“Pocket Monsters (Silver Edition),” by Corey Miller

Aug 20th, 2023 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The morning I am to begin my journey and receive my starter Pokémon from Professor Oak, I wake up sweaty from a dream. In the dream I am a Psyduck holding my head; yellow, dumb, and in pain. The other eleven-year-olds mock me, calling me a runt like they do in real life because I have to stand on tippy toes to reach the Pokéshop counter when I purchase ethers and potions for Mother.

What if I get a Pokémon that is similar to me and the other trainers tease our likeness? “You’re such a dummy. You don’t even know your father. I bet he never finished his journey.”

My TV screen artificially lights my bedroom, I left my video game on throughout the night, the theme music a soothing lullaby. I slide the fingerless gloves onto my hands, readying myself to catch whatever the world throws my way. My backpack is prepped for the journey: bamboo chopsticks, a bowl, water purification tablets, tent, soap, flint, a knife. Everything I need to make it—besides my starting Pokémon.

Mother beckons from downstairs. “Breakfast is ready!”

I skip every other step on my way down. “No time, Mother. I have to get to Professor Oak’s lab in ten minutes.”

“You still have to eat. You can’t have an empty stomach for your final journey.”

The reassurance in her voice perks me up, ready to begin my slow ending. To become a Pokémon master will take my entire life to catch ’em all. I may not stray from this path—no others career options from here on out. With luck, someday I’ll meet my father and see how close he is to finishing his journey.

I shovel papaya, pineapple, and blueberries in my mouth, trying to cram as much as my cheeks will stretch. This will have to last until midday when I’ll forage for nuts and berries and mushrooms.

Mother clears her throat as I rush for the door. “Get back here Mister! You can’t leave me forever without a final hug.” She squeezes the childhood out my pores. I form pimples and black heads in an instant. She hugs me tighter until they pop and expel black tipped jelly strings. Like shiitakes captured on film fast forward. In Johto Region culture, children grow up to leave, it happens early in life. We are taught to not get attached. The act of abandon is a benchmark moment of understanding that games are for children. Only then can the child become an adult.

Mother passes me on without showing emotion, she herself has prepared for this moment too.

Now there is only my present self, reaching for the future self that is a grain of sand out of my reach. I can see him in the ether, waiting for me to arrive.

Standing in the doorway to leave I don’t cry as I might have yesterday. I must show the others I am strong for the last time they’ll see me.

I run for my choice.

Pallet Town doesn’t have a Pokécenter or a Pokéshop. It’s a starter town. A place where kids fish south towards Volcano Island if they manage to find an old rod. Then they leave north on the only path in and out. Once trainers learn to surf or fly, they can venture to other islands. But that’s a skill you learn later in life—unless you cheat.

On the top of the hill is Professor Oak’s lab. He is the region’s renown scientist, having created the Pokédex that describes each type of Pokémon when encountered.

When I arrive, there is a line of all the town’s eleven-year-olds. I am dead-last. Without a Pokémon to help me survive the woods, I may die first. If I hadn’t hugged my mother I could have been here sooner.

“Look! It’s the runt!” It’s Professor Oak’s grandson, Gary, who says this from the front of the line. “There won’t be any Pokémon left for someone as pathetic as you!” The other kids support his mocking with laughter.

The laboratory door opens and Gary enters, choosing his starter Pokemon from a choice of three. It’s an evolved Pokémon—a giant dragon that flies. Gary flies away and I hope I never see him again. One by one the next kids in line step inside the laboratory. One by one I see them exit with a different Pokémon. A yellow one with black stripes and an electric bolt tail, “Pikachu! Pikachu!” A blue one that squirts bubbles from inside its shell, “Squirtle! Squirtle!” A red one with a flame tail, “Charmander! Charmander!”

When it’s my turn to enter. The door slams shut. I knock. Nothing. I knock again. Harder. I won’t be the punchline this time.

It’s Professor Oak who opens the door. “Oh, it’s you.” He snaps his fingers and closes his eyes in thought. “You—you—you, uh. I haven’t forgotten your name. So. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve come for my starter. I’ve come to begin my journey. To become a Pokémon master.”

“You’re eleven years old? Oh, right, of course. You’re eleven. I haven’t forgotten about you. Come in.”

I enter with excitement like diving into a river for a bath, unsure the bottom or current strength.

Inside are computers lining each wall. The machines showcase buttons to push in or push to retract. The more buttons a building has, the more important it must be. There are people sitting at these computers, learning from Professor Oak. I approach one and he tells me his name is Steve. Steve lovingly describes Professor Oak as the greatest man alive, that he’ll do anything to please the Professor as his number one pupil.

Professor Oak scrambles, looking through machines and in drawers, opening empty Pokéball capsules. He runs to the backyard and brings back two creatures that look similar to one another, yet, different. “Ahhhh, here we are.” The creatures both bark, “Dog! Dog!”

“Are these Pokémon? They’re both saying the same name. I thought most trainers were to receive a choice between three starters?”

Professor Oak looks up to the ceiling and slightly to the left, his hand is on his chin. I’ve heard this is where people naturally look when they are in deep thought. Why is he here, in this position, mind retrieving a Pokémon that should have been waiting for me eleven years, ready to begin are journey together?

“Wait here—you.” He goes over to Steve and has a muffled conversation. Steve looks disgruntled but obeys. They both head to Professor Oak’s sleeping quarters. They’re in there for about ten minutes. I’ve learned this is what adults do on occasion: shut the bedroom door and do adult things and the only thing for a child to do is wait outside. But I’m no longer a child and am ready to see what happens behind the door. However, before I decide to enter, the door opens. Only Oak returns outside to the laboratory, but with a new Pokémon. It’s tall with red smeared spirals on its cheeks underneath it’s glasses. It has tall pointy ears that look like the Meowth ears I wore for Halloween. It doesn’t look very muscular underneath its blue jeans and shirt that says Pallet Town Gamer Club. It starts to speak, “Ste—,” It coughs when Oak elbows it in the side. “Human! Human!” This Pokémon looks weak, unable to adapt to environments.

I study the three carefully. “Dog!” this one looks fast with strong claws to cut. “Dog!” This other one looks small for getting into tight spaces and retrieving, she’s really cute and would make a great companion. “Human!” This one is lanky, awkward and nervous. I’ve never seen a Pokémon wearing eyeglasses for vision. It must need a lot of help—a lot of training.

“Professor Oak, I’ve decided who will accompany me on my forever journey. I’m ready to prove myself to you and the community and all of the naysayers.” I point to the tall Pokémon species named Human. My finger calling out my new life companion.

The Pokémon looks surprised like a Deerling caught in the headlights. They both turn their backs on me, conversing in aggressive whispers. There’s a lot of pointing, at me and at where our journey will take us, all over the world. We’ll be like the wind.

The Pokémon seems annoyed but obeys Professor Oak. The Professor truly is a master, instantly taming and commanding.

We leave the laboratory and I pet my companion’s head. He tries to dodge my affectionate attempts, but I show him who’s boss holding his head steady while I scratch behind his ear. In school we’re taught to be the Alpha, to dominate the Pokémon until we have control. When he tries to lead a different way from where we need to go, I smack him on the nose.

The path escaping the town is one I’ve never ventured. I never dared, not feeling ready. Now, with my starter Pokémon, I know I can overcome the world.

The grass grows as tall as my starter here. We push through the unclear path, stumbling upon a Pokémon in a field clearing. It’s a little purple rodent with buck teeth. It wags its tail and says, “Rattata!” Before I know what to do, epic 8-bit music starts playing out of nowhere and the Pokémon lines up for battle. My first battle.

“I choose you—Human!”

Human rolls his eyes, hands on hips.

The other Pokémon looks at us with confusion, possibly attacking us without us knowing using its mind-power.

“Let’s figure out the moves you know, Human. Slap it!” Human gives an audible sigh before walking up to the grass type and slapping it over and over until the grass Pokémon’s eyes squiggle to a faint.

“Good job Human!” He keeps slapping it around on the ground while it’s fainted. “That’ll do Human.” I’m gonna need a leash for him. I don’t know what to do with the body of the fainted Pokémon, we weren’t trained for that. I don’t have a Pokéball to catch it so I leave it to recover.

We hike the entire day towards no where specific as the sun falls. I have Human gather tinder and kindling. I strike my flint with my knife, hoping for a spark. Human pulls out a pack of cigarettes from his pants pocket. He crinkles the plastic wrapper off then tosses it on the other side of the elm tree he’s using as a backrest. He smacks the box to pack the tubes better, then he flicks a lighter to fire up, taking a long drag into a deep exhale. “Huuuuuuman,” he says apathetically, removing his shoes and massaging his feet. I continue to strike the flint as Human studies me. If I had a fire Pokémon or an electric Pokémon this would have lit instantly.

My starter watches me struggle to create a fire. He flicks his cigarette butt into tall grass and I give up. My first night away from home, away from Mother, is cold and bleak.

“I know you can’t fully understand me because you’re a Pokémon. But I’m scared to be out here.” I unscrew the thermos Mother packed me. I must not have screwed the lid on tight enough, because it leaked the bone broth empty in my backpack. “I’ve never left Pallet Town let alone my mother, but she seemed to part ways with me so easily. I wish I could have held on to childhood another sip.”

Human comes over and lays by me. He snuggles into the crook of my neck. We lay down and spoon each other warm. The fur on his chin tickles against the back of my neck.

During the night I wake up sweating, this time it’s not a dream. Human must have started a fire for me. I wake to the plains blazing and Human snoring, kicking in his dreams like he’s chasing a rodent Pokémon. This fire is giant and spreading in every direction.

“Human, Human! Wake up!”

He stirs and talks in his sleep, “Whatever you say Professor Oak. I don’t mind giving you a bath.” His eyes open, then sees the wildfire. “Holy shiiiii—. I mean, Human Human!”

“We better get going.”

We hear Pokémon being burned alive. Yelling out their name one last time. The burnt fur smells like electricity. People don’t eat them, but I think it would be like delicious BBQ.

“At least our path is cleared now.”

Human takes off sprinting, but not in the direction we were heading. He goes back towards Pallet Town.

He’s not a very fast runner.

I catch up and hop on his back to make him give me a ride. He tries to shed me off, but I break him like a wild creature needing tamed. I grab onto his pointy ears, but they fall off.

We get back to Pallet Town and every building is burnt down. This is what we get for building everything out of upcycled shipping pallets.

Professor Oak is on his knees outside his crumbled lab, openly weeping. “If only I hadn’t given up all of my water-type Pokémon this could have been avoided.”

My childhood house is looks like two walls of burnt toast leaning against each other about to fall. I don’t know where my Mother is. Maybe she finally met up with Dad on his quest.

It starts to rain, but it’s too late. It’s too late for a lot of decisions. The rain wipes the swirls off of Human’s cheeks.

I look into his wet eyes and he looks back at mine. “I’m sorry, kid.” His glasses are fogged up. His breath must be hot. “I feel bad, but I don’t even know your name. What is it?”

“Does it matter?” Somehow I knew he wasn’t a Pokémon, but sometimes you need to pretend a negative is a positive. Otherwise your life will become a dead battery.

“What will you do now, kid?”

“I’m on a quest. I’m not going to give up.” Professor Oak beats his fists on the ground, throwing a tantrum and sobbing. “I could use a partner though, if you’re up for it.”

Steve looks toward the Professor as if the answer will be painted on Oak’s face.

Corey Miller’s writing has appeared in Booth, Pithead Chapel, Atticus Review, Hobart, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere. He has been awarded the 2023 Literary Cleveland Breakthrough Residency. He reads for TriQuarterly and Longleaf Review. When Corey isn’t brewing beer for a living in Cleveland, he enjoys taking the dogs for adventures. Follow him on Twitter @IronBrewer or at www.CoreyMillerWrites.com.

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