Required Characters: 3-5k
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Author’s Notes: This story grew out of a desire to set a story in the real world with no appearances by actual Pokemon; I’d love some feedback on how you guys think I did. Spellings are in UK-English. I make some use of organisations and terms that some American readers may not be familiar with, a rough guide is in the spoiler tags:
The first thing that I notice as I wake is the rhythmic bleeping of the heart monitor beside my bed, matched to the tune of my shattered body. Doctors quickly notice that I’m coming around and unthinkingly assail me with lights and questions, ‘can I hear them,’ ‘do I know where I am,’ helpfully telling me that I’d been in a car accident; as if every second up until the collision isn’t indelibly printed upon my mind, playing over and over as I’d lain unconscious like some nightmarish zoetrope.
Already knowing the answer to the question, but needing the dreaded certainty of their response, I ask them where Ben is, whether he survived the crash. Their evasive replies confirm the ghoulish scene I remember; the car ploughed head-on into the driver’s side, killing my husband instantly. My husband…the word still feels strange to me, as does the thought that a mere 24 hours before I had been eagerly anticipating my upcoming wedding; I wonder how many other women have been married and widowed in such a short amount of time, did anyone share this same pain? I can feel tears begin to roll down my cheeks as the briefly illuminated hospital room begins to fade again, the malevolent fingers of tortured memories clawing their way into my brain and pulling me into their thrall again as I drift back into unconsciousness.
The steady sound of the heart monitor greets me as I reawaken, welcoming me back to the waking world like an old friend. It isn’t long before the doctors and nurses return to poke and prod me, rapidly ascertaining that I was fully cognisant and in no danger of immediate death before moving on to deal with other patients; hospitals are always over-full and under-staffed, especially with the recent cuts to the NHS. One nurse remains behind to inform me that a couple of police officers wanted to talk to me about the accident and then leaves me to their tender ministrations.
“Good morning Mrs Stubbs,” the female says soothingly, taking a seat beside my bed. Her imposing physical stature exudes an aura of steadfast reliability, whilst the beatific features of her face and simple ponytail make her seem like a kindly auntie; I find myself feeling at ease in her presence. “I’m Detective Sergeant LeMonte,” she continues, a slight French burr adding an exotic edge to her voice, “and I know you’ve been through a lot, but we needed to ask you a few questions about the accident.”
It was nothing I hadn’t been expecting, but I still felt momentarily taken aback by the question; Ben was barely even cold and they were already looking to try and apportion blame of the accident on him. Perhaps it was the way she called me ‘Mrs Stubbs,’ a form of address to which I’ve had no time to accustom myself, that had stunned my mind, or perhaps it was the emotional wringer that my subconscious recollection had forced me through; either way I didn’t feel I could bring myself to talk about the accident just yet.
“I fell in love with Ben when I first saw him at university. I know it sounds sad, like something from a bad Mills and Boone, but within minutes of talking to him I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in his arms.” The sweet memories should have elicited some sort of response in me – tears of joy, heart-pounding longing for the man I loved and lost – but I felt nothing but a dull numbness that couldn’t entirely be attributed to the morphine being pumped through my veins.
“What does that hav…” a male voice beyond the edge of my vision, near the foot of my bed, begins before being harshly cut off by LeMonte.
“It’s all right, carry on,” she says understandingly.
I barely listen to them as my mind drifts to more recent memories, those of the wedding reception, in an attempt to break through the emotional lethargy that seemed to rule me. “There were so many people there I didn’t recognise, distant relatives from both sides, along with old friends of Ben’s that he hadn’t seen in years.” A cornucopia of smiling faces paraded before my mind’s eye, all of them so happy to see the pair of us happily wed; my own face standing out in radiant rapture beyond all others. “Everyone was happy,” I continue, my voice betraying no hint of emotion, “especially his friends. They kept saying that he’d finally made his Evolution from a geeky outcast, that’s what started it all in the car.”
“I asked him about it later, when he was driving us to the hotel.” I could feel a distinct change in my own state of mind, something finally beginning to break through the barrier; I couldn’t quite place the emotion, but surely anything would be better than the detached numbness that currently ruled me. “He told me that it was from an old nickname they had for him, his claims in junior school that he’d one day outgrow being a Magikarp and become a Gyarados.”
From the corner of my eye I saw LeMonte’s face register the same blank look I’d thrown at Ben before the voice of her companion emerged from the foot of my bed. “It’s from Pokémon; a Japanese series of games and cartoons that my kids are in to. Magikarp’s a little fish thing that’s no good for anything until it turns into Gyarados.”
“Hang on; I thought that was a kid’s game from years ago…”
“That’s what I said when he explained it,” I said, as my chest constricted and tears begun to form in my eyes; still unable to identify what this feeling was, so different from the sorrow and loss that had ruled me when I first awoke. “And he turned to face me, saying ‘Underneath the cutesy exterior there’s a solid…’” I trailed off as the nightmare memory played before my mind again.
“A solid what, dear,” LeMonte asked encouragingly.
“He never saw the car crossing the junction against the lights, because he was answering my teasing.” My entire broken body burned as tortured sobs tore from my throat in response to the realisation; if Ben hadn’t turned to face me he might have been able to avoid the car. I had finally identified the mystery emotion that had been breaking through, for all the good it did me; it was guilt over the fact that I had killed my husband. I only faintly heard the brutal quizzing of the nurses who wanted to know what the police officers had done to me; my entire world seemed to consist of nothing but pain, crying and the memories of my innocent teasing echoing through my skull. A voice that sounded like a tortured version of my own shrieked from somewhere nearby, asking to die, whilst a drug-induced deadness gradually spread through my body, forcing me back into the dreaded abyss of my unconsciousness.
It was only a few weeks later that the hospital discharged me, more because they were in need of beds than because of my recovery. The worst of my physical trauma had healed to some degree of satisfaction, although my heart and soul still carried gaping wounds that would likely never fade. By common agreement of my mother and mother-in-law I was staying at my parents’ home; they claimed that I was in no state to be left alone, although I suspected that it had more to do with their hushed tones and whispered references to me ‘doing something rash.’ The pair of them had gone to great lengths to temporarily erase any lingering reminders of my wedding day, all save one small envelope that had been amongst our belonging which survived the accident.
Since being given it, I had found myself unable to bear opening letter, addressed in an unrecognised, spidery script that simply read Karp. It seems silly, I know, but I somehow knew it had something to do with Ben’s friends and with the conversation that had killed him. Eventually I forced myself to gently prise open the envelope, curiosity managing to make itself felt through the fug of guilt and woe.
Gently, almost tenderly, I eased the contents of the envelope onto the bed, finding only a short note and what looked like a playing card. Although reason should have guided me to the note first, the image on the card inexorably drew my gaze. The blue card bore a lot of text in an alphabet that I guessed was Japanese, but it was the picture above the text that truly caught my eye. The picture was a cartoon drawing of a roundish red fish, with yellow fins and a gormlessly gaping mouth, and without a doubt I knew that this was the Magikarp that my beloved had been compared to.
It was a few seconds before I realised that I had begun smiling, a movement that I’d almost forgotten I was capable of, and before long a soft laugh escaped my lips. I hugged the card to my breasts as laughter continued to erupt from me at the image of Ben’s face imposed upon this creature, the sheer release drawing tears from my eyes; it seemed my true recovery process had finally begun.