Chapter 19: Makua’s Mission

Mewtwo once said that people are like Pokémon, except that they do a lot more in between surviving and reproducing in order to survive and reproduce. It came from his Sayings of a Creation by Man. Often, Makua wondered what this particular quote meant. Animal behavior ensured that humans and Pokémon, both being sort of animals themselves, seek out ways to fulfill two things in life: survival and reproduction. What will humans do that Pokémon won’t?

People kill. But Pokémon do too. Even Mewtwo himself did that. So what are these in between things? Makua wondered.

They left the forest in a blaze of light and arrived in Fuchsia City the same day. It was burning. All the trees cried out for water. The scent of death and destruction lingered in his nostrils. Apparently, the Safari Zone had been attacked and the Pokémon went crazy and struck back. Many of them escaped. A rather lively bunch made it to the forest and began causing trouble. According to Yumin, someone set fire to it in order to draw the Pokémon out again. They would do whatever was necessary in order to survive. And the humans were doing some in between stuff there that wasn’t survival or reproduction.

Why? Why were the Viterals corralling Pokémon? Through all their talks and arguments neither Yumin nor Lyres seemed to know.

Makua stared out across the blending hues of purples and oranges throughout Fuchsia city. His brother would be here. Hopefully Kulow made it on his own, made it to the safety spot he and Makua had decided on. Each of the baby Eevee breathed silently in unclosed backpacks on the three members.

“They were trying to smoke us out.” Yumin began his early morning argument, most times with no remorse.

“Oh get over yourself,” Lyres replied. “No one gives two Hoothoots about us. Stop thinking that they do.”

“No one gives a Crabby about you,” Yumin said. “That part is right.”

They had been fighting like this since they met, or since Makua had the pleasure of traveling with them and he wondered when it would stop. He had surmised at least this much: Lyres was part of Team Rocket and Yumin was part of Team Crimson. These two organizations were at odds and in some eternal new dance, the Viterals chose both of them as their dance partners. Whenever it suited their fancy. Makua wondered if Bambi knew about her older brother. It would be a great blow to take something like that.

“Even here, in a big city like Fuchsia the Pokémon roam wildly, like they don’t know what to do.”

“They’ve been mostly bred in captivity,” Yumin replied as though the answer to this were easy. “They don’t know what to do. They’re probably doing all they can just to avoid the Clamp Balls being thrown at them.”

In the past few days, Clamp Balls were mentioned a lot. Perhaps in the off chance that Lyres might feel bad for accepting what Yumin had given him in order to get his sister’s necklace back and return it to the man who had first scooped it up.

They had arrived under the cover of night after getting Skarmory and Braviary ready for flight again. They ran into some battles and some wild swarms of Beedrill and herds of Tauros, but they’d finally made it out. About half their total team could still fight.

“We can at least try the Pokémon Center,” Lyres suggested. “If the Viterals have it on lockdown they might allow normal citizens to use it.”

Makua looked around to study this new scene. Men in black clothes, cloaks, and suits walked about from one building to the next, their hands stiffly at their sides. Makua couldn’t see any Pokémon. They were either captured or had escaped at this point. No one seemed to be outside which made Makua, Yumin and Lyres stand out even more.

“No. We’re going to the Safari Zone entrance to see what’s going on and to see if Makua’s brother has gone there. If Bambi knows about the meeting spot—” Yumin stopped suddenly.

Makua nodded, considering his own mission. “She knows about it.”

“Then hopefully we can meet up with her and the others.”

It was agreeable for Lyres. Not healing the exhausted Pokémon in your team was better than having them caught by Clamp Balls never to be found again.

So they walked, somewhat conspicuously. Lyres and Yumin in back and Makua leading, as though he were their new ten year old student taken out for a = Safari Zone excursion.

The sounds coming from that place were otherworldly. When Makua approached the Safari Zone, it was like another planet. One thing moaned while another thing cried and in between millions of little beeps, chirps, croaks, and caws. Was there a fire in there too? Makua couldn’t see any smoke. Gates as tall as Onix served as an entrance to, as all the adverts said, the greatest place in all of Kanto to catch wild Pokémon. It was very commercial with the great big sculpture of Kangaskhan (which is just a few Pokeballs away from extinction by the way) on the one side and a rotund Chansey on the other side, its loopy things hanging down its head like vines. One was carnage and mystery while the other was health and good fortune. All four things that the Safari Zone wanted to embody.

Men stood beyond the gates talking to each other. Two metal stakes sticking from the ground had electricity passing from one to the other.

“They’ve blocked the entrance.” Yumin said. “Where exactly would your brother be?”

“In the Main Entrance.”

They all looked to the side of the gate and found the building that was a ticketing office, souvenir shop, and mini Pokémon Center all in one. It wasn’t the main Pokémon Center but it had nurses and healing stations.

“Maybe its worth a try,” Lyres said, and Makua knew that he was talking about healing.

“Fine.” Yumin breathed air through his nose. “Don’t send out any Pokémon no matter what. Its likely we’ve already been marked, if not by our appearance, then by our Pokémon as well.”

The reasons Yumin had to be paranoid were this: he had been captured along with his uncle by the Viterals weeks before and they tried to beat him to a pulp. Luckily, he was good at jumping out of windows while being unguarded. This was something he confided in Makua but Lyres didn’t know.

They entered the Main Building of the Safari Zone and encountered one thing immediately: Silence. People, women and men alike, stood at stations in their black getups, and typed things on computers. No one looked at them except the two men standing guard at the door. Yumin walked in like it was nothing. He whispered to Makua. “Have a quick look around and see if your brother is here.” Then he walked up to the nurse’s counter, set his Pokémon down and smiled.

No nurses or Chansey smiled back, only a thin-faced woman with poorly applied make-up. “How can I help you?”

“I need to have my party healed.” Yumin said. He did not break eye contact with her. “And my friends too.”

“Are you aware that the Safari Zone has been closed indefinitely?”

This was the last thing Makua heard before he slipped out of sight to investigate further. Would Kulow just be waiting in the main area? Or would he be in one of the game rooms? They hadn’t discussed the meeting that thoroughly.

Makua heard shouting. This place felt wrong and changed. Not that he had been here before, but there was no way his brother, someone good and pure was staying at a place like this. He stopped dead in his tracks, looked down a cold, white hallway, black specks of men standing outside every door, and turned around. He ran and did not look back, which, if Yumin were there, would scold him for, but he didn’t care. His brother wasn’t here. They needed to get out.

The scene Makua arrived at had changed dramatically. Yumin shouted while Lyres kept him from jumping over the counter at the nurse. Three men stood at attention, Pikachu by their sides, as though a shock to the system might sway things in their favor.

“Sir, the systems are down. We cannot heal your Pokémon, I’m sorry.”

Even though Yumin’s cap was pulled down, he would be recognizable if everything he said was true about him being tracked. So why was he acting like this? Makua felt it his place to step in.

“He’s not here. Let’s go.”

Yumin turned, his face hot enough to cook Torchic eggs. He glared.

Beside them, two of the men looked at each other and a true moment of comprehension passed between them.

“Sir. Please step outside so we can talk about it out there.”

Yumin fumed but said nothing. The thunderbolts were forthcoming. Makua saw the sacs in Pikachu’s cheeks light up with excitement. They’d be fried in about three seconds unless someone did something.

Just then the door burst open and in a flash of golden hair, a girl emerged. Everyone turned to face her.

“There you are!” she said, desperate to catch her breath. “C’mon. Mom and Dad are worried sick about you!”

Makua’s heart pumped as he looked at the girl that had saved him in the forest. The bug gym leader, Farore, stood there bouncing from foot to foot. Her eyes pleaded with Yumin to get moving.

The men looked from Farore to Makua. “Mam, you’ll have to leave as well.”

“Of course. I was just going.”

The nurse’s voice rang out. “Stop them! This is not what it looks like!” She above all seemed to know.

It looked like a painfully awkward family reunion to Makua, so if it didn’t look like that, then the lady behind the counter was right.

Farore moved into the circle and released her Scizor from its Pokeball. “Scizor, protect!”

Dazzling lights came up around the four of them, and when the lightning came, it did not strike them.

“Hold your fire!” said a voice.

Makua bit his own tongue. He knew the voice, though he hadn’t heard it in over six months. Was it possible?

From some unseen place, a man walked into the main lobby. His hair was buzzed, and the collar from his pea coat had been popped up. Makua felt relief when he saw him, but also waves of nausea and confusion. It was certainly his brother, though ironically not the one he had planned to meet. It wasn’t Kulow at all.

“Who are these bandits and why are they causing such a ruckus?”

Lyres, Yumin and Farore tightened, the three of them all hamstringed together like a harmonious sinew. The men and the nurse who been attacking with words and with Pokémon relaxed. Makua didn’t understand. He couldn’t find words.

His brother—wait what . . .?

And as everyone understood the situation in his or her own way, Makua was caught up to speed in a matter of moments.

The young man of 18 years old was someone different to everyone.

To Makua, eldest brother.

To Lyres, ex Rocket member gone rogue.

To Yumin, bitter rival.

To Farore, ex boyfriend.

To everyone else in the room, the newest underling and Junior Leader in the organization known as the Viterals. A man-boy with many stories and many secrets walked through—his name was Hawk.

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 18, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 9: Trackers

Yumin held Bambi’s necklace in his hand. The beads hung off his fingers for Tygo to sniff. Tygo tilted his head to the side, looked cock-eyed at Yumin. Zakana watched the pair of them, sensed how uncomfortable they both were with the task. Early morning light seeped into the forest and slowly sucked the dew off the greenery around them. Zakana yawned, pulled out his Pokedex and pointed it at Tygo.

“Oodi. How is Tygo’s sense of smell?”

“Tyrogue has normal olfactory capabilities. It is not known for its tracking abilities.”

Zakana and Yumin exchanged glances, and something shifted behind Yumin’s eyes. His nostrils flared. “You have any better ideas? We need to find Bambi!”

Zakana threw his good arm up in protest. “I know, Yumin. I just don’t think we should waste any more time.”

“Any more time? You’re the one we rested so long for—you and your stupid shoulder.”

Zakana sensed the anger coming from his cousin. He knew it wasn’t a good idea to be clever when Bambi’s fate was unknown. Still, he felt better after they had found a safe place in the Academy to sleep for the night.

“We didn’t know where to go. You even agreed it was better to wait until today. You already searched the skies with Braviary when we had light yesterday and this morning. Now we have to search in here, where Braviary’s eyes can’t reach.”

Yumin didn’t look at Zakana. He rolled his sister’s necklace over in his hands as Tygo slumped over onto the ground. Both of them seethed quietly in their defeat. Suddenly, Yumin turned on Zakana. “I can’t get to my Pokémon! I don’t even know where they are being held. The esteemed Professor at my baby sister’s Academy died in my arms, and Bambi is missing. I don’t have my Arcanine to track her, and sending Braviary out again will just make it more tired. I don’t know when we’ll get to another Pokémon Center, Zakana. I feel helpless . . . and scared. I only have 6 Pokémon I can use and they aren’t even my best. What if we get into real trouble? What if the Viterals go for us just like they did the Professor?”

Zakana breathed deeply, saw the way his cousin needed him now. He thought for a moment, and then Yumin snapped again.

“If you had more than 2 Pokémon, you could help me! But again, your infinite immaturity rears its ugly head!” Yumin spat on the ground nearby Zakana. “You’re the one with a psychic Pokémon. Why don’t you do something?”

The last question came as a demand, a final suggestion. Yumin fell to the ground next to his Tygo. He lifted his head, but did not look up. Then he tapped the Pokeball in his hand against Tygo’s body, calling it back.

“Psychic Pokémon?” Zakana guessed that was his Slowpoke and not his Happiny. What could a psychic Pokémon do in this situation . . . especially a Pokémon like Slowpoke?

Zakana withdrew his Pokeball from his pack. “Go, Slowpoke!”

Slowpoke emerged and gave his usual dopey greeting.

Zakana walked over to Yumin, stared down at him. Yumin did not react, although Zakana knew he noticed his presence.

“If you want me to help you then give me the necklace.”

Yumin held his hand up, revealed the red-orange beads in his palm.

Zakana snatched it, walked over to Slowpoke. He dangled the necklace in front of his Slowpoke’s face, said. “Slowpoke. Um . . . could you um . . . use your powers to find the owner of this necklace?”

Slowpoke made a different motion with his head. It knew something different was being asked of it. Zakana studied Slowpoke, watched the way its rotund eyes tried to work something out. They closed.

“I think maybe . . . it’s working . . . Hey Yumin.” Zakana turned to call his cousin over, but he was already standing there.

For a few quiet moments, they both watched Slowpoke. Zakana felt hopeful. Maybe something he did would end up helping them.

Yumin held his foot forward, nudged the mass of pink. Slowpoke did not open its eyes. “It’s sleeping.”

Zakana peered up at his cousin. “What?”

“Sleeping.” Yumin sighed and moved away from the scene.

“Hey! Hey Slowpoke! I didn’t tell you to sleep. I told you to find Bambi!”

Yumin let out a loud cry. “This is so exhausting! I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to take you with me!”

Zakana stood up, turned to face his cousin. He knew they needed to find Bambi and not fight, but Yumin was making it very difficult to focus on the right thing. Screaming or sudden movements irritated his shoulder. Yumin stopped pacing, and looked at Zakana expectantly.

“You know, I’ve always been on your parents side when it comes to saying things nicely to you. I always thought Kirish was too harsh and unforgiving when it came to what happened, but I’m starting to think Kirish’s way is best!”

“Don’t start with that.” Zakana felt his jaw tighten. Why did it always have to go back to that?

“Your parents babied you into this soft, incapable man-boy. It’s infuriating that you don’t know anything about Pokémon!”

“Can we just move forward? I’m trying now, aren’t I?”

A squawk from above punctuated the silence now filling the forest. Zakana breathed in and out, deeply. Yumin did the same, and turned away.

Zakana moved to Yumin’s bag, unzipped the zipper, reached inside. He pulled out a stack of papers—the same papers his mother had entrusted him with. He leafed through them, scanned them for the information he was looking for. He knew he wasn’t as useless as Yumin made him out to be.

Yumin noticed the sound of the papers, and faced Zakana. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m reading my father’s papers. My father’s . . . not yours.”

Yumin pounced, landed in front of Zakana in a crouch, grabbed for them.

“I’m reading!” Zakana pulled away, bounced up with surprising agility. “You think I’m so useless but I saved these papers. If you already have the information you need from them, then why not destroy them?”

Yumin’s eyes widened. Slowly, he narrowed them. Zakana saw how his words had affected him. How he was beginning to catch on.

“It’s because they haven’t served their purpose yet. If I hadn’t taken the papers, those Pokémon back in Pallet would have destroyed them. I did something good, Yumin. Admit it.”

Yumin sighed, rolled his eyes. “You want a trophy for it? Geez, Zakana. How hard is it to protect some papers?”

All of the clues fell together, gathered at the bottom of the funnel, and began to fill Zakana’s brain to the brim. Yumin tugged at the bottom of his jacket. He inched his way toward Zakana, as though there was something he didn’t want him to know. The longer Zakana held the papers, the more Yumin tightened. The question Zakana wanted to ask long ago surfaced again. He saw the red circle on one of the pages with the R inside. He flashed the paper in front of Yumin. “Explain this!”

Yumin grabbed at the paper, and again missed.

Zakana tripped over his Slowpoke, fell backward, landed on his butt.

“Slowpoke!” said his Pokémon, now awake.

“This is the symbol for Team Rocket! What kind of work do you do with my dad anyway?” Zakana flew to his feet, squared up with his cousin.

Yumin’s face flushed red. He opened his mouth to speak, then looked into the thicket.

Zakana looked too. Something, or someone walked toward them.

Yumin crossed to Zakana, hissed, “put it away!”

Zakana slid the stack of papers inside his jacket.

As the figure approached, another shape appeared behind it. Two male figures walked through the misty haze of sea green. They had no Pokémon, or no Pokémon Zakana could see. Yumin’s hand moved toward his belt. He fidgeted with the balls there, decided on one.

“Other travelers,” said the first boy as soon as he cleared the final line of trees. He stepped into the more open area, cleared the branches and thorns from his sweatshirt.

The second boy emerged, almost identical in stature, age, and facial expression to the first. Their eyes spun in their heads, then focused on Yumin and Zakana.

The first boy stepped forward. He noticed the way Yumin and Zakana stood at attention. “Are you guys okay?”

“Yumin?” The second boy stepped ahead of the first, and immediately Zakana knew he was the leader of the two. The way he glided silently across the forest floor, the way the second boy ducked behind him. There was power in his words, and somehow he knew Yumin.

Yumin didn’t move. His eyes grazed over the boy whom he recognized, then focused on the boy behind. Yumin studied him, Zakana knew, because he wasn’t familiar with him. “What are you doing here, Lyres?” Yumin’s voice was cold and stiff.

Zakana and the boy who had gone silent studied one another, both searching for clues about their counterparts and how they knew one another. Zakana had no idea and by the startled look on the boy’s face, he didn’t either.

Lyres wore dark clothes that pressed against his body, showed his slenderness. His hair, dark like cedar, clung to his forehead, beads of sweat trickled between the strands. He heaved a sigh of release, seemed to think that he was safe.

Yumin lessened his grip on his Pokeball of choice. “Why are you here, Lyres?”

Lyres pulled his partner forward, dragged his wrist so he stood alongside him. “Isaque and I are on a mission, not that it’s any of your business.” Lyres relaxed presently, while Isaque massaged where Lyres had grabbed him. “What happened to you anyway? Last I heard, you were being held up at the Viterals Headquarters with Papa Hayline.”

Zakana felt his upper lip curl when Lyres mentioned his father—when he referred to him like that. Especially since no one knew if he was all right.

Yumin nudged Zakana in the small of his back. Then he led with: “this is my friend, Zach. We’re looking for my sister.” Yumin’s voice softened and there was a hint of trust in his voice when he said, “they’re out of control, Lyres. They attacked the Academy in Celadon. Pokémon Centers are falling apart.”

Lyres sighed deeply. “Team Rocket foresaw some of those attacks. Unfortunately we didn’t know they could go after the reserve systems. They’re saying its permanent.”

“You mean . . . the Viterals took them for good?” Yumin’s voice cracked. “We can’t get them back?”

Lyres nodded, and Zakana saw the truth there.

He looked at Yumin. He had lost over 90 Pokémon if that was the case. Pokémon he had since he was 10 years old—all gone. Without any warning, snatched away from him, like life itself. Zakana imagined this was happening to trainers all over Kanto. He and Isaque exchanged a meaningful glance. Isaque coughed, trembled as his eyes hung on Zakana.

Why was Yumin lying about Zakana’s identity?

Probably because no one knew he existed and Yumin wanted to keep it that way. Zakana watched the way Lyres and Yumin conversed, wondered how deep their history was. Then he remembered the comment about Team Rocket—how Lyres had referred to them as “we.”

“If you’re looking for Bambi, we can help. I have a Tracker.”

Lyres revealed a yellow colored ball with a black mid-strip and two black spots that looked like eyes.

“Go, Ursaring!”

Ursaring emerged from the ball, reared to its full height, 1.5 times the size of the boys, roared its bear-like roar. It finger-length claws scratched at its chest, then the golden ring covering its stomach.

“Give me the thing you want Ursaring to track.”

Yumin did not hesitate. He held the necklace in front of Lyres, who took it, and showed it to Ursaring. “Ursaring. Find this scent. Find the little girl who owns this necklace!”

There was a passion in Lyres that reminded Zakana of Yumin. Had they been friends before? Or was there an ulterior motive here? Again, Isaque’s eyes swept over Zakana, studied him like he was a species of Pokémon. Did he know that Yumin was lying? Could his possession of a Slowpoke link him back to what happened in Pallet with the Abomasnow? That was where Zakana’s mind was headed now. He was determined to think things out, to anticipate them before they happened. He was at least good at that.

Ursaring inhaled the scent from the beads, breathed them in so strongly that they moved in Lyres’ hand.

“Get ready to run.”

Ursaring’s ears peeled back, its nose twitched involuntarily.

Zakana adjusted his arm sling, returned Slowpoke. Yumin and Isaque watched the great bear Pokémon with intentness. Then all at once, Ursaring lowered itself, went on all fours, and sped off, deeper into the thicket.

“Let’s go!” Lyres had done this before, Zakana knew, by the way he followed with such fluid accuracy.

Ursaring ducked, flew above stones, below branches. Its claws and long, furry arms were like wings. Lyres was an extension of his bear Pokemon, which cut through trees and pathways that were too narrow for it, while Lyres kept pace just behind.

Yumin knew something of this chase. He had tracked before. Isaque seemed new and timid, and if it weren’t for Zakana’s shoulder he could have passed him. But he stayed back, moved his legs with steady rhythm, and kept his arm close to his body. This was a typical exercise in Zakana’s training course. Training the body to match the quickness of the mind was of utmost importance for aspiring astronauts. As Zakana lunged forward he knew his dream would still be there when this was all over. He wiped the sweat from his dripping brow, sealed away his thoughts.

Lyres called something but Zakana couldn’t hear exactly what. Isaque’ right boot nicked a rather obvious stone and he tumbled. His shoulder instinctively curled inward, caught the brunt of the fall. He somersaulted, came to his knees.

“You okay?” Zakana put a hand on Isaque’ back. He felt the hesitation there.

The boy quivered, suddenly startled by the unfamiliar touch. He mumbled something and took off again.

Zakana did the same. The way Ursaring ran meant that Bambi could be found. The scent had been recognized. But how far did they need to run like this?

A pool of sweat formed below Zakana’s neck, at the crown of his chest. It felt cold in the spring air.

Yumin’s voice sounded from ahead. “What is it?”

How Zakana would hug Bambi when he saw her. He would hug her and ask her questions. He would find out everything about her new life. He would talk about Pokémon and never let her go.

Lyres cursed.

The forest opened, revealed a canyon, a crack in the earth. Yumin, Lyres and Ursaring stopped at the edge, peered over the side, hands and paws on their knees. Zakana heard faint sounds of rushing water. Isaque stopped dead, peered back at Zakana. Zakana heaved forward. He looked past Isaque, to the other side of the canyon.

“You have a flyer?” Yumin asked.

“Yeah. Ursaring return!”

“What is it?” Zakana confronted Isaque. “Why do you keep giving me a weird look?”

They stood alone there. Isaque gasped, coughed.

“I noticed by the way you talked, how you asked me if I was okay . . . who you were.”

Lead pulled Zakana’s heart into his stomach. He had been found out. Identified as one of the Haylines.

Isaque’ eyes watered at the edges. “No one heard from you after what happened. I don’t blame you of course, but it was hard to adjust after that. For everyone. I can’t imagine what it was like for you.”

Blood pumped into Zakana’s heart too quickly. Something clogged it. He felt the shift in the conversation, the way Isaque looked at him like he knew him, his past.

“What are you talking about?” Zakana felt the weakness in his voice.

Isaque’s voice became stronger, more focused. He leaned in, tried to make eye contact.

“You really don’t remember me do you?” Isaque repeated the question, this time said a name that hadn’t been spoken yet. “Do you, Zakana?”

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 8, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 5: Wailmer Wars

A warm breeze swept into the cabin, and dusk came with it. In Pallet a snowstorm raged, but on the Orange Islands where Kirish lived, tropical weather was king. Zakana felt the warmth envelope him as his cold fever morphed into a dripping sweat. His mind drifted to his recent moments with Kirish. She was always an unstoppable force. To think that she had hurt all this time was unbelievable.

Yumin moved to the open door, peered out. “That’s not good. Not good at all.”

Zakana knew Yumin was trying to avoid what had just happened in the room.

“What are Wailmer Wars?” he asked.

The walking pink egg of a Pokémon waddled up to Yumin. “Chansey!” it said.

“I don’t know yet.” Yumin leaned down, looked into the Pokémon’s eyes. “Chansey, keep watching after Zakana here, okay? I need to check on Kirish. This isn’t good at all,” he repeated.

“Chansey!” the Pokémon nodded, bobbed from one foot to the other.

Yumin stood tall, reached his full height of six feet. “Chansey took care of you and patched you up Zakana so show her some thanks. I’m going to check on Kirish. I think she’s in a really vulnerable state right now. Not thinking straight.” Yumin paused, pointed to a table against the south wall. “Use that Poke-talker if you need to get in touch with me. I’ve got the other. Be safe and don’t do anything stupid. Wait until I get back, okay?”

Zakana nodded. “Where’s Slowpoke?”

“Kirish and I took it the Pokémon Center down the road. It got banged up a bit, but should be fine. If you feel well enough you can go pick it up. You’ll be going to Celadon with me as soon as you’re better. Then we can get to Bambi.” Yumin shot Zakana a disturbing look that said, you better be ready. Then he shut the door.

“Chansey!” announced the Pokémon again, sidling up to the bed like a concerned relative. Its eyes and nose scrunched up, made its face seem even smaller on its oblong, misshapen body. Zakana lowered himself slowly so as not to irritate his shoulder any more, and laid his head on his pillow.

“Chansey,” he sighed, unable to oppose these things any longer, said, “thank you.”

“Chansey!”

“Some information would come in handy right about now. Where’s Oodi when you need him?”

Zakana scanned the room for his backpack. He noticed where he was for the first time. He had been so out of sorts that he had forgotten where he was or how he’d gotten there. He was in Kirish’s home and he had gotten there because of Yumin. It had been over 6 years since he’d been on the Orange Islands and if he never came back it would be too soon.

“Chansey, say . . . could you bring me that backpack from over there?” Zakana pointed to a chair across the room.

Chansey scuttled to the pack, brought it back immediately. “Chansey!”

“Thanks,” he said, pulling back the zipper and removing the Pokedex. He let his backpack fall to the floor.

“Oodi,” he said, opening his device. “Give me a read on this Pokémon.”

“Chansey. The lucky Pokémon. Chansey are almost always associated with taking care of sick people and are usually used as healing Pokémon. They are said to bring good luck wherever they go.”

“So, am I supposed to rub its lucky egg or something? Rub the top of its head?”

“Shall I use the jokes I am equipped with or answer truthfully in this situation?”

Zakana sighed. “If you’re gonna use a joke just use it. It doesn’t work if you ask beforehand.”

“Then no, you probably shouldn’t rub the Chansey.”

“Really, Oodi? Thanks for that clarification.”

The door swung open again, and a child emerged from the darkness. “Kirish! You home?”

Zakana looked up, alarmed, strained his neck to see a bronze-skinned girl wearing a bright lemon tank top and beige shorts, making her look like an overly artificially flavored popsicle. Her eyes grew wide when she took in the sight of Zakana, reared her head back, making her long straight hair fly in front of her face. She pushed it out of the way, said. “Who the heck are you? And where is Kirish?”

This spunky island girl didn’t seem to knock or wait for answers. She quickly moved to the Poke-talker, patting Chansey on her way there, said, “Why isn’t the radio on? Kirish always has it on. All day. All night.”

She clicked a button and another voice invaded the room. It was nasal and urgent. The girl tweaked the frequency and the broadcast smoothed out.

“There seems to have been a blackout in both Saffron and Vermillion City, folks. The entire city has just lost power. The last time Vermillion experienced a blackout was twenty-two years ago, and Saffron just six years ago. But this is the first time in history both cities have experienced a blackout simultaneously. If you’re listening, please stay calm, as city officials are doing everything they can to return power to you. Above all, stay safe. This is Jose Dunlop reporting from Celadon City.”

The girl interrupted by turning the volume down, saying, “Holy Corsola! You gonna tell me where Kirish is or what?”

Zakana sighed, his exhaustion taking over. He didn’t want to give this girl any easy answers. Instead he spoke to Chansey. “Hey Chansey, I hope you didn’t teach this little girl her manners.”

“My name is Cecilia, and I’ve got more manners than you! What are you doing in Kirish’s house?”

Blood rushed to Zakana’s head, one because of his position and two, because of the cacophony of sound happening nearby. Its source was a bleached Popsicle named Cecilia. Zakana treaded slowly. He didn’t fully understand his situation and knew it would be wise not to make the same mistake twice.

“I’m Kirish’s brother, Cecilia. Can you please calm down . . . or speak more quietly? One of the two?”

Cecilia ignored Zakana’s request. Her expression of shock slid down her face, formed a pouch beneath her chin. She rectified, clearly horrified by something.

“Kirish’s brother is much younger. Just 6 or 7 years old. That can’t be right.”

Zakana felt a sharp stab in his heart. A knife plunged into his chest. It was stuck, unable to be removed. Now it slammed against the cavity of his chest over and over. Zakana felt all the air from his lungs leave him. He gasped, felt hot tears cover his face.

Then Cecilia said his name.

The whisper of it brought the episodes back without warning or delay. A wave of darkness overtook Zakana, sent him into a shadowed universe. For some amount of time that Zakana did not understand, he blacked out only to be wakened by Cecilia fanning him and apologizing with words and strokes to his good shoulder. It took him some time before he could speak.

“I can’t believe it . . .”

The truth hit him. The bad news stung him. Kirish had lied. Who else did she tell that horrible and distorted thing to?

Zakana cleared the desert in his throat, said, “Cecilia. I’m Kirish’s other brother, Zakana.”

“Other brother?” Cecilia looked as shocked as Zakana felt. Her eyes widened again, her green eyes appearing like limes on top of her Popsicle body. “Why didn’t Kirish ever mention you? You’re just a few years younger than her.”

Zakana knew why but he didn’t feel like explaining it to this stranger. “Who are you Cecilia? What’s your relationship with my sister?”

Cecilia folded her hands together, fell into a business-like stupor, as though she had been waiting for this question to be asked all along.

“I’m training to be a Pokémon Breeder with Kirish. She’s the best on all of the

Islands. I’m not from Faij. I was born on Knaoui, just a few kilometers away from here. My parents let me live here to study under Kirish.” Cecilia paused, seemed to take in Zakana for the first time, Kirish’s other brother.

“How come you’re here, anyway? Did you get in a fight?”

“Yeah, with a Pokémon. It tried to kill me.”

“A Pokémon tried to kill you! That’s terrible!” Cecilia stood up suddenly. “Do you need anything? Now that I know you’re Kirish’s brother, I’m really sorry for being rude. I need to talk to Kirish though. I can’t believe she’s not here . . . and she didn’t have her radio on. She’s never done that in the two years that I’ve lived here.”

It was obvious to Zakana what had changed in the room. The only new thing to enter Kirish’s home was him. She had turned off the radio for Zakana, worried that it might upset him or talk about Pokémon too much.

“Cecilia,” Zakana whispered. “If you can help me get up and out of here, we can go find Kirish together.” Suddenly, Zakana felt a sense of loss for his sister. She had completely denied his existence. He wasn’t real, nothing, a name that didn’t spark anything in her friend’s minds or eyes. He was fiction.

Cecilia nodded, moved next to Zakana. “Let’s get you up then.”

“Apparently I dislocated my shoulder and screwed up a disk in my back.”

Cecilia froze, looked down at Zakana’ body aghast. Then her face changed. It lit up like fireworks in the night sky, sparkling and popping with every passing second. Zakana looked down at himself, and at the same time felt the sudden change in energy.

“It’s hatching!” Cecilia squealed with delight.

“Well get it off me! I don’t want all those egg juices getting on me!”

“No way! You’re not supposed to move an egg while it’s hatching. It could alter the Pokémon’s development!”

Kirish had been wrong. The egg was very much close to hatching. And now something withered and slimy emerged, pieces of eggshell fell in piles between Zakana’s legs. Chansey dashed to the hatching Pokémon, watched intently. The smiling pink thing had suddenly become intense, fierce, like it would fight anything that interrupted this birth.

With a puttering sound, a white ball resembling the inside of a cooked egg came alive.

Zakana could not recognize any discernible face. It was merely a puffy ball of white, that grew a shade of pink the longer Zakana studied it.

Again, Cecilia shrieked. “This is why I love being a breeder!” It’s a—”

“Happiny,” Oodi said upon opening. “The playful Pokémon. Happiny likes to collect small items and carry them around. This Pokémon lives to bring happiness to others and to find it itself.”

Happiny’s face appeared in its mess of white and pink skin, or rather it had turned around, revealing two egg-white eyes, dark pink spots on its cheeks, a real egg in its pouch, and a wavering pink ponytail thing that hung from the crown of its head. It grinned and crawled toward Zakana’s face.

“Do all these Pokémon have eggs?”

When the Pokémon inched closer, Zakana began to panic, thinking he didn’t want baby urine anywhere near his face.

“And why is it coming toward me? Cecilia!”

“It likes you. And it comes from the same family as Chansey, that’s why they both have eggs. Happiny evolves into Chansey.”

Chansey moved in, scooped up the Happiny off Zakana’s chest.

A wailing sound that resembled a human baby’s bubbled forth from Happiny. Chansey rocked it over its shoulder, patting the pink ball on its back continuously.

“Chansey, leave the Happiny with Zakana. See what happens.”

Chansey shot Cecilia a nasty look. Then, after another minute of the cries, obeyed. When Happiny reached Zakana again, it became silent. Again, it crawled toward his face.

“This thing is gonna need extra care. Zakana, can you watch it while I go and get Kirish?”

“Don’t leave me with it! Can’t you feed it or something?”

Cecilia stopped at the door, turned abruptly. “Shoot! This is exactly what Kirish is talking about.” Cecilia flew to the edge of the bed, looked down at Zakana. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little rash.”

Zakana already knew this by the way she stormed into the room and demanded answers. In a way, she reminded him of Bambi.

“I need to chill out. I’m supposed to be a breeder and I was about to leave this newborn with you. I could leave it with Chansey, but the fact that you’re here . . .” Cecilia’s eyes grew wide, her smile tightened into a thin line. “I mean . . . its not that you can’t watch it, I just . . .”

“Relax, Cecilia. I get your meaning. I don’t know the first thing about Pokémon.” He sensed that Cecilia was afraid he might hurt the newborn. He could see the fear in her eyes. It was the same fear he had when Kirish was around.

Again, Chansey scooped up Happiny. The two of them chattered to each other in another language.

Zakana took his free moment to sit up. Clenching at the abs he pulled himself into a sitting position. His shoulder throbbed.

“Let’s put this thing in a sling.”

Cecilia immediately came back with a sling and adjusted it across Zakana’s body. It relieved some of the weight of his hanging arm. His feet hit solid ground.

“Cecilia. Some girl came running in saying something about Wailmer Wars. What are they?”

Cecilia grabbed the Poke-talker off the table, moved to the door again, opened it. Then she gave a heavy sigh. “Come on, let’s talk outside.” She waited until Zakana limped outside, then said, “Chansey watch after the little tyke. We won’t be long.”

A sea breeze carried a wave of darkness, filled Zakana’s senses with doom. There was something eerily quiet about his surroundings as if the Pokémon knew something was coming too. Zakana heard a grunt nearby, looked to where it came.

Next to Kirish’s home there was a den—a fenced area housing subtle sounds and scents that Zakana slowly noticed one by one. A flame lit the arena and Zakana heard a guttural growl.

“What’s over there?”

Cecilia stopped at the fence. “Hey, sweet thing. Come here and say hi to Kirish’s brother.”

An orange chicklet waltzed into the light. When Zakana first saw it he thought its wings had been removed. Its claws seemed rather large for its tiny size. Zakana looked closer and saw that its wings were tucked tightly to its body. It appeared orange in the light, with feathers on the top of its head resembling a flame. It jumped from foot to foot, said, “Torchic!”

Zakana withdrew Oodi.

“Torchic. The chick Pokémon. It has a flame sac inside its belly that perpetually burns. It is able to launch fireballs as hot as 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Another breeze swept past Zakana, caused him to lose his balance. Torchic felt it too and shivered. Zakana got the feeling there were many more Pokémon in the darkness. Three turtle Pokémon moved to the fence, followed by a green thing that walked on all fours. Vines hung from its neck. Finally, the Pokémon creating the flame came forward. It was an orange lizard that stood on two feet, with a flame burning at the tip of its tail.

“Charmander!” it said.

“These are all Pokémon that came from eggs?”

“Most of them.” Cecilia grabbed Torchic and squeezed it. “This one loves hugs. It gets warmer if you hug it. Want to try?”

Zakana glanced at his injured shoulder, then back at Cecilia.

“Oh right.” She laid the chick back in the den. “People think all Pokémon come from eggs but that’s not true. Some of them have live births. All of the Pokémon you see here are Kirish’s.”

“Kirish owns all these little ones?”

Cecilia nodded. “They may be small but they’re super rare. She makes good money sending them to different regions. Most of the Pokémon are known as starting Pokémon. That means these are the common Pokémon given to trainers who first start their journey.” Cecilia giggled, pet the shell of one of the turtles. “I got my starter from Kirish, too.”

Zakana tried to take everything in but it didn’t make a lot of sense. He didn’t understand what made a Pokémon more rare than another. Maybe certain trainers hunted them because they were more powerful. Suddenly, Zakana wondered how many Pokémon inhabited the Earth. But one thing at a time.

“Cecilia. About the Wailmer Wars. You were saying . . .”

“Ahh right. Come on, let’s go find Kirish.”

“Can I pick up my Pokémon from the Pokémon Center first?”

“Of course. It’s just down the road.” Cecilia reached underneath a fold in her skirt and withdrew a Pokeball.

“Go, Quilava!”

A ferret Pokémon emerged from the ball. It scurried in circles around Cecilia’s feet before standing stock-still. An orange-red glow radiated from Quilava, lighting the space around them.

The grass felt damp underneath Zakana’s boots. Another wave of sweat overcame him. His jeans, undershirt stuck to him, made him feel nauseous. “Let’s go get my Slowpoke.”

When he stepped into the Pokémon Center some ten minutes later, he felt some relief. Soon, he would have his Pokémon. Next time he’d be able to protect his Slowpoke. He’d be able to protect Kirish. There was no other option.

The Pokémon Center was a giant dome of sound and chaos. He didn’t know what most Pokémon centers were like, but this one seemed . . . dire. A faint sound of flutes and pianos lingered in the distance, coming from speakers situated along the walls. Zakana pointed to the reception where two ladies dressed in light pink nurse outfits leaned over the counter. They were deep in conversation with two trainers. At that moment, a third nurse sat down behind the counter followed by one of those pink nurse Pokémon. It was the same as the one in Kirish’s house. A Chansey.

“C’mon. Let’s ask about your Slowpoke.”

Cecilia marched up to the counter, her Quilava trailing behind her. Like Zakana’s home, having Pokémon roam about was perfectly fine and normal in Pokémon Centers. Zakana nearly tripped over a Pokémon that was literally just weeds, all tangled up in each other. Its two white eyes blinked at him.

“I’m here to pick up a Slowpoke.” Cecilia smiled to the lady with auburn hair behind the counter.

“Oh, hi Cecilia. You know the drill, swipe your card, sweetie.”

Cecilia sighed, stamped her foot as though she didn’t have time for such niceties. “It’s not gonna show up, cause I didn’t bring it in. Kirish did.” Cecilia stopped, seemingly waiting for the name drop to have some effect. It had none. “This is Kirish’s brother and the Slowpoke is his.”

The nurse continued to type at her computer feverishly. She didn’t look up as her glasses slid down her nose. “Well then he can swipe his card.”

“Swipe your card, Zakana.” Now, she seemed to be getting impatient with him.

“I don’t have a card.”

At this the nurse looked up. She stopped typing. Who did you say you were?”

“My name is Zakana Hayline. I’m Kirish’s brother.”

“Kirish’s brother. I’ve never heard of you.” The nurse lost her focus when her computer started beeping. She slammed down on the space bar, looked up. “Why don’t you have a card?”

“Long story,” Zakana said. “Can I just have my Slowpoke?”

“Oh, for Jirachi’s sakes!” The nurse threw her arms up in disgust, shot back into her chair. “Sorry, I’m just a little busy! This isn’t a good time, Cecilia.” The nurse pressed a button and a Pokeball appeared through an opening in the counter. “This is the Slowpoke. If you’re lying about this guy, I know where to find you. I’m only doing this cause . . .” Again, she lost her focus. “I’d get out of here if I were you!”

“What the hell is going on?”

Again, the beeping ensued, causing the sounds to be permanently stuck inside Zakana’s head. It was a constant headache as he walked back to Kirish’s place. He didn’t even hear the first part of Cecilia explaining what the Wailmer Wars were.

“Got the basics?” she said.

He most certainly didn’t. He nodded in agreement anyway.

“This organization is hunting the Wailmer for their skin. They’ve got a lot of Vitamin C packed in there. That’s why the Wailmer are going extinct. It’s a really dangerous problem. They’re on the most endangered Pokémon list, and are quickly approaching the number one spot.”

The sentence was something right out of Kirish’s mouth. This truly was Kirish’s prodigy. It was too much for a twelve year old to talk like this. Well, any twelve year old that wasn’t Kirish.

“Wailmer are just one of the company’s targets.” Cecilia let out a sigh of frustration. “They’re bad. And dangerous! They don’t care about people or Pokémon. If they’ve come to this island, everyone is in real trouble. We’ve wasted enough time. We have to get to Kirish!”

They didn’t need to go far. And Zakana soon found out he wasn’t the only one injured. Yumin jogged down the trail toward them, a young boy in his arms. “Get in the house, now!”

It wasn’t the first time his family had told him to do that.

Zakana wheeled around, obeyed. Cecilia darted ahead, threw the door open. “Who’s that?”

“Found him out by Gush Beach.” Yumin laid him on the table, cried out. “Chansey! Get some towels!”

The boy, who couldn’t have been more than nine years old, bled profusely from the forehead. He moaned, opened his eyes. “Am I going to die?”

Yumin snatched a towel from Chansey’s outstretched hands, dabbed it to the boy’s forehead. “You’re not going to die. It’s just a flesh wound. “You said the Pokémon attacked you? Are you sure it was unprovoked?”

“I ain’t lying, mister!”

“Alright, just lie back and calm down.”

The door swung open again, and Kirish rushed in, her clothes stained from sweat. The girl who had interrupted earlier was in tow.

“I’ll take care of the boy,” Kirish said. Her voice had a platinum quality to it that reminded Zakana of their mother. “Get the papers and go, Yumin. Take Zakana with you now. Get to Bambi.”

Yumin gave her a questioning look that she did not return.

“Go!” she said. “It’s too dangerous if you stay here!”

“What’s going on,” Cecilia said, putting her arm around the other girl.

“Wailmer Wars is an understatement,” Kirish said, taking Yumin’s spot at the bedside. She pushed the sandy hair out of her face. “They have no right to be here!”

Under her breath, the other girl spat out the words, “The Viterals,” as though it were some type of poison.

“Contact me as soon as you get to the Center in Celadon City.”

This is why Kirish seemed so much older, so much more weathered. She was fighting crime and saving children’s lives every day. For a moment, Zakana wished he could take it all back. He wanted to say sorry but he was too scared. He had never crossed the apology barrier with Kirish and he wasn’t sure how she would react. It could be with open arms or with lightning bolts and metal stakes to the heart. Zakana grabbed his pack with his good arm, felt how much heavier it was, or how much weaker he’d become.

Yumin flew to the door, opened it, and said, “We’ll talk soon, okay? Hold out, Kirish. You are this island’s lifeblood. Everyone here knows that.”

Kirish nodded.

Zakana felt sad because everyone knew that but him. He didn’t have time to appreciate how awesome his sister was. Without meaning to, the words “I’m sorry” slipped out. They were there, drooping like beeswax from the ceiling. Kirish heard them and lowered her head. She turned away from Zakana as Yumin coaxed him out the door. Zakana could hear the sounds coming from his sister. First, in silent whimpers, and then quick, staccato sobs for the second time that day. Zakana heard those sounds until Cecilia shut the door on him, and even after he stood there in the darkness.

pair_of_wailord_by_darkfeather

To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 4, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 4: Family Matters

Zakana woke up in a sweat, knowing that his shoulder and back needed immediate attention. They felt broken and shattered beyond recognition. He couldn’t move. An intense heat burned him all over. There were way too many clothes dressing him, way too many blankets covering him for the current temperature in the room. Where was he anyway?

A shooting pain ripped through his shoulder, seared his flesh, and continued to cook him like a flopping Magikarp. Something had happened to his shoulder, but he couldn’t remember what. As his eyes blinked open, everything came flashing into focus, coinciding with the high-pitched shrill somewhere nearby.

“There’s no way he’s staying here with me!” Kirish shouted, much louder than was probably necessary. For Kirish, speaking above the normal range was commonplace, and even more so if the things being said were bad things about Zakana. For him, being around Kirish always translated to an insurmountable feeling of doom and unrelenting migraines.

“What am I supposed to do with him? He has no idea what he’s doing out there. Those Abomasnow would have killed him if I hadn’t shown up. Plus, he shouldn’t be moved with the way his shoulder is.”

“This island isn’t any safer!” Again, Kirish’s voice rose above Yumin’s. “Things are about to go down here, and its better to keep our family separated in case they find us.” Kirish slammed something wooden onto a table on the other side of the wall, then said, “Besides, he’s only dislocated his shoulder. He’ll be fine in a day, maybe two.”

“You expect me to wait around here for that? What about Bambi!”

For the first time since Zakana’s mother slapped him across the face, Zakana again felt jarred. Judging by Yumin’s feverish tone and his urgency, it meant that his younger sister was in trouble.

Zakana liked Bambi. No . . . he loved her. Of all his family members, he felt a certain attachment to his ten-year old cousin. Even though she adored Pokémon, Zakana and her always found a common ground. He imagined her cinnamon colored cheeks, auburn red braid, and rusty, torn stockings as she laughed about a news reporter losing his hat on television. Zakana jolted, turned his head to face the wall where the voices came from. All at once he realized that the Viterals weren’t just tracking him, Kirish, their parents and Yumin and his parents. They were tracking the whole damn family . . . even Bambi.

Kirish’s voice dropped an octave. She said, “What’s happened to her?”

“I don’t know. But I need to get to her. I haven’t heard anything from my parents, and I know they’re gonna go for Bambi next.”

Zakana’s stomach clenched up. He felt the urge to vomit, closed his eyes. With all the energy he could muster, he called out his sister’s name.

The noise and commotion from the other room immediately died down, and through a door that Zakana could not see, Kirish came stomping into the room. She moved to Zakana’s side, peered down at him.

“Hey Zakana. How are you feeling?” Zakana studied Kirish. She looked different, more weathered, strands of her light brown hair were now blonde from the sun or white from stress. Zakana couldn’t tell which. For a brief moment, he thought there might be peace between them.

Yumin appeared next to her. His mousy hair sloped down at angles identical to those of his collar on his letterman jacket. He grinned, and his eyes shifted to Zakana’s right shoulder.

“You okay, champ?”

Zakana swallowed, tasted his own dry, foggy mouth. “What happened to me? Why does it feel like I was drawn and quartered?”

“You dislocated your shoulder,” Yumin said. “Those Abomasnow did a number on you. One of your disks was out of line, too.”

Upon hearing the news about his disk, Zakana immediately wanted to sit up, jump into action. There was nothing more important than his back and his alignment when it came to his training. He needed to be in tip-top shape above all else. Now, he felt like his Slowpoke could beat him in a race.

On the other side of the bed a pink egg shaped Pokémon sidled up to Zakana.

“Those snowmen Pokémon . . . why were they attacking me?”

“I guess you don’t remember the ride over here.”

Zakana shook his head. No, he didn’t. The last he remembered was calling back his Slowpoke, somewhere, somehow.

“I put your shoulder back into place,” Yumin said. “We talked about what happened but I guess you were already passing out by then. You probably wouldn’t have made it much longer in the cold. Braviary got here as quick as she could.”

Kirish leaned down so close that Zakana could smell the shampoo in her hair. It was definitely Poketene-Pro-V. That hadn’t changed about her. The whites in her eyes streaked red and Zakana guessed that she hadn’t been sleeping much. She scrunched up her eyebrows in a concerned way, then said, “Zakana. Yumin told me what happened. I just want to say I’m really proud of you.”

If Zakana weren’t in a half-comatose state he would have thrown his fingers in his ears. Every speech that started with praise always ended with backhanded compliments and insults shot in tiny little lightning bolts. Zakana froze, waited for what was coming.

“I’m proud of you for finally breaking through your hardships and catching a Pokémon. I know it probably wasn’t easy for you, and Slowpokes can make really great companions!”

There it was—the hint of condescension. First, it was disguised underneath all the how-do-you-dos and get-well-soons. Then, it came in avalanches of hell. Why couldn’t Zakana have caught a good Pokémon? Why did it have to merely be a great companion? He tried not to read through her words as much as he thought he was.

“Yumin was just as surprised as I was. When he told me you held out a Pokeball and returned the thing, I nearly lost it. It’s never too late for you, Pokémon Master.” Kirish said this last thing as though it were the most impossible thing in the world.

Zakana opened his mouth to speak, but Yumin cut in.

“Anyway, Zakana we gotta talk business. Now that you’re up, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be a part of this conversation.

“Save it. Neither of you want me in your presence. I already heard you talking.”

Kirish and Yumin exchanged a sheepish glance, returned their gaze to Zakana.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Yumin said. “We want you around, we’re just a little unsure about what you can handle right now. You’re really new to this and things are getting . . . kinda crazy right now.”

Turned completely upside down, flipped backward, and spun inside out was more like it. Zakana looked to his left, saw the sun, in its own world of yellow dust haze, setting beyond the window. He wanted to get back to his home in Pallet. He wanted to get back to his workouts, have his old life back.

Something moved between his legs, jerked him back to the present moment. When he looked down at his motionless body, he noticed an egg the size of his head, nestled neatly in the crevice between his left and right leg. He couldn’t move them because the blankets had been tucked into the bed tighter than was necessary. The egg, situated on top of this arrangement, squirmed again as Zakana laid his eyes to rest. He sighed, then said, “why is there an egg resting in my crotch?”

Kirish disappeared from the bedside and rustled through papers elsewhere. She turned her head from her current project, and said. “Oh, it was the warmest place in the room, so I decided to put it there. It’s not that close to hatching don’t worry.”

“Chansey!” announced the pink Pokémon still standing by the bed. The announcement of its name was so loud and chipper, like it had been waiting for weeks to deliver this grand revelation.

Yumin shrugged and mouthed something that Zakana didn’t have the energy or attention span to catch. Zakana felt himself dozing off. Medicines and drugs had definitely been administered in the relocation of his shoulder.

“What did you give me?”

After what seemed like a minute with no answer, he wondered if he had asked the question at all. Shadows swirled and looped around the room, catching the light at different angles, and casting the final effect into a kaleidoscope of colors. He fought the pull, thought about the things he wanted to know.

“Why did those Pokémon attack me? And what is so important about dad’s papers? Why!”

“I know its probably frustrating and confusing,” Kirish reassured him, her tone falsely angelic, “but let’s start from the beginning where things make sense. It’s still a little new to Yumin and I as well.”

“The Pokémon were sent to destroy you and whoever else was home,” Yumin said. “Your mother was likely their number one target. Uncle Durin and I were kidnapped by the Viterals and held ransom. I got separated from your dad and managed to escape on my own. I came south as quickly as I could, went home, didn’t find my parents, kept flying south until I came to your house. I thought you and Aunt Audria were dead . . . then I followed the trail of destruction and found you.”

“Though I don’t think they really wanted to kill you,” Kirish added. “They wanted you alive as ransom too—the Viterals want our family, that’s for sure. They want dad’s papers and whatever other knowledge he has. I think they are starting to find out where I’ve gone. I can feel a strange presence here on the island lately.”

Yumin threw the hair away from his eyes with a dramatic flick of his head. “We need to move fast, either way. I have to get to Celadon to check on Bambi.”

“Celadon? Why is Bambi in Celadon?”

“She entered Celadon’s Master Academy for Boys and Girls six months ago. I thought your mom would have told you.”

“I’m sure she did,” Kirish said. “Zakana doesn’t like to listen to things about Pokémon, remember Yumin?”

Of course Yumin remembered. Zakana didn’t need to be patronized like a kindergartener. He sighed, tried to focus his energy on the topic at hand. Recalling what he had learned from therapy, he attempted to think about something positive. But Kirish struck again.

“We have to be patient with Zakana. It’s not going to happen overnight. He doesn’t want to know anything about this world. Baby steps.”

“I’m right here, Kirish. You can talk to me like an adult. I’m not a baby. Where’s my Slowpoke anyway?”

“I know little brother. Anyway, you’re going with Yumin as soon as possible. We can’t be together here. Our family matters way too much right now for any of that.”

“Yumin is family too.”

“Right . . . well, it’s better that you go with him. And you’re taking the papers too. I’m a much bigger target than you. They probably don’t know about you.”

A volcanic surge erupted somewhere deep inside Zakana. Immediately, he knew his therapy had failed him. There was no going back. The shift in his tectonic plates had occurred and eruption was imminent. He took a deep breath, attempted to control his voice.

“You know my reasons for staying out of the Pokémon world, Kirish. You don’t need to talk to me like you used to. I thought we were past that.”

Zakana couldn’t put a finger on why he was so hot toward Kirish, but it was getting easier to pinpoint with every passing second.

“I may know them but I’ve never agreed with them,” she said. “I’ll talk to you like an adult when you show me that you can act like one. At eighteen years old I have yet to see it. You don’t get to hate Pokémon with all your heart your whole life and then change one day and expect me to welcome you with open arms. No way!”

Kirish’s face went crimson red, her eyes flickered with liquid fire. “You may be hurt by what they did, but you hurt me too. I was hurt too you know. We all were!”

Yumin’s voice carried through the room. “Let’s not do this now, guys. Calm down everybody.”

Zakana was already down but definitely not calm. This was the doom moment he’d been feeling. When Kirish visited home, their mom was always around to mediate. They were never left alone together because it always ended in disaster. Now, under extreme circumstances there was no choice.

Zakana bent at the waist without a second thought, felt the acute pain in his shoulder as he sat up. Facing Kirish he said, “Well I hurt in a different way. I’m not expecting open arms. I’m not that stupid. I just want you to stop telling me what to do!”

“Here’s one for you that mom and dad never said!” Kirish’s voice reached an all-time high, its volume and intensity bubbled like thunderheads. “Get over yourself! We were all affected by what happened you idiot! You’ve been playing the victim for 8 years! It’s time to pull your head out of whatever hole it’s been in!”

Kirish took a step forward, suddenly grew giant, sized herself up for the finishing blow. In a true moment of vulnerability, she burst into tears.

Zakana watched in horror as she broached the topic.

“HE WAS MY BROTHER TOO!”

“You weren’t there! You don’t know what it was like to see that! To fail and watch as your brother . . .” Zakana let out an aspirated puff of air, choked back words that ceased to form. He couldn’t hear the word brother . . . he couldn’t say it.

Yumin stepped between them with catlike reflex. Kirish collapsed into his embrace and sobbed. Zakana wiped the tears from his eyes, tried to control his entire body from shaking. He had failed again. He lost his temper. He could feel the episodes coming on.

The door burst open and a blonde haired girl of about twenty spoke at once, with complete and utter disregard to the scene she’d just come upon.

“There’s trouble in the south seas! Kirish! We need you!”

Kirish lifted her head, and said calmly behind waterlogged eyes, “What is it?”

The girl caught her breath. “All of your predictions were right on. The Wailmer Wars have begun.”

Kirish’s eyes drooped slowly. She shrugged herself out of Yumin’s grasp, heaved one last deep breath, and followed the girl out the door.

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Ch. 3, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 1: Pokeball, Go!

Zakana was sitting in a familiar place when the first wave of bad news came. On the cliffs near the back of his house, he scanned the deep-blue ocean that stretched across a fire lit horizon. A sprightly mist floated before him as he watched the dumb, pink creatures below. They moved so slowly, so dopily. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to obtain one.

The winter winds whipped at his half-covered face. His dark brown hair fell across his exposed head and ears. He pulled his scarf up higher and breathed into it, tasting a hint of fresh lavender in the cotton.

There weren’t many places that Zakana could think about nothing and forget everything around him, but his spot at the cliff was one such place. Maybe it was the dopey pink things glued to the rocks. Maybe it was that it was so peaceful and loud in a distant roaring sort of way that made Zakana forget. He always tried to find ways to forget, but it never lasted long.

The sound of hooves galloped toward him and pulled him from his trance. Jindo never ran that fast unless it needed to. Subconsciously, Zakana stood up and faced the oncoming noise, a dull pounding against the deadened earth. Zakana avoided Jindo and Jindo avoided Zakana. They knew where each other stood, always on opposite sides of the fence. A flash of orange-red fire pulsated toward Zakana, melted the frost in its path. Jindo kept its neck on a swivel, plowed onward, its chariot flames dancing around it like wildfire. Now, this yellow-white fire-maned beast bee lined for Zakana, which could only mean one thing.

“Where’s my mother?” Zakana asked, detecting the defensiveness in his own voice.

Jindo reared up, his mane and tail made of fire shimmering in the morning sun. He neighed loudly, and said the same thing he always said: “Ponyta,” before returning to all fours.

Jindo, Audria’s horse Pokemon, rarely went anywhere without her, which made Zakana suddenly nervous. All he could do was repeat his question, which made Jindo more jumpy and scattered, bucking up wildly. Zakana got the feeling that Jindo wanted Zakana to ride him, which was a great leap of faith by the horse on both their parts.

“Where is she?”

Zakana ran past Jindo, knowing that his mother had gone into Town Square. She was likely there to discuss safety issues with some of the more proactive adults in Pallet Town. Jindo kept pace with Zakana as they passed the house and the stable next to it. Jindo seemed to accept that the two could just run together.

But Zakana’s worry was over nearly before it began. Down the frosty trail, he could see his mother, her head down, as though it helped her run faster, her red boots stomping a footpath in front of her.

“Mom! Are you okay?” Zakana shouted ahead, looking at Jindo for reassurance.

Audria lifted her head, her expression changing from determination to fear. She had something to say, something important. She had sent Jindo to warn Zakana, and as she ran she shouted back, “Get in the house.”

Eyeing Jindo suspiciously, Zakana flung the door open and obeyed. In the next instant, Audria revealed a Pokeball before entering her house and said, “Jindo, return!”

The horse Pokemon morphed and shrunk, its white and yellow hellish fires disappearing into an amorphous ball of white light, vacuumed into the ball in Audria’s hand.

She slammed the door behind her, and sucked in a few heavy breaths before she was able to speak. Audria’s town meetings didn’t always end well, but they never ended like this. Zakana pulled a chair out from the kitchen table, thrust it in front of his mother.

“What’s up, mom? What happened?”

“Oh, Zakana,” she finally said. “We must be quick. Gather everything you’re going to need. We have to leave Pallet. Now.”

Her last word came demandingly. It wasn’t her usual tone with Zakana where she would passively suggest things for the somewhat reclusive 18 year old to do. There was a steely edge to her voice that asserted urgency. Neglecting the chair in front of her, she moved to the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and removed a black backpack.

“Get moving!”

“Can you tell me what’s going on first?” Zakana demanded just as firmly.

He had never seen his mother in such a huff, and it was beginning to unsettle him.

Badger-like, Audria rummaged through the refrigerator, sparing no expenses, casting things into her pack, severely, decisively. She spun around, a can of pickles in her left hand. “We’re not safe here. Your cousin is in immediate danger and so is my sister. And yours too for that matter. If we stay here, we may be killed.” Audria spun back around, badgered on and said, “I’ll explain everything when I have time, but we don’t have time now. Grab your stuff!”

At that moment, another one of Audria’s Pokemon bounced down the staircase like a diapered baby and bumbled into the room, And Audria spoke to it as such. “We’re going on a trip, Pips,” she said, not looking at the blue penguin Pokemon, Piplup. “I know it’s been a long time since momma went on a Pokemon journey, but duty calls sweets. Get the others, and make it snappy. And by Jirachi, if you’re still standing there when I turn around, Zakana—”

He flew up the stairs catlike, unable to process what was happening. He didn’t want to leave home. His cousin, aunt, sister . . . in danger? What was his mom talking about? Zakana hated moving quickly, and his mind wasn’t used to such rapid changes.

“Zakana! Hurry up!” his mom bellowed from below. She was a petite woman, but wiry as hell when she needed to be.

What kind of trip were they taking? Zakana was such a minimalist that all of his clothes fit into two drawers, all of his shoes into two boxes. Before long, he was packed, and with backpack slung across his shoulder he quickly descended the staircase. Removing the mess of brown hair out of his eyes, he gave his mother a cold, unblinking stare. She did not return it, but merely said, “Oh, Zakana, I’m sorry. I knew this would happen. How much money do you have?”

“Why? Aren’t we coming back?”

“Pack your bag as though we are not,” she said, rummaging through more cabinets and closets in the kitchen and connecting living room. “Zakana, there are too many things you need to know right now. And sadly there isn’t enough time.” Suddenly, Audria stopped reaching for the top shelf of the cabinet, rested on both feet and shouted, “MISSY!”

The ghost Pokemon, Misdreavus appeared behind Audria, making a hissing sound as she did. Of all his mother’s Pokemon, Zakana disliked Missy the most. He despised how she could appear and reappear at will, remain invisible, and listen to conversations. Well, all Pokemon could listen to conversations, but most Pokemon were stupid. Zakana felt that Missy had some senses about her, and he shivered when she looked at him, the dark on dark purple ringlets underneath her beady neon-pink eyes.

“Find everything you can that belongs to my husband that might be useful, Missy. Check the attic for anything. Grab my husband’s papers. Bring down Pokeballs, Pokedexes, medicines, TMs, HMs, and anything else you can find. Be quick about it!”

Zakana couldn’t help thinking how crazy his mother now looked, her auburn red hair sticking out from under her lopsided snowcap. He felt sorry for her, how alone she must feel, father never coming home except twice a year at best. Zakana was lonely too, but he was young. He was confident he would find a path for himself. But his mother . . . what was she but a glorified town council member, and a stay-at-home ex-Pokemon trainer?

“Mom,” Zakana said, this time knowing that he would not accept diversions. “What . . . is . . . happening? Why is Kirish in danger?”

“In danger, Zakana, but not so much as us. They’re coming here. They’ve already hit your aunt and uncle’s home.” Speaking about her sister seemed to snap Audria back to reality—this time warped reality that was taking place too quickly for Zakana to process. Audria’s obsidian eyes flashed underneath her fluttering eyelashes. “Yumin has been kidnapped, Zakana.”

“What?”

“They’re asking for 10,000 Pokedollars for your cousin’s ransom.” Audria moved to the chair Zakana had pulled out and collapsed onto it. She puffed out her chest once before saying; “your Aunt Lydia was able to get the news to me today.”

“There’s no way we can afford that! And who is they?”

Audria’s eyes averted, and for some unknown reason, Zakana thought suddenly of his father. “What about dad? Yumin and dad were working together, traveling together . . .”

Darkness overcame Audria as Missy reappeared in front of her, dropping a knapsack to the floor. “I don’t know,” she trailed off.

Zakana thought about the last time he saw his father, about how frayed and wrinkled he looked. It was like he had had aged 10 years in the span of one. His father’s smile looked as though it had been stitched in place the last time he had said goodbye.

Suddenly, Audria shot out of the chair, began sifting through the knapsack. “Good, they’re in here. Your fathers papers,” she added. Presently she looked up, into her son’s eyes, like she had realized something for the first time. “Come outside with me, Zakana. We’re going have to part ways soon. I want to tell you as much as I can before it’s too late.” Audria grabbed her own pack and the one Missy had just delivered and flew to the door.

“Mom. You’re actually scaring me. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to go out there.”

Audria turned on a pin, her heel rotating all the way around before squaring up with her son. She gripped his arms and dragged him outside. The frost on the ground crunched beneath them. It was eerily quiet as Missy slinked out into the open air. Pips danced around Audria’s ankles, repeating his own name over and over.

A crimson flame flashed across Audria’s eyes. There was an insatiable passion behind them now, waking the sleeping dragon within. At that moment, Zakana feared his mother. He felt her insistence, her nails that dug into his forearms.

“I know you want to go to school to be an astronaut, Zakana. I know you love your workouts. I know how you feel about what happened all those years ago. It hasn’t been easy for any of us!” Audria’s grip tightened and she pulled her son closer, his neck on hers. She hugged him aggressively then flung him away. Hot tears formed behind her eyes. She bit them back and said, “It’s time to forget about all of that and make a new path.” Thrusting the knapsack into Zakana’s hands she said, “You need to meet up with your sister first, Zakana. You remember how to get there from here?” Get the papers inside of this bag to Kirish as soon as you can. I would take them but they’re looking for me too. They’ll never suspect you. In fact, they probably don’t even know you exist.”

“Mom!” Zakana snapped. “What are you talking about?” None of this makes any sense!”

Without giving a direct answer, Audria laid the back of her hand on Zakana’s cheek and smiled—that sweet, watermelon-stained smile. “It doesn’t make sense to you because you’ve chosen to remain blind, Zakana. And I understand why. I do. But I’m asking you to wake up now. There is no other choice.” Audria withdrew a Pokeball from her own belt and said, “Go! Sweltinator!”

Her Pokeball landed ten feet from them and the amorphous white light burst from its depths. Seconds later, a dark blue bird Pokemon with a red breast stood in their presence. It flapped its wings wide and squawked, “Swellow!”

“I’m not working with Pokemon, Mom!” Zakana pleaded. “I’m not getting on that thing.”

“Zakana!” Audria shouted, giving her son a sharp rap on the cheek. “Listen to yourself! You’re eighteen years old but you sound like a child!”

Pips dashed inside at this disturbance while Missy continued to watch Audria and Zakana. Audria held out two separate Pokeballs and called Pips and Missy back to them.

Zakana put his hand to his cheek, and tried to find words. He couldn’t believe she hit him. Slowly, he met her eyes, the fires still burning—like stars about to explode and die.

It was the first time his mom had hit him. He felt more than shocked. “Who are they, mom?” He demanded. “Who is looking for you?”

“The Viterals,” Audria whispered, the very utterance of their name slithering off her tongue. “They have finally emerged from the shadows of their tunnels. And they’re on the move.” She turned again, gripped Swellow by the neck and mounted her abnormally large bird Pokemon. “The transmissions at Pokemon Centers have been severed. I can’t get a hold of my Pokemon on reserve so I only have six. How many do you want and which ones?”

How many did he want? Zakana didn’t want any and he didn’t want to go see his sister.

“I’m going to need Sweltinator,” she said referring to her Swellow, “and also probably Jindo. I have a lot more ground to cover if I’m going to get to your aunt and uncle in time. I can survive with just two if you want the other four?”

Zakana didn’t want to be anywhere near Missy, and Pips was such a little wimp he wasn’t sure what use it would be anyway. What were his mothers last two? Some dumb tree that never did anything but change the position of its branches and an overly fat electric mouse called Raichu.

“Hurry up Zakana. Make your choice.”

“I don’t want any of them!” Zakana finally said. “I’m not a Pokemon trainer, mom. I don’t want anything to do with them!”

Audria shook her head. A single hot tear streaked down her freckled face, landed on the ice, froze. She wiped it away and took an honest look at her son. It wasn’t malicious or angry. She merely studied him, her son that she had raised almost singlehandedly. This is what he had become. Finally, she smiled weakly and said, “There’s an old Pokemon manual in there and some empty Pokeballs when you’re ready. I know it’s hard for you. I hope we see each other soon under safer circumstances. Then I’ll be able to tell you more.” Audria patted her Sweltinator on the neck as though she were talking to him more than her son and said, “I love you Zakana.”

Zakana stood there alone as Sweltinator took off into the shattered gray atmosphere above. His mother’s soft red hair whipped gracefully behind her as she flew away. The auburn hair, Sweltinator’s tail feathers, the darkened sky—they were nothing but blurring images set against each other, and all fleeting. Everything was fleeting and Zakana was truly alone.

He shouted as loud as he could, his head tilted backwards. He could feel the veins in his neck pulsate. He felt a surge of anger and confusion he could not explain.

“You think I’m no good, mom?” I can catch a Pokemon just as easily as you can! They’re stupid and ugly and I don’t understand why they have to live so closely with humans!” Zakana dug into his pack and felt for a ball the size of his forefinger. He withdrew it and darted for the cliffs behind his house.

“I can be just as good as Kirish!”

“I can be the son . . .” he trailed off and blinked away the tears. His throat tightened.

The waves crashed against the cliff side, bashed at it from all sides. Zakana stood at the edge and stared at the dopey pink things. “Why won’t you just move?” The waves just keep crashing on you, you dumb thing!” The pink things suctioned themselves to the rocks and stared in a single direction.

Zakana saw the way his mother had done it. He pressed the center button on the Pokeball to make it expand to the size of his hand. It was the first time he held one since he was a child. He looked at the incomprehensibly foolish Pokemon below and said the thing he had heard before. It was the thing he’d never ever believe he would say himself.

“Pokeball! Go!”

Then he let the red and white ball fly from his hand.

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To be continued . . .

Next week – Chapter 2: Surprise Visitors

Artwork credit: http://kuroiraine.deviantart.com/art/Slowpoke-160477447

Developing Better Habits: 8 Takeaways

In the hopes of developing better habits (both as a writer and a regular person), I decided to do a little self-improvement experiment during the month of July.

Mainly because I believed my habits were pretty terrible.

If this is something you can identify with, I’d love to hear what your habits are and how you go about changing them.

This is roughly how it went for me and why I wanted to change them in the first place.

I got the idea from a number of places: my older brother, Josh, who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to productivity, (he draws a lot from Brian Johnson) as well as Jerry Seinfeld, and authors such as Mur Lafferty and Joanna Penn who talk about their habits on Podcasts like I Should be Writing, and The Creative Penn, respectively.

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The idea is that you pick one habit that you’d like to change or work on. Make it small and attainable. If you want to write more and you’re not writing anything at all at the moment, don’t set your goal to write 3,000 words a day. That is too big of a jump. Instead start small and try to accomplish the goals you set for yourself.

I had to get my tonsils out in June and would be taking two weeks off from work. I knew I would probably need all of that recovery time, but I thought once the pain and sleep inducing medications wore off, I’d at least be able to write a little bit. I kept looking forward to not being in pain because of my tonsils, but also because I’d have a large chunk of time off from work. Time. I was going to be blessed with it and I was so happy.

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But time is a fickle beast. I found this out in the 17 days I was recovering. I kept counting down the days as though returning to school was the worst thing in the world. I wouldn’t have my time anymore. Or I’d go back to a regular working guy, teaching, going to the gym, and writing when I was able. The more I counted down and dreaded my return the more I lost time (obviously). And though its something I can’t really put into words here and now, I knew it wasn’t just about time but it was about the way I was viewing time, and I needed to make a change.

So I gave myself 4 goals to accomplish during the month of July after I was done with my surgery and back at work. The rules were this: put an X through each day of the calendar where you succeed in the goal/habit you set for yourself. Never miss a day. If you do, never miss 2 days in a row.

This is something Jerry Seinfeld did early in his career. He told himself he needed to write a joke every day. His goal was feasible and measurable. It began with a word and ended with some sort of punctuation.

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My four goals were:

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  1. Write at least 100 words a day (to keep up with the worlds inside my head and also because I SHOULD BE WRITING) – attainable and not such a big jump from my days of not writing anything. I always thought I’d need to sit down and pump out a chapter and because that was always such a discouraging thought I never got around to it at all! Sheesh!
  2. Meditate every day (headspace.com). That was the big one. I found I was spending so much of my days thinking, waking up tired and going to bed awake. I was on my phone a lot because I’d get messages right when I was about to go to bed (because of the time difference between Korea and most of my friends and family back home). I also am a little OCD and wanted to respond to messages as soon I got them so they would clear. Before I knew it I was spending large chunks of time on my phone and not really accomplishing anything. I wanted to start mediating to be more mindful of where I was at all times and also to have better piece of mind. My sleep patterns were affecting me.
  3. Do yoga every day (Yoga with Adriene) (I want to be more flexible and work on different breathing techniques)
  4. Read one chapter of a book every day. I needed to pair this with my writing so I could nourish my brain with more writing fuel. In general I need to read more.

I am not totally proud to say that I did miss 2 days in a row for some things 🙁 But it was a really fun exercise and I find myself more aware, more alert, on my phone less, and writing and reading more. I’d like to say the X trick had a lot to do with it. Getting myself to strike a line through a day does something for me, I think.

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A breakdown of 31 days in July:

1. Write 100 words: 30/31 – Missed two days in a row? No.

2. Read one chapter: 27/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x1. 

3. Yoga with Adriene: 24/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x2.

4. Meditate: 20/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x2.

The biggest things I took away from this little experiment:

  1. Time is amorphous, but saying you don’t have enough time is just an excuse to yourself. If you want to do things, like write, and make time for important things, you will. Every great writer, artist, and athlete has.
  2. It’s not about being perfect. I did 30 days of yoga with Adriene, and I really loved her approach to yoga, that is: non-judgmental (because I’m pretty lousy at yoga), encouraging, and down-to-earth. Even though she could crush the forms and poses she didn’t pressure me to. It was okay to be imperfect and human.
  3. Breathing exercises can make you more mindful and connect you to things around you more intimately (not to mention make you a better writer). When I focused on my breath or got to a place where I just sat and observed things without trying to change them, I found myself more relaxed and almost all of my problems with falling asleep went away.
  4. Being on my phone is such a waste of time. I set aside times of the day where I would specifically be on my phone so I could respond to things and other times I just put it away and didn’t look at it. Still, I need to get better at this.
  5. There are so many little pieces of the day where you can get things done. Whether I was on the train, bus, on my lunch break, or waking up early before school, I could put an X through my calendar for one of the things, and free time up later in my day.
  6. It’s not always about the result. When I first started mediating using headspace.com I almost always immediately wanted to get something out of it. I automatically wanted answers or better sleeping habits or to be as calm and as wise as the Dalai Lama but it wasn’t at all reasonable. Instead, it was better to focus on the journey and unlock things day by day, rather than have them all at once.
  7. Being mindful and aware is not only for you. Another thing I picked up from meditating is that these practices aren’t only good for you, but for those around you. Being a whole person can have a positive effect for the people you interact with on a daily basis.
  8. Set not only a goal, but also a purpose. Why did you show up to yoga mat today? Why are you sitting on a couch for 20 minutes with your eyes closed focusing on your breathing? Find out your purpose by asking the important questions: what do I want out of this, how can this help me, how can this help those around me? It can something as simple as I want to smile more.

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Having said all that, I think I’ve only scratched the surface. My habits are better because I have a regular schedule now, but they’ve still got a long way to go. Time to set some for August. I think I’m going to continue the meditation, read at least one chapter, and change my yoga slot to studying Korean for at least 15 minutes a day. As far as writing goes, I think its time to bump it up to 500 words since I was reaching that goal most days anyway. Though if I had started off with that goal I think I would have felt discouraged and not been able to achieve the goals I set for myself.

What would you say are your best and worst habits?

How do you go about developing better ones?

I’m always trying to learn more about this and change my ways.

Let me know in the comments!

Another round of edits: 10 things learned

After spending the past month editing my WIP, Book II of the Worlds Apart series: A Mass of Enemies, I realized some things I hadn’t really reflected on before.

Here they are: ten things learned after another round of edits.

1. It’s really hard to keep characters, scenes and plot points consistent between books 1 and 2 of the same series. As you change, so do your characters and your perceptions of them.

2. Only writing can make you a better writer.

3. I don’t believe in Writer’s Block, or maybe I’ve been lucky not to experience it yet.

4. As writers write, they grow. But just because we can publish ourselves in this highly evolving self-publishing world, doesn’t mean we always should.

5. Get lots and lots of beta readers and edits done before you think about publishing. People will be nice to your writing. People won’t understand it. People will despise it. If you’re lucky they might like it. Don’t go off one of those opinions or even all of them. Take what you need. You will learn something from each and every critique and read through you receive.

6. It’s never gonna be perfect.

7. Know your manuscript so well that you’ve practically memorized entire scenes. Go back to them. Fix them. Mull them over. Go back again.

8. I imagine I will always think about every mistake (or what I may think of as mistakes) in my novels for years to come. I need to develop a strategy to do better with that and just let the pieces fall where they may.

9. Keep writing.

10. Love your writing. Love those who become invested in your writing. Show them you appreciate them. They are more valuable than gold.

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What kind of things have you realized after editing?

Simon Winchester’s Korea

I have lived in Korea for over two years, and all the while, I have been searching for a good book about this mysterious country.

I found a highly recommended one (with both positive and negative aspects), written by an Englishman, Simon Winchester, who set out on foot from Korea’s southern tip to the North Korean border in the late 1980’s. It was more or less what I was looking for . . . for now.

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Most, if not all, of the things I will relay below stem from Winchester’s understanding of Korea during that time. Korea is likely a very different place today. I am not writing this to spark political or religious debate or to cause any debate at all, but to merely reflect on what I read and learned having lived here and having read Winchester’s account of Korea from the 1980’s and after. I wanted to report the things that I found interesting, unique, or culturally dynamic (though some will be outdated) and put them all in one place.

Miss Park Choon-sil, interpreter and friend of Winchester, upon meeting him, said many times that [she was eager that her country, so little known abroad and of such uncertain reputation, should be better and more sympathetically understood out in the English speaking world.]

It was Simon Winchester’s hope, and it is my hope too.

Here is a collection of things I’ve learned and found interesting—38 reflections and quotes.

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1. The Korean secret police, tappers of phones, followers of dissidents, and beaters-up of radicals are known as the angibu (pg. 88)

2. Many Koreans believe that eating dog is good for the libido and increases stamina (pg. 85)

3. Korean protocol of introducing someone can be quite cumbersome but also quite useful. For example, to a westerner, Mr. Kim would introduce his wife as, Mrs. Kim. If she introduced herself to say a shopkeeper, she would say Mrs. Choe (Choe is her maiden name) – Choe Mi-young. But to Mrs. Kim, she would neither be Mrs. Kim nor Mrs. Choe. She would instead be, the mother of the family’s eldest son and thus introduced as ‘Kyu-Hwan eum-ma, Kyu-Hwan’s mother. (pg 76)

4. Winchester on work ethic: “Having seen the rice planters working so hard earlier in the day, and now watching these tennis players competing in so deadly a fashion and with such talent, bloodless determination, I found myself thinking—tangential though the thought might at first seem—about the extraordinary success of every one if Korea’s recent ambitions. How triumphant the country had become from utter ruin in the 1950s to the world’s fastest growing economy in the 1980s! And much of that success, I fancied, had come about because of sheer will-power and concentrated effort that the Korean people apply to any venture the undertake—they play tennis hard, well, and to win; they build ships day and night, at lower prices and in greater numbers to beat the competition; they work their fields at an exhausting pace to make quite certain their fellow people want for nothing in their diet, and so that the nation has to import nothing—no food, anyway—from abroad.” (pg. 73-74)

5. Yi Sun-shin was an admiral in the Royal Korean Navy of the sixteenth century. He is revered today as the man who, almost alone, administered a series of stunning defeats to the Japanese and proved that Koreans are capable of seeing off the ambitions of their most loathsome neighbors, if only they really try. (pg. 64)

6. The Japanese made their first concerted attack on Korea in the spring of 1592, when the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi sent an army of 150,000 men storming through the peninsula on their way to China—Korea being thought of by the Japanese as merely a springboard or a convenient walk-way for the acquisition of the larger prize. (pg. 64)

7. President Park decreed that thatched roofs were a stigma of underdevelopment and ordered a nationwide campaign to replace thatch with tile. Most thatch has gone from Korea, but here down in Cholla, where they are said to loathe the government with vigor and venom, a lot of it has stayed, both as a defiant symbol of Cholla independence and because it is warm, cheap, and handsome. (pg. 100)

8. Winchesters thoughts on Korea and their attitude toward the ‘dignity of poverty’: “The Koreans are an ambitious, hardworking people, perhaps more hardworking than any I have ever encountered and ever will. They want to improve their lot. They want, desperately, to improve their children’s lot. They will work all the hours God gives them to provide a good education for their offspring—no sacrifice is too much for a Korean father to make, no hours too long for a Korean mother to work, if only the child is well educated, is given a better chance, a better series of opportunities.” (pg. 101)

9. “Whether you call it the Kwangju uprising, the Kwangju massacre, the Kwangju rebellion, or the Kwangju incident, depends entirely on where you stand in Korean politics. Wherever you stand, the events of those seven days in May 1980 have left scars on the Korean psyche like no event since the 1950 war.” (pg 105)

10. The Confucian deal, in a society like Korea’s where Confucianism is still widely followed, is a simple one: if people will agree to forget their individuality and concentrate on their duties, then they can be guaranteed that they will be treated with respect and kindness by all. Self-abnegation is bargained, in other words, for universal respect. Happiness is to be gained through human things, coming to terms with oneself, one’s family, one’s community.” (pg. 119)

11. On Confucianism: The two systems, the material and the Confucian sit uneasily together. Which, then, is the better of the two systems? Is a life of self-abnegation, respect for others, a sense of duty, and correct behavior more worthy than a life of self-assertion, of total freedom, of ‘looking out for Number One’? Or, put another way, is a society that is liberally stuffed with Edisons and Fords and Einsteins, and with depressives and murderers and alcoholics—is that approaching the ideal? Or do we have a more fulfilled society when all is carefully structured social harmony, where the jen and the yi, the yin and the yang, are in-near perfect equilibrium, where no one raises his voice, and every parent is revered by every child, where the elders are cared for, children are adored, imagination and innovation and invention are feared rather than favoured, and the individual is forgotten? (pg. 120)

12. Korean is a Ural-Altaic language—linguistically connected (though only rather vaguely) to Turkish, Mongolian, Finnish, and Magyar. Chinese, on the other hand, is a Sino-Tibetan tongue, with ties to Burmese and Thai and Tibetan. In 1420 King Sejong began working on a system that would allow Koreans to not only speak, but also read and write their language. Until then, nothing existed. Using Chinese characters to express Korean sounds would be like using Chinese to express English—it is technically possible, but is also clumsy, useless and philosophically out of whack. (pg. 129)

13. On December 25th, 1443, King Sejong, 4th king of the Yi Dynasty unveiled a new script for which Koreans would use to write. It was to be known as Hun min chong um—The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People. (An odd title for a supposedly simple script: he changed it three years later to hangul, which means ‘the Korean Writing.’ (pg. 130)

14. Confucianism lays great emphasis on the group, on togetherness. Solitude is not a Korean pleasure. (pg. 134)

15. Japanese colonial masters had introduced the notion of married monks to Korea; it was all part of the Japanese grand design to do all they could to lessen the cultural and religious differences between the two countries, as part of their moral rationale for having carried out their annexation. (pg. 137)

16. Ondol—the Korean house-heating system, consists of a series of flues that carry the hot gases from the kitchen range beneath the floor and heats the home is a very cheap and efficient system. It is also used in Afghanistan. (pg. 139)

17. Everything in Korea is offered with both hands, indicating that no hand is free to aim a blow or draw a sword. (pg. 147)

18. Hangeul Day is celebrated and no other language day is. (pg. 147)

19. Ginseng is the symbol of Korea. (pg. 208)

20. Bamboo is known to Koreans as taenamu, or the Great Tree, and is greatly revered to Korea as it in China. It has the advantages of strength, suppleness, and lightness, so that it can be used to make scaffolding or baskets, chopsticks or tablemats, carved spoons or furniture. And its young shoots can be eaten. (pg. 157)

21. The hwangap is the celebration of a turning point in a person’s life, 60 years to be exact, when man or woman has passed through the five twelve-year zodiacal cycles—the yukgap—as the sixty year period is known—which constitute the proper life span of the human being. And thus a huge party is staged. Once someone has gone through this sixty year period, they retire from active life, take their respected ease as an elder, let their children make them as comfortable as they can, and let filial piety take over the reins of their life.

22. The Korean War (1950-1953) is known to Koreans as the Civil War. (pg. 194)

23. On invasions: “Korea has spent the better part of its four thousand years being invaded, crushed, subjugated, colonized, or in other ways trampled on: all its neighbors have made good use of the little peninsula—the Chinese, the Russians, the Mongols, the Manchus, and the Japanese have all seized and invaded and wrecked according to their wants and moods. (The cynical though not wholly unreasonable view is that today’s American’s are following in the same ignoble tradition.) (pg. 196-197)

24. Tangun, as legend has it, founded Korea in 2333 BC, and is said to have been descended from Hwanung, who governed the universe in 4000 BC. (pg. 197)

25. On Korea’s 3 Kingdoms: “At its most basic, history judgment on these three kingdoms is thus: the kings of Koguryo (who operated from Pyongyang) were warlike; those of Shilla (whose capital was Kyongju in the southeast) were skillful and ambitious (and eventually triumphant in dominating the monarchs of the other two); and the rulers of Paekche were cultured and religious. (pg. 198)

26. On wildlife: “The noble animals—the tigers and bears for which the peninsula was once famous—have all but gone; and such is the Korean appetite for any meat that moves that, except for the odd weasel or mouse, Korean forest floors are like vast empty ballrooms, dark and quite silent.” (pg 222)

27. The rose of Sharon, though not a rose, (it is a type of hibiscus) is Korea’s national emblem. pg 222

28. Seoul was founded in 1392 and is South Korea’s current capital. Before that, Kaesong was the capital, which now lies in the north. (pg. 235)

29. O.B. (a Korean beer), stands for Oriental Brewery. (pg. 238)

30. “The Han River is the mightiest river in all of Korea, rival to the Yalu and the Kum and the Imjin. And now, politics have made the Han a sad sort of stream, a river that is pointless at one end and now supposedly very dangerous at the other.” (pg. 239)

31. “In August 1910, King Sunjong, the 27th king of Korea, issued a proclamation yielding up his throne and his country to the Japanese. They had annexed his country; it fell upon his shoulders to bring an end to a dynasty that had ruled Korea, for good or ill, since 1392.” (pg. 246)

32. Choson means ‘morning freshness and calm.’ (pg. 247)

33. On education, words from Kim Woo-choong: “Look at the villages all over Korea, and see which is the biggest and most imposing building in every one. It’ll nearly always be the school building. We worship teachers here; we worship schools. We pay our teachers well. They are respected figures in our community. Are they still in the West? I have heard not, not as much as before. Look at the universities in Seoul—there are dozens of them. People crawl over each other to get to attend classes. They really want to learn. They want to be trained. There is this intense desire to better themselves, and to do it with their brains if they can. If anything can be specifically thought of as responsible for our country’s success then its that—the intense desire to learn, to become properly educated at the best schools that can be afforded No matter what the cost, no matter the hardship, that’s the prime duty of a parent, to get his children educated. That’s the key.” (pg. 250)

34. “The interview was short and much as I had feared. Koreans are properly proud of their country, or they are in public, at least, even if a lack of confidence, and self-pity and deep and inconsolable melancholy sometimes seem to be the national malaise—and while they find foreign attention flattering, they regard themselves as eminently deserving of it. So there is—I had been warned—a touch of condescension about their response to anyone who takes an interest in them—much as there is in Japan. And so the interviewer asked me to speak in Korean, not to laud my efforts with the language but rather to show how badly a foreigner speaks so complicated a language. Then again, I was asked to sing a Korean song—to demonstrate how difficult it was for anyone other than a son of Chosun to tackle the mournful rhythms of the local music. No one in the interview wanted me to lose face; it wasn’t as crude as that. But I was expected to offer a display that would reassure the viewers of their unassailable superiority in all things I might attempt—and I, having been told exactly what to do, wasn’t going to disappoint them.” (Simon Winchester, after having walked nearly the entirety of South Korea, pg. 262)

35. The Korean Armistice Agreement—signed on 27 July 1953 in Kaesong by Marshal Kim Il Sung, supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army and by Peng The Huai, commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteers, and in Munsan by General Mark Clark, the American commander of the UN Forces, is a document that effectively created the division of the Korean peninsula into two violently opposing countries. No treaty, no concordat, no instrument of state recognized by the real world created a country called North Korea or fashioned this miracle state called South Korea. Article One of the armistice says it all:

a. A Military Demarcation Line shall be fixed, and both sides shall withdraw two (2) kilometers from this line so as to establish a Demilitarized Zone between the opposing forces. A Demilitarized Zone shall be established as a buffer zone to prevent the occurrence of incidents which might lead to resumption of hostilities. (pg. 268)

36. The irony of the DMZ according to Winchester: “It is 151 miles long, stretching across the country like a giant scar. Almost no humans go there—there are no farmers, no towns, few soldiers. The consequence of this is a profusion of wildlife within the zone—wildlife that is untroubled by the threat of artillery that points menacingly in its direction, since it is wise enough not to understand the threat. So all manner of birds and beasts that have vanished from the more developed parts of Korea still live within the frontier fences. The Manchurian crane, Grus japonensis, a red-capped black-wing-tipped bird of wonderful magnificence, still struts its stuff among the sedges of the DMZ; the Korean wildcat prowls beneath the arc lights; the little Korean bears—Ursus thibetanus usurious heuda—that have a white stripe down their black furry backs can also be seen grubbing for food at the edge of the minefields. It is an ironic counterpoint to the awfulness of war that so much that is beautiful are rare flourishes where the human anger is greatest, and yet in those places where peace has translated into commerce, so much loveliness has cleared away.” (pg 270)

37. Korean people say that the birds are “weeping.” Birds in Korea do not sing. They weep.

38. Winchester’s interview of a man who (for safety reasons) can never be named: “But I have a suspicion. From what I have seen, and from the conversations I have had, I actually believe that the people who will think of me as a friend, and who will write to me more constantly, will be the friends, I made in North Korea. It has nothing to do with politics—I am no fan of Kim Il Sung, don’t worry. But the people in the North seem, in a strange way, to be purer in their Koreanness. They are still gracious and kindly. There is something old-fashioned about them. There is a degree of sincerity and gentility that somehow seems to be evaporating, just a little, in the South. Many people I know in the South are too concerned with their own prosperity, with the rush of their lives, to remember their Koreanness. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I felt the Koreans north of the line were more—how shall I say it?—more unspoiled. I feel they will remain my friends for longer. (pg. 281)

south-korea-cities-pavilion-lake-seoul-tourism-news-world-city-374813

Can you add any quotes or fun facts to the list?

Not My Eggs

Let the new #BlogBattle topic begin! This week, it’s all about Eggs!

Rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle, put a link back to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this post, and/or include a link to thispost in your own blog post (it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  7. Have fun!

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Not My Eggs

I don’t remember the faces of any of my neighbors except for the Mackelors, who lived directly across the street from us in our dilapidated, faded blue one-story house. This home, which I later came to realize was the worst looking on the block, smelled a familiar scent of hair spray and nail polish that was much too fragrant for our box of a home, let alone human fingernails. I don’t know how it smelled that way because only my mother used it, but it seemed as though instead of washing the carpets with soap and other cleaning products, she used that awful synthetic stuff to give it a stale, crunchy, irreversible flavor.

The Mackelor’s place, like the other houses on the block, probably had much better smells coming from inside, although I never knew because I wasn’t allowed in any of them. Mother insisted that our house was the oldest and therefore had years of different aromas and “character”—that part was especially important and emphasized in her meek, tender voice—that the other houses didn’t have.

They also didn’t seem to have eggs because every neighbor (and I mean this as in the other houses on the block, rather than just the houses adjacent to ours) always seemed to come to our house for eggs.

Our neighbors (whose names and faces escape my memory), the ones with the children who spilled out of their front door in order of shortest to tallest, and piled into their 1986 concrete colored Chevrolet for church every Sunday morning, always needed eggs—usually just two early Sunday morning, which didn’t make sense considering all the mouths they had to feed.

I imagined their burly football-player sized father cracking one of the two eggs above the horde of children and letting the soupy ooze fall into their hungry mouths. And if they got their dozen eggs, just like the rest of us did, on every 5th day, then I wondered what they needed these two extra eggs for, on Sunday morning . . . before Church of all times. Perhaps it was part of their fasting ritual in which the entire family could only share the full meal of two eggs.

My mother always said the neighbors returned the eggs they borrowed but I never noticed those visits. I only saw the visits to take our eggs away, with grateful nods, and promises of weekday dinners or weekend barbeques.

The old farmer and his daughter—the young, pale skinned girl who worked at the local market—always asked for three eggs. What I wondered was the difference between asking for two and three eggs? Besides the extra egg of course, when did a neighbor suddenly decide it was okay and appropriate to ask for just one more?

I remember the time the father who skateboarded to work, and who usually asked for only one egg every other day, asked for four eggs one time. My mother, as always obliged and I wondered if she just had extra stashes of eggs somewhere because everyone always came to us for them. There were no such secret stashes of eggs in our house. What was that father doing with one egg every other day? And why wasn’t his dozen good enough? Was he putting them aside for a giant omelet, I wondered?

Regardless of how many times those other neighbors came to us, I cannot remember what they look like or what my mother called them, just that they frequently needed eggs.

Only the Mackelors stand out in my mind now, and I think that is perhaps because of the eggs, too. The things Mrs. Mackelor would say were perfectly believable, I guess, and now as I look back, I don’t know how she came up with something different every time. Or perhaps I remembered her and her twin daughters, Audria and Lydia, because of their cute pink cheeks, and bows in their light, airy blonde hair. I remember them standing there beside their mother, no older than me at seven years old, while they tugged on their mother’s faded green polka dot dress, and while I stood alongside mother, my younger brother on her other side, plopped down, sucking his thumb.

“We’re having guests over tonight,” Mrs. Mackelor would say, and my mom would just nod and say, “of course,” even though she mentioned making potato salad and I wasn’t sure how eggs fit into that.

“We just need half a dozen,” she’d say, and her twins would nod and bat their cute little eyelashes at my mom, and she would nod and say, “you bet we can help,” and then she’d hand over half our dozen and Audria or Lydia (I’m still not sure which) would place them inside their empty egg cartoon that lay inside their red, Toys-R-Us wagon, and they’d traipse away like they hadn’t just taken half our house’s stock of poultry (and yes, eggs belong on the meat section of the food pyramid) and I didn’t know whether we’d ever see our eggs again.

And when the twins started coming without their mom and I was answering the door instead of my mom, they still seemed to come up with the same amazing reasons, and all I could do was comply and give our eggs away. As I watched them and imagined how they’d devour eggs at the same rate at which they asked for them, I imagined them to be tiny little egg gods, feeding on the yolks and uncooked goodness of eggs, that they needed for their cheeks to shine bright pink and their smiles to look absolutely adorable. Only at night would their true savagery come out and they’d eat the eggs they’d collected that day, crunching them into their mouths in one vengeful bite, shells and all.

And as I looked at them I saw them as the eggs they once were, inside their mother, either as one egg or two, I didn’t really care which, floating around until the next phase of life began, and one thought became clear, that all of us were not much different than the eggs we consumed (or didn’t). But that talk was for the birds, because Audria and Lydia needed more eggs now for the giant birthday cake their mother was making which we would never see so much as a sliver of, and so I would again agree because this was a serious matter of business.

And as they walked away I know how and why I remember them better than anyone on my small, bubble-world hometown block. It was definitely, absolutely and undeniably because of the eggs.

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Here are the stories from last week! Theme: Side Table

And the winning post:

BloneWriteMore and The Tale of Side Table and Sofa

A special thanks to Rachael Ritchey, for creating these #BlogBattles and including some wonderful people!

Side Table

Thus begins round 2 of Rachael Ritchey’s #BlogBattle. The theme of this week is: side table!

Here are the rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle, put a link back to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this post, and/or include a link to this post in your own blog post (it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  7. Have fun!

__________________________________________________________________

My glasses sit between a stack of envelopes and a half-drained cup of black tea. I can see the outer rim of the porcelain, stained grease black, where my tired lips were just moments ago. My glasses broke cleanly. I can see the jagged hole in the left lens and the broken piece lying beside it, a piece of a puzzle that would only need to fit back inside. It is that simple. But I can’t get up to do it so it is also that complicated.

I rub at my eye where I bashed into the unforeseen corner on my last trip to the bar. I realize I’m lucky I wore my glasses at the time. Usually, I don’t wear them and now as I look at the lonely pair, I want another chance. I want to wear them so they can protect me but I can’t . . . not without looking like I’m missing a very obvious tooth.

I think about stuffing the envelopes with the letters at the foot of the side table, but then I see the name on the top one and roll over. How could she ever understand all that’s happened? How could they all know about the things that I’ve seen—the things that I’ve done . . . by just staring at ink scribbled onto dusty, hotel memo paper?

I roll back over and face the side table. I take the shard of glass and roll it around in my dirty hands. I can’t sleep even when the TV does. Squeezing hard, I feel a pinch of blood and breathe out. I lay the glass back on the side table and shake my palm out, molecules of blood sprinkling onto my top envelope. I take a sip of my tea and let the now cold drink slide down my throat. My eyes, even though my vision is blurry, catch glimpse of the burn mark sitting at the top left corner of the table. It looks like something has been embroidered onto the wood whose color is now fading away, but I remember the night I made that mark. It reminds me of the marks on my body, each one for someone I’ve lost.

I think about what I wrote in the letters and almost start to cry. Instead I choke out a laugh. I don’t know what’s changed in their lives, and they certainly don’t know what’s changed in mine. I know its because I haven’t let them.

Memories spill out of my mind and I see a vase on the side table, broken roses falling from the rim while the water inside evaporates with a sickening vengeance. An alarm clock rings and pulls me from my trance. I see the numbers flashing neon green and then they too disappear. A picture frame materializes and I see all the faces I haven’t seen in so long—I wonder which ones I will see again. A tear falls from my cheek. I have changed beyond recognition as I see my reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall. I don’t think anyone will understand. Like the important things in my life, so many things that once lived on the side table have gone.