Author’s Notes: Sorry about last night…I was booted off the computer before I had finished editing. X_x So much for my promise…*sigh*
Yeah, I know you’re all going to hate me because I didn’t continue the cliffhanger that I left in the Prologue. XD But don’t worry, the past back story will only last a couple of chapters before returning back to present (err, future?). I just think it’s a critical part of the plot.
And thank you, THANK YOU, for all the reviews. The feedback has been wonderful! =)
Chapter 1: The Imperfect Past
“Please help me.”
A lone boy was huddled underneath a half-crumbling rooftop of a dingy pub, depression and sorrow etched in every contour of his pasty face, when he heard the faint cry.
It was a pleading sob almost drowned out in the bustle and hubbub of everyday life, the roar of the storm, the sound of the fat, cold drops smacking the asphalt road… and yet the boy still managed to hear it. Dejected and with nothing to do, he acted on impulse alone.
The boy ran.
He followed the source down the cobbled, trash-littered streets, through the dark, sinister lanes, and past the poverty-stricken buildings, straining to pay attention to that desperate voice muffled by the deafening howl of the wind. The rain was coming down hard over his head, chilling him to the bones, but his burning curiosity pressed his body far beyond his own limitations. He went onwards, ignoring all discomforts that tried to deter him from his goal.
The cries were getting higher in pitch and intensity, when the boy abruptly stopped next to an overflowing dumpster, the stitch on his side throbbing painfully, and his breath coming out in ragged gasps.
Pushing away a brown lock of hair plastered over his forehead, the boy cautiously made his way to the back of the gloomy passageway, his soaked sneakers squelching loudly on the wet pavement as he moved forward. The boy felt slightly oppressed by the looming, ugly walls on either side of him, but he continued to approach the pile of filthy boxes stacked haphazardly at the end of the ally with a detached sense of trepidation. He knelt down beside a sodden, slimy cardboard box, seriously deformed by the heavy rainfall and the passage of time. With slightly trembling hands, the boy opened the malformed flaps, anxious at what he would find inside.
It was a child; he was barely a bundle of dirty rags, his extremely emaciated frame partially concealed by his ratty, colorless clothes. Once he noted the boy’s presence, he raised his dirty face, his sunken eyes silently imploring him.
“Please help me,” he repeated softly, weakly lifting one bony hand. And reflected in those wide, brown eyes was the dawning of a terrible and horrifying madness unlike anything the frightened boy had ever seen before…
Hearing his friend’s voice, the boy abruptly came out of his eerie stupor with a mind-halting crash back to the present.
He distinctly heard the pitter-patter of rain hitting the window panes, as well as the ominous rumble of thunder in the distance; it was always during these dreary, rainy nights that Jason Tucker began to remember.
A bright bolt of lightning tore through the heavens, briefly illuminating his room for an instant. A myriad of colorful toys surrounded them both, but Jason was only focused on Andrew’s eyes, and how very little they resembled those that had been bright with tears and the onset of insanity…
“It’s n-nothing,” Jason stuttered, mustering a weak smile. He desperately tried to repress those terrible memories, and yet, these unbidden images came forefront on his overly agitated mind. He hid his face in his pale hands, feeling hot tears forming at the edge of his vision. Jason desperately tried to control himself – he couldn’t afford to look weak in front of his only friend – but an unexpected, pathetic whimper escaped his quivering lips.
Andrew sighed, clear disappointment in his eyes. “How many times have I told you, Jason?” he said in an overly exasperated tone of voice, rubbing his temples. “You have to listen to me at all times.”
“S-sorry,” the shy boy whispered, frantically wiping his blue eyes with his red pajama sleeve.
“Grow up, we get our first Pokemon soon,” Andrew said seriously, his dark face creased in annoyance. “And if I don’t look my best for Professor Oak...” He left that train of thought unfinished, the thinly implied threat very much clear.
Jason nodded timidly, knowing full well how much his friend desired to become a full-fledged Pokemon trainer: posters of Professor Oak’s wrinkled face were plastered all over the walls, heaps upon heaps of charts detailing Pokemon attacks lay upon the desk, and encyclopedias dealing with fascinating subjects – such as the mating habits of Caterpie - were scattered messily all over the floor.
“I don’t like this toy,” Andrew said, examining a Squirtle figurine with a vapid smile painted across its plastic face. Without any preamble, and much to Jason’s shock, he gleefully broke one of the cyan arms, splintered the tail, and finally – as though assessing the final brilliant stroke that would complete his masterpiece – snapped the head off, before dumping the pieces unceremoniously onto Jason’s lap. “It looks better now.”
“That’s okay!” Jason desperately tried to sound cheerful, as he stared gloomily at the broken remains of what once was his favorite Pokemon action figure. “I didn’t really like it, anyway.”
The nervous child was keenly aware that his best friend was a little bit mean at times – like the time he accidentally set his Blastoise plushie on fire – but that still didn’t change one irrefutable, undeniable fact in his mind: Andrew Morton was the epitome of perfection. His charming personality drew the praise and admiration from everyone who was blessed to be in his presence and he remained remarkably humble throughout it all; he was obviously going to be the greatest Pokemon Master of all time.
In comparison, Jason was just a puny weakling, a nasty tumor on humanity’s backside, a writhing maggot that was abhorred by all…
But he didn’t really mind; he accepted his pitiful place in the planet with a sincere smile on his face and an unwavering positive outlook on his disgraceful life. After all, this was the way the world worked: only the strong survived and the weak died. Andrew had taught him the importance of this, and he hoped that one day he could achieve his level of greatness; Jason was condemned to be one of the wretched souls that would pass away, forgotten and shat upon by society. But not him. Not Andy. He was destined to be someone important.
Jason was just happy that someone as wonderful as Andrew considered him of all people in the world as his best friend. His introverted, reclusive nature prevented him from truly connecting with other boys his age… but that was also fine by him; he didn’t really desire the company of others. Why would he? With someone so great by his side, he felt like the luckiest ten-year old boy in the whole planet.
“Hey Jason, would you mind throwing that out before bed?” Andrew asked sharply, pointing toward the shattered Squirtle toy.
“No problem!” the child exclaimed readily, throwing it into the trash.
Jason was just getting into bed, when a balding, thickset man appeared by the doorway. He lumbered over to Andrew’s bedside, a soft smile on his normally austere face. His father tucked Andrew to bed, placing his beloved Charmander plushie next to his pillow.
“You’ll be one great Pokemon trainer someday,” his dad said lovingly, ruffling his black hair affectionately.
“Oh, I will!” Andrew piped up, cuddling the stuffed Charmander doll.
“Goodnight, Dad!” Andrew said tenderly, his grin as wide and brilliant as always.
When his father moved right past Jason’s bed, not sparing him even the slightest glance, he didn’t feel any resentment or bitterness toward his best friend. His parents loved Andrew more than him, and who was he to question it? Jason knew his friend deserved this deep affection more than anyone else, but, very deep down, he longed for that same approving, fond look his father reserved only for Andrew.
His dad clicked off the lights, leaving the dark room. Feeling his eyelids getting heavier, and waving aside all feelings of inadequacy from his head, Jason welcomed sleep’s sweet embrace.
“Please help me.”
His blue eyes flew open.
Sitting straight up in bed, his heart racing, he looked anxiously over to his best friend’s bed. Andrew was comfortably nestled under the covers, his chest rising slowly as he slept, finally at ease with the world. Jason reassured himself that this had been one of his many fantasies, but the bad feeling didn’t leave, only tightening his heart even more in a vice-like grip.
Just my imagination…
And though Jason still tried to convince himself that everything was fine, he could still hear the hopeless echoes of the past, even as sleep consumed him.
It was the next day, and Jason and Andrew were hiding inside some prickly shrubbery; the former was almost bustling with anticipation, while the latter was just confused, trying to keep the bristly vegetation from poking his eyes out.
“Come on!” Andrew hissed impatiently, peering through the bushes. Jason felt an annoying itch in his arm, and was also experiencing something akin to claustrophobia, when he saw her.
The thin girl was wearing an elegant, pink dress with a matching bow that sat atop her short, curly hair. She was sitting under the cool shade of a large oak tree, calmly reading a large tome; apparently it wasn’t to her tastes, as her green eyes slowly narrowed with each passing line.
“Oh, so that’s the girl you like,” Jason said, before scrunching his nose in disgust. He wanted to warn his friend about the rampant cootie infection all girls had, and comment on his unhealthy infatuation, but he remained quiet. This was Andrew after all, and if she was the object of his affections, then she had to be the nicest, kindest, and most wonderful girl in the whole wide world.
Andrew rolled his eyes, picking up on his apathetic tone. “It’s not just any girl.” He grumbled when Jason’s pale face stayed bewildered. “She’s my future girlfriend.” A greedy smile lit up his slightly blushing face, as he said this.
“If you say so…” Jason said vaguely. This girl was nice-looking in Andrew’s eyes, so he tried to look at her in the same appreciative light, but failed miserably; in his opinion, she looked more like a runt-like alien from another planet.
He was lost in his own thoughts, when the girl, in one swift movement, threw the book she was reading hard against the tree behind her; it fell uselessly to the ground, spine bent, and its loose pages fluttering in the summer breeze.
Leaving behind all pretenses, she stared almost hungrily in their direction, her face hideously contorted in a grotesque parody of a smile.
“I see you.”
Jason felt a strangled scream fighting to get free, but only a feeble peep came out of his mouth, his heart beating erratically.
“Jason, let’s go talk to her,” Andrew whispered eagerly. It was a direct order.
And without conscious thought, without taking into account all the repercussions that would soon follow, without considering that he was betraying the whole validation of his existence…
…Jason disobeyed Andrew.
He ran the whole way back home, the sight of that unwholesome, chilling smile forever burned into his memory.
Jason was a fool…a disgraceful and disgusting fool.
Head hanging in shame, he was sitting in Professor Oak’s laboratory, inwardly cringing at what he had done. This was supposed to be an important day for them both, but thanks to his foolhardy actions, he destroyed all hopes of a good beginning. Professor Oak was currently lecturing a group of ten-year olds on the importance of raising Pokemon properly, but Jason hardly paid attention, wordlessly wallowing in his own misery.
Once Andrew had come home, Jason took one good look at his eyes and knew that he was in trouble.
“You’ve made me look like an idiot,” his best friend had spat, snarling.
His friend had raised one dark hand, and struck him hard across his face, his expression bereft of any compassion. The inhibited boy had taken it silently, knowing full well in his heart that he deserved so much worse. Even now, Jason still felt the sting of the slap on his cheek, but that was nothing compared to the look of complete and utter disillusionment that had shone darkly in Andrew’s eyes. Jason covered his pale hands over his face, feeling tears come to his anguished blue eyes; he really was a complete failure.
Andrew had left by the time Jason had woken up in the morning, leaving him a crying wreck once he realized that he was gone. As he got out of bed, picked up his stuff, and went to the laboratory, the boy had sadly wondered if their promise to travel together was now broken.
Thinking back realistically, he knew exactly what had happened yesterday. The unbearable heat of the afternoon sun had played tricks on his mind; the girl had been only stretching, when the book accidentally slipped her grasp, and then, embarrassed by her mistake, she had flashed them an awkward but friendly grin. Feeling very stupid, Jason realized with a sad twinge that he had ruined everything by completely misinterpreting the actions of a lovable, clumsy girl.
Mentally berating himself, Jason looked over to Andrew’s direction, who was now face to face with Professor Oak. His appearance looked the same always – his brown eyes were teeming with confidence, and he was beaming warmly back at his hero, but Jason sensed that something was off; he was utterly perplexed that the normally unruffled and contained Andrew was coming apart at the seams in front of him.
“Young man, here’s your Pokedex and Pokeballs,” the old man said cheerfully, handing it to him. “Now think carefully before choosing one of the Pokemon…” Professor Oak’s voice trailed off, his watery eyes suddenly widening at what he was seeing.
With shock and repulsion, Jason noticed the yellow liquid that was slowly trickling down his friend’s leg…
Andrew never stopped flashing that famous smile of his, as the wet spot on his shorts was growing ever larger.
“Thanks for everything, Professor!” he interrupted his completely befuddled mentor, blindly grabbing one of the Pokéballs, and almost tripping on his stinking pool of urine.
He calmly left the building, apparently oblivious to the stifled laughter from his peers, and the foul-smelling piss trail he was leaving behind.
Jason immediately ran outside once he had received his first Pokemon; he shielded his eyes from the bright sunlight, but he saw no trace of Andrew anywhere. But then, sweet relief swept through his lanky frame, once he caught sight of him near a large boulder; he had changed into a pair of fresh pants, and his soiled shorts were lying far away, abandoned.
“Andrew, are you oka –” Jason began to say, but Andrew turned angrily toward him, his brown eyes blazing with fury.
“DO I LOOK LIKE I’M OKAY?” Andrew bellowed, violently grabbing the front of Jason’s red shirt. “DO I?” The shy boy didn’t know what to say to this, and submitted himself completely to the abuse.
“Hello?” said a sweet voice from behind; they turned around, startled.
It was that girl again.
Once he caught sight of her, Andrew uncharacteristically turned a bright shade of red, letting go of the tremulous boy. In contrast, Jason felt the unnatural urge to scream, but then he mentally chided himself that yesterday had all been misunderstanding on his part.
She noticed his friend’s discomfited look, and placed a consoling hand on his shoulder. “Accidents happen,” she said simply, patting his best friend’s back. “Don’t be embarrassed.”
Andrew stared at her, his brown eyes alight with disbelief and a genuine sense of wonder. “What’s your name?”
“Claire Mayflower,” she said, her lips curling upwards in a mimic of a smile.
Rapidly regaining his cool, he extended his hand. “Andrew Morton,” his friend said suavely, perfect grin in place, but his knees were trembling slightly as he firmly shook her small hand.
“Oh…and this is Jason Tucker,” he added almost dismissively. The boy in question almost instinctively gave a curt nod, immediately averting his blue eyes from hers. Jason felt a sense of pride in his heart every time he followed this strict protocol perfectly: under no circumstances was he to upstage his friend in any social setting. Andrew had imposed this on him from an early age, and it had worked marvelously on his psyche; Jason had once been an overly talkative fool who always spoke out of line, but thanks to his best friend’s doted guidance, he had flourished into a withdrawn, silent boy mindful of society’s norms and regulations.
But she, Claire, was destroying all his years of hard work. Her presence unsettled Jason to the point that he was actually thinking of voicing his opinion. This perturbed him greatly.
“I was wondering…can I travel with you guys? I really don’t want to be all by myself,” she asked, her green eyes shining brightly with expectation.
Jason’s heart twisted horribly at these words; he wanted to travel with Andrew, and only Andrew. He considered weakly protesting against this, but one good look at his best friend’s hopeful countenance stopped him from saying anything; if this made Andrew truly happy, then his unfounded objections didn’t matter.
Realizing that this was the chance of a lifetime to get back into Andrew’s good graces, Jason turned towards her. “Yeah, you can travel with us,” Jason said sullenly, trying not to look too disappointed. But once he saw Andrew’s radiant smile, his eyes brimming with happiness, all his doubts about making a wrong decision were appeased.
Fortified by his delusion about making the right choice, he felt increasingly hopeful that they would all have an enjoyable journey.
He was in hell.
Jason clawed at his stomach desperately, writhing in intense abdominal pain. He gagged and sputtered, feeling nauseated to his very core.
“I’m really sorry; I thought the water was clean!” Claire cried out helplessly, holding an empty canteen.
They had all stopped to rest near the bank of a clear, sparkling lake after a very uneventful walk. With a dismayed pang, Jason had then realized that he hadn’t filled his canteen with water before leaving home, as he had been very inattentive after his betrayal. Claire had adamantly insisted that the lake’s water was fresh enough for him; it certainly looked like an iconic image of purity, but the apprehensive boy still had his doubts. She had encouraged him to drink it…to trust her word… He had been very hesitant to do so, but seeing Andrew’s nod, he drank the apparently inoffensive liquid. That had been the start of this excruciating torture.
“Don’t worry, Claire,” Andrew said, laughing. “Like I always say, ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’, right, Jason?” He gave his sick form a barely veiled, contemptuous look.
The boy wanted to wholeheartedly agree, but in that particular instant, he was overcome by a violent coughing fit; feeling the acrid liquid rising up to his mouth, he couldn’t stop himself from messily throwing up his warm, partly-digested breakfast all over the ground.
“Watch it!” Andrew screamed, taking a step back.
“Sor –” Jason tried to apologize, but the horrid sensation overtook him, and he retched again.
Quickly losing interest in this display of sickness, Claire enlarged her Pokeball and pitched it casually into the air. In a burst of radiance, the Pokemon inside soon became visible. A pale green Pokemon with dinosaur-like features, and an enormous bulb on his back, grumbled before casting a slightly mistrusting look to Claire.
“Hey there, little fellow!” she said happily, stretching her hand.
Bulbasaur remained still, his eyes slightly narrowed.
“It’s okay; I’m not going to hurt you.”
Bulbasaur inspected her cautiously with his red eyes for many long seconds. Feeling that she was no imminent threat, he warily extended one long, green vine, wrapping it gently over her outstretched hand. When she made no aggressive motion, he took a cautious step forward, his steely gaze never leaving hers. Finally, his green face broke into an enormous, toothy grin. Claire’s smile widened.
“Wow, you’re good with Pokemon,” Andrew remarked.
“Oh yes,” she admitted, petting Bulbasaur’s rough head with utmost fondness. “I’ve always been very good with Pokemon.”
Although he felt like his intestines were tying themselves into knots, Jason decided to throw his Pokeball into the air as well, a certain curiosity taking hold of him. It split open, a beam of formless light almost blinding him, as it took shape.
The orange lizard blinked his brown eyes rapidly from the bright sunshine, swishing his fiery tail in the process. Charmander took one good look at surroundings – from the disgusting, yellowish puddle of vomit, to his new trainer that looked freshly unearthed by some gravediggers – and promptly returned back to his Pokeball. Jason groaned.
“Let’s see your Pokemon, Andy,” Claire insisted.
Andrew complied, unsmiling, unhooking his Pokeball off his belt and tossing it almost carelessly to the ground. It opened in a flash of dazzling light, materializing into a small, turtle Pokemon.
“Squirtle?” she asked, shaking all last vestiges of a long sleep. Once she realized that her new trainer was in front of her, Squirtle started to jump up and down in hardly contained glee.
“Squirtle squirt!” she said enthusiastically, turning around and offering her blue tail for him to shake; sensing that her trainer made no move to approach her, Squirtle’s smile started to fade.
“Cool,” Andrew said blankly, not even looking at Squirtle. Before the turtle Pokemon could voice her outrage, he returned her back into her Pokeball, his face surprisingly aloof.
“If you don’t like the Squirtle, we can always go back,” Claire suggested innocently, twirling a lock of blonde hair around her finger.
“I like it!” his friend insisted earnestly. “I really do!”
As Andrew tried to convince her, Jason noticed that an almost culpable, guilty look had come to his best friend’s brown eyes.
It was dark out, and Jason was staring transfixed into the camp fire, the flames throwing distorted shadows across the pebbled ground. Claire and Andrew had left the camp site hours ago, claiming that they were only going out to look some firewood. Still burning up in a feverish haze, Jason dully thought that they had been gone for far too long; he was already starting to miss his best friend’s condescending, and disdainful company.
The timorous boy got up, feeling the need to empty his bloated bladder; he walked slowly, deeper into the dusky woods, the sickening water still sloshing heavily in his stomach. He was fumbling with the buckle of his pants, when he heard them.
Andrew and Claire were sitting side by side in a large clearing, completely enraptured in what apparently looked like a heated discussion; they were bathed in silvery moonlight, giving them an ethereal, almost godly, look to their features. Claire was lying down in the grass, her blonde hair fawned out like a golden halo around her head, while Andrew was nervously turning a rock in his hands, his dark eyes large with apprehension.
“I just wish some things were different,” Andrew whispered, throwing the rock and clenching his hands into fists.
“Well,” Claire paused, deep in thought, her calm, green eyes gazing almost trance-like at the wide expanse of night sky, “why don’t we change it all?”
An uneasy silence hung heavily between them both, seemingly getting denser with each and every uncomfortable second that passed.
Andrew spoke first, his expression unreadable. “How?”
“Don’t worry, Andy,” she said kindly, her eyes sparkling with barely-concealed mirth. “Just leave everything to me.”
The boy stared at her intensely, as though she were the most beautiful and inspiring thing he had ever seen in his whole life, before nodding.
Unexpectedly, a strange shiver ran down Jason’s spine at these disconcerting words, but he hardly noticed once he caught a look at Claire’s expression. Maybe it was due to the fact that it was so dark out – shadows contort even the most innocuous of things into frightening shapes – but for a second he thought that an almost deranged, triumphant look lit up her pallid face.
He briefly considered coming out of his hiding place, but then Andrew’s disillusioned gaze swam before his blue eyes, and decided against it; he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
Jason quietly went back to the camp site, not saying anything at all.
But he wasn’t worried.
Andrew Morton always knew best.
Oooooooo, I can almost taste the disappointment. I promise it’ll be better next time. ;_;
To anyone concerned that Andrew’s crush is just something unnecessary I added, do not worry. It will be an important plot point later on. *grins evilly*
Chapter 2 is coming up…you know what that means…