Though only the first route, as Tess crept under the canopy, her heart seemed to claw its way up into her throat. It was a stark contrast between the bright, open space of the town just outside and the wild, uncontrolled routes connecting it to others. Tall, lush grass patches were smattered around the dirt path. Pokemon were calling all around, and no matter how hard she tried to pinpoint their location, it was impossible among the thick brush and trees.
She was about to turn back when breaking through the lively sounds of the forest, a man’s voice broke through. Along with the yelling, there was a high-pitched barking and the rustling of grass and leaves. A chase was clearly going on somewhere. Seconds after the uproar, in the corner of Tess’s eye, a shadow flung itself into the path before her.
The shadow hit the ground, and in the light breaking through the canopy, it jumped up, revealing a man. He looked into Tess’s face, eyes bulging from his face. He pointed above Tess’s head.
“Go back! Run!”
Tess blinked and opened her mouth to respond when another shadow, though much smaller, leaped from the same brush the man had come from. The little shadow howled and scurried towards the man. He let out a yelp and took off, the shadow following close behind. Unfortunately, there weren’t many places the man could go without jumping back into the thick brush of the surrounding woods. Instead, he opted for running in a wide circle, all the while sticks and foliage fell from his hair and white lab coat, presumably from his last run through the woods.
It wasn’t until Tess noticed the coat that she realized he must be Professor Birch. It was also at that point that Tess saw him patting around his waist. He was clearly looking for something. She scanned the path and the grass, and just on the edge of the route was a large crossbody bag. Tess rushed over to the bag, and there, lying by the bag, was a Pokeball.
“Throw the ball!”
She peered up, and Birch was staring at her, motioning for her to pick up the Pokeball. Despite her better judgment, she picked up the ball, pressed the center button to activate it, then tossed it out in the center of Birch’s circle. A bright light erupted from the ball and took shape. As the light faded, a small, pink creature was left behind. Its long pink ears flopped forward, hovering just above its eyes. Rather, what Tess assumed were eyes. Each eye consisted of four dashes in the shape of a cross. The little creature looked almost like a frightened stuffed animal.
While Tess couldn’t tell for sure if it was a stuffed animal or not, it certainly was frightened. Using its nubby hands, it held its own face, all the while whimpering. As the creature came forth, the shadow following Birch paused, allowing the professor to dive out of the way. As he did, he called out:
The little creature looked towards Birch’s voice, its mouth wide open as if it were about to cry. Birch scurried toward his bag, yelling again:
The creature only whimpered. Unfortunately, as the whismur tried to make sense of the professor’s command, the shadow attacked, tackling the stuffed animal pokemon to the ground. This seemed to be enough for whismur as it opened its mouth and raised its ears, revealing two large holes beneath them. As soon as it opened those holes, a sharp screech erupted, not only stunning the shadowed pokemon but the entire woods. Pokemon erupted from the brush, flying overhead in panicked patterns. Tess herself struggled to maintain her footing as the screeching enveloped all of her senses.
While the attack might have only lasted a few seconds, it seemed to extend out for what felt like hours. Even after whismur stopped screeching, the sound rang through Tess’s ears. The shadow had long released the whismur and instead was passed out. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a zigzagoon. Tess, relieved to have survived the encounter, turned to ask Birch if he was okay, only to find him also passed out on the dirt path. Dumbfounded, Tess stood on the road, unsure of how to remedy the situation by herself. Even whismur wandered to stand next to her, peering up at her as if she could provide any answers.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to stand in confusion for too long. A voice from behind her called out:
Tess turned to face the voice, and there was Brendan. His brows were cinched, eyes narrowed, with a deep-set frown on his face. It might have been the most real reaction she had seen from anyone in the short time she had been in this small town. He peered at Tess, the whismur at her feet, his dad passed out in the dirt, and the zigzagoon. With a sigh and a shake of his head, he said:
“I don’t know what I am looking at, but I am guessing you’re owed some thanks.”
Tess blinked, unsure of how to respond. Once again, Brendan bailed her out from having to decide as he trudged over to his dad and crouched down beside him.
Birch did not respond.
Still, nothing, even as Brendan held the collar of the professor’s coat and shook. Once again, Brendan sighed.
“Tess, would you mind giving me a hand?”
All Tess could manage was a head bob before she scuttled over to them and helped lift Birch up, shouldering his weight. The whismur whimpered at their feet, panicked by the sudden movement and shuffle of people. As Brendan and Tess haphazardly made their way out of the route and back into town, he mused:
“Where’d you find the little guy?”
Tess started to ask who he was referring to when she recalled the whismur trailing behind them, crying as it struggled to keep up.
“Oh, it wasn’t really me that found it. Its Pokeball fell out of your dad’s bag.”
Brendan nodded, though his face was scrunched as if something didn’t make sense.
“I see. Weird.”
Brendan shook his head as he tried to resettle his dad’s dead weight across his shoulders.
“Nothing really, I guess. Dad said he was going out to get a new set of starters.”
Brendan flashed her a grin though beads of sweat were trailing down the sides of his face.
“Come on. You’re the daughter of a gym leader. Starters, the starter pokemon every trainer is offered at the beginning of the tourney.”
Despite her best effort to not be embarrassed, Tess’s face warmed of its own accord. Of course, she knew about the starters. Her dad used to do mock ceremonies where he’d present Tess a set of three pokedolls and tell her to choose her starter wisely. It was a game she enjoyed and looked forward to as a child, but as she got older, the event gradually lost its luster. She still had all of the pokedolls she chose somewhere packed away.
“Yeah, okay. What’s weird about your dad having one of the starters on him?”
Brendan shook his head as they rounded the corner to the entrance of the pokemon lab.
“It’s not weird that he had them. He went to go get them. What’s weird is that it’s a whismur. Whismur usually isn’t an option.”
Tess’s eyes immediately sought out the pink plush-like creature that scuttled up to her side before following behind her field of view. Its mouth was agape as it gasped, but also as it continued to cry out. Looking at it, Tess could see why it usually wasn’t an option. Then, even Tess wondered, why was he carrying it with him?