Path of the Dead

The death of Bean the Pikachu was unexpected and tragic, and it ripped Miles apart. He was horror stricken, and all he wanted was to have Bean back and for everything to be as before.

The following short story surrounds Mile's emotional experience. As it is a Pokemon fanfiction, there are references to the game itself. But the story does not hinge too much on it, so anyone can read it.

The original piece had 4300 words, but since the rule says 4000 words I have removed 300 words, which I hope do not take away too much out of the story.

Note: I got the Pokemon Communicator headset idea from a Pokemon manga that I read:
http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Get_da_ze!

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1. Short Story - Path of the Dead

The steady autumn rain had not dwindled for the past two hours; neither did it show any signs of subsiding in the next hour. There was no wind, and the rain kept a monotonous plunge towards the ground. It was already half past seven in the morning, but the small city of Lavender was still shrouded in darkness, and the thick morning mist was still crawling along the neat and orderly roads of the small city. There was no indication of any activities from the houses. In an inconspicuous corner, sitting against the lofty mountain, the tall Pokémon Tower was the only building which had glimmers of light shying through thick curtains. People who knew Lavender City called it the building of the dead for it was where bodies, or any remains of the bodies, of dead Pokèmon were handled in its proper manner as respected by all Pokèmon Trainers and owners.

            Inside the Pokémon Tower, the greatly-spaced fluorescent ceiling-bulbs gave out a soft glow, illuminating the lonely rooms and hallways. The windows were covered in a layer of condensation decorated by intricate veins of unmemorable pathways trodden by forgettable water flows; flows which formed as rain droplets, barely could hang on against the outside of the windows, rolled down, and merged with other rain droplets, gaining momentum as they became larger.

            The noise outside did not bother Miles, or rather he did not perceive it. He felt hollow inside as he stood there, for hours now, staring at the small, grey locker containing the cremated dust of his first and only Pokémon, a Pikachu. The Pokémon Communicator Headset was hanging around his neck, lifeless, its weight unperceived. His feet were already swollen, but he did not perceive that either; neither did he perceive his puffed up eyes, nor the dried remains of tears and snot on his face. The only thing he perceived was the desolation.

            Like many, he had gotten the opportunity to select his first Pokémon at the age of six before the beginning of school. All children have their own Pokémon when they start school, and Pokémon and owners grow up together, and learn techniques, systems, and knowledge of the wider world. Upon graduation at the age of seventeen, they will be awarded Pokémon training license, and the title of Pokémon Trainer, but may choose to pursue a different line of work, like Pokémon research or astronomy, other than the ordinary job of Pokémon training. Miles and Bean, his Pikachu, had just graduated from school three months back, and were not doing much apart from lying around on the meadow near their home, and fishing. They were still deciding if Miles should be a Pokémon Trainer or a geologist. Bean had suggested geology for he was a curious and keen learner, but Miles had said that Bean would be useless company and a burden for his Electric speciality has zero effect on the predominantly Rock and Ground type Pokémons in the caverns and on the mountains. Bean’s insistence had lead Miles to agree on venturing into a nearby cavern where they would then decide, based on their new, insignificant experience, if the company would spend the rest of their lives in the geology sector. Though, of course, a decision was not needed for Bean met his demise in that very cavern. However, it was not in the hands of any sort of Rock or Ground type Pokémon, but those of a somewhat familiar face. Miles knew Jeremy from school, but they never got to know each other very well. They were mere classmates in a class of a hundred minus six. Miles could not comprehend, even then, standing in front of the locker, the cruelty and ruthlessness, and the lack of mercy that Jeremy showed. His Scyther had sneaked up on them, and attacked Bean unrelentingly; slashes after slashes. Bean did not have the opportunity to fight back, and Miles had screamed for the Scyther to stop, and for Jeremy to tell his Scyther to stop. He had run in to protect Bean with his own body, but was forcefully shoved off by the blade of the enormous Scyther; over and over again. All along, Jeremy had stood there watching the Scyther and Bean without a flicker of pity or remorse. The Scyther kept slashing on, even after the lifeless body had remained motionless.

 

 

            Miles barely remembered the time between seeing that red mass, and standing in front of the grey locker. Turning the event over and over again in his head did not make him understand things any clearer, or feel any better; instead, he became more baffled, and felt worse. He could not see any reason why Jeremy and his Scyther would do anything like that; he could not understand why Jeremy just watched; he could not discern, of all Pokémon, why Bean. But nothing of that mattered. All he wanted was to have Bean back.

            Space seemed to have stretched itself between Miles and infinity. He felt sightless, and his lips stitched tight, and his muscles atrophied; but he could perceive a monotonous thud, perhaps that of Space, constantly thumping in and out of his ears – high, low, high, low, high, low. The pace was steady. But there was no vitality in the thud; there were only apathy, only lethargy, only indifference. And then there was a whiff of chrysanthemum, hiding behind the odour of soot. Suddenly he perceived a sharp, hoarse clearing of a throat, and his trance was broken, the emptiness vanished, and he could see again, and he could feel the cool air of the room, and he could hear himself whimper, and he could perceive his swollen eyes, and sore feet, and all at once he fell to the ground, next to a pair of shrivelled feet wrapped in grey socks.

            “In Memory of Bean the Pikachu,” the hoarse voice read in a low tone, “A loving companion and keen learner.”

            Miles heaved his head up to look at the face belonging to the voice. His clear blue eyes met a pair of twinkling grey eyes that were set deep in their sockets under bushy brows among wrinkled skin. They locked gazes for what seemed like hours, him not knowing what to think of this old lady whose dress was the most peculiar roughly-woven tunic with a white coat over it. Then she stretched her lips into a thin smile, but he could not detect joy or warmth from it.

            “Is Bean your Pikachu?” she looked from under thick brows.

            He nodded.

            “Why, you look way too upset,” she remarked offhandedly, “His body’s just dead.”

            Whatever was left of his heart broke, and fell into a million pieces. The words rang in his head, over and over again, each time louder than the previous, threatening to blow his skull apart. His mind was overflowed with a cascade of vivid images of the event. Tears began to cloud his swollen eyes again, and he felt his insides contracting and relaxing at a pace his body could not handle. The muscles in his throat tightened, but the lump in it kept moving upwards as the contraction of his guts applied more force with every spasm. Miles was not fighting his own body; his body was fighting itself. He could not think, but when he did, he could not understand why he was reacting in that manner. It just happened. His body hurled forward onto his hands, and the meagre contents of his stomach oozed out of his mouth. The convulsion continued, and he choked on his own saliva, and stomach acid, drawn upwards from his stomach by the contraction. It burned his throat, and his mouth, and his insides, and he felt fury beginning to ignite in the space where the remains of his heart was. He felt unfairly treated, and he had not deserved the sorrow. He flung his head upwards, his eyes ablaze, but when he met the calm, grey eyes, and the smile, he was unable to utter a word; instead he clenched his teeth tight, and ground them in indignation, shame, and grief. He went limp, fell forward onto his vomit, and started sobbing like a six year-old.

            His vision was blurred by the tears, but he could make out the shape of the old lady bending down next to him. Her gnarled hand stroked his hair, and he could hear her whisper in that distinct hoarse voice,

            “Pokémons have afterlives, and I know how you can get to where they are.”

            There was a paroxysm of joy. Adrenaline rang in his ears, and his body pumped up and tensed. He choked. His mind exploded in relief, in gladness, and in exuberance. He felt like there was meaning to life again. The truth of the words did not matter to him; he already believed in it. He knew it was the truth. It was a wonder how he could handle the constant physical and mental strain from the short encounter. His slender arm, slightly tanned by the months of basking under the sun on the meadow, reached out to touch the old lady’s. He was trembling and he was crying more than ever, and he was sure that it was out of joy.

 

 

            It took him a while, but Miles managed to get onto his feet and trailed behind the old lady as she led him up the Pokémon Tower. They climbed a couple flight of stairs, and more flight of stairs, and yet more. They kept going on and on, and though he wondered if his feet could take him any further, he knew that he would climb a million steps to get to where Bean was.

            But certainly infinity did not exist in that tower, or perhaps it did, but the floor levelled and they stopped climbing. The old lady showed no sign of fatigue, and skipped lightly on her toes along the narrow corridor towards a door at the end of it. He trudged behind her as fast as he could, his breath short and his vision blurred from the swelling of his eyes. When he arrived in front of the plain wooden door, it was already ajar. He stepped inside, and he saw that the room was scarcely furnished; in fact there were only two chairs, a furnace in the wall, and a long counter with some objects arranged neatly on top of it. The old lady, sitting on one of the chairs, gestured to him to take the other seat, and so he did. It was then, when he took the seat, that he realized there was a preserved, full-grown Marowak, a Pokémon he had little idea about, standing next to her seat. The preservation was perfect, but that only made him felt more nervous.

            After a moment of silence, she looked him in the eyes and said in a low, hoarse voice, “Only Pokémons have afterlives.”

            He looked at her questioningly.

            “Only Pokémons have afterlives,” she repeated herself, this time slower, and softer.

            “Do you mean to say that I cannot go to where Bean went?” he asked, uncertain.

            “No. I meant that only Pokémons have afterlives.”

            “So, can I go to where Bean went?”

            “Yes, but only Pokémons have afterlives.”

            “And what will happen to me if I go over?”

            Her brows drew closer, and her eyes glinted brighter, “I wouldn’t know, would I?”

            He felt a chill run down his spine. He shook his head, and she took that as a marker that he heard her, and agreed to go to this land that he had never heard of. She took a large bone from the counter, and asked him to hold onto the bone with both his arms stretched out in front of him, and shut his eyes. He did as told. A moment later he felt her time-worn hands wrap around his. It felt strange and foreign for he never felt age before.

           Seconds passed, then minutes, and his arms started to hurt, yet nothing happened. He waited patiently, and endured the pain in his arms. After what felt like ages, he heard the old lady murmur words that he could not understand. But was she really murmuring, or was it all in his head? He felt the incomprehensible words rapping at his ear drums. But after a while he perceived a difference in his perception; the words were not outside, they were inside his head, trying to rip their way out through his ear drums! And he could feel the words multiplying themselves, and dashing uncontrollably around in his head, looking for any exits out of that confined space, which he then realized was shrinking partly due to the population boom of the words, and partly due to what he felt was a genuine shrinking of his mind. He was distorted. He felt his mind stretched, and then compressed, and stretched, and compressed. The words positioned themselves in a straight line, and began to twirl into a spiral that went on and on to infinity, taking him with them. They travelled at an ever increasing speed, turning him bullet-shaped; his legs clasped together, his arms pressed onto his sides, his ears merged with his head. At one point, they were travelling so fast that he turned into a string.

           Then everything ceased. He found himself standing in a cave, back against the wall, and body as normal as before. It was pitch black, and cold, and silent, but he knew she was there next to him, fumbling in her coat pockets. He heard her draw something out, and, by the sound of it, he knew it was a matchbox. She struck a match, and at once they gained vision. Five feet ahead of him, a river was flowing silently in its lonely journey towards the unknown, guarded on both sides by lofty rock walls which looked down upon the tiny, insignificant figure of a youth labelled Miles, and whose existence was negligible. The water was dark, and the periphery shrouded in darkness. Close to the bank, he could make out the shape of a lonely punt, still as a log.

           “Here we are,” she said in a low voice.

           He turned to look at her. She must have brought a lantern for she was holding a very old lantern close to her chest. The illumination from the ancient lantern accentuated the ridges on her face, and the details of her shrivelling, pale lips. She looked very much older, and sadder, and for once, she looked tired and worn out by her good friend, Time, who seemed to be too reluctant to leave her side. If not for her ever glowing eyes, he would have felt pity for this dying old lady.

           It was her words that made him realize that he had not had the chance to ask himself, let alone her, where he was. He searched his mind for words, but found none. So he waved his arms around. Understanding his situation, she let flow her words through her slightly parted lips in a low voice:

           “Near the land of the dead.”

           “How do we get there?” he enquired.

           “Shh. Keep your voice low,” she whispered “Get on the punt.”

           “But there’s no pole,” he whispered back, rather self-consciously.

           “He’ll lead the way.”

           “But there’s no –”

           At that moment, he felt a cold chill and quickly turned to look at the punt which was sitting quietly at the bank a while ago. A tall figure draped in a long black cloak was standing upright on the mahogany till; a spruce pole sitting on his gloved hands, oscillating gently in the water. His skin was paler than it was fair, and his sand-coloured hair hung out like weeping willows from under the dark hood, interrupting the darkness of the black cloth that was tied around his eyes.

           “What are you waiting for?” she whispered, “Get on the punt.”

           Miles just stood there with his jaw hanging.

           “What are you talking about?” he whispered back hurriedly, “He’s as good as a blind man! How can he take us?”

           “He can,” she pushed him along, “Get on the punt.”

           “Are you sure?”

           “Very.”

           They moved quickly towards the punt. Miles stepped into the punt at the bow as steadily as he could manage; he wanted to be as far away from the eerie punter as he could. When he was seated, the old lady pushed the lantern into his hands, and whispered:

           “May the Light guide you.”

           “Why, are you not coming?”

           “This is your journey. Remember. Listen to the dead.”

           For the first time he doubted his choice, and for the first time he felt fear. He started shaking, and reached out to grab hold of the old lady. But there was no time for regret, or for a change in mind, or to turn back. The moment he sat on the punt, the punter set the punt going. He just sat there, frozen to the hair. In the distance, he could faintly hear the hoarse whisper of the old lady, “Listen to the dead.”

           He felt his heart clench at the thought of his choice. He had not given the slightest thought to this whole afterlife business, and now that he was sitting there, the unknown loomed over his head and threatened to break his mind again.

           The punt glided silently along the dark river. Miles could hardly see or hear anything, but he could feel the watchful eyes of the imposing cave walls searching his fragile body. As the river grew broader with distance, the cave walls receded, on and on, until he was left with a sense of numbness in perception. However terrifying the gazes were, they were better company than the emptiness that he felt for it caused him to become painfully aware of the presence of the dark figure towering behind him. He wrapped his arms around his knees, tucked his chin in his chest, and sighed. The silence remained.

           It was difficult to tell when it happened, but the river must have opened into a body of boundless water that stretched in all directions without any interruptions. The top of the cave was unperceivable, or perhaps space stretched away from the water surface to infinity. Mist clouds were sailing across the water surface, and Miles, peeking through the gaps of his tangled limbs, was afraid that the mist would cause a disaster for them. But the journey remained monotonous.

           The punt went gliding on across the calm water, breaking countless mist clouds, and ticking away innumerable seconds. Yet nothing happened. Miles sat silently; his mind no longer able to perceive time, and his body limp from fatigue. But it was soon before he felt completely defeated and lost that he perceived a distinct ring in his ears. Looking up, he saw, some distance ahead, a land of glittering gold dunes stretching a long way to where the eye could not see. He watched the majestic landmass grow larger as the punt floated gently towards the bank, and for some unfathomable reason he felt a sense of awe looking at this plain sight.

           The punt slid slowly close to the bank, and then remained still. Miles, not knowing what to do, turned around for the first time to depend on his only company. The dark, imposing figure had his head tilted so that his eyes, hidden behind the black blindfold, were set on the frail body of the young man labelled Miles. The sight left him frightened to the toes, and his body reacted by jumping out of the punt. The second Miles disembarked, the punt went gliding away, leaving the tiny figure alone on the immense expanse.

           Now that he had set foot on the landmass, the ground was not so much glittering gold as dimly shining dust. He had no idea what it was, or where he was, but he trudged slowly for some distance, in no particular direction, before dropping himself on the ground. He was worn out to the bones, his limbs soft and his head heavy, and his mind was fighting to remain alive. Lying there motionless, it slowly dawned on him that there was no way for him to look for Bean in this unknown place. He did not know how big the landmass was, or what existed on it. The only thing he knew existed was the dust and the dunes. But the worst realization was the question of how he would know Bean when he met Bean – that is if he did.

           Gloom settled in on his soul, and he felt his heart weighing heavier and heavier. Was this all a lie? He shut his eyes tight, trying to stop the tears from flowing, but the tears gushed out against his will, soaking his soft cheeks before streaming down and drenching the gold dust. His body started shaking, and he curled into a ball, weeping like a child.

           ‘Miles? Is that you?’

           His body straightened immediately in response to the voice; his face still wet. There was a frenzy of head turning left and right. He pulled the Pokémon Communicator headset over his head, got up, and ran in all directions, occasionally stumbling over unseen objects, looking for the yellow figure. All the while he was screaming the name Bean, but there was no Bean and no reply. He looked around in hysterical wonder. Was he imagining Bean’s voice? Was it all in his head?

           The questions sent him into a rage. He ripped the Pokémon Communicator headset off his head, and hurled it to the ground. Hope dissipated, and he fell onto his knees, burying his wet face in his hands, sobbing softly.

           The air was warm, but a gentle whistling of a cool breeze could be heard hidden behind the steel silence. Miles did perceive the whistling, and he did perceive the silence, but he also perceived a very low buzzing, humming away inside his head.

           ‘Are you crying, Miles?’

           He continued sobbing, thinking that he had turned completely crazy.

           ‘You have not. It’s Bean. I guess you can’t see me, but you can hear me in your head.’

           He looked up from his hands, shocked. Was this all true?

           ‘Yes, Miles. I guess the afterlife isn’t like what we see in books. I just exist. I don’t have a body.’

           ‘Are you really Bean?’ he thought hard.

           ‘Yes. Don’t cry so much, Miles. You’re breaking my heart.’

           The muscles in his face twitched, and tensed, and he let out a moan and dropped forward onto his elbows and began to cry again. He could not decide if he was glad that he finally met Bean, or if he was wretched; he just knew that he loved Bean, and he missed that voice very dearly.

           ‘I miss you very dearly too, Miles. Thank you for coming.’

           Bean’s voice seemed to grow fainter, the whistling further away, and the silence stronger. His sight blurred, and the trails of tears on his cheeks began to lose weight, and the grains of dust became smoother. His perception became increasingly dull, and the sense of ownership of his limbs seemed to be wavering too. But, he thought to himself, if I were to disappear, I would disappear happy for I have met Bean. He faintly heard Bean’s voice in his head whispering sweet words. He wondered…

 

 

           The greatly-spaced fluorescent ceiling-bulbs gave out a soft glow, illuminating the lonely room. The windows were covered in a layer of condensation decorated by intricate veins of unmemorable pathways trodden by forgettable water flows.

           She sat the white ceramic urn neatly, next to the smaller yellow urn, and carefully secured the grey locker door. Taking out a pen from her coat pocket, she scribbled onto the monumental plate:

           “And Miles. Loving and devoted Pokémon trainer.”

           A soft, warm smile sat against the backdrop of a time-worn life.

 

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