mud.
When she was fourteen years old and her shards of star-self cracked into a shower of crystalline meteors that pummeled the earth, she heard betrayal and it struck her in her core like a comet sent straight from outer space. She cried so hard that she could taste the salt and blood in her mouth, so heavy that her heart cracked under the strain of them, and she thought to herself that this must be what that world tasted like, rusty and salty and raw. Her companion, older now, and larger, but still soft and squishy like a lump of jello, tried to comfort her by crooning and whispering in her ears, but it was no use. The little girl cried and cried and cried, and she heard the tears sliding down her face and crashing to the ground while a great, yawning chasm opened up in her heart.
She thought she’d tasted the universe then, and she felt a bittersweet stab of victory, simmering in the knowledge that she had tasted the world and now it was hers.
The children laughed at her, mocked her for seeing the world in colors and light and sounds and smells when all they had were cardboard cutouts and plastic. The little girl understood then, gripping her jelly so close to her that her companion was almost sinking into her heart, smelling like sadness. The universe tasted like betrayal, and betrayal tasted like love, and love… love tasted like mud, wet and damp in her mouth and sliding through her teeth, slipping down her throat and threatening to drown her like the rain.
She remembered now, remembered the sad old woman at the bus stop from so long ago with the companion and its burning crimson eyes that held untold depths and unanswered questions raging in coals all of its own. The woman smelled like sadness and had tears frozen in cold spears on her face, and she’d done something horrible by giving the little girl knowledge that could never be taken back. This was why the old woman and her floating question behind the crimson eyes, the question that seemed so impossible and intangible, had a face that sounded like sadness. She’d been broken just like the little girl had, ground down slowly by the insults and the jeers and finally snapped in half and left in the snow banks to rot. She’d tasted the world; both of them had. They’d won, together, the outcasts. Hah.
But they weren’t so much the outcasts as the knowers, the cynics. Whatever inclination had made them born with psychic companions had caused them to see the world the way it truly was, and while they weren’t holding the wool over their own eyes so they wouldn’t have to hear the smell of reality, maybe it was better off to thrive in ignorance.
It didn’t feel that special when she felt so broken, though, so broken that the shards of her stars were digging into her skin and causing great rivulets of blood that looked metallic and coppery. She took her shards of glass and held them close to her, even while her soft companion tried to keep her away from the crystalline daggers that threatened to kill them both. But the little girl cradled those copper-stained shards in her chest, because they were all that remained of herself. And she cried and cried, with tears that smelled like sadness, the coppery tang rich on her tongue and heavy, and then she curled up in her bed, her companion by her side, until the haunting red eyes of the green-haired child-like companion floated into her ears once more and she could hear the question ringing, ringing in her ears like a heartbeat, and she had to wonder if this was what the world really tasted like.
It wasn’t fair, if this was all that remained.
Momma had always told her that children born with psychic-type companions were special, and the little girl—not so little any more, not at all—was beginning to understand why. She walked in a world where color and music and aroma were mixed into one, blended into one beautiful stream of consciousness that meant nothing to the others, and while she could dip her fingers into it and feel the lifeblood of the world pulsing through her fingers, she was still too afraid to reach into it and taste, because tasting that forbidden fruit felt like some irrevocable point of no return. She and the other children with the psychics walked partially in an astral plane that reached beyond the stars, and the little girl understood that she could never get anywhere she wanted in the real world, not all the way, unless she took her feet from that plane of reality where the children were made of shards of starlight and walked on her own, in a cruel world made of mud.
But this, she told herself, this was what that world guarded by the tears of grown men and women felt like, and she nursed a fierce pride from that moment on. This was what the world tasted like. It was a world made of mud, and it tasted like mud, and it was mud.
The little girl held her floating green companion to herself and wept into its cells, and her tears sounded like copper pennies falling from the sky in thick droves. She poured her will into her floating green companion, haunted as she was by the crimson eyes that she remembered so long ago, the crimson eyes that burned with question, and together, she and her companion became hardened. They weren’t made of starlight any longer, and her floating cytoplasm glowed with deafening light until it was larger, no longer smiling but grim-faced, with a face that smelled of sadness all of its own and sounded like the same. And then her companion, no longer so little, enveloped her in warmth, but the warmth was mixed with clinical coldness because her companion, like her, had grown hard and durable into fragments of starshine to better endure against the world that could not understand them, the children who walked in color.
But she was finally worn down by sands of time, her fragments of sunshine ground dull and split apart and she herself weather-beaten and weary on the edges. There were more women who wept tears that froze to their cheeks in the blistering cold and teachers whose faces sounded worse than formaldehyde as they ground dead shells into dust and men who broke her heart and made her smell mud. One day she realized that she’d only tasted, not seen, because her shards had been of stars and not of mirrors. And she understood.
The taste of the world rested in herself, in her life-hardened companion that was no longer soft and squishy but hard and resilient, worn-down and exhausted, still floating but barely keeping the energy to levitate against the flower-crushing gravity of a cruel world that tasted like mud and so much more.
For one day, Momma died, and it was when the little girl who was no longer little nor a girl stood ankle deep in mud and dripping in black and rain that she realized that mud was far too kind of a word with which to describe the world. Her metallic companion that sounded like steel wrapped its arms around her in a protective shield, but they both wept, pokémon and girl both, while Momma’s companion, feathers silvered with age, wheeled around the black parade one last time and gave out one last croak that smelled like decay before it burst into silver sparkles, remnants of shards of starlight, that fell like snow into the girl’s hands. Her own green companion protected her from the worst, its icy arms wrapping around her shoulders like an impenetrable wall made not of paper but of stone, but the backlash of emotion, of the color that she could taste in the world of mud, threatened to wash her out to see and to sea and leave her drowning in the rain that poured down from the sky and looked like tears.
She’d tasted the world before, tasted its bitter tang and its unanswered questions and the sound of tears frozen on an old woman’s chin. She’d seen that question engraved in the dark red eyes of a psychic-type that looked like her companion but seemed so much softer, so much more innocent, and it wasn’t until she was here, tasting the world once more, that she understood. The taste left her tongue tingling and her mind in pieces, but she’d only looked into herself and not seen what that tasting would do to her.
She and the rest of the people, no matter what their companions were, had been made of dust. Dust had formed them, dust had given them breath, and dust reclaimed them when their time expired and the force unknown holding them together dissipated back into the world with a resounding twang that looked like gravity.
And the world, of course, would only taste like dust, for they were all dust. They started off squishy, they grew hard and resilient, and then the world slowly ground them down, whittled away at them like they were fossilized shells that had seen the dawn of millennia, until they returned to their makers as powder on the wind, scattered among the sky.
And it was only here, her stony companion that was still a psychic and still allowed her to dip her fingers in the lifestream and taste that world with trembling hands, that the girl understood. As the men scattered Momma’s dust to the four winds and let her take her place where she belonged, alongside the starlight sparkles of her great, feathered companion, the little girl closed her eyes and tasted. She searched for hope, tried to find light in the stardust, but the stars had died long ago, their final breaths rasping out in great, fiery explosions that felt like iridescence.
It was then that the little girl understood the true taste of the world, even though she was old and had long since outgrown her coat and her bus stop and her snow. Because she still saw the crimson eyes with their question burning deep within, still heard the question thumping around in her mind like a heartbeat that she’d been tasting since that fateful day so many years ago.
Her first instinct was to find the woman whose face sounded like alcohol and depression and apologize because the woman and her green-haired companion had wanted the little girl’s answer then and now and forever to be “no” so the old woman with her face of sadness could be content in the knowledge that there was still a little girl made of shards of starlight who was whole in a world of broken hearts. The woman had wanted the little girl to shake her head so hard that it hurt and then keep shaking, shaking harder until her brains rattled around and her own brown eyes didn’t cloud over from the realization, so that the old woman and her bloody-eyed companion could leave in peace and not in pieces while the little girl flitted away on her cloud of carbon monoxide.
But the little girl had long since outgrown her coat, and to answer no would be to lie. Her companion wasn’t soft any more; they were both hard and rigid like starlight shards and they were both going to stay that way, until the rest of the world ground them into dust once more. The little girl and her cytoplasmic companion stared at her ceiling for the first time in many nights and let the thoughts bounce around in her head as she clenched her eyes tight, tight like closed fists, and began to feel afraid for what was happening to her.
Her biggest fear was that a small girl with wide, unbroken brown eyes with a little psychic companion would find her because then she’d have no choice but to ask that same question. She’d lay down that burden on the unsuspecting shoulders of a child made of starlight because she herself was tired of knowing the world and seeing the bitter aftertaste in the face of everything. Things hurt. Life tasted like ground down starlight shards made of copper and mud and dust and was peppered with unanswered questions that floated around in droves of burning bloody eyes.
But, she’d give away that last piece of her heart that hadn’t completely dulled and hadn’t seen the taste of the world and hadn’t broken from shame because maybe then she could forget the salty tang for just one moment. She would start the chip in the shards of starlight and break the force unknown binding them together and start the crack that would one day grind that little girl into powder just so she, almost turned to dust, could stop thinking and seeing and tasting and again be a little girl who hadn’t yet known a broken heart.
attempted captures: ralts, solosis
character count: 20,083 or thereabouts