Hey, all! You'll know me as Magikchicken, Avatar of the Chicken God, Dojo Master of the BMG URPG, Writer Extraordinaire, and Baker of Really Good Cookies.
This is my entry for the Winter Writing Competition. Instead of writing yet another chapter of one of my three existing storylines, or a sneak peek at the future of those three sagas, I'm going to go for a light, unrelated but hopefully enjoyable short* story. One can only write so much GRIMDARK before people begin to wonder whether one is even capable of portraying characters in situations that aren't life-or-death.
*Short by some standards, in any case. I know longer stories don't usually do too well in writing contests, but hopefully, it shouldn't take you longer than fifteen or sixteen minutes to read.
So, without further ado...
---Imagine This: WWC Entry---
---Intended Capture: VULPIX, HIPPOPOTAS, ABRA---
Difficulty Rating: MEDIUM + HARD x2(50k to 80k characters)
Length: 86,390 Characters
Imagine this: a world like your own, identical in nearly every way... except for one.
It's been three years since the creatures started appearing. The ones that the government has officially termed Genesis Beasts, but that people refer to as Pokémon— short for Pocket Monsters— in everyday talk. Pokémon are mysterious creatures with amazing powers, powers that are often beyond anything technology can manage. There are over four hundred known kinds now, with more being discovered all the time. At first, news networks and blogs everywhere wondered how the sudden, inexplicable presence of Pokémon would change the way everything works. The world held its breath, worried that the mere existence of these powerful creatures might throw society into chaos. All across the globe, people braced themselves for the worst...
As it turns out, though, nothing much has changed. At least, not from a grown-up's perspective. Adults still go to work every day, leaving their Pokémon at home, and life continues more or less as usual. But the kids of the world have been going through a completely different experience, one that I'm sure you'll see for yourself soon.
I'm Karen Davison, a sixth-grade student at St. Derian's Junior School, and I'm one of a growing number of kids and adults known as "Pokémon Trainers." That's the term we use to describe anyone who has a Pokémon companion.
My Pokémon is named Mina, and she's a Hippopotas. She looks a lot like a hippopotamus, which is of course what her species is named after: she has light brown skin, a cuddly round body splotched with dark brown markings that look like mud, a huge nose with big nostrils, and wide eyes that sparkle with energy. A lot of people don't get what I mean when I say Mina is a cutie-pie, but anyone who's been around her for long will understand. My Pokémon has the friendliest nature you can imagine, and just loves to be hugged. She goes everywhere with me.
A couple of years ago, there were only a few Pokémon in the world, and only the luckiest kids got a chance to make friends with one. Nowadays, Pokémon are everywhere, although no one can explain where they all came from, and it's harder to find a kid who isn't a Trainer than to find one who is. Pokémon are pets and friends to us kids, and useful companions to adults.
As much as I'd like to keep telling you about this stuff, I've got to get going. I'm nearly late for school! You'll understand what I mean soon, anyhow.
It's a nice day out, but the sun's warmth is whipped away by a cold autumn wind before I can really get comfortable. I'm glad I brought my coat. Mina doesn't like the cold, but she still insists on coming with me to school, so I put her in the pink woolen sweater I got her. She hates pink, but I didn't know that when I bought the sweater, and at least it stops her from shivering as we walk down the sidewalk towards school.
Up in the branches of the oak trees lining both sides of the street, some sparrows are chirping energetically: they're the last few that haven't yet flown south. Nowadays, though, their song is accompanied by the more tuneful warbles of Starlies, which are bird Pokémon that look almost exactly like regular starlings: beady eyes and black-tipped orange beaks, with speckled grey-and-white plumage.
I look up at the big old oaks lining the road, whose leaves have turned yellow and red and are just starting to fall. Along with those, there are also some rows of pines a bit closer to the sidewalk. These trees used to fascinate me when I was younger. As I walked down this sidewalk towards school every day, I would watch the pine needles, a bit mesmerized, as they blew back and forth in the wind. For the last few years, though, it hasn't been the shifting green patterns that make me stare into the trees. The late-autumn swarms of Pineco are hanging in softly humming masses from the branches of the evergreens. They're aptly named: the insects look like oversized greenish-blue versions of the pine cones that have always grown here at this time of year. Except, if you look closely, they have eyes.
Thinking back, I can't pinpoint exactly which year it was that the Pineco started appearing in large numbers in the trees, mimicking the regular pine cones. I remember, though, the time Camilla— that's my best friend— tried picking one off its branch: she got a nasty bite on her right hand, and it swelled up so much she couldn't write properly for a week. Regular medicines didn't do anything to reduce the swelling, until our Science teacher came up with the idea of mixing anti-inflammatory cream with an extract of Sunflora seeds. The medicinal use of the seeds was recently discovered by a botanist in search of what he called 'the universal antidote,' and, while it doesn't quite meet that description, extract of Sunflora is very effective as an antidote to most toxins, especially Pokémon-related ones.
Oh, here we are already: St. Derian's Junior School. I guess I should show you around. The buildings are kind of old-fashioned-looking, but don't let that fool you: on the other side of the asphalt-shingled roofs and whitewashed walls, the classrooms are really cosy and clean. There are three big buildings, grouped around the main quad, which is a concrete square that takes about a minute to walk all the way across.
To get to the quad from the street, you have to go around, or through, the main building. That one's the biggest: the middle part of it has the reception area, along with a bunch of classrooms (the ones used for Math and Science classes,) and a basement where the school band practices. It has a side wing that holds the gym and the changerooms. The second building, a bit smaller, is the one where other classes, like History and French, are taught. On the other side of the campus from the main building is the smallest of the three parts of the school: the faculty wing, which has the Principal's office, the teachers' lounge and a couple of storerooms. I have no idea what's in them, and neither does anyone else I know. Teacher-y stuff, I guess. Like whiteboard markers and instant coffee. Someone once asked Mr. Keller what was inside, and he just smiled mysteriously and said, "Treasure beyond your wildest imaginings." A couple kids tried to sneak in after that, but the janitor caught them and made them leave. I'm pretty sure Mr. Keller was joking, anyways.
"Hey, Karen! You spacing out again? C'mon, we're gonna' be late!"
Oops. I hadn't realized I'd stopped walking until Porter yelled from behind me. Porter's a friend of mine; I've known him since forever. He's wearing his usual careless take on the school's uniform policy: black shoes, grey pants and a buttoned shirt (for the guys, anyways) on him translate to white runners so dirty they're almost black, blue jeans so faded they're almost grey, and a short-sleeved white shirt with two (undone) buttons at the collar. It's a perpetual mystery to me how Porter doesn't freeze solid in this weather. Trotting along behind him is his Pokémon, a Meowth imaginatively named Meow, who seems equally unperturbed by the cold autumn wind. Meow is a little white-furred cat Pokémon who stands on two legs and has a big oval coin apparently stuck to his forehead. Meow makes a mewling sound at me, hoping for a scratch behind the ears, but I'm too busy retorting to his Trainer's jibe.
"Yeah, like you can talk, Porter. You're always even later than I am. That's basically how we met, remember? The last two kids to get to the first day of class in grade one?" I can't help but grin as I remember that day. I had been hanging back outside the classroom for almost five minutes, not wanting to go in late and have everyone stare at me. I was convinced they'd all point and laugh. Then Porter showed up, and after introducing himself to me, he pretty much dragged me into the classroom, announcing loudly to the teacher that he was sorry for being late. It wasn't as bad as I'd been afraid of: everyone did point and laugh, but at Porter, not me. He didn't seem to mind, and I managed to get to my seat without anyone really noticing. Ever since then we've been more or less inseparable. And he's always, always, late.
"Yeah, yeah, like you'll ever let me forget." Porter rolled his eyes. "Let's get going, already!"
Our first class is History. Ugh, History. I never liked the class in the first place, but all that stuff is even more meaningless now, with Pokémon changing how everything works. "Learn from the past," Mom and Dad used to say, when I asked them why I should even bother studying for History, but now when I ask the same question, they just shake their heads as if they agree with me. Anyways, to get to class I have to go into the main building I mentioned earlier, past the receptionist (who's sleeping at her desk,) and down one of the three wide hallways that lead out of the reception room. The halls in this building all look the same— light wood-paneled walls, a greyish and much-stained carpet underfoot, doors opening into classrooms on either side, and yellowish fluorescent lights all along the ceiling— but Porter, Meow, Mina and I pick the one that leads straight through the building to the quad.
The quad is a roughly square-shaped field of pavement, with some circular holes in it where the school left several oak trees standing in little patches of earth. There are a few raised sections of the concrete where kids can sit and eat lunch, some benches along the sides of the quad for the same purpose, and a little basketball court in one corner. The whole thing looks more like a skateboard park than a playground, but God help you if you try skateboarding here: Mrs. Portia will be after you in seconds, screaming at you to stop endangering your fellow students with such reckless antics!
"Hey, Karen! You gonna' keep walking or what??" Porter's ahead of me now, and he's turned around to run backwards and grin at me. I'm about to warn him to slow down, but I'm too late: he's already tripped over his own feet and gone sprawling in the middle of the basketball court. I sigh and head over to give him a hand up. Mina trundles primly past as I heave Porter upright; he's heavy, for a skinny guy. Hurrying to catch up with my Pokémon, I cross the remaining distance across the quad, and, sparing a glance back, I see that Porter's still busy brushing himself off. Meow's pacing back and forth lazily along one of the concrete ledges, waiting for his Trainer with a supreme lack of concern for how late they're both going to be. What a pair... I can't help grinning.
Mina and I get to the door of the building where we have our History class. We're late, of course, but no one really notices. The droning voice of the History teacher, Mr. Gordon, and the stuffy, low-ceilinged room are a combination perfectly calculated to induce boredom and drowsiness in sixth-grade kids. Most of the class is either dozing in their chairs, playing games on their calculators under their desks, or passing notes with 'OMG this is boring' or suchlike written on them. I take a seat, and struggle not to fall asleep immediately. Even Porter, entering nearly a minute after me and rubbing his skinned elbows ruefully, doesn't draw more than a few sleepy glances as he shuffles into the one remaining chair. I let my head sink onto my arms as a stream of mind-numbingly boring information about the Cold War issues from the front of the classroom.
The next thing I know, Porter's shaking me awake. "Hey, sleepyhead! Class is over. Wakey, wakey."
Rrgh. It takes a lot to get me up from a good deep sleep— I'm a lot like Mina that way— but Porter has mastered the art of annoying me awake. "Stoppit, Porter, I'm up..." With difficulty, I get to my feet, and sleepily begin the chore of waking Mina, who's curled up under my chair in a similar state of near-coma. Like Pokémon, like Trainer, huh? It's times like this I'm almost willing to believe that particular saying, even though it's only been going around for the last year or so.
As I stagger sleepily out of the empty classroom, with Porter rolling his eyes as he follows me out, I can see the quad through the open double doors at the end of the hall. Outside, a crowd is forming, which is nothing new, but...
"Hey, looks like someone's having a Pokémon battle!" Porter exclaims in an excessively loud and excited voice. There's no way he can tell what's really going on from this distance, but annoyingly enough, his intuition is almost never wrong, so I can't even tease him about it. "Let's go watch!" He grabs me by the elbow and starts dragging me over there, but promptly stumbles and has to use my arm to keep from falling. I sigh and take the lead.
As we get close enough to the wide-open space of the basketball court, and push our way into a ring of kids encircling the concrete rectangle, I can see that Porter was right: it's a Pokémon battle, or at least the beginnings of one. There are two girls facing off at either end of the court, each one with a Pokémon in front of her. According to the school rules, Pokémon battles aren't allowed, but that doesn't really stop anyone. Ever since kids started bringing their Pokémon to school, the stereotypical 'school bully' has been obsolete; most disagreements among us kids are handled by Pokémon battle, now, instead of by running to the teachers.
Looking closely, I can see that one of the battlers is... I don't believe it! It's that small, quiet third-grader girl with the cute glasses, the one whose locker is two places down from mine. I don't even know her name, and I've never heard her talk; I always got the impression she was really timid, the kind of little girl who would just sit in a corner instead of speaking up. Her Pokémon, a little white-furred Mankey with gangly arms and a round body, can normally be seen hiding in the curls of mousy hair that fall halfway down her back. Right now, she's got this intense look on her face, like she's ready to take on the world. And win. Her Pokémon normally comes across just as shy as she does, but now it seems ready to fight, looking twice its usual size with its fur standing on end. Like its Trainer's, the Pokémon's transformation is stunning.
Then I notice who the young girl's opponent is. That impossibly neat uniform, long brown hair, and oh-so-confident stance. Camilla! I notice Porter taking a wary step back from me, and I realize I'm clenching my fists. From Porter's expression, I must be doing my really dark face.
Camilla is— or maybe I should say was— my best friend, but lately we... haven't seen eye to eye. She's the only person at St. Derian's I've known for longer than Porter. Camilla's parents were friends with my parents since years ago, so she and I were playmates even before we came to this school. We were like sisters, kind of, and we shared everything. When I made friends with Porter, he just sort of got added to our group, no questions asked. The three of us have stuck together ever since then. Last year, though, Camilla's parents died in a fire started by a scared Pokémon. She... changed. It was like I didn't even know her any more. She started acting really serious, and nothing would make her smile. She studied harder than ever and got more and more interested in leadership. Now, she's basically the boss of a group of kids who call themselves the Student Council, even though St. Derian's doesn't officially have such a thing: the Council holds meetings after school in the band classroom, which everyone's allowed to attend but which no one does, and vote on things they want to suggest to the Principal. No one says so out loud, but the Council pretty much runs the school now, since the Principal doesn't seem interested in vetoing any of their suggestions. I don't have anything against the whole Student Council thing— it seems like a cool idea— but when she surrounded herself with the Council, Camilla started being less and less interested in just hanging out with Porter and me. She always had work to do. It was like she was a grown-up already, and too busy to play around with us mere mortals. And eventually, Camilla and I, we... we had a falling-out. She was so different by then, I'm not even sure the person I fought with is the same Camilla I knew all those years.
A few things about Camilla haven't changed, though: she's one of the smartest people I know, and she's the best Pokémon battler in the school. Camilla's companion is an Abra named Wes, a yellow-skinned humanoid Pokémon only a couple of feet tall, with a leathery brown carapace, almost like clothing, covering his torso and legs. Right now, Wes is coolly staring down the frenetically dancing monkey opposite him, as if calculating the quickest way to knock it out without seriously hurting it. And, as a psychic-type Pokémon, he can pretty much do just that, without even touching his opponent. This battle's going to be painful to watch.
The girl standing across from Camilla starts speaking softly, jerking me out of my dour thoughts. "This has gone far enough, Camilla..." The shy little girl's voice trails off quietly, but she still seems willing to meet Camilla's stormy grey glare, which is more than can be said for half the school. No one questions Camilla any more.
"You already cast your vote at the Student Council meeting, Synthia! You've had your say," Camilla says harshly, her voice carrying across the basketball court. "The decision's already been made."
"You control everything in those meetings, Camilla!" the tiny girl says, this time loudly enough that the whole crowd can hear her. "No one who's not in the Council would've even known what you were up to, if I hadn't said something!"
"What's she talking about?" I mutter to Porter. He shrugs, giving me a How should I know? look.
One of the nearby kids in the crowd must have heard me, though, because he whispers to us, "The Student Council's trying to ban Pokémon from school!"
I fail to suppress a gasp. I glance down at Mina, who's staring back at me with her huge, sweet eyes even wider than usual. "Ban Mina? No way..."
Porter seems equally horrified, but for a different reason. "There's no way this is Camilla's idea. Someone put her up to it! They must've put her up to it..."
Porter is as much Camilla's friend as I am, but he doesn't know her like I do. My mind flies back to the way she acted, in the first few months after her parents died. She was so... angry. When I visited her in her foster home, she would look at Mina with this resentful glare. It was like she was angry at all Pokémon, just because one started that fire by accident. She got better after that, and I thought she'd, I dunno, changed her mind or something. But now, seeing the suddenly cold look on Camilla's face as she glares at the little girl opposite her, I'm not so sure...
"The decision's already been made," Camilla says again, with ice in her voice. She's looking around, taking in the crowd of disbelieving kids staring at her. "If you all wanted to have a say in what we decided, you should've been at the meeting." Now, directing her glare back at the frail-looking girl across from her, she raises her voice again. "I'll give you one more chance to take back what you said, Synthia!"
Synthia mumbles something quietly, her shoulders hunched and her eyes hidden by the waist-long, curly brown hair that's fallen around her face. I suppress a sudden urge to run over and give the shy little girl a hug.
"What? I can't hear you," Camilla shouts harshly.
Synthia's head snaps up, and her eyes appear through the glasses, fixing Camilla with a glare that's cold enough to make Camilla's look warm. If you'd told me this morning that a nine-year-old girl could look that deadly serious, I'd have laughed at you, but wow.
"I said," the little girl tells Camilla loudly and clearly, "That I won't take it back. In fact, I'll say it again. You're evil, Camilla, and you're a traitor to every kid who loves their Pokémon."
The entire crowd draws back and gasps in perfect unison, almost like actors on a stage. This isn't just name-calling any more: those were fighting words.
"Fine, then!" Camilla screams, her face going all red. "Don't ask me to go easy on you when you lose!" Is Camilla crying? Astonished, I squint, trying to see a bit more clearly. It sure looks that way.
Synthia just nods. "All right, Simeon! Are you ready?"
The Mankey in front of her nods back, the movement closer to a tilting of its body, since the Pokémon's head is more or less the same thing as its torso. Across from it— him, I guess, with a name like Simeon— Wes looks completely calm. The Abra knows, as does everyone watching, that this battle will be over soon.
Simeon leaps forward, racing straight at Wes. That's what you'd expect of a Pokémon classified as a 'fighting-type:' subtlety isn't exactly their strongest point.
Wes, on the other hand, as a psychic-type, is a master of that kind of thing. Not even bothering to get up from where he's sitting cross-legged in front of Camilla, Wes raises a three-fingered yellow hand and a purplish barrier of light appears in front of him.
Unexpectedly, Simeon doesn't seem taken aback by the barrier of psychic energy. Leaping into the air without so much as hesitating, he clears the rectangular purple wall and lands feet-first on Wes's head, knocking the Abra sprawling. The Mankey doesn't miss a beat, stretching his spindly but powerful limbs to pin Wes's wrists and ankles to the ground. Wes, panicking, struggles futilely to escape the white-furred monkey's hold.
"Wes, I drilled you on this!" Camilla snaps. "Remember your training!"
Visibly calming down, Wes closes his narrow eyes. Simeon's body glows purple for a second, and then suddenly goes flying, his hold broken by the superior strength of Wes's psychic power.
Unbelievably quickly, though, Simeon's prehensile tale snaps out behind him as he's sent spinning away, and coils around Wes's shoulder. The Abra is tugged staggering off-balance, and his opponent lands in front of him but facing away, whirling as Wes recovers. The two Pokémon, only a foot or two apart, stare at each other tensely for a second, taking a mutual breather. It's clear already that Simeon isn't just an ordinary Pokémon: he must be in the top percentage of all Mankey! Only a Pokémon whose Trainer has trained it to fight, and do it well, could have reacted quickly enough to give Wes a run for his money.
Murmurs are running through the crowd. No one's ever seen Camilla's Abra have this much trouble dispatching an opponent... Well, not since Mina and I challenged her that one time, but that was a fluke. If we hadn't got lucky we'd never have won. Anyways, people are starting to stare at the frail-looking, bespectacled little girl with newfound respect: just goes to show, I guess.
Wes is the one to break the temporary stalemate. A dead branch full of twigs is sticking out from one of the trees growing in the quad, and it reaches almost to the edge of the basketball court. There's a flash of purple light from near the base of the branch, and then all the brittle twigs come flying off of it, hurtling at Simeon. They're not sharp or anything, but they're going fast enough that getting hit by them would probably hurt.
Simeon swiftly curls up into a ball, and the fast-moving twigs fly to all sides of him, clattering and breaking apart as they hit the pavement. A couple hit the monkey in the side, though, and the crowd of onlookers— me and Porter included— hiss in sympathy at the painful thwack sound they make.
Wes hasn't been dawdling in the meanwhile. Making the quiet, scratchy humming noise that I guess is his way of talking, he focuses for a moment and then abruptly throws out his yellow three-fingered hands in a pushing motion. Simeon, still curled up into a ball, goes flying away and up, over his Trainer's head, to crash painfully into the backboard of the basketball hoop. Uncurling with a yowl, the Mankey falls face-first onto the iron ring, then tumbles into the net and just barely manages to catch hold of the basket's tattered rope with his tail. Dangling there, five feet up and only half-conscious, Simeon doesn't look like he's in any shape to keep fighting.
"Simeon!!" Synthia rushes over to the Mankey and catches him as he lets go of the net and falls, then cradles the little monkey in her arms as he struggles feebly to get his feet on the ground and resume the battle. "No, that's enough!" she tells him, tears running down her face.
"Do you forfeit?" Camilla asks coldly.
"Yeah." Synthia's shoulders slump, and it's like all the fight's gone out of her. "I... I take back what I said."
"Good." Camilla closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, as if she doesn't care that everyone's staring at her. But I know her well enough to know she cares, and for a moment I almost feel sorry for her. That's before I remember why she's not my best friend any more. All I have to do is recall the nasty look on her face, near the end of the argument that ended it all: that look on her face when she told me I should quit playing around with Mina, get a better Pokémon, and grow up. That memory instantly gets rid of any sympathy I might have had.
Camilla walks out of the quad and into the faculty wing, and Wes disappears in a flash of purple light, teleporting after his Trainer like he usually does. The kids shift uncomfortably, and the crowd starts to disperse towards the various school buildings. I'm about to head off myself— Recess is probably almost over, anyway— when I notice that the girl who Camilla called Synthia hasn't moved. She's still standing there, cradling her Mankey and crying quietly.
I tug on Porter's short sleeve, and he turns to me with his What now? look. I point, and he glances at me with the other look, the one that means, Good luck, leave me out of it! I stick my tongue out at him as he grins and walks off. Forget about him, then! I go over to the crying girl and dig in my pocket for the hankie I always carry around. It's not like I cry a lot or anything, but I first started bringing it with me to school a year or so ago, soon after Camilla's parents— ...Well, anyways, carrying it is a habit I haven't bothered trying to break, and it still comes in handy sometimes.
"Hey," I say softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. She looks up from where she's been weeping into her Mankey's fur, and I offer her the off-white square of folded cotton. She takes it, but instead of wiping the tears off her face immediately, she dries her sleeping Pokémon's fur first. I don't mind her using it for that: I think it's nice that she cares so much about her Mankey.
"Thanks," she says in a choked, quiet voice. "You're Karen, right?"
I'm surprised she knows my name, and say so.
"Your locker's right near mine, and you're always hanging out with that boy called Porter." She blinks at me, squinting through her fogged-up spectacles. "I'd know your name, anyway, though. They say you're the only kid to ever have beaten Camilla." There's something like awe in her voice.
I blush and look down at my feet. I hadn't thought people would remember that. "It was a fluke," I mutter. "Ask anyone who was there. Anyways," I continue, eager to change the subject, "What was that all about? I'm impressed and all, but aren't you part of the Student Council? Like, one of the regular members, the ones who always go to the meetings? Don't you like Camilla?"
Synthia nods uncomfortably, hesitating. "It's complicated," she says after a moment. "I go to the meetings because I like how useful it is. They really do get a lot of things done, and normally I'm proud to be a part of the Council, but lately... Well, lately Camilla's been pushing this banning-Pokémon thing." She takes off her foggy glasses and starts polishing them with my hankie, staring unfocusedly at her hands. I can't help thinking that she doesn't talk like your average nine-year-old. "Even some of the kids who just come to the meetings to support Camilla didn't agree at first," she continues. "It's the first vote she's ever needed to try to get a majority in. But today, she did..."
Synthia suddenly looks up at me, putting on her glasses. "I forgot! You know Camilla, right? I heard she used to hang out with you." I nod, trying to hide how uncomfortable the question makes me. Just how does someone I've never talked to know about me being friends with Camilla? Unaware of my discomfort, Synthia continues. "Well, she could have gotten the Principal to ban Pokémon any time she wanted, but... You know her, so you'd know she's too honest to do that unless there's a majority vote. Even for something she really wants."
I nod. That's one other thing that's never changed about Camilla: like her or not, she's never any less than a hundred percent honest about stuff. Sometimes I think it'd be easier to hate her if she lied all the time, but she's almost painfully truthful. It goes so far that, any time she feels it's needed, she won't hesitate to let you know exactly what she thinks. And, looking back, I can't help but think sourly that one of those times was responsible for ending our friendship.
Synthia seems to have seen something on my face, because she's stopped talking. When I blink at her, she stammers for a moment, then resumes her story. "Anyways, today she got her majority. There was nothing I could do except vote against it and hope, but that wasn't enough. So..." She looks at the ground self-consciously, and I marvel that anyone this shy and awkward could have stood up to Camilla so impressively. "So," Synthia continues in a rush, "I caught up with her afterwards, when she was on her way to the Principal, and I stopped her. Then I shouted to everyone who was walking by what she was trying to do. She just stood there and looked at me in that way she has... like I was only wasting her time and should give up."
I know that look, too, but I wish I didn't. It's one of the new things, the things that Camilla picked up since she started drifting away from Porter and me. She didn't used to do that 'you're wasting my time' look before she first got involved in the Student Council, but ever since she and I had that fight and stopped talking to each other, I've seen her use it on people more and more often.
Staring dejectedly at her feet, Synthia starts absently stroking her sleeping Pokémon's fur. "So, I got mad, and I... well, you heard what I said. I should never have... I should never have said any of that." Her voice starts to tremble. "I got... I got Simeon hurt, and... and..." The rest of her sentence is lost as she bursts into tears again. I pat her gingerly on the arm, not sure what to do, and give a start when she suddenly buries her face in my shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles through her sobs. "I just... I wish I could've... done something. She'll have gone to the Principal already, and now... They're going to... to ban Pokémon from school... Simeon hates being left behind... He's going to blame himself for losing, too, I know it...!"
"Hold on," I say slowly, an idea appearing in the back of my mind. "It's a vote, right? Majority rules... But only the Student Council regulars voted, didn't they?"
Synthia sniffles, pulling back and wiping at her eyes with my hankie. "I know what you're thinking. The Student Council's not representative of the whole school, is it? We're not even an official committee. But I tried that, Karen, I really did. I tried to get people to come and vote, but I don't really have any friends, and... and... everyone I tried to hand the flyers to just ignored me..."
I blink. Flyers? But I can see what Synthia means. It would've been hard to get people to be interested in voting, especially since no one really bothered with the Student Council except the regulars, anyway. They'll be interested enough now, I think bitterly, but it's too late...
"Or is it...?" I mutter to myself. A few more ideas are popping up in my head.
"Huh?" Synthia says. She stares up at me with this intent, hopeful look in her eyes, like she's expecting me to suddenly come up with a solution that'll fix everything. Meeting those eyes, I feel totally out of my depth. But there's no way I can just keep quiet about my idea, now, and disappoint that kind of blind trust. It's a long shot, but maybe...
"Synthia... You knew my name, right? Even though I've never really spoken to you, you knew who I am, and you knew that Mina and I once beat Camilla in a Pokémon battle. Tell me... How many people actually know that stuff about me?" I realize that I'm gripping the girl tightly by the shoulders, staring into her eyes with an intensity that I see mirrored there. It occurs to me that I'm really tense. The answer to this question is completely central to the idea that's even now unfolding itself in my mind.
"You mean you don't know?" Synthia seems genuinely surprised, and even a little intimidated. "Karen, you're... You're almost as well-known as Camilla! People see you as basically the opposite of her: easygoing, kind of dismissive of the whole Student Council thing, but always to be found somewhere if someone needs help with a problem... I don't know if the rumours that you used to be her friend once are true, but that's what they say." She looks down shyly, as if she's embarrassed to be the one to tell me all this. "Is... is there a reason you ask?"
I'm totally stunned. Sure, I like to help once in a while, if someone asks for it, whether it's with homework or Pokémon or whatever... but I didn't think people would notice, or remember. And from the way Synthia's talking, it's like the schoolyard mill of rumours has built me up as some kind of mentor or... or hero! It's absurd. I can't seem to make myself do anything but stare at the shy, quiet girl who's just dropped this bomb on me.
She stares back at me for a few seconds, a small smile growing on her face as if she's trying not to laugh. Getting over my shock, I remember the reason I first asked the question. "Well, all that aside," I say in a rush, "What I really need to know is, will the Principal have heard of me? And, uh..." I take a deep breath. "...Will he listen if I ask for a re-vote tomorrow?"
Synthia's stare turns into the kind I was giving her a few seconds ago. "The... The Principal?"
The Principal is more or less a mythical being in the schoolyard. Us students don't have anything to do with him, and that's that. I guess our parents (and, I assume, Camilla,) have met the Principal, but that's the stuff of rumours. Stories from other schools about 'being sent to the Principal's office' sound wierd to St. Derian's kids. It's always been Mrs. Portia who does the stern talkings-to and the phoning of parents of kids who misbehave, so the Principal remains a mysterious and ethereal figure to the world of the schoolyard. What I've just suggested— asking to see the Principal— is a feat that no one since Camilla has aspired to.
"I'm..." Synthia stammers, starting to regain her composure. "I'm honestly not sure, Karen. That's actually a great idea. I mean, if any of the schoolyard rumours have ever reached him, it'll be... that one."
"What one?" I ask, not sure if I want to know.
"The one even the teachers know. The one where you stood up to Mrs. Portia and got her to reconsider punishing a grade one kid who got caught finger-painting the walls of the school."
It takes me a moment to even remember the time she's talking about. "But that was three years ago!" I protest. "I was only in third grade, and I doubt you were even out of kindergarten by then!"
"Well, that's how much people talk about you," Synthia says, grinning widely now, as if there's a hilarious joke I'm missing. "I just think it's funny you never knew how well-known you are in this school."
I shake my head. I'd always thought rumours on that scale were things that only happened to seventh-graders, those illustrious older beings in their last year at Junior School. Those kinds of rumours, tales bordering on legend, have always been centred around the enlightened individuals who would, next year, become eighth-graders and disappear into the mystical realm of St. Derian's High School. Ordinary people, even in sixth grade, just don't have their names known by the entire school. It simply doesn't happen... But it seems to have happened to me, and I can only hope it's enough.
Squaring my shoulders, I face the faculty wing. "Come on, Mina," I say. "We're gonna go see the Principal."
Mina glances up at me, then trundles off ahead without hesitating, towards the small building that houses the teachers' lounge and the Principal's office. She's confident that I know what I'm doing and that everything will be okay. I wish I shared her trust in me: I'm shaking in my shoes. As I follow my Hippopotas, the school bell, sitting under its little rain-roof on top of the main building, rings shrilly: Recess is over. I'll be late, of course... but never mind that now. My next class is Science, and I'm sure Mr. Keller will understand if I'm a little more tardy than usual.
I open the door and walk into the faculty building. I've never been in here before; it's a bit of a thrill. Inside is a small rectangular foyer with two puffy green chairs, a round glass-topped table, and a water cooler. The room has a lower ceiling and walls of darker wood than the rest of the school, and instead of fluorescent lights it has four shaded light fixtures near the ceiling, one in each corner. There's a white-painted door straight ahead marked Teachers' Lounge and underneath it Principal's Office; another, to my left, doesn't have any markings on it. The foyer feels kind of like the waiting room outside a doctor's office, only without that counter with the window over it, the one where the lady nurse stands and gives you a number and asks you to please wait.
I pause for a few seconds to work up the courage to open the door with Teachers' Lounge and Principal's Office on it, and finally Mina bumps my leg impatiently, as if to say, Get on with it! Opening the door, I find another room that's a lot like the foyer, but bigger and with more chairs and tables. On the far wall are several rows of square cubbies with teachers' names on plastic tags underneath them, where things like late homework and assignments can be left for the teachers to pick up. Other than the door I came through, the only exit is a hallway to my right, with a small sign on the wall next to it that says:
Principal's Office: This way -->
There's a sudden movement between me and the sign, and I jump, not having realized there was someone sitting in one of the puffy chairs. It's Mr. Gordon, the boring old History teacher, turning in his seat to see who just came into the room.
"Ah... Kelly, was it?" he says in his wheezy voice. "Can I help you, girl?"
"Karen, sir," I correct him. Mr. Gordon doesn't remember anyone's name, so I don't particularly mind. "I, uhh... I need to talk to the Principal."
"Hmm...? How unusual." There's a long pause, as I wait for him to tell me to go ahead, or to ask me to leave. He blinks owlishly at me a few times. "Well?" he asks finally. "Aren't you going in?"
"Uh... Yes, sir." Is it really that easy? I think. Feeling a bit silly, I walk past Mr. Gordon and into the narrow corridor that leads to the Principal's office. There must have been a light in the ceiling halfway down the hall at one point, but it looks like it burnt out, so the hallway gets darker and darker as I walk. At the end is a black-painted door that fades into the shadows so I can't even see the doorknob. As I reach forward to try and find it, the door opens inward, away from me.
Camilla comes through, a flood of light shining past her and obscuring the inside of the room. She's facing away from me, pulling the door closed. Then she turns around and nearly runs into me.
We stare at each other for a moment. It's the first time we've been anywhere near each other since we had our fight. Before all this happened, in a time that seems really long ago, if we had run into each other somewhere in the school, we'd have smiled and headed to our next class together, chattering about whatever was going on at the time. Even now, it feels like if I just asked, "What's up?", everything might go back go normal. But I know that's not true.
Camilla, with a kind of wary look in her eye, starts to open her mouth— maybe to ask what I'm doing here— but then shuts it again. Breaking eye contact, she pushes past me and walks off down the hallway towards the teachers' lounge and the exit.
I swallow hard, trying to get rid of an unexpected lump in my throat. To distract myself, I lift my hand to knock on the door, and find that it's shaking. Probably just nerves: I am about to enter the mythical lair of the Principal. Mina nuzzles against my leg, wanting to comfort me, and I smile down at her gratefully. Returning my attention to my mission, I wait a few seconds for my hand to steady, and then knock.
"Come in!" calls a voice, muffled by the door.
I grope for the doorknob and, turning it, push the door open to get my first look at the Principal's office. It's a small room, even smaller than the foyer at the entrance of the faculty wing. The only furniture is a desk, with an open laptop and a scattering of file folders on it. There's a thick book in one corner of the table, and a bright lamp hanging from the low ceiling directly above it. There must be a chair behind the desk, too, because the Principal is sitting in it.
The Principal's appearance is kind of a disappointment. He's a middle-aged, balding, somewhat pudgy man wearing a grey suit over a white collared shirt and an over-the-top colourful blue and red tie. The tie is the kind someone would buy for the sole reason that it proclaims, 'No one boring could possibly wear this!'
"Well, hello there!" he says jovially, smiling an overly enthusiastic smile. "It's not often I see a new face in here!" As he talks, he nods his head exaggeratedly up and down, like he's trying to use as much movement as possible to emphasize his words. "What brings you here, little girl?"
I wince. Little girl? Is this guy for real? "I'm here to ask about Student Council stuff, sir. Camilla was just in here with the Council's latest decision, right?"
"Yes, yes, the one about banning Pokémon from school." The bald head bobs up and down, up and down. "I must admit, I'm surprised: I thought these critters were all the rage with you kids these days! But as Camilla quite rightly pointed out, we can't have the children distracted from their studies, and surprising or not, there is a majority vote, so..."
"Wait!" I say, too desperate to care that I'm interrupting the Principal himself. "This vote wasn't fair! No one knew what the Student Council was voting on, so most of the school didn't even get a chance to have their say!"
The Principal looks at me, his jovial smile fading and being replaced with a worried look. "Do you mean to say that the Council has been hiding its proceedings from the student body?"
I shift uncomfortably from foot to foot. The truth is, the Council didn't really hide anything. "Well, no, not exactly... But," I continue hurriedly, "They didn't make much of an effort to let people know what was going on, either! The only way to find out what was being voted on was to go to every meeting, and no one bothered because..." My voice trails off. Suddenly, I can see how my explanation of the school's disinterest would sound to an adult. Just the usual, of course: a bunch of kids letting others do the work and make the decisions for them, and only complaining when they find they don't like those decisions. And, even worse, I can't help but wonder if that isn't the way it really is. Do we deserve to help make the decisions if we're not even interested enough to check in on what's being voted? Standing here in front of the man whose job it is to make sure the school keeps running the way it should, my unassailable certainty that Camilla's in the wrong suddenly seems a lot less invincible.
The Principal is shaking his head, a solemn look on his round face. "Well, I'm afraid that the Council has its prerogative. If one is not ready to take part in decision-making, one needs to live with the results of those decisions," he says, his voice taking on the tone of a teacher's lecture. My spirits fall: I can't argue with that, not when I'd been thinking the same thing myself. Then the Principal seems to think of something. "What did you say your name was?" he asks me.
This is my chance! "I didn't. I'm Karen. Karen Davison."
"Ah, of course!" the Principal says, his smile returning. "I've heard a great deal about you, young lady."
I feel hope inflate like a balloon in my chest. Maybe he'll listen to me if he knows who I am! His next words puncture that balloon.
"I know your parents well! They're very generous contributors to the financial well-being of St. Derian's School, and active members of the parents' auxiliary! Why, I remember the time your father single-handedly organized a fund-raiser event and..."
I stop paying attention, my spirits sinking. So the Principal hasn't really heard of me; he just knows my parents. That won't help me convince him of anything. And it sounds like he's already decided banning Pokémon from St. Derian's is a good idea. He's still rambling on; with difficulty, I return my attention to what the man is saying.
"...and your parents are quite complimentary of your mature outlook on... Is something the matter?"
"N... Nothing, Principal," I say, still trying to hide my disappointment.
The Principal doesn't seem to be fooled. He's got that worried look on his face again. He glances at the ceiling, then at me, then at the ceiling again. It looks like he's thinking hard about something. I decide to ignore him, my attention shifting listlessly to the feeling of dejection that's weighing me down like a bag of bricks.
The Principal suddenly comes to some sort of decision. "Well, Miss Davison," he says slowly, "From what your parents have told me of you, they don't believe you're the kind of girl to object to such an important decision on a whim. Are you certain that this vote of the Student Council's doesn't represent the feelings of the student body as a whole?" He's talking a lot more formally than before, and I realize with a jolt that he's actually taking me seriously now. I'd forgotten how much importance grown-ups put on the opinions of other grown-ups. Maybe I still have a chance!
"I'm very certain, sir," I say earnestly, wanting with all my heart for him to give me this one chance. "Maybe it's true that we didn't pay enough attention to the Student Council, and maybe they really do have our best interests at heart... but it has to mean something that this was the first most people have heard about a decision as big as banning Pokémon from school, right?"
"That's true," the Principal concedes. "Such a decision goes beyond the scope of anything the Student Council has attempted so far, and in any case, I would need to consult the board of directors before I could actually do it." I think the Principal is talking mostly to himself, but I decide that I find him a lot more likeable when he's speaking like a normal person instead of talking down to me.
"I'll tell you what, Karen." As if summoned by my thought, the friendly, unintentionally condescending smile comes back to the Principal's face, and I try not to wince. "I'll see about organizing another vote tomorrow, to see if the result is any different. If a lot of people say no, I'll reconsider taking the idea to the board of directors. Okay?"
"Th— Thank you, Principal," I say, somehow managing not to trip over my own tongue too badly in my relief.
The Principal nods cordially at me, then checks his watch. "Is it ten o'clock already??" he exclaims to himself. He moves to his desk and starts gathering together some folders. Then he glances up, seeming surprised to see me still there. "Aren't you late for class, Karen? Run along, now."
I turn and leave the room with Mina at my side, letting out a massive sigh of relief as soon as the door closes behind me. "That was nerve-wracking," I tell Mina exhaustedly, "And half the time I had no idea what I was gonna say, but it all worked out. Now there'll be another vote, and Pokémon won't be banned from St. Derian's after all!" A wide grin starts to spread itself across my face as I realize I've done it. Given enough warning, there's no way the school will vote to ban Pokémon.
Still full of the giddy feeling of success, I half-walk, half-skip out through the teachers' lounge and breeze through the door to the foyer. The unmarked door to my right is half-open this time, and I can't resist peeking in as I walk by. Inside is a little storeroom, with things like plastic bottles of liquid soap, stacked rolls of toilet paper, and a few mops leaning against one wall. The school janitor, who I think is called Joel or Jamie or something, is in there with his little wheeled cart, the one that has a garbage bag on one end and a mop bucket hanging off the other. He's a tall man, not very old as grown-ups go— maybe in his twenties?— and wearing his usual scuffed overalls over a simple black t-shirt. Most of the school is fond of the janitor; he's always got a cheerful grin for whoever's walking through a hallway he's cleaning, and he whistles a cheerful tune to himself whenever he doesn't know anyone's watching him work. It's become a school-wide game: you try and catch him whistling, and then stay hidden for as long as possible without him noticing you there.
He's whistling now, and out of habit, I hang back near the door. After a few moments, he's joined by a second whistle, this one higher-pitched and somehow odd, more echoey than normal. I start to tap my foot as the second whistle starts to do a nice little harmony to the janitor's one. The whistles stop abruptly, and I realize the whistlers must have heard the noise of my tapping foot.
I back away, a bit guiltily, and jump when the door suddenly swings fully open. The janitor is standing there, with one eyebrow raised and a friendly smile on his face. His name tag reads Joseph. "Oh, hello, there," he says. "I didn't think I'd have students listening in on me here, especially during class time." He's still smiling, but there's an implied question.
"Oh, I just came to ask the Principal about something," I explain hastily.
"Oh? Sounds like you've got a story there. I thought only Camilla..." Joseph pauses. "Oh, you're Karen, right?" I nod. "Well, that explains it," he says with a renewed grin, and turns to pick something up from one of the shelves and put it on his janitor's cart.
I frown. "Explains what?"
He shrugs, still smiling. "Nothing."
I glare at him. Is he teasing me? "Who was that?" I ask accusingly, crossing my arms and trying to look stern. "Whistling along with you?"
"Ah, that was Viva. I brought her to work today." Joseph waves to someone I can't see behind the janitor's cart, and an incredibly pretty little Pokémon appears from behind the wheeled contraption.
Viva, I can see, is a Vulpix: a two-foot-tall fox with creamy red fur, six beautiful, soft-looking tails, and a pair of intelligent reddish-black eyes. Directing them up at me, she lets out a soft, tuneful barking noise, kind of like a dog would sound if it could sing.
Mina bounds energetically up to the Vulpix to say hello; I'm about to call my rambunctious Pokémon to heel, but Viva simply extends her nose in a dignified way, and touches it to Mina's in greeting when my outgoing Hippopotas bounces to a stop in front of her. Many Pokémon are intimidated at first by Mina's bulk and her enthusiastic way of greeting new friends, but Viva seems to take my Hippopotas's friendly enthusiasm in stride.
"Just in time, too," Joseph says. I blink, and it takes me a moment to remember what the janitor is talking about: bringing Viva to work with him. "It sounds like soon Viva won't be allowed at St. Derian's. It's too bad, really..." he shakes his head, clearly disappointed, though his hands don't stop their brisk transfer of supplies from the shelves to his cart.
A smile spreads across my face again as I remember what I've managed to do. I open my mouth to triumphantly tell the janitor that Pokémon won't be banned after all, but then I notice that he's now smiling expectantly at me. I realize he already knows what I'm about to say, and my expression changes to a glare. I put my hands on my hips. "Don't joke around with me! This is serious!" I tell him, annoyed.
He raises his hands in defeat, a box of tissues in one hand and a whiteboard eraser in the other. "All right, all right!" he says, laughing. "You caught me! Anyway, if you go now, you might not miss the last half of your class."
I turn and stomp my way out of the faculty wing, glowering at the nerve of him, to laugh at me like that. Really, though, I'm not sure whether to be annoyed or not; that janitor must be the strangest grown-up I've ever met. It occurs to me that right up until he reminded me I should get to my class, he acted more like a kid than an adult. I wonder if I would have felt that out of place if I hadn't been treating the exchange like a talk with a grown-up. Would I have been that flustered if it was Porter teasing me like that? Not a chance, I think with a grin.
When I get to Science class, Mr. Keller, who's standing behind the long lab counter that serves him as a desk, raises his eyebrows at me but doesn't comment. I sidle into one of the swivel seats behind the farthest-back of the four long lecture-hall-style tables, most of which are filled with other kids. This time, I am getting some looks and whispers from my classmates, especially since Porter is already there: you've got to be really late to get there after he does. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Camilla watching me suspiciously from her seat at the end of the second row. I can't guess what she's thinking, but I'm not sure I want to.
The whispers stop quickly, since the class has something more interesting to watch than me showing up late; at the front of the classroom is a man wearing a bright yellow hardhat and a pair of blue overalls even more scuffed than Joseph's. Clearly he's a guest speaker, probably someone's dad, and he's just as clearly out of his depth.
"Umm... So, as I was saying, at the Wind Farm we produce lots of power for people to use, but there are, uhh, drawbacks, and..." the man's voice trails off as he apparently loses the thread of his speech.
Mr. Keller comes to his rescue. "Can anyone guess what these drawbacks might be?" he asks the class.
A few seconds pass, and I try to think about the question. I've missed most of the lecture, but I assume that when the man mentioned the 'Wind Farm,' he meant the field full of big spinning pinwheel-things a little ways out of town. I asked Mom what they were, once, and she said they make electricity. So...
"There isn't always wind, right?" asks a girl in the front row, figuring it out before the rest of us. "Is that a problem?"
"That's r-right," the man says with a relieved look on his face. "On days when the air is very still, we don't produce much electricity. Of c-course, that's when we have a chance to go and check the moving machinery for... for problems, and suchlike... and... well, a bit less production is okay since the Wind Farm doesn't cause any pollution, so... green energy... uh, yes." He stops again, and grabs nervously for a half-empty glass of water that's sitting on the counter behind him, which he drains in one gulp.
"But I've heard that lately, still days aren't such a problem any more," Mr. Keller puts in. "Why don't you tell the class about the new technique?"
"Oh, right," the man says, the nervous look on his face brightening into a tremulous smile. "We've recently discovered a wonderful use for the ability of many bird Pokémon, the ones they call 'flying-types,' to make large quantities of wind with just a few flaps of their wings. On flat days— that's what we call the ones with not a lot of wind— we get Trainers to come to the Wind Farm and get their Pokémon to make some for us." He seems to have reached a topic he's enthusiastic about, since he's no longer stammering and saying 'umm' every few words.
"So, Mr. Capter," Mr. Keller begins. The class immediately perks up, because Mr. Keller is using what we've come to know as 'the comedy voice.' No one who isn't paying attention would realize anything's different, but the comedy voice has a kind of 'television reporter' edge to it, making it feel like any moment he'll pull a microphone out of nowhere and ask a bystander to give an opinion for the camera. Whenever Mr. Keller uses that particular tone of voice, something at least somewhat funny usually ensues.
"Mr. Capter," Mr. Keller continues, "Would you say Pokémon are an important part of your job?"
"Umm, well, at the moment it's only on flat days that we ask for Trainers, but yes, they certainly make work more interesting."
"So, what do you suggest that my students tell their parents, the next time they're being admonished to stop playing around with their Pokémon and clean their rooms?"
The man quickly catches on, and grins. "Well, clearly training a Pokémon is good preparation for future employment."
"Indeed," continues Mr. Keller, still using the comedy voice. "In recent years, having a well-trained Pokémon along is an unofficial but important consideration during job interviews. Be sure to keep that in mind, class."
"And don't forget that time on... on the news," puts in Mr. Capter, stammering a little but clearly more confident than when he'd first started. He pauses to take a calming breath, and Camilla's hand immediately shoots into the air. Not noticing her, he continues. "If I remember right, a boy's Pokémon saved a bus full of people when that bridge collapsed, and—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Capter?" Camilla interrupts, stopping the guest speaker mid-sentence. There's a brief pause, and then Mr. Keller nods for Camilla to go ahead and speak.
"Wasn't the bridge's collapse caused by an out-of-control Pokémon in the first place?" Camilla asks the man pointedly. I can't see her face from back here, but I have no doubt that she's fixing the poor guy with the most piercing glare she can muster.
There's sudden silence. Camilla has everyone's full attention, including Mr. Keller, who's giving her an unreadable but appraising look. Mr. Capter starts to sweat visibly.
"Uhh, I don't recall the, uh... the entire text of the article, but..." the guest speaker stutters, pausing to swallow, "But that could be the case..."
"Wouldn't you agree, then, that the event isn't a valid example of how Pokémon are improving the lives of their masters? In fact, wasn't there an overall loss of property and life in the disaster?" Camilla has stood up, with her fists clenched at her sides, but her voice is steady and quiet. I grit my teeth— for some reason, that voice annoys me even more than if she were shouting.
"Please refrain from cross-examining the guest speaker," Mr. Keller says, his tone of voice perfectly civil and now devoid of impending comedy. "Please continue to make your points, though." He doesn't seem at all perturbed, which is infuriating: half the class is glaring daggers at Camilla, but Mr. Keller almost seems to be taking her side.
"It's always, 'Pokémon are wonderful,' and 'Pokémon can help us make things better!' Well, it's not all fun and games, you idiots." Camilla says. It sounds like she's speaking through gritted teeth now. "No one cares that we're dealing with animals that can blow fire or create earthquakes! No one gives a damn that every time a kid brings their Pokémon to school is a chance for people to get hurt! Yes, I know you all love your Pokémon dearly," she spits, "But I thought someone in this school would be responsible enough to realize that not everything that's fun is a good thing."
She turns and looks at everyone, raking her gaze across the class like a set of claws. I stare back, furious, daring her to meet my eyes, but she skips over me. Good; she may be crazy, but she knows better than to try to out-stubborn me.
"For anyone who doesn't know, tomorrow is the last day you'll be able to bring your Pokémon to school. There'll be an announcement that Pokémon have been banned from St. Derian's. If the grown-ups won't take responsibility for you maniacs, I will." Now Camila meets my eyes, mine alone, and it's like getting punched in the stomach. I flinch, breaking eye contact. I don't understand it, but for some reason the look that made me flinch... it didn't seem angry. It seemed like she was scared.
Camilla? Scared? I wonder incredulously. I have no idea what to make of this. I look up from the desk and to see her glare at the whole class one more time, her grey eyes hard, before she turns around and stomps out of the classroom, clearly angry. The odd feeling in my stomach disappears, and I wonder scornfully how I could ever have mistaken that nasty look of hers for fear.
The class erupts in murmurs, which almost drown out the bell signaling the end of class and the beginning of lunchtime. The guest speaker, Mr. Capter, is staring at the door Camilla left through, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Mr. Keller is behind his desk, shuffling unconcernedly with some papers and apparently whistling, though I can't hear him over the rising din of everyone talking to each other.
I don't see Camilla at lunch time, and I don't want to. I'm still seething, partly at her for saying all those things, and partly at myself for letting her get away with it. If I'm as 'famous' as Synthia says, I'm probably the person people expect to stand up to her.
But how do I stand up to someone who's as stubborn as I am? Camilla won't budge even to admit she doesn't know everything; there's no way I can convince her to give up her crazy scheme to get rid of Pokémon. At least, I think with satisfaction, I've thwarted her best bet at getting this done. The re-vote will go ahead, and Mina and all our Pokémon will be safe.
The next morning, I get to school early for once: there's no way I'm gonna' miss what's coming. I haven't told Porter about what I did, because I want it to be a surprise. When our homeroom teacher announces that today there will be a school-wide 're-vote' at lunch time on the issue of Pokémon being banned, the look on Porter's face is a hundred percent worth the wait.
"You... They... How??" He whisper-yells at me as we walk out of homeroom and into the halls, which are buzzing with talk about the unexpected re-vote.
"Oh, I just had a little talk with the Principal," I say, grinning when I see his mouth drop open. "You look flabbergasted, Porter," I laugh, and the laugh turns into a shameless giggle when he gives me an exasperated look.
"How long have you been waiting to use that word in context?" he asks me.
"Forever," I reply immediately, giving him a thumbs-up and grinning the whole time.
At Recess, I avoid the quad and head into an empty classroom to get away from the stares that are following me everywhere. I doubt it was Porter who spilled the beans, but it sounds like someone let slip that the re-vote is somehow my doing.
"I still can't believe it," Porter says for the hundredth time as we walk into the relative quiet of the classroom. "By the end of yesterday, everyone was so sure it was a lost cause."
"Well," I say patiently, "Sometimes you have to take on a lost cause if it's important enough." I grin down at Meow, who's following Porter around as usual. Mina, wanting to be included, bounces up next to him and stares up at me as well, prompting me to bend down and give her a scratch on her big round nose.
There must have been a Drama class in here last period, because all the desks are pushed up against the walls, with the chairs stacked upside-down on top of them, clearing a large space in the middle of the room. I drag one of the chairs off a table and flip it upright, sitting down facing away from the room's row of large windows with a tired sigh. It's time to get serious. "Please tell me you didn't know I've been the biggest thing in the rumour mill for the last three years."
Porter looks surprised for a second, then clasps his hands together behind his back, sheepishly refusing to meet my eyes, instead glancing out the window. "Well, not really. I mean, I didn't know anything until last year, and even then all I heard was kids telling their friends, 'Go to Karen, she'll explain that tough math problem,' or 'Pokémon trouble? Karen can help.' It's not like it was anything bad, so I didn't think it was such a big deal." he shrugged nervously. "If there was more than that, they didn't mention it around me."
I maintain my skepticism for a few seconds, then smile with relief. Porter's a terrible liar, so if he weren't telling the truth, I'd know. I'd been worried about asking him this question, but I should have known he would never have kept anything important from me.
"Karen!" A girl's shout comes from the hallway, and then the door bangs open as Synthia dashes in, sweating under the weight of a book bag that must be half her size. The slim little nine-year-old leans against one of the tables by the wall, panting, and adjusts her glasses as she struggles to regain enough breath to talk. "Camilla... is coming!" she tells me frantically. "She wants... to battle you, and..."
She's cut off as the door bangs open again. I stand up in a rush when I see who it is. Camilla is standing in the doorway, with a stony look on her face.
"Karen, I don't know what you did to get a re-vote, but you won't get away with this," she says angrily. "I'm here to show you what happens when you try to undermine authority just to get your way."
I sigh. Why does it have to come to this? I wonder. We used to be friends. When did everything go wrong? "If you've come to browbeat me, Camilla, forget it. Or have you forgotten I'm just as stubborn as you are?" I ask, not so much angry as exhausted with the whole thing.
"You're the one who's forgotten," Camilla sneers. "I'm stubborn; you're too stupid to realize you're in the wrong."
"Just shut up and battle me," I say, unwilling to rise to the taunt.
"You went behind my back!" Camilla says accusingly. "What's your problem with me? Every time I turn around you're trying to get in the way!"
"Excuse me?" I ask. Am I hearing her right? "I haven't talked to you in six months, and you seemed just fine with that. How can I possibly be getting in your way?"
"Don't play dumb, Karen!" Camilla shrieks, losing all semblance of self-control. "You know the way everyone sees you! You're the one person in this school who still hates the idea of the Student Council, and you'll stop at nothing to sabotage our improvements!"
"You call that an improvement?" I fight to keep my voice calm. "You want to ban Pokémon from school. If that's not a stupid mistake, I don't know what it is!"
"It's safe, that's what it is!" Camilla shouts. "Pokémon are dangerous, you and I both know that! It's in the news every day: kids getting hurt in schoolground fights, gang wars in the big cities spiraling out of control! It's all the same, and it's happening because Pokémon are being misused, with the proper authorities powerless to stop it! Why do you think the teachers don't resolve disagreements any more? It's because now they can't do a thing if a kid with a stronger Pokémon says 'I'm right, and you're wrong!' A school where everything's solved with Pokémon battles? That's what I want to get rid of!" Camilla screams the last few words in my face, while I stand there refusing to flinch. Breathing heavily, my one-time best friend suddenly thumps me in the chest, pushing me back a step. It hurts, in more ways than one.
I can feel Synthia and Porter, watching silently from the sidelines, waiting for my response. I make a final supreme effort to keep my temper in check, and succeed. Barely. "Are you done?" I ask simply.
"No. I still have to teach you a lesson," Camilla retorts through gritted teeth.
"So you don't want things to be solved by Pokémon battles any more, but you still want to battle me." I don't let any hint of sarcasm enter my voice: I know Camilla, and I know her imagination will insert the sarcasm on its own.
"Sometimes, to beat the established system, you have to use it," Camilla says coldly. It sounds like she's quoting something, but I'm not interested enough to ask where she got the quote. "Are you ready, Karen?"
"To beat you? Always," I say with false confidence.
It looks like Camilla took me seriously, though; her face turns beet red and she clenches her fists. "You won't luck out again! WES!"
The Abra appears in a flash of purple light. Mina moves to place herself across from him in the fifteen-foot-wide cleared space in the middle of the classroom. The two Pokémon eye each other while Camilla and I cross to stand behind our battlers.
"Start with Plan A, Wes," Camilla says. And the battle begins.
The Abra disappears immediately, and reappears in a different part of the circle. Mina rushes towards him, and he teleports again, this time all the way on the circle's other side. "Slow down, Mina. Keep moving, but let him tire out first."
Nodding to me, Mina begins to trot towards Wes at an almost leisurely pace. He teleports again when she's nearly reached him, and she calmly switches directions to head for his new location. I know from experience that the Abra can only teleport so many times before he'll tire out, so as long as Mina conserves her energy, Wes can't win this battle of endurance.
Camilla, though, can see that as clearly as I can. "Change of tactics, Wes! Plan C, forget B."
As soon as Camilla's finished speaking, Wes teleports, but instead of running away again, he appears directly above Mina and lands on her back. As soon as he makes contact, a glow of purple light surrounds Mina's body, and she grunts as she's pinned down by psychic power.
I grin. Wes's mind may be strong, but I'm pretty sure Mina's muscles are stronger. Sure enough, Mina strains to get up, and the purple outline falters. "Show him not to mess with you close up, Mina," I call. "Make like a Phanpy and roll!"
Wes struggles to disengage himself and teleport away, but isn't fast enough. Mina rolls all the way over, her considerable bulk trapping the Abra against the floor. The moment she rolls clear, Wes disappears and reappears on one of the tables near the walls, looking a bit the worse for wear. He puts out a three-fingered yellow hand and touches an upside-down chair that's resting on the next table over; it glows purple briefly and then hurtles at Mina.
Mina jumps aside, with a speed and agility that would be surprising to anyone who doesn't know just how much she enjoys playing tag with me. When Mina and I train, we have fun. The chair bounces past on my right, followed by two more as Wes keeps up his barrage. After dodging the last one, Mina leaps forward and, rather than trying to get onto the table on which Wes is sitting, slams into the table's legs. It topples over her, spilling Wes onto the ground. As soon as he regains his sense of direction, the Abra teleports again, onto a different table.
I decide it's time to reveal our secret weapon. "All right, Mina, use the Sand Tomb attack we practiced!"
One of Mina's special powers, as a ground-type Pokémon, is to summon sand out of nowhere. She inhales, then lets out a torrent of that sand at high speed from her big nostrils. A wall of sand rushes away from her; one side is faster than the other, so the sand whirls as it goes and turns into a funnel. The little whirlwind makes a whooshing noise as it flies at the table on which Wes is sitting, and he barely teleports away in time. By now the Abra is looking pretty tired; I doubt he has many more teleports in him.
"Keep it up, Mina!" Whirlwind after whirlwind of flying sand blast into the tables surrounding the empty space, until finally, one of the purple flashes comes too late. Wes reappears on the ground three feet in front of Mina, his teleport interrupted by fatigue and the disorientation of being hit by a spinning wall of sand.
Mina walks forward and places a forepaw on the half-conscious Abra's back, letting out a token bellow of victory before stepping back and coming to nuzzle my leg. I kneel down and pat her, congratulating her on her impressive win.
Camilla's face has gone all stony again. She walks forward and picks up her Abra without ceremony, then slides his limp form onto a table and appears to forget about him. I grit my teeth, my anger coming back all at once as I see the way she treats her loyal Pokémon. Uncaring, Camilla leaves him there and walks straight towards me.
"You may have won, but this changes nothing," she says, giving me that flat glare. "You're in the wrong. The Student Council voted, and a clear majority were in favour of the new rule."
I stare at her for a second. Normally, I'm a nice person. Ask anyone: they'll tell you I don't have a mean bone in my body. But right now, all that's running through my mind is a nasty list of the ways Camilla's changed for the worse in the last year. The way she discarded me and Porter as less important than her precious Council. The scornful looks she's started throwing at kids who don't agree with her. The increasingly dismissive sneer that hovers on her lips every time she catches my eye in the halls. Her whispering, hateful voice in the back of my mind, saying... 'Quit playing around... Get a better Pokémon... Grow up.' Pressure builds in my head and chest, until I feel ready to burst.
I take three big steps forward, until I'm directly in Camilla's face. "A clear majority of what?" I snap, a small part of me cringing at the pure rage I can hear in my voice. Camilla flinches, but this only feeds the fire that's crowding my voice of reason into a corner. "A clear majority of the toadies and bitter, small-minded idiots you surround yourself with, that's who!" Inside, I'm pleading with myself to stop, before I say the things I know I'm about to say.
All the ugly thoughts in my head, the things I would never give voice to if I were in my right mind, come flooding out. "You know who it is that supports you, right, Camilla? Weaklings! Cowards! Bullies who wish things were the way they used to be, so they can go back to pushing nerds around and stealing everyone's lunch money! Thugs who think skill, hard work and ability should be less important than who has the biggest muscles! Pokémon equalize all that, and make sure the people who win are the ones who should win!"
That small voice of reason in the back of my mind is almost silent now. It knows that I'll regret for ever what I'm going to say next. "Pokémon make things turn out the way they should be! And you want to get rid of that, for what??" I yell, and shove my face directly into Camilla's, somehow at the same time enjoying and hating the way I'm making her cringe. "For your petty hatred of a single Pokémon that killed your parents by accident!" I seize Camilla's shoulders and shake her; tears are running down her face. With detached surprise, I notice I'm crying, too.
"That's enough!" The new voice comes from the doorway, and I'm astonished to see the janitor, Joseph, standing there in his faded overalls and black t-shirt, holding a mop in one hand. The light from the room's big windows illuminates the look of disappointment on his face, an expression I somehow find more surprising than if he'd been angry.
"Is this how you treat your friends, Karen?" he asks quietly. "I remember, you know. I was working here when you two first walked in those doors at the front of the school. Are five years such a long time that you've forgotten?"
I clench my fists at the sheer injustice of that. I've never stopped remembering, not in a year of Camilla treating me like dirt! I rail silently, the pressure of anger in my head and chest expanding until I think my ears are about to vent steam. "No," I say quietly, in a voice that trembles with the effort it takes not to scream at him. "No, I haven't forgotten."
He meets my eyes, still with that disappointed, judging look. "You said just now that Pokémon are the equalizers. In this, skill, hard work and ability are all that matter. Want to test yourself against me? Prove to me you deserve to win, Karen Davison. After all, you seem certain that the ones who should win, do." he says, his face twisting into a sarcastic smile.
My own words, repeated out of context like that, sound stupid. He's mocking me. My anger is still blazing, and now it has a new outlet. "All right, fine! Mina, are you ready?" Mina looks up at me. She's with me, and always has been, for better or for worse. Her unwavering trust gives me a different kind of warmth from the harsh fire of my rage. I know I can do anything with her at my side.
"Viva, you know what to do." Joseph looks calm, infuriatingly calm. What right does he have to butt in on this?
He's been at this thing called life a bit longer than you have, replies a traitorous voice in my skull. Maybe he knows a bit more than you do.
Ignoring it, I start the battle. "Sand Tomb attack!"
Mina fires a whirling twister of sand, which whips towards Joseph's Vulpix with a whooshing sound.
Unbelievably quickly, Viva dodges aside, leaps onto one of the tables at the room's edge, and braces herself. Then she opens her mouth and spews a torrent of flames directly at Mina. Of course! Vulpix is a fire-type Pokémon, I remember.
Mina dodges aside, her speed once more coming into play. She fires off another whirlwind of sand, and Viva springs to the ground on one side as the attack splashes and dissipates against the table.
Now, though, I see that Viva wasn't even battling seriously until now. At point-blank range, and while Mina is still turning to face her, Viva spits a small circle of flames that surround my Hippopotas, burning in a tightly controlled ring that chars the grey carpet but doesn't threaten to spread. I can see Mina sweating in the heat almost immediately, but Viva isn't finished. She opens her mouth to make a tuneful barking noise, and in response, five glowing white wisps of light appear, floating all around the Vulpix. They drift over towards Mina, and begin to attack her, each one burning a hole in my Pokémon's pink sweater and leaving a small burn mark where it strikes. Mina, unable to leave the ring of fire to get away from the wisps, lets out a quiet moaning noise of pain. Tears fill my eyes.
"Stop!" I shout. "Please! Don't hurt her!"
The flames surrounding Mina, and the wispy lights, disappear. Viva and her Trainer regard me as I rush over to throw my arms around my beloved Pokémon. Mina licks my face weakly. "I'm sorry," I tell her, hugging her tightly.
"So I win," says Joseph's voice from the doorway, completely calmly. "Because I beat you, does that make me more correct than you? If I told you you were worthless, that your feelings don't matter, I'd be right, wouldn't I? Is that what you meant when you said that?"
Completely crushed, I bury my face in Mina's back, trying to avoid the burn marks. She tries to nuzzle me comfortingly, which just makes me feel worse. Do I even deserve her? I'd been so certain I was right, but I didn't need to prove that by battling. Mina got hurt just because I let my anger get away with me; because I needed to stoke my ego.
"Karen, look at me." Joseph's voice is quiet, and kind. I look up, and see him leaning against a desk near the room's entrance, with Viva beside him making a musical purring sound as he strokes her fur. "You're a good person, and never forget that. But how often do you stop and think about why people do the things they do? Do they have less of a reason to act happy, or sad, or angry, than you do?"
He's right, of course. But I don't understand what he's trying to say.
"You got angry just now. Why?" he asks.
"Because..." I think about that for a moment. Did Camilla say something specific that made me angry? No... I exploded when she was just talking about the Student Council. And then a feeling wells up inside me, and I know the answer. "Because I felt like Camilla cared more about the Student Council than about me and Porter. It hurt. And that's why I got mad, because I hated how she could make me feel like that," I say miserably. I'm wishing I could just disappear.
"Karen, I have one more question for you," Joseph continues, still in that kind voice, one that says he isn't judging me. I almost wish he would sound disgusted, or disappointed again; that would make sense. "Why do you think Camilla wants to ban Pokémon from school?"
I know the answer I'd like to give, which is that Camilla's just bitter. But that's not the right answer, and I realize I know Camilla too well to really believe that. It comes to me slowly, as I think about all the things Camilla has done since her parents died. My mind returns to Mr. Keller's class yesterday.
"Because," I say slowly, "She's scared of them. Scared one will attack her." But that's not right; the Pokémon never hurt Camilla, just her parents. "She's scared a Pokémon will hurt... people she cares about." I frown. "But I thought Camilla stopped caring about anyone."
"Really?" Jonathan asks, for the first time sounding angry. I'm too emotionally exhausted to even cringe at the sudden change in his tone of voice. "Is that what you think? Look at her. LOOK AT HER!" he shouts when I hesitate.
I look, and see Camilla standing on one wall of the room, tears overflowing from her eyes. She's trembling from head to toe, and the horrified look on her face makes me want to look away, but I can't. She stands up and comes over to me and Mina, looking down with her fists clenched.
"You really thought that? You thought I didn't care?" she asks in a dangerous tone that's somewhat spoiled by her quavering voice. "Did you really think that??" she screams suddenly, her voice hoarse.
"I haven't forgotten for even one moment!" she rages, and I want nothing more than to run and hide... but I can't make myself look away from her grey eyes. "Not once! Every time you shot me that disappointed look, every time you turned around to avoid passing me in the hall, I felt like I was about to lose you like I lost Mom and Dad! Every day I saw you with Mina, I wondered if tomorrow we'd hear you died in an earthquake!"
I feel horrible. I never thought for a moment, all those times, that maybe I was just responsible as Camilla for the growing distance between us. In my mind, it was always her fault. It's as if my world is crumbling; am I to blame for my own hurting?
"Camilla, I'm..." A hard lump blocks my throat for a moment, until I swallow. "I'm such an idiot..."
I don't get any further, because suddenly, Camilla's hugging me tightly, her body shaking as she cries. I feel my own eyes start to run over as well, and wrap my arms around my best friend in the first real hug we've shared in more than a year. I hear applause, and realize that somewhere behind me, pretty much the entire population of St. Derian's Junior School is watching through the classroom's row of large windows.
"I'm so sorry," I tell Camilla in a choked voice, and bury my face in my friend's shoulder.
"Me, too," she whispers hoarsely, stroking my hair as I cry. Somehow, despite everything, it's the most comforting sensation I can imagine. "It's all my fault... I pushed you away. Karen... Can you ever forgive me?"
I squeeze her tightly, a warm glow of relief spreading through me. "Of course. Just like old times," I say, managing a small smile as I twist my head to look up at her.
"Just like old times," Camilla echoes, meeting my tear-stained smile with one of her own, and I know we're finally on the road to mending our friendship.
The rest of the day passes in a blur. Porter, Camilla and I sit together at lunch, watching droves of students pass by us on their way to and from the tables where the homeroom teachers are tallying their charges' votes. The re-vote is a massive success, with more than 90% of the school voting not to ban Pokémon from St. Derian's.
Things haven't gone back to the way they used to be, no. I'll have to get used to the whole Junior School knowing who I am. Every time I make eye contact with Camilla, there's a moment of hesitation, like if one of us does the wrong thing, our suddenly renewed friendship could shatter like glass. It'll take time to get rid of the invisible wall between us, and I think there are still a lot of things Camilla and I still need to work out, like figuring out what Pokémon really are to each of us.
So no, not everything is perfect, yet. But after school, waving goodbye to Camilla in the back seat of her car as I watch her foster parents drive her away, I somehow feel like there's not a problem in the world that's really beyond solving.
"It's good to have her back," Porter says, standing next to me.
"Karen? Porter?" a voice from behind us asks. We turn around; it's Synthia. I can see Simeon peeking out from under the curly brown hair that falls past her shoulder. "Can I maybe hang out with you guys and Camilla tomorrow?" she asks shyly, blushing bright red.
"Sure," I say, smiling the most welcoming smile I can manage. I'd already decided to invite Synthia to join us at Recess tomorrow, but I'm touched that she got up the courage to ask. She may be a few years younger, but I think she'll fit right in with our little group.
After saying goodbye to Synthia and Porter, I begin to walk home. The Pineco in the trees along the way are buzzing softly, and I find myself humming cheerfully along with them, kicking idly at the carpet of fallen leaves on the sidewalk as I go. Sure, Pokémon have changed everything for us kids... and maybe, I guess, for adults too. But life goes on, and it's so much fun that I've decided, from now on, there's no way I'm going to miss any of it.
If you liked this story and have more than an hour on your hands, Imagine This now has a sequel, a story by the name of Imagine That.