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Thread: Some Girls

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    Default Some Girls

    Some Girls

    by Yugoslavia



    Prologue



    The sign to the diner burned a neon red through the darkness of night. Rain hit the glowing letters and fizzled immediately, the low hum drowned out by the sound of pouring rain.

    The tall, wide windows of the diner glowed, full of warm light and the lit faces of people, the surface muddled by streaks of rain. Sound of conversation, forks scraping against plates and the commotion of kitchen activity came from the outside, backed by the steady, muffled music.

    ---

    "Can I ask you a serious question?"

    Hilbert found himself sitting forward in the booth, hunched over his plate of scattered fries, holding a wadded up napkin in his fist. He took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts as his eyes darted up to the other side of the booth, looking as serious as he could muster.

    Roxie was distracted. Sitting on the other side of the booth, she held an ice pack in one hand to her head, a fork held upright in a fist on the table's edge. Her attention was on the salad in front of her, the plate in front of her on the table. The salad dressing still sat in a neat pile atop it, not having been tossed yet. Frequently, her eyes darted up to the far side of the diner counter, watching the waitress wrestle with the coffee machine.

    "And—I just want to make it clear up front," said Hilbert, "I'm one hundred percent serious, but this is a hypothetical. It's just something that's been on my mind lately and I can't seem to shake it."

    When Hilbert looked up to Roxie to see if she had heard him, he found her continuing to stare at the waitress at the end of the counter. As he paused and waited, Roxie's eyes darted down towards his once, meeting for a single, tired second before darting back up to the single point of space they had been affixed to. The napkin wadded in Hilbert's fist fell, bouncing lightly in the center of his plate, moments before he shoved it to the edge of the table. He folded his hands together in the center of the table, hunched even closer to the table.

    "When we were hanging out at Virbank Harbor yesterday and your dad showed up. There was something he said that I couldn't really shake," said Hilbert.

    "What did Pops say?" Roxie droned, quietly.

    "Well, it wasn't so much what he said, it's what happened after, actually, and—"

    "What did Pops say?" Roxie asked again.

    Hilbert took a moment to swallow, painfully. He cleared his throat a few times, hesitating and opening his hands in a pontificating gesture. "He... He said that he didn't—"

    "Hey," Roxie said, loudly, cutting Hilbert off. She wasn't paying attention to him. The waitress had just passed their booth, and out of the corner of her eye, Roxie saw the waitress stop, taking a few steps back towards them. As she stopped to hover around the table, giving Roxie an attentive look, Roxie slowly lowered the ice pack from her head and set it on the table.

    "Yes?"

    "This salad is supposed to have cashews on it," said Roxie, clearing her throat and wincing from the pain.

    Instead of saying anything, the waitress gawked silently, staring at the gash above Roxie's brow. When Roxie looked over to Hilbert, Hilbert was giving the same, blank and unusually focused stare at her brow. Out of the corner of her eye, Roxie saw the ice pack on the counter, oozing with blood.

    The gash on Roxie's forehead was substantial, a wide red patch like a skinned knee above her brow. Blood oozed from it, interweaving with the icy strands of hair from her eyebrow. Just above it, a section of muscle was bruising deeply, turning a deep purple.

    As Roxie opened her mouth to say something, looking up to the waitress, the blood from the gash dribbled down over her eyebrow and into her eye, making her wince and force it shut. She jammed the heel of her hand blindly against her eye. Half-blind, her other hand felt across the bare table surface and reached out to the waitress, gesturing and in an instant receiving napkins from the waitress. As the waitress went to say something, Roxie wadded up a napkin and stuffed it up against the gash, dabbing at her eye with another napkin.

    Hilbert had taken the ice pack from the table's surface and, using his old, wadded-up napkin he cleaned the ice pack, then used his thumb to wipe away the french fry salt the napkin had put on it. Sucking the salt from his thumb, he set the ice pack down on the table and slid it back to Roxie, who caught it moments before it would've slid over the edge.

    Before the waitress could say anything, Roxie grabbed the plate with the salad and handed it to her, clearing her throat and setting down the bloodied napkin she had been dabbing her eye with on the table.

    "Cashews please," said Roxie.

    Confused, the waitress gave a look to Roxie and then gave a look to an equally confused Hilbert. She nodded and didn't say anything, quickly disappearing down the aisle and heading into the kitchen.

    Roxie swapped the soaked, bloody napkin for the ice pack, pressing it to the gash and wincing. She cleared her throat, grabbing for the iced tea on her table and taking a long, silent sip from the straw. Setting the glass down, she cleared her throat again.

    Hilbert was slightly dumbstruck. He blinked several times, shaking off a strange, growing sensation he had in the back of his head.

    "Jeez Roxie... Um... I thought you said you just tripped," said Hilbert.

    "What did Pops say to you?" asked Roxie, snorting through her nose as she turned her full attention to Hilbert. The bags under her eyes had grown, exhaustion bleeding through.

    "I... What?" Hilbert shook his head. A look of immense confusion appeared on his features. Narrowing his eyes, he hesitated, but found his courage returning. "Roxie, what in the name of the Great Sky happened to your friggin' face? You look like someone held you down and put a sander to your friggin' forehead."

    "It's fine. What did Pops say to you?"

    "The story wasn't about your dad. It was about something he said that was awfully similar to something I heard on the phone a few days ago. I just haven't had the chance to talk with you about it."

    "You know, Hilbert," said Roxie. She hesitated for a moment, her eye darting down to her cheek. More blood had drooled from the gash on her brow, red droplets wobbling on her cheek. Sighing in exasperation, she grabbed a napkin, dabbing at the blood and putting a layer of napkin between her brow and the bloodied surface of the ice pack. "You know, you have an awfully hard time getting to the point of things, less a story."

    Hilbert stared with a perplexed, deeply disturbed look. It took him a moment to realize his mouth was hanging open. He shook his head, forcing himself to break his train of thought and focus on the situation at hand. He grabbed for the frosty glass of Coke, putting the edge to his lips and draining the glass. Gulping down the sugary stuff, Hilbert jammed his eyes shut and shook his head, tucking his hair beneath his baseball cap.

    "My... Uh... I was talking with Cheren on the phone earlier this week," said Hilbert.

    "What? Cheren? Really? You must be honored."

    "Shut up," said Hilbert. "He's coming into town for a visit, and so we caught up, briefly."

    "Yeah, I guess you haven't talked with him for awhile," said Roxie, grabbing for her glass of iced tea again. She gave a passing look down the rows of booths and tables, looking at the far end of the diner counter to the empty door where the waitress should have been.

    Hilbert cleared his throat. "Four months," he said. "He didn't know I had been in the band with you, if you can believe that. That's how long it's been."

    "Yeah. And you tell everyone."

    "Shut up," said Hilbert. "He was surprised, actually. Do you know what he said?"

    "What did he say?" asked Roxie, as deadpan as possible. "Did he say what Pops said?"

    "He said that he was very surprised, he didn't expect that of me. It's almost out of character for me."

    "That's not what Pops said," said Roxie.

    Hilbert had been staring off into the dark outside the rain-streaked window, at the empty street across from the diner. His attention broke, and he turned to face Roxie. As he thought about what Roxie had said, he suddenly froze, giving Roxie the most loaded of looks.

    "Wait—" Hilbert began. He cut himself off.

    The waitress returned, salad plate in hand, the surface of it littered with cashews. She set it on the table with a gentle clatter, stuffing several papery napkins beneath the edge of the plate and a fresh set of silverware. She set a thick stack of napkins on the other side of the plate, pinching a dry end of Roxie's bloody pile of napkins and taking them onto an empty, crumb-littered plate she already had in her hand.

    Without saying anything, the waitress lingered for a moment at the edge of the table, as if to say something but instead waited for Roxie to speak up or do anything.

    Roxie let out a sigh, grabbing for a fork. As she removed the ice pack and napkin, giving her attention to the waitress and opening her mouth to thank her, blood dribbled from the ice pack and onto the salad. Roxie didn't say a word, only looking down to the salad, looking where the blood had oozed onto the milky dressing.

    The waitress spoke up to interrupt the scene and try and fix it, her features blanching at the sight of the ruined salad, but Roxie cleared her throat loudly enough to shut down the entire scene. As Roxie slid the salad to the side of the table, scooting herself along the booth bench to the edge, the waitress took a few steps back and gave Roxie room to get out.

    Hilbert put on a diplomatic smile and turned to the waitress to speak, shifting and twisting himself on the bench to reach for his wallet. As he got his wallet out, Roxie interrupted.

    "Shut up Hilbert," said Roxie. "Let me just clean myself up in the bathroom. Forget the salad."

    Roxie scooped up the ice pack and the bloodied napkin, hastily stuffing it agaisnt the wound over her brow and covering it up. Wincing, feeling more blood leak and run around the curve of her brow, Roxie picked up the pace and headed straight for the bathroom at the far end of the rows of booths. The thin metal door slammed, wobbling precariously as she locked the door and disappeared.

    The waitress lingered, watching the bathroom door silently. She gave a passing look to the salad and then to Hilbert.

    "I... I'm sorry... We'll make the salad free," the waitress stammered.

    Hilbert shook his head. He popped the latch of his wallet open and pulled out a debit card, passing it up to the waitress.

    "I've got it," he said.

    With the card pinched between her fingers, the waitress froze for a moment. She hastily removed the folded bill tray from her apron, turning and heading down to the end of the dining counter.

    Alone at the table, Hilbert hesitated. He checked his the Xtransceiver on his wrist, then reached down into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Hunched over, resting his phone in his lap, he flipped through pages of content silently, scrolling and stopping often at key posts or photos, saving pictures he liked in particular.

    When the waitress returned, she let out a yelp of surprise. Hilbert ignored it, and she set the bill on the edge of the table.

    "Sorry! Didn't see you there..." said the waitress. "Where did you come from...?"

    Hilbert furrowed his brow, shaking his head. He continued to read from his phone, but decided there wasn't much of a point, locking the screen and setting it on the table.

    Something seemed to confuse Hilbert about the question. He raised his head.

    "What do you mean? I've been here the whole—Oh—!"

    Hilbert jumped, the bench of his side of the booth rattling in its place. Hilbert's widening eyes threatened to leap from their sockets as he locked eyes with the girl across from him in the booth, and it wasn't Roxie. He grabbed at the edge of the seat to stabilize himself, swallowing carefully and putting a hand over his collar to slow his breathing.

    "I'll... Sorry, thanks—thanks for coming!" said the waitress. She left in a haste, folding her arms together and hiding her embarrassed face, making straight for the kitchen.

    Across from Hilbert, the new girl was amused by the unfolding scene. Her deep, starry blue eyes followed the waitress in the moments before she disappeared into the kitchen, chuckling as she turned her attention to Hilbert. She pursed her lips, blowing her thick, wavy bangs out from her eyes. Her slender arms were folded on the table, pale and lightly sunkissed. She wore a thin black vest and a white tank top. A white hat with a pink bill adorned her, completely dry from the rain outside, holding back a massive mess of brown, smoothed-down wavy hair, running down her back and exploding out from beneath the sides of her hat. Gracefully, she gave a full-teeth smile, bringing out the dimples in her cheeks. A light smattering of freckles dotted the left cheek, an abstraction among her porcelain skin.

    A thin pair of eyebrows arched with skepticism. "Did I throw you for a loop, cowboy?" she asked.

    Hilbert realized he was staring. He shook himself from his daydreaming momentarily, sitting himself upright, uncomfortably. He cleared his throat a few times, taking in a deep snort of air.

    "Most people I know who sit with me actually know me," said Hilbert. Something turned on deep inside Hilbert, like he was drawing in more detail. He noticed an accent. "I'd forgive you. It doesn't sound like you're necessarily from around here, are you?"

    "What, me? I'm as Unovan as Sawsbuck and pizza. Born and raised in Castelia City my whole life," she said.

    Hilbert's brow furrowed. The accent was gone. Nevertheless, he shook off the strange feeling he was getting, pressing on.

    "I just usually expect to know the person I'm sitting with, first," he said.

    "Who really knows anyone?" she asked in turn.

    Hilbert narrowed his eyes at her.

    "Well, I at least expect to know the name of whoever I'm sitting with."

    "Hilda," she smiled.

    Something about Hilbert's features lightened. He seemed less confused, a bit more in control, a bit more charismatic. His fingers drummed against the table as he visually tried to piece her apart, determining who or what she was.

    "What does 'SG' stand for?" asked Hilda.

    Hilbert's attention shifted to his wallet. On the fat, bulging side of it the glossy sticker label of an emblem, 'SG', cartoonishly drawn, had been stuck to it. He took his debit card and the receipt from the tray at the end of the table, folding the receipt and flipping around his wallet to slip the card in. He held the wallet out in front of him, the label visible to him and Hilda. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hilda looking at both the sticker and him, waiting on a reply.

    "It stands for 'Some Girls'," said Hilbert.

    "What does 'Some Girls' mean?"

    "It's the name of my band," said Hilbert.

    "Your band?"

    Hilbert gave a terrible, cheesy grin, snickering to himself and looking up to Hilda. When he met with the same, blank and interested stare that she had been giving him the whole time. Shaking off the feeling, he took the wallet and slipped it into his pocket, sighing and folding his hands on the table.

    "Yeah. Well, me and a friend."

    "What kind of music do you play?" asked Hilda.

    "Rock music. Loud rock and roll. It's a lot of fun," said Hilbert. "I'm the lead singer."

    A beat of silence passed. Hilda continued to smile, looking between her hands and at the many colorful bands adorning her wrists. Outside, the rain continued to pour and hit the windows, and in the silence of the conversation the music from the jukebox became more audible.

    As the silence went on, Hilbert heard a chuckling. He looked up, seeing Hilda and her amusement with the situation.

    "What's so funny?" Hilbert asked.

    "Nothing! Nothing is funny," said Hilda. "It's just that being in a rock band isn't the priority of most teenage boys."

    Hilbert sat back, more confused than offended. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Is it wrong to be in a rock band? It's a fine profession."

    "It is."

    "Then what do you suppose is an applicable hobby for most boys my age?" Hilbert asked.

    "Being a Pokemon Trainer."

    Hilbert visibly cringed. He tried to hide it, looking down and steadying himself where he sat. Beneath the table, his sneakers audibly squealed on the linoleum of the diner floor. Taking a deep breath, Hilbert resumed his participation in the conversation.

    Hilda noticed. Her eyes followed every little movement of Hilbert's, from the shuffling feet she could only hear, the creak of the bench that Hilbert sat on as he readjusted himself, the unusual flexing of his hands as they held one another. She took a deep breath and refocused herself, listening to Hilbert's uncomfortable attempts at keeping up with her.

    "What's so great about being a Pokemon Trainer anyway?" asked Hilbert, taking another, audible deep breath. He avoided eye contact with her, instead choosing to look at his warped reflection in the dark window.

    "What's so great about being a rock star?" asked Hilda.

    Hilbert gave Hilda a passing glance. "Plenty of people are rock stars."

    "Plenty of people are Pokemon Trainers. What's your point?" asked Hilda.

    "No, exactly my point. I mean—friggin'—what's your point?" asked Hilbert, somewhat exasperated. His eyes raced around the room as he realized he was raising his voice. Instead he leaned in, lowering his voice. "The world is saturated with Pokemon Trainers. Everyone wants to be a Pokemon Trainer. What's one less? Isn't it better if I do something I actually care about? Isn't that actually a benefit to society? Maybe I just want to be in a rock and roll band with my best friend. Is that too weird?"

    "Maybe it's not your destiny."

    "W... What...?" Hilbert was dumbstruck. He closed an eye, rubbing it therapeutically. "What's destiny got to do with it?"

    "Plenty of people are Pokemon Trainers because it's great. Doesn't mean they are any good at it."

    "But... What... What?" Hilbert gave Hilda the most confused look he could muster. "What makes you think that I'd be good at it?"

    "I'm not assuming you'd be good at it. I'm just asking why," said Hilda. Despite Hilbert's incredulity she pressed on, unfazed by any of it. "It's an attractive prospect and I don't see why you've waited so long to get on with it."

    Hilbert shook his head, sighing. He removed his baseball cap, feathered tufts of brown hair sticking up in odd shapes and slowly expanding as he set the hat down, running his hands through his hair as he held his head in his hands. He let out a quiet groan, shaking his head.

    Across the table, Hilda looked on silently. The curious smile on her face had faded moments ago, full of solemn reality. Her eyes seemed to glow in the warm light of the diner. Her gaze flitted across the warmly lit tables of the diner, looking past Hilbert as she waited for him.

    "That's just it, isn't it?" said Hilbert.

    Hilda nodded sagely. "I think it's something we both know."

    "What?" asked Hilbert. Incredulity came through the quiet, muffled tone he had. "You've picked up on the fact that I'm nineteen? That's a boss piece of detective work you've got there."

    "Lucky guess."

    "It's a convenient guess," Hilbert fired back, cutting off any point that Hilda was about to make. "It's convenient how that little detail about me fits so perfectly into your narrative—this weird, friggin' idea that I should be a Pokemon Trainer."

    "Again, a lucky guess."

    "Yeah, I get it," said Hilbert. "I'm nineteen and the cut off for getting a starter Pokemon is twenty. It's not even a real cut-off, it's just the only way to get a Pokemon from any reputable lab and do the whole big Pokemon adventure thing. I can get a Pokemon any time I want. But—friggin'—it's not even that though! Do you think because I'm nineteen and don't have a Pokemon it doesn't ever come up? Do you know how many of my mom's friends have to tell me that it's 'wise' to get a Pokemon?"

    Hilda let out a sigh. Where her hands folded together and rested on the table counter, Hilda pulled them apart and reached for the baseball cap on her head, removing it and setting it so that it faced Hilbert's cap on the table. The true dense mess of her hair was revealed, a thick jungle of wavy brown hair that hung over her shoulders like a hanging garden. She straightened her ponytail, brushing the bangs out of her eyes and sitting forward.

    "I don't know your name, I don't know much about you or your band," said Hilda. "I don't know that we'll meet again. Let's say it's random that you and I met tonight, and it may very well never happen again."

    "It feels a little more than random to me," said Hilbert.

    "I don't choose the lonely, artistic and horny boys that I have bizarre, rambling conversations with," said Hilda. "They just happen. I'm not sad. I'm sure there's a better way I could've spent tonight but I don't regret it either."

    "I just don't understand what the stick up your butt is about my friggin' hobbies," said Hilbert.

    "My point about being a Pokemon Trainer is incidental, it's... Minor," she said. "The real point is—"

    "What? What is the point?" asked Hilbert, his frustration coming through.

    "—is that whatever you take from my being here is on you. I can be the crazy, strange trailer-trash girl who had a stick up her butt about your 'friggin' hobbies," said Hilda, "or I could be someone else entirely."

    "Someone who was right?"

    "Someone who cared enough for a moment to let you know you could miss a great opportunity. I don't know what's happened in your life, I don't know why this topic makes you uncomfortable and annoys the hell out of you, but if I can step into your life and have you take a few steps back for a moment to see it all, I'll be glad all the same to have you come out more hellbent on one side or the other. Whether you decide to hate the path of the Pokemon Trainer more because of me tonight or decide to consider an opportunity before it passes you up, I only care that I told you the truth."

    "Okay, I get it," said Hilbert. "You're not just someone who's right because they are, you're my guardian angel."

    Hilda smiled, chuckling under her breath. "Sure."

    A smile appeared on Hilbert's face. Something genuine appeared in his eyes as he looked up into Hilda's eyes, meeting for a moment with genuinity.

    "Are you playing a show soon?" asked Hilda.

    "21st," grinned Hilbert.

    "So... Friday?"

    "Yeah, Friday, sorry," said Hilbert. Grabbing for his phone on the counter, he opened it up, flipping through pages of apps quickly as he raced for the right one.

    "Where at?"

    "Cold Storage. It's a club off of—"

    "In Driftveil?" asked Hilda.

    Hilbert looked up from his phone, somewhat taken aback. He wasn't disturbed, and in fact he smiled.

    "What's your number?" asked Hilbert. He finally reached the calendar on his phone, and after swiping through to the right day, he opened up the date, and—

    Hilda was gone.

    Hilbert sat up, sleepily, like he was leaving a hypnotic trance. Brow furrowed, he shook a strange feeling off of his shoulders as he sat up, searching the diner. His head turned, looking back over his shoulder towards the front of the diner, looking at the door, not seeing any indication that it had even opened or closed. Back to his other side, Hilbert nearly leaped out of his seat trying to see the path leading up to the entrance, trying to see any indication that Hilda was leaving. She had completely vanished.

    As Hilbert sat back down, slowly, staring blankly ahead at the booth across from him, Hilda seemingly vanished, he reveled in silent confusion and sat himself back, carefully

    The thin door to the bathroom rattled, opening wide. Roxie eased herself out of the tiny doorway, rounding the corner and nearly tripping herself, walking down the aisleway between the booths until she reached Hilbert. The ice pack and napkin contraption that she had put together was replaced by a patch of gauze and tape, making her look somewhat presentable. The bleeding had subsided.

    Roxie's dim, tired outlook hadn't changed. She looked at everything through tired eyes, even as she clumsily slid herself into the booth. She winced as she eased her back into the booth, finding where she had been sitting moments earlier. Letting out a sigh, she reached for her glass of iced tea and took a long sip, oblivious to anything that had happened.

    In the middle of the sip, Roxie looked up. Hilbert's stare was locked dead on her, practically boring a hole into her skull, staring right through her. She finished the sip, shaking off the chill she got in her shoulders and straightening herself.

    "What's wrong?" asked Roxie.

    "Where did you go?"

    "The bathroom. What did I miss?"

    "Everything."

    ---

    Roxie's boots crunched on the wet soil. With her head hanging low and the hood on her head, watching her steps as she carefully placed herself on top of the rock, he took a deep breath and looked out into the darkness ahead of her. Above the endless expanse of shadow, the craggy tips of the trees could barely be seen, lit dimly in the backdrop of Virbank City.

    Down below, several feet away from where the land sloped up to meet the rock, Hilbert stuffed his hands into the front pockets of his blue jacket. He straightened the rain-drenched bill of his hat, drawing the hood over his hat tighter. Squinting through the darkness, Hilbert could just see the dark form of Roxie standing on the rocks, taller and higher than he had imagined. His eyes widened, his breath picking up.

    Roxie slipped the sleeve of her striped hoodie back and held her hand out. The rain dribbled on the candy-colored shell of her Pokeball.

    "Go, Koffing," said Roxie, her voice as flat and tired as it was before. Clicking the release in, she lobbed the Pokeball up through the darkness where it whizzed silently, passing beyond where she could see. Moments later, a bright explosion of red light erupted. A gust of wind pummeled her, making her squint as red light bathed her features.

    "Nnnnggghuuu..."

    Koffing groaned, impossible to see in the darkness. As the lingering light of the Pokeball evaporated, his dark, basketball-sized form hurtled down towards the forest floor. The only sound that came was the quiet sound of bouncing plastic as the Pokeball landed. A horrific, putrid smell rose from the earth, distinct and familiar to Roxie.

    "Koffing, flash."

    "Nnnghh. Koff."

    A bright light sparked for just a moment, appearing deep within Koffing's body before fading out. The light pulsed again, glowing dimly, lighting the dozens of craters lining Koffing's body and coming through the cracks in its clay skin. Suspended in mid-air over the forest valley like an alien's disco ball, the light flashed and burned brightly, shining like spotlights through the various holes and lighting the forest floor in dim points of light.

    Hilbert watched silently, mesmerized, ignoring the rain that patted on the hood of his jacket. The light from the various portholes passed over him as Koffing turned, the dim outline of the light behind his eyes glowing in the darkness, a crooked smile glowing.

    Koffing opened his mouth, light flooding out in a single, large spotlight. A large, gaseous cloud of poison belched out from inside him, particles of junk fluttering in the light. His backlit eyes affixed to Hilbert, watching as he covered his face from the blinding spotlight and coughed out the scattering, foul-smelling poison. The craters on his body fired puffs of gas like retrorockets, turning him to face the valley of the forest floor and pointing the light down.

    The light from Koffing's mouth spread over the forest. The dark, gnarled roots of trees appeared, buried deep in the muddied, pine needle covered floor. A gravel path appeared, snaking through the trees and ferns that had gathered between the trees.

    Hilbert took the first few careful steps down through the forest valley. His sneakers found the crunching gravel, leading him down several quick drops and down towards the trees. He gave a passing look back to the empty street behind him and the glow of the diner far behind him, but quickly whipped his head around to look into the forest, hearing the bushes rustle with wild Pokemon. Moving carefully, Hilbert lowered himself down towards the forest floor, grasping the wet rock beside him.

    Overhead, the racing footsteps made Hilbert's head look up. Roxie skittered off the rock, her hiking boots digging into the dirt that sloped around the rock towards the path below, kicking up pine needles as she tried to slow herself. A few shuffling, quickly sliding steps down the rock, Roxie watched the toes of her boots skid towards a rocky ledge. She leaped off from the dirt slope, missing the ledge entirely and send her hurtling towards the trail beneath. She landed on her feet, her legs springing down as she eased the impact of the landing. Her legs burned from the impact, forcing her forward onto her hands.

    "Koff... Grrunnuuhh..."

    A stink cloud erupted around Koffing's topmost hemisphere. He slowly glided down from the heights he hovered at, approaching Roxie's side and turning his mouth spotlight down the trail ahead.

    The light surrounding Roxie grew brighter, the spread area of light shrinking down as Koffing as approached. Roxie shook off the pain and put her feet beneath her, standing herself up. Her hands clapped together, knocking the mud and debris from her palms. As she listened to Hilbert's crunching footsteps approach from behind, she spotted where Koffing's Pokeball had landed. She reached down and grabbed it, rubbing it once on her shorts and pocketing it. In the bushes beside where the Pokeball had landed, a tail snaked away and hid, something that Roxie saw and remained wary of.

    "What did Cheren call to talk to you about?" asked Roxie.

    As Hilbert headed down the path, watching his footsteps in the dim lighting and passing around Roxie, he gave a confused look. He looked up to her, meeting with her blank stare.

    "I told you about that, right?"

    "Yeah, well, you told me about how what he said sounded like Pops," said Roxie. "That it seemed out of character for you to be in a rock band."

    Hilbert kept his hands in his pockets, looking at Roxie with a puzzled look. Something seemed off about the question, or at least how she was asking. Though he was looking at her, trying to make some semblance of eye contact, she continued to stare ahead, watching as Koffing's light wandered lazily beside her, casting wavering shadows over the trees.

    "Cheren's coming up for my birthday."

    "What?" Roxie immediately fired back.

    Hilbert's expression turned sheepish. "Why? Are birthdays for sissies now?" he asked defensively. "Now are you going to say I'm doing something out of character?"

    Roxie shook her head silently, scowling under her breath. "No, that's not what I was getting at, like, at all. I just think it's weird," she said.

    Hilbert paused for a moment, mulling it over. "Why is it weird?" he asked.

    "I mean, in all the times we've hung out—and we hang out a lot," said Roxie. "You never seem to bring him up. You've mentioned him like twice, and even then it was just to say that he was someone you knew. I know he's a childhood friend, but you haven't heard from him in years. Now that he shows up out of nowhere, you just listen to his advice blindly?"

    Roxie started down the trail. She snapped her fingers, getting Koffing's attention and getting him to follow, pointing his light lazily down the path. The path bent, curving around a dense set of trees and sloping down deeper into the forest.

    "I take his advice with a grain of salt like everyone," said Hilbert. He had stopped in the place he and Roxie had been standing in, watching her with slight annoyance. As the light from Koffing passed over and faded from his place, he walked down the path, following close behind Roxie and Koffing.

    "Really? Then what was that whole conversation we had earlier?"

    "What? Friggin'—that was the whole point! That was the whole point of that conversation earlier! I heard it twice," said Hilbert. "Twice! Three times now, now that the girl from earlier was talking about it."

    "Pfff. You mean little miss convenient?" scoffed Roxie. "Some girl shows up that I've never met, probably never will meet, and says something that confirms everything that you believe and were trying to convince me of earlier? I go to the bathroom and suddenly there's this brand new, holy revelation that's been revealed to you and only you, all in the short span of a quick trip to the bathroom. Seriously, that's the best you could come up with? I'm sure next time you don't wanna tell someone you're a virgin you'll tell another story about Miss 'Hilberina' too."

    "Her name was Hilda," Hilbert seethed, keeping pace beside Roxie. A dull, angry stare bore out of his eyes.

    The path had become obscured. Matted sections of wild grass were the only indication there was a path through the tall grass. As Koffing rose behind Roxie, bearing the light from his mouth over the gently wavering grass. The dark outlines of trees littered the grassy path. Sounds of chirping and low, quiet growls littered the narrow fields. Just beyond the dark mass at the end of the fields, the last section of forest, the city lights of Aspertia Town glimmered softly.

    Out of exhaustion, Roxie reached down beneath the length of her hoodie, grasping for her short pockets and wrestling through the insides, finding another Pokeball. Though she went to throw it, she hesitated for a moment, thinking. She turned to Hilbert, sighing.

    "Hilbert, I like you. You're a great guy. Don't quit the band over something silly like this," said Roxie. "We really need you. I need you."

    Hilbert smiled in the darkness. "I won't."

    Roxie looked down to the Pokeball in her hand once again. She lobbed it, sending it in a straight arc, glowing brightly in Koffing's light. The grass lain in darkness rustled as the Pokeball fell. The explosion of red light that arced from it flashed beneath the grass, fading in moments as a new Pokemon skittered out. Moments later, Venipede crawled out from the grass and into Koffing's light, its own Pokeball pinched in its front pincers.

    Something seemed solemn about Roxie's expression. She looked out tiredly at the fields of grass, only looking down to see Venipede as he crawled up to her and dropped the Pokeball at the toe of her boot. As Venipede snaked out, the patterns on his body armor glowing phosphorously, Roxie turned her attention towards the forest in the distance, watching Aspertia's lights twinkle in the swaying branches.

    "I'm really looking forward to our first show in Friday," said Roxie. "I really think—"

    Roxie cut herself off, listening to the sudden rise in chittering from Venipede. Her head whipped around, looking towards a dark section of wild grass as Venipede's back arched and rose sharply above the topmost layers of grass, his whole body bearing down on something squirming in the grass. Shrill, animal screeches interweaved with Venipede's hissing, the sounds of Venipede's sharp pincers biting into the wild Pokemon. Limbs kicked and knocked grass aside, rustling through the grass, until finally they stopped abruptly. The top of Venipede's glowing body rose, snaking through the grass silently.

    Roxie cleared her throat.

    "I really think that we could do something amazing."

  2. #2

    Default Chapter 1

    Chapter 1: Hilbert, Part 1




    The doorbell rang, echoing throughout the house. Daylight streamed through the windows, sounds of wild Pokemon chirping outside in the quiet suburb.

    Slipping a bookmark in, Darlene shut the book with a snap, setting it on the counter. She undid the knot and slipped the apron off, hopping off the stool she sat on, draping it over. Her feet found the slippers just beneath the stool, and she shuffled across the carpet. Just within her reach, she turned off the stovetop vent, promptly heading into the living room.

    As she passed a mirror, Darlene caught a glimpse of her reflection. She stopped. Loose strands of hair had fallen out of the knotted hairband that held her ponytail upright. It took her mere seconds to loop the hair back through. As she did, she found herself looking over the details of her face, the lines setting around her cheeks and beneath her eyes. Her fingertips caressed a smooth section of skin, pulling away a thin layer of foundation and revealing more wrinkles.

    Breathing a quiet sigh, smiling at her motherly features, Darlene moved on to the front door.

    The front door opened, and at the foot of the door Minccino popped his head in, grinning eagerly. His large ears quivered and rose, his little black eyes lighting up at the sight of Darlene.

    "Why hello there!" Darlene grinned. She hunched down her eyes bright as she watched Minccino run up to her leg, his tiny body stumbling over her slipper and landing face first in her ankle. The tufty fur tickled as he wormed his way up her foot, nuzzling her leg.

    Just in front of the cracked doorway, Professor Juniper stepped up over the last step into the home. Her lab coat swayed behind her as a summery breeze kicked up, glowing in the daylight. Squinting through the bright, fading afternoon sun, a knowing smile crossed her lips. She put her hand over her brow and blocked the sun out, looking inside the simple living room of the small townhome. Looking down at the scene just in the doorway, Minccino reuniting with Darlene, she let out a small chuckle.

    "See? Even Minccino thinks its been too long!" said Darlene. Her finger slipped down to scratch beneath his chin, and in turn his little paws grabbed the tip, bringing it to his teething mouth.

    "Hello Darlene," said Juniper, her smile widening.

    Darlene scooped up Minccino, cooing and chanting sweet things at him as he settled into her folded arms. She took a few steps back, opening up the door wider and beckoning Juniper to come in. She then lifted Minccino's squirming, squealing form and set him on the couch just beside her.

    "I've been a terrible host! Giving all the love to little Minccino here," said Darlene. Stepping around decorations that lined the back of the couch, she opened her arms wide and beckoned Juniper in close.

    Midway through slipping off her red sneakers at the front, Juniper reached over and shut the door with the hand she used to steady herself on the wall. Her bag swung beside her awkwardly, her arms full of a tall papery package, her socked feet finding the floor awkwardly. She found Darlene's arms, pulling herself in and entering into the hug.

    "How have you been?" asked Darlene. As the hug broke, she stepped around Minccino as he appeared beside her legs once again. From the corner of her eye, as she passed into the center of the living room, she eyed the paper-wrapped package in Juniper's arms. "Please," she said, "make yourself at home!"

    Juniper slipped the bag free of her arm, setting the fashionable burlap bag to rest on the couch. As she stepped around teh couch, finding the cushion beneath her, she reached across and handed the papery package to Darlene, the glass insides clanking together quietly.

    "Here's a little something an assistant of mine picked up," said Juniper, sinking herself nicely into the couch. A quiet sigh escaped her, her arm slouching over a decorative pillow beside her.

    Darlene sank into the small loveseat opposite the couch, cradling the gift in her arms. She smiled coyly. Her magenta colored long nails slipped through the tape with ease, prying apart the packaging and shredding through layers of paper.

    "Auri, you really shouldn't have!" Darlene grinned, the black glossy finish of a bottle appearing. As she tore down, she revealed the thin, sepia-tone label of the bottle—'Merlot, Cherrygrove City, 2004'. Lifting the bottle out of the shell of the wrapping paper, she set the bottle on the coffee table between the two of them, then revealed a second identical bottle, the contents a richer, inkier tone and reading 'Cabernet'.

    A childish smile appeared amongst all of Juniper's refined, reserved features. She sat forward, bundling her hands together in her lap, watching as Darlene's eyes lit up.

    "Oh my... You really shouldn't have... This is so—!"

    Juniper waved the thought away. "It absolutely wasn't! An assistant of mine gives a healthy discount for her family winery. Fringe benefits of being a professor, I suppose?" she laughed quietly.

    "This... This is the wine!" exclaimed Darlene, her eyes narrowing at the tiny, scrawled label. Reaching beside her for the table stand, the lamp, she pulled out a pair of black reading glasses, inspecting the making of it. "From—"

    "From the night on the lake? Yes!" said Juniper. Her voice rose with giddyness. "It has been far too long, I felt our reuniting would be such a momentous occasion as this to import the same kind of wine that Ivy's parents served us then. Importing from Johto was far worth the expense, even at the discount my little connection's connections could make."

    "My goodness... You really shouldn't have!" said Darlene.

    Setting the bottles on the tabletop, Darlene was getting to her feet to grab glasses when Juniper waved a hand for her to sit. Juniper produced a set of pair of glasses from her bag. She unwrapped the paper she had covered them in, setting them on the table, one for each of them. She then produced a bottle opener.

    "Oh please, we can indulge ourselves every so often, right?" asked Juniper. She gestured to Darlene, waving her pointing finger between the two bottles and looking up to her. When Darlene nodded in response, selecting the Merlot, Juniper pulled the bottle from the table and set it on her end of it, pressing the opening of her opener to the top and working the crank atop it. "Besides," said Juniper, as she screwed into the bottle. "I don't suppose you've kept our drinking habits in university any real secret from Hilbert, have you? He must be eighteen or nineteen by now, right?"

    Darlene had gotten up. She stood beside a set of shelves, having opened the glass cabinet to them and entangled herself in fumbling with the knobs on a receiver. An ancient CD changer beneath the cabinet clicked and whirred, queuing up an album. She paused in the middle of her setup work, her hand hovering over the volume knob as the CD changer found the first song.

    "Nineteen," said Darlene. A wistful smile appeared on her as she hung around the receiver. A light, jazzy tune played in the background, coming through in warm tones from speakers. "He's turning twenty next week."

    "Twenty...?" Juniper blinked, smiling deliriously. The hand that cranked on cork of the bottle paused. "W-Wow! Darlene!"

    Darlene laughed softly. She turned the volume knob, hearing the speakers at the far end of the living room increase in volume. Across the room on the couch, the pop from the wine bottle sounded through the whole room, breaking Darlene's concentration. Closing the cabinet, she made her way towards the loveseat across from Juniper.

    "Where is Hilbert, anyway?" asked Juniper.

    ---

    A backpack slumped over on Hilbert's bed, papers scattered and falling out of it. As Hilbert hastily passed it, he tossed a book atop it, then a thermos.

    Hunching over his bed, Hilbert hastily stuffed the pages into his bag, hearing several of them crinkle and tear as he stuffed everything else on top of it. Behind him, he grabbed a red notebook and tossed it in, zipping the loose backpack and slinging it over his shoulder. He grabbed his hat from his desk, squeezing it over his mass of tufty hair.

    At the far end of the silent, dark bedroom, a window of fading afternoon sunlight greeted him. Hilbert approached, his fingers slipped into the latch and caught the snapping metal arm, silencing it. Pressing his fingertips to the glass, he lifted the window carefully, sliding it open with almost no sound. The warmth of summer immediately greeted him. The screen had been removed from the window, and with careful, silent precision, Hilbert lifted himself from the ground and climbed into the window, stepping out onto the roof.

    Hilbert took his Xtransceiver from the windowsill, putting the rubber strap between his teeth as he squatted on the other side of the window, reached back and slid the window to a close. He took the dangling watch, strapping it to his wrist as he looked over the horizon, squinting. Carefully, Hilbert took the first few steps to the edge of the roof.

    Looking over the edge, Hilbert saw the bushes beneath him.

    ---

    Juniper let out a small chuckle, making a sound of delight in the middle of a long sip. Taking the glass away, she covered her mouth with a hand as she swallowed, trying to contain herself. She eyed her glass out of the corner of her eye, seeing it already down to a third.

    "A band!" Juniper let out. She cleared her throat delicately. "Not such a usual priority for someone his age. I'm... Surprised! At least that he doesn't have a single Pokemon!"

    Darlene nodded silently, giving a knowing look. She took a careful sip from her glass, staring at the low table ahead of her. "Nothing surprises me about him these days. I should've knew when I met 'Mister Right' that I was in for something different, to say the least."

    "I just assumed that rock and roll belonged to our generation," said Juniper, smiling into her glass as she swished the murky red.

    Just behind where Juniper sat, outside the window, a shadow dropped abruptly, immediately passing into the bushes. A cacophany of rustled leaves brushed against the window, followed by the sound of twigs snapping and a dull thud on the ground. Several birds chirped sharply, fluttering away from the roof.

    Juniper turned her head to see, straining to see what had fallen. She squinted through the brightness of the afternoon sun, able to see a thing beyond the gently undulating tops of the bushes. She gave a look to Darlene, who met her with a skeptical look. When Darlene shrugged, she took another long sip from her glass, setting it down and letting out a sigh.

    "How is 'Mister Right' anyway?" asked Juniper.

    ---

    Hilbert shook his shirt free of tiny leaves, finally getting to his feet on the side of the house. Reaching behind for his backpack, Hilbert shook it loose, hearing the papers rustle and the contents of his thermos plunge.

    As Hilbert readjusted his backpack, adjusting it over his shoulder, he turned his head and looked back. At the edge of the sidewalk, Professor Juniper's little sedan was parked, the cream-colored finish gleaming in the sun. As he eyed the car, he flicked his wrist and looked at his Xtransceiver.

    "Five o'clock," breathed Hilbert. On the other side of the house's siding beside him, Hilbert could hear the gentle thump and swing of jazz inside, a tune straight from his mom's drinking record. "Yeah, I've got some time."

    Just behind him, down the alleyway between his house and the neighbor's, a dirt path stretched deep into the endless green expanse of forest, cutting through the trees and the wild grass. Free of any Pokemon, Hilbert started down the sunlit, lush green path, leading himself down through the woods and away from the suburban life of his home town.

    ---

    A searing, sailing chord rang out of Roxie's amplifier. Her fingers hovered precariously over the steel strings, letting the chord hover and slowly fade out, echoing through the former club.

    The door at the far end of the room slammed shut, a clang resounding as it fell into its frame. Hilbert held himself close to where the door had shut, shuffling and slinging his backpack up over his shoulder. He took the first few steps into the club space, his sneakers thumping dully on the floorboards.

    The lights were dim in the club. Only the stage lights were on, lit with warm spotlights that landed on the elevated stage platform. At the far end of the short stage, a gigantic graffiti mural of a Koffing had been painted. High above the stage, a banner had been hastily tacked on, designating it an official Pokemon League Gym. Hanging just below the overhang of the stage, a plastic, sculpted sign with the Unovan Pokemon Gym symbol hung with its lights off.

    Tables littered the floor, scattered across the dark floor and set with chairs. At the far right end was a bar, the back counter lined with drinks of all kinds. The whole club was empty, only the dark shadow of Roxie appeared standing on the stage with her guitar.

    Hilbert's footsteps were the only thing echoing through the room, moments before another screeching note came from the stacked amplifiers, Roxie strumming as her fingers slid nimbly over the frets. She played a few notes, aurally doodling as she found a small rhythm and made variations. The heels of her boots thumped on the stage as she expanded the rhythm and fell into it. In a few, slashing notes she tore apart the rhythm, dashing it into echoing oblivion.

    A small set of stairs jutted from the edge of the stage. Though Hilbert eyed them, he stopped in his tracks. He scanned the dark, empty club, then looked on-stage.

    "Where's Cheren?" asked Hilbert, raising his voice over the dull hum of the amplifiers.

    "Never showed up," said Roxie. Her voice boomed, echoing in the acoustics of the stage rear. "Some friend you picked up who doesn't even show for practice. Kinda important."

    Hilbert furrowed his brow. His backpack slipped off of where it was slung on his shoulders, his hand catching it with ease. He then set it on a table beside him.

    "Cheren is never late... That's weird," said Hilbert. "I mean, he's not playing. We can practice without him."

    Roxie had let a flurry of notes quietly build, rising and building sharply. She slapped the base of the neck, ending the feedback sharply. Her head tipped back over her shoulder, giving Hilbert a glance out of the corner of her eye.

    "Yeah," said Roxie. "I think it's pretty weird that someone who doesn't want you to be in a band wouldn't show up to see you in a band."

    The zipper on Hilbert's bag tugged sharply, Hilbert gritting his teeth as he closed it tight. He threw his blue overcoat over the chair at the table, holding the phone he had just pulled from his backpack and holstering it in his back pocket. Scowling, he made his way to the stage, stopping just short of the edge and leaping up, throwing his torso over the lip, quickly hoisting his legs up from behind him as he levied himself over.

    Roxie paced over the edge of the stage, playing the frets on the neck of her guitar as she watched Hilbert just beneath her. Dropping the volume knob on her guitar down to zero, she continued to play.

    "Is that an unfair thing for me to say?" asked Roxie. The metal twang of her strings continued to buzz beneath her voice.

    Hilbert panted, pulling himself over, straightening his shirt. He rested on his side for a moment, looking up through the blinding lights to Roxie as she stood over him.

    "Yeah, yeah it is," Hilbert breathed.

    "It seems an awful lot like you're trying to weasel your way out of Friday."

    "I'm not trying to weasel my way out! Jeez Roxie, can't I catch a break with you? It's not my fault that Cheren isn't here!" Hilbert protested. He lifted himself from the ground quickly, his arms launching himself up onto his sprung legs. As he took a breath and regained his bearings, he suddenly felt the burning gaze of Roxie staring him down. He could feel her before he saw her, feeling her get closer and closer, taking a few, pacing steps forward.

    Roxie's fingers plucked light and quick at the strings on the neck, taking a few steps closer to Hilbert as she stared him down. In the silence of her guitar playing, only the sound of the strings twinging audible, she snarled.

    "I like you Hilbert, I like you a lot," said Roxie.

    "I don't understand how this is my fault!"

    "But you've gotta stop with this kind of crap," Roxie continued, hissing. "Come on, stand up for yourself a little! We've got four friggin' days to the show and you keep coming to me with 'oh no, someone doesn't like my life decisions'!" Roxie squealed, her voice pitching in imitation. "'Ooh! Someone doesn't like my choice in friends'!"

    "Roxie, that's ridiculous."

    "It is! It's absolutely ridiculous!"

    "Let's..." Hilbert sighed, scowling. "Let's just start practicing."

    ---

    At the bottom of the stairwell, just outside the door to Roxie's gym, Hilbert swiped through the contacts on his phone. Standing, arms by his side, he found Cheren's number and tapped on it, hearing the phone dial quietly.

    As he pressed the receiver to his ear, he heard the muffled, thundering sounds of Roxie turning the PA on and plugging her phone into it. Loud rock and roll thundered out of the echoing speakers moments later.

    Click! "Hilbert, I—"

    "Hey man, nice of you to pick up," Hilbert said, pacing slowly on the floor as he listened to Cheren's silence on the other side. "Hey listen, where'd you go? How come you didn't show up for practice?"

    "I had other things get in the way. Sorry. Did you listen to my voicemail at all?"

    "I don't know, man. I've heard the same voicemail just not in awhile."

    Cheren scowled on the other side of the phone, and Hilbert's features turned. As he paced on the landing in front of the door, he gave a knowing look and stuffed his hands into his pockets. In the long silence that followed, Hilbert found himself looking up. A knowing look was on his face, a dull, bleak look.

    "You really didn't want to come see us play at all, did you?" asked Hilbert.

    "No, it's not that."

    "Then what is it? You already told me you don't really care for my band. You can't even support me enough to come see us actually play, hear us and see if we're any good? You're just going to write us off?"

    "Roxie really bothers me. She's loud."

    Hilbert gave a passing look to the tall, steel door opposite the stairs. The hammered, steel plating couldn't hold back the muffled rock music, nor Roxie's butchered, shrill karaoke.

    "I mean... You're not wrong," said Hilbert. "She's not exactly your type though, I get it. Not exactly the skirt-wearing, showering type."

    "The fact that she doesn't wear a skirt has nothing to do with her personality."

    "It has everything to do with her personality!" Hilbert exclaimed. "Don't you dare tell me you don't have a thing for girls in skirts."

    "Shut up."

    Hilbert kicked a concrete step. "Are you gonna be too scared to see me when we're in town?"

    "No."

    "Then let's go catch dinner," said Hilbert. "I won't bring Roxie."

    ---

    "What's her name?" asked Cheren, slipping a greasy fry in his mouth, chewing pensively as he watched for Hilbert's reaction.

    Taking a deep breath, Hilbert flashed his eyes up to Cheren, wadding up the napkin in his fist. "Hilda," he said. Hunched over in the booth that he sat in, watching Cheren pick at the stack of fries surrounding his burger, he hesitated in the silence, waiting for some kind of reaction.

    Outside the small diner, an array of dark pine trees littered the immediate horizon, sticking like black forks against the setting sun. The lingering, small Pidove in the trees chirped quietly, rustling through the trees as they darted from branch to branch. The gentle hum of activity just beyond the leftmost corner of the diner pointed to Accumula, a gravelly path taken over an old bridge and a creek. In the center of the forest that lined the small clearing the diner was in, a matted-down section of long grass like a path was visible only to Hilbert, who had traversed the path with Roxie on many late nights.

    "Eastern European, just like you. Interesting," said Cheren. He kept his attention on his fries, doubling over a few in his hands and dipping them in the dish of ketchup. His voice was a murmur, just enough above the quiet activity in the background.

    "Are you going to even eat that?"

    Hilbert's quip cut into the quiet conversation, but still didn't perturb Cheren in the slightest. He gave passing look to his burger, still in the paper half-sleeve, the decorative toothpick still stuck in the bun, not a single bite taken. He then returned to his remaining fries on his plate, grabbing a few more and dipping into his ketchup.

    "Did you want it?" asked Cheren, pensively.

    "I just... Were you even...?" Hilbert began to ask, but he cut himself off. He swallowed, suddenly feeling like his mouth was full of ready saliva at the mere thought. "Yes," he said. "If you're not going to eat it, that is."

    Cheren slid his platter forward just enough, and Hilbert reached across, quickly grabbing the burger by the paper and setting it on his plate. The toothpick slid out, and grasping the sides of the burger with determination, he dove into the burger, taking a huge bite out of the burger. He chewed silently, his cheeks bulging and his jaw moving in big arcs like a Miltank. His eyes flitted down into the burger's new opening, the meat of the burger raw and bright pink beneath its charred brown surface.

    Through Hilbert's display, Cheren remained reserved, slouching slightly on his side of the booth. He listened in silence to Hilbert's almost sexual moans as he took another bite, watching the juices run onto his plate.

    "Jeez man..." Hilbert choked down a bite, a look of slight bliss in his eyes. "Were you hungry before you showed up?"

    "No."

    "Oh, man..." said Hilbert, his eyebrows raising in a display of guilt. He paused to finish swallowing, waving his hand. "Don't worry about dinner tonight, I've got it. I'd hate to have you pay for a burger you didn't eat."

    The table thumped quietly. Cheren shuffled beneath as Hilbert continued to eat, his spindly legs stretching out and relaxing beneath. On the table, Cheren's hands folded together, the buttons on where his shirt sleeves folded once over his jacket sleeves scuttled on the sealed surface. Beneath a set of thin, wire-rim glasses, his eyes flitted across the surface, a slicked black lock of hair falling down over his forehead.

    As Hilbert continually chewed, his groans and moans reduced to pig-like snorts, he gazed ahead blankly. The sounds of the diner filled his senses, the quiet of the after-dinner crowd as the mostly sat and talked behind him, the cleaning and conversation of the dinner crew echoing through the order window. As he finished cramming the rest of the burger into his mouth, his focus returned to the conversation directly in front of him. His eyes narrowed as he wiped away the last of the juices on his lips, seeing Cheren's visible discomfort.

    "Seriously, why did you come?" asked Hilbert. "We could've gone out to... Like the park, or met at a cafe, or the store, or—"

    "Roxie's?" Cheren interjected. He held a smirk. "Yeah, I tried that once already tonight. I'm not interested in seconds."

    Hilbert snorted, narrowing his eyes and giving look. He scooted the plate to the far end of the booth's table, wadding up his napkin and dropping into the center. He fished for his wallet in his pockets, coming up with the beaten, black and leather-clad thing briefly before he pulled out the wad of cash.

    "You didn't even go. You haven't even met Roxie," said Hilbert.

    "Hilbert, who is this girl? I've been dying to know."

    "Roxie! My lead guitarist!" said Hilbert. After fumbling with the wad of cash beneath the table, counting and sorting out dollars, he finally just threw one large bill on the table, tucking it under the plate.

    "No, this 'Hilda'."

    "I already told you," said Hilbert. "Hilda is 'Hilda'."

    Cheren rubbed his temples, shaking his head. He pulled his glasses from his face, cleaning them with the edge of his dress shirt.

    "Come now," said Cheren. "I didn't walk a mile and a half to hear that Hilda is just some passing interest, just another picture in the underwear catalog I need to see. That's not who you made this woman out to be over the phone. Certainly she has some value other than—what was it? A chocolate-haired, blue-eyed, trailer-trash temptress? Is that what you said?"

    Hilbert cringed. "Well... Mile and a half is an exaggeration. No hotel is that far away."

    "A mile and a half is the kind of compromise one makes when they can only get three days off, with one shift in the middle of a four day stretch. I did indeed walk a mile and a half."

    Hilbert's intense features melted. He blinked several times, rolling his shoulders and softening up. "What? Then, was this evening—?"

    "A shift," said Cheren. He gave a quick glance through his glasses, seeing that the lenses had been cleaned. "I worked later than I expected. I'm sorry I couldn't communicate that."

    It was Hilbert's turn to look uncomfortable. He slipped his hat off from his head, a mess of brown hair following forward and fraying over his forehead. He slicked his hair to the side, taking in a deep snort of air and setting his hat back on his head.

    "Just tell me about Hilda," said Cheren, sighing.

    "She has a bit of an accent. It took me for a moment, but—"

    "What did she do, Hilbert?" asked Cheren, interjecting again. "You've seen your share of girls. What makes you act on this one? What makes this one so special?"

    "I mean, well—"

    "She said something, didn't she?"

    Hilbert furrowed his brows, throwing his hands out in a strange, questioning gesture. "What makes you say that?"

    "Because words make you melt like butter. Remember when I set you up with that girl for homecoming? And you complained that you didn't like redheads up until the actual homecoming? And you said some disparaging things about her weight? And then all of a sudden that changed when you two started dancing?"

    "She said something," Hilbert admitted. His head tipped down, looking into where his hands met on the table.

    "What did she say?"

    Hilbert forced his eyes shut. "She said 'you put your hands here'," he said.

    "'You put your hands here', what?" asked Cheren, leaning in a little closer.

    "... 'Handsome'."

    "'Handsome' he is," said Cheren. "Now, you wanna tell me what Hilda said?"

    The vinyl of the booth seats squealed. Hilbert shifted posture, scooting down and slouching in the bench, his fists balling up and stuffing into his blue jacket. He tipped his head up, the back strap trying to force the bill into his eyes. His legs sprawled out beneath the booth, the sole of his sneaker finding the underside of the booth. Outside, as the sun set and cast hazy, golden rays through the filthy windows, Hilbert squinted, his face aglow in the orange rays.

    Cheren tapped his thumbs together where they met on the table, his knuckles cracking in an array as he waited on Hilbert's answer, leaning forward and over the table.

    "Hilbert," said Cheren, snapping Hilbert out of it.

    Hazy, golden eyes looked up to Cheren in annoyance. "What?"

    "What did Hilda say?"

    Hilbert sighed. "She said that playing with Roxie wasn't my destiny. She said that, somehow or some way, I was meant to be a trainer."

    Cheren looked unfazed. "You mean what I said?" he asked.

    "Yeah, but she said it a little differently."

    "That it wasn't your destiny?" asked Cheren. His eyebrows skyrocketed.

    "No, it's not—I mean, I got what she said," said Hilbert. "It was like for a moment I finally got it. Yeah, it was exactly what you said, that I was meant to be a trainer, but this is different. She, like... She spoke directly to me, you know? Like, she was talking about that, if this was an alternate universe, if this were like a retelling of a story that was already being told, something would be off or not quite right, because it's not exactly who I'm supposed to be."

    "See, I don't get that," said Cheren. "I get what she's saying, but it's also exactly what I said."

    Hilbert had caught himself staring into the forest just beyond the diner windows. His eyes flitted back to Cheren, catching the stern gaze he was giving him. It took him aback for a moment, making him shift in his slouched position.

    "I know. I... Isn't it kind of a weird coincidence that some random stranger said pretty much exactly what you're saying? Like, isn't that a little bit strange to you?"

    "It's not exactly a deep hypothesis," said Cheren.

    "Is that why you just don't like Roxie? You just know? It's just that friggin' obvious?"

    "I told you already," said Cheren. His eyes were affixed to the lamplight hanging down over their table. "Any girl can say anything to make you melt as long as it's halfway convincing. There's no rocket science there."

    "Yeah, so that's why you think I listened to Hilda?"

    "That's why I think Roxie is so dangerous," said Cheren. His gaze returned to meet Hilbert's. "It doesn't matter what she says, if she's a compatible friend or truly a sociopathic danger to you, you will listen."

    The ice in Hilbert's glass clanked as he sharply lifted it from the table. The straw slipped between his lips and he drained the glass noisily, looking away from Cheren, watching as the sun slipped over the horizon and was lost between the tree tops.

    "Can we review, for a brief moment?" asked Cheren.

    "Sure. Go for it," Hilbert said between long sips.

    "When we were in high school, you talked constantly about being the greatest that there ever was. You were going to be 'the' Pokemon Trainer that we all talked about. Every single person you ever talked to, you asked them about Pokemon and what they thought."

    "Everyone talks about Pokemon," said Hilbert.

    "Not like you did. Your soul was burning alive for Pokemon, you were passionate."

    "So what? Everyone has passion for something."

    "Let's go back further then, shall we?" asked Cheren. He sat up a bit in his booth, looking somewhat animated, digging himself deep in the conversation.

    "How far back? Like when I was born? Like the friggin' dinosaurs?"

    Cheren threw his hands back, staring deep into his lap as he shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Pick literally any time in our childhood friendship that we shared a good moment. Hell, pick the bad ones for all intensive purposes."

    "Okay, us kids. What about it?"

    "How many tapes did you own?"

    "What?" asked Hilbert.

    "How many tapes did you own, Hilbert? Before high school?"

    Hilbert scowled, swallowing. His head rolled against the headrest of the booth, his body shifting in its slouched position. He scanned the ceiling for answers, running his tongue along his teeth as he thought.

    "Like a few."

    "'Few' like twenty? Or like one or two?"

    "Like... Five."

    "No, like two. I know exactly which two, and so do you. It was all you would ever listen to."

    "Yeah, but Cheren, you liked weird stuff. Like, mellow, boring stuff. There's like no point in listening to any of that. Besides, my dad had enough tapes to play in the car to last us a lifetime," said Hilbert. He gave a long, tense stare to Cheren as he filled the silence. "Then again... I mean... He never played them..."

    "Did you hold onto them?"

    "Does it matter?" Hilbert interjected, raising his voice sharply. A fire appeared in his eyes, catching Cheren off-guard.

    "No... No it doesn't."

    "Don't use that stuff to make a point!"

    Cheren shook his head, slowly. He rubbed his temples again. "I'm sorry..."

    Hilbert's arms folded again. He sank back in the booth.

    "My point is this," Cheren picked up again. "In the long history that I've known you, I've never known music to really be a part of your essence or core self. It just doesn't fit the person I know you to be, and that gives me—what at least seems valid—reason to seem skeptical. It raises some flags for me, and I have my theories on what's going on."

    Hilbert nodded slowly. "Fair enough."

    "It's not wrong. It's not vile. It's rather productive for you."

    "Thanks buddy."

    "Now, whether or not something is exactly your 'destiny'," said Cheren, punctuating his point with air quotes, "is pretty out there. I mean, if that's what you needed to hear, I'd tell you some story about chakras or about how the Noble of the Knights of the Holy Grail once proclaimed—"

    "Cheren, drop it."

    "Okay."

    ---

    The concrete walls in the hall sloped down, leading down to the landing at the bottom of the stairs. A light hummed and buzzed overhead, an industrial light built into the wall, casting shadows across the graffiti-laden walls.

    The darkened shadows of Hilbert and Cheren drew long over the stairs as they headed down, walking down side-by-side, their footfalls echoing on the smooth walls.

    "How long did you leave Roxie for?" asked Cheren. When he arrived on the landing at the bottom of the stairs, he took a step back, letting Hilbert lead the way and pass around him, heading down the next flight of stairs. He gave a tenative look to the the beaten iron door at the bottom of the next flight of stairs, seeing the tattered posters that covered it.

    Hilbert started down the stairs, his limp backpack flopping on his back, his jacket stuffed inside. When he leapt from the last two stairs, landing on the bottom floor with a clatter, he gave Cheren a passing look as he straightened his legs, leading himself up to the door.

    "About two hours?" said Hilbert, a hint of skepticism in his voice.

    Cheren's eyes grew wide.

    Hilbert grabbed the hammered door handle, pressing in and swinging the iron door wide with a dull, metallic groan. In the dark of the club, the stage lights could be seen at the far end, pointed to the low-sitting stage. Hilbert stepped aside, holding the door open and inviting Cheren in.

    The air was cool, filtered and wet, blowing from a set of two warehouse fans on the left and right of the stage. The stage was empty. From a set of PA speakers on either side of the stage, pop music pumped in through droning speakers, echoing on the smooth floors. The tables were still scattered with chairs set around them, not seeing dancing hours.

    As Cheren took his few tenative steps into the space, his pacing uneven as he wandered close to the walls beside the entrance, kicking his feet without a clue of what was happening, he narrowed his eyes in confusion. Something wasn't right. He looked to Hilbert, who was heading towards the center of the club space.

    "Is this Madonna?" Cheren asked, pointing to the PA speakers.

    "Hilbert!" Roxie shouted.

    Both Cheren and Hilbert whipped their heads around, seeing where Roxie was at the far corner of the club, beside the bar. She sat in one of the chairs that had been at a table, slouched, her guitar in her lap. Several empty beer bottles were stacked around her chair, some kicked aside, a half-filled one beside the chair leg. A portable amp was wired to the port on her electric guitar, set beside the wall, the lights off and no power going to the amp.

    As Hilbert passed through tables, trying to get across to her, he watched as Roxie played on several frets on her guitar, only the sound of tinny vibrations coming from the strings she plucked on. Out of the corner of his eye, Cheren walked along the wall, following him closely but trying to stay out of sight of Roxie.

    "Hey Roxie, got a bit sidetracked," Hilbert said, giving a sheepish grin.

    "Probably could've gotten more done tonight," Roxie droned, staring blankly at Hilbert as he walked. She gave a passing look to Cheren, the glanced back at Hilbert, shrugging in Cheren's direction. "Who's the manpiece?"

    "This is—"

    "Cheren," said Cheren, cutting Hilbert off promptly. He gave a quick, awkward wave as him and Hilbert stopped just short of Roxie's cloud of empty beer bottles. "I am Cheren."

    "Where were you tonight?" she asked.

    Cheren seemed taken aback by the question. He paused for a moment, considering the question, before snapping back into understanding exactly what Roxie was talking about.

    "I had to work late this evening. See—"

    "Right," said Roxie. She rubbed the exhaustion from her eyes, taking another long drag of her beer, sloshing the amber contents about before setting the bottle down. She let out a sigh, leaning over her purple-bodied guitar, kicking the cord that ran from it with the heel of her boot and in turn knocking aside the glass bottles behind her.

    Wiping his lips on the inside of his hand, Hilbert, watching the meeting between Cheren and Roxie fall apart near-instantly, cleared his throat as well. He grabbed for the brim of his own hat, adjusting it.

    "Have you been doing this the whole time?" asked Hilbert.

    "Pretty much."

    Hilbert stifled a burp. "Awesome."

    "Your mom called here like three times tonight," said Roxie. She tipped the bottle all the way back, draining it, then letting it tip over as soon as she set it on the floor. She reached up to the cardboard six pack holster, reaching in and grabbing another bottle by the neck. She used the heel of her caliced, beaten hand to pop the cap open in a single move, white smoke escaping the opening.

    Hilbert blinked. "What?"

    "Yeah, she said something Junebug needing a ride."

    Cheren gasped. "Professor Juniper! She still hangs out with your mother?"

    Hilbert gave Cheren a strange look. "Yeah, she still does. Always has. They've been friends since college. Why would that change?"

    "I mean, I'm just so surprised. The professor just seems so busy these days. You would think that it would be hard for them to see one another," said Cheren.

    "Well, most people don't just stop being friends because of people's life decisions," said Hilbert, his tone biting.

    Cheren gave a cold look, folding his arms.

    ---

    The car was parked at the far end of the underground lot, beside one of the large concrete columns that held the low-hanging roof up. The array of off-white lights built into the ceiling of the lot cast everything in an unearthly light, including the car. It was a long sedan, older, likely thirty or forty years old, rust-colored paint on the roof and hood and deep brown panels on the doors and wheel housing. Chrome lined the panels and other edges of the car. A set of boxy headlights fronted the car, jutting from a rectangular, steel mesh grill. No other cars were parked around it, it was alone.

    As Cheren stood beside Hilbert, staring down the old car, he felt a strong swat on his shoulder. He flinched, jumping slightly, whipping his head around to see Roxie come up alongside him, giving a cocky grin.

    "You said you could drive?" asked Roxie, giving a toothy grin.

    Though Cheren wanted to answer immediately, he hesitated for a moment. The stench of alcohol on Roxie's breath was like a punch to his senses, his nose wrinkling and his gut reaction to snort coming to the forefront of any immediate reaction he could've had.

    "I said I had a license. I don't have a car, I can't afford—"

    "You're the only one of us who has a license and we need to drive the professor home, that makes you the driver, handsome," said Roxie. The hand that held the car keys launched them up towards Cheren as she walked away from him, drunkenly strutting towards the old sedan, clutching the bottle through the paper bag in her hand. "Be careful," she said. "It's Pops' car."

    In Cheren's distraction, the keys flew past his oustretched arm, clattering on the concrete floors and skittering away. He shook off the feeling, reaching down and finding the keys, scooping them up and the standing straight. When he straightened, he met with a very amused look from Hilbert.

    "Glad you volunteered," Hilbert grinned.

    Cheren sneered. "When we get out of this, you and I are going to have words."

    "Hey! Loverboy! This car isn't going to unlock itself!"

  3. #3

    Default Chapter 2

    Chapter 2: Hilbert, Part 2


    "Here, it's this key," said Roxie. She handed Cheren back the car keys, holding the clinking keys by a single, silver key pinched between her fingers.

    Cheren scowled, taking the keys from Roxie. With the silver key in hand, he slipped it into the key slot on the steering wheel lock, turning it and hearing a satisfying click. He grabbed the red handles of the springloaded bar, pressing it in and collapsing the thick iron bar just enough to slip the hooks off of the steering wheel. The bar sprung out again in a moment, catching Cheren by surprise. He immediately stuffed the steering wheel lock in the backseat, down by Hilbert's feet.

    "I thought you said you knew how to operate a car?" asked Roxie, a look of skepticism in her eyes.

    Cheren gave Roxie a passing look of disgust as he flipped through the keys on the key ring, adjusting his sitting posture on the fabric bench of the car seats. He watched Roxie take a long sip of her 'mysterious' paper-wrapped bottle, feeling her arm reach behind the backrest as she rested in the seat.

    "I wasn't planning on driving an antique tonight," grunted Cheren, slipping the key into the ignition. "I bet this doesn't even have power steering."

    "It's a car, alright?" Roxie gave Cheren an annoyed, frustrated glance. She waved a hand, gesturing to the wheel. "We're in it, now drive. Great Sky..." she cursed.

    As Cheren turned the keys, the front of the car rumbled, the engine suddenly kicking on with a loud roar. The whole body of the car shuddered, rocking the benches of the car lightly. Both Cheren and Hilbert lurched with surprise, Roxie remaining unfazed. The lights beneath the dashboard flared up, glowing in their faded colors, the red hand of the speedometer jumping briefly before dropping down, glowing among the various different numbers. A more modern tape deck came to life in the marbled wood housing of the center console, the screen flashing with bright green digits as it pulled in broadcast FM. Quiet, crackling country music streamed from the speakers by both Cheren and Roxie's legs.

    As the car engine settled, rumbling and thundering in its metal enclosure, Roxie let out a groan of realization as she pulled from the bottle again, setting it down in her lap. She reached for the stereo knob, going to adjust it, but Cheren swatted her hand away. She gave him a patronizing look, before Cheren reached down and turned the stereo off.

    Reaching for the gear shift beside him, Cheren hit the clutch and popped the car into reverse. The car rolled back, the suspension of the car squealing with the old breaks as Cheren eased the vehicle around and out of the parking space. He then stopped it, pointing down the path. His hands fumbled with knobs around the steering column, accidentally triggering the window wipers and the hazard lights.

    "Here," Roxie interrupted Cheren's fumbling. She reached over, flipping a switch down by the keys, turning on the headlights, lighting the path ahead of them.

    Cheren scowled quietly, watching as out of the corner of his eye, Roxie started to fumble with the stereo again, pulling a cassette from the glovebox and popping into the slot. He felt along the arm rest for the switch for the windows beside him, instead finding a plastic handcrank. Holding the knob, he cranked hard, slowly lowering the windows, replacing the smell of cigarettes with the smell of the night and the Unovan sea nearby.

    ---

    Trees swarmed past the windows of the car, the headlights of the car panning over them as the road sloped down and turned, Cheren keeping the wheel steady as the car followed down the curving road. The suspension of the car creaked as the road leveled out, pointed straight through the fields that the road cut through.

    Cheren breathed a sigh, taking the wheel with only one hand. His face glowed ethereally in the dim lights of the dash, the headlights and the moon being the only source of light. Just beneath his legs, the steady thump of quiet rock and roll music came from the speakers.

    A thump from beside the car made Cheren flinch, looking over. He caught a glimpse of Roxie's naked legs as she rested her boots her side of the dash, glowing in ghostly hues in the glow of the stereo. He quickly turned his attention back to the road, steadying the car again as the road swayed left.

    "Eyes on the road, loverboy," Roxie droned quietly.

    Cheren gave a disparaging look Roxie's way, but kept his focus on the road. In the reflection of the windshield, he saw the glow of Hilbert's face as he gave a coy smile, his face aglow as he faced his phone. Just beside him in the windshield's reflection, Cheren saw the hammered, chalky blue soles of Roxie's glam rock boots.

    "Can you please take your boots off of the dash?" asked Cheren.

    Roxie gave an unamused, slightly drunk look. "This is my dad's car," she said. "I'll put my feet where I want."

    Shaking his head, Cheren refocused on the road.

    ---

    The long sedan rolled around a corner, entering the short drive lined with perfectly-aligned houses. The engine hummed, brakes squealing quietly as the car eased in, slowing. One of the front tires rolled up on the curb, pulling the corner of the car over onto the short driveway, putting the chrome bumper just over a planter dividing the houses just before it stopped. All at once, the squealing engine shut off, the lights from the headlights dimming in an instant.

    Three of the four doors popped open. Cheren just barely stepped outside of his seat, cranking the handle that raised the windows with long, grueling motions. He felt the car rock, Roxie throwing the door open and hopping out onto the driveway, then immediately slamming the door shut. Cheren groaned, stepping out and shutting his door.

    As Roxie took a few, petering steps outside of her door, she tipped the paper-wrapped bottle back, draining it and throwing the bottle back, wiping her lips with her sleeve. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Hilbert slowly opened his door, stepping out.

    Hilbert took his first few steps from the car when a brown bagged bottle was offered to him. His eyes followed the arm that held the bottle, bringing him to Roxie's cocky, smirking face.

    "Care for a taste?" asked Roxie.

    From behind the car, Cheren scowled, fumbling with the lock on the door. He momentarily considered the steering lock, then cursed himself.

    Hilbert shrugged, taking the bottle. He lifted the bottle to his lips, gingerly, then slowly tipped back. As he lowered the bottle he suddenly felt Roxie's hands on the bottom of the bottle, keeping it up, holding the neck to his lips. Hilbert choked, spurting up beer around his lips. His adam's apple bobbed like a fish on a line as he fought to swallow it all. Roxie then took the bottle away, and Hilbert had a moment before he choked and his stomach threatened to vomit. He hunched over, holding his knees, coughing and wheezing.

    "What the hell was that...?" Hilbert asked between loud, choking wheezes. He spat on the sidewalk, all he could do not to throw up.

    Roxie flipped the plastic door on the trash barrel right in front of the lawn, tossing the bottle and bag in, hearing the empty clinking of the bottle as it fell. She let the plastic door fall and clatter, shaking off her arms and letting out a loud burp.

    "Needed to finish the bottle off," Roxie said, sounding almost incredulous that Hilbert hadn't thought of it. "This is your mom's place. Do you really think I'm going to bring something like that bottle in?"

    Taking the collar of his white shirt, Hilbert's eyes narrowed at the thin trail of yellowing beer stain on his shirt. Popping it over his nose, he could smell the rancid beverage. He wiped his lips on his hands and immediately smelled them, finding a similar stench.

    "Jeez Roxie, the hell? Your beer is on me!" Hilbert raised his voice.

    Roxie suddenly lunged at him, immediately shushing and covering his mouth. She held her hand to his face while Hilbert protested and grabbed at her arms, trying to get her off. Hilbert succeeded in wrestling her hand off of him, swatting it away, but when Roxie stepped a little closer and he grabbed at her, she swatted his arm away, then pinned him against the car.

    "You wanna tell her I just gave a minor something to drink? You wanna tell the whole neighborhood?" Roxie hissed.

    "Roxie—Great Sky—Will you get off of me? You just tried to drown me!"

    "What? I—You—I drowned you? Well I—How dare you abuse my generosity, Hilbert Black! I oughta—"

    "Professor Juniper!" Cheren exclaimed, breaking the grumbling argument. He hopped around the hood of the car, trying to catch a glimpse of the dimly lit figure standing in the doorway, his sneakers clapping on the driveway. "What a lovely surprise!"

    A dark figure appeared, backed by the glowing inner lights of the home. Professor Juniper's hair looked disheveled, golden brown locks of hair sticking out loosely from her bun. In the darkness of her overshadowed face, only the twinkling glint of her eyes was visible, looking watery and glossy. Her stance seemed to waver on the front steps to the door, having a hard time standing.

    "Hey...!" Juniper began. She cleared her throat, blinking several times, staring down at Cheren blankly. "Um..."

    While Roxie and Hilbert tried to remain silent, Hilbert roughly shoved Roxie off of him, making no noise at all, sending her stumbling back a few steps. He took the opportunity to step off from the car he had been pinned to, taking a few steps forward, moments before he felt the stiff toes of Roxie's boots slam into the back of his shin. He stopped in his tracks, groaning and stifling his pain, letting the pain pass through his leg as Roxie slowly walked up the driveway.

    Cheren continued to smile with excitement, watching the Professor take a few steps down the the path towards the driveway, holding the railing as tight as her weak fingers would allow, her legs moving as slow as possible. He took a few steps towards the bottom of the path she was descending from, watching her come down, momentarily offering to help but then retracting out of fear of humiliation, looking sheepish and concerned for the Professor.

    Though the Professor looked healthy, something was unusually young in her outlook; there was an extreme exhaustion in her features. Though she was present physically, there was a certain emptiness to her eyes, a certain deludedness in her smile. She held her arms out beside her like her lab coat was twelve sized too big, her legs moving stiff and as though each step made her stumble.

    "Hey, Cher... Cheric... Cherry!"

    Juniper snorted. Her face seized up slowly, her dimples popping as a sickening smile appeared on her lips. Her hand left the railing just long enough for her to smack it in delight, incredibly satisfied with her joke. She let out an uncharacteristic, uncompromised guffaw, snorting again and laughing, sinking and peeling over as she let out a hysterical, maddening laugh.

    Cheren looked on in confusion. His face faltered as the Professor slowly stumbled down the rest of the steps, holding herself over the edge of the railing, a few locks of her hair falling out of the bun as she leaned over and giggled silently, limp as a ragdoll. He walked up alongside her, afraid to touch her.

    Roxie turned to Hilbert, a placid look on her face.

    "Now that's what being 'drowned' looks like," she hissed. "Don't take my graciousness for something so willy-nilly."

    ---

    Hilbert stood just inside the house, watching as Juniper, with an arm slung over Cheren's shoulders and another slung over Roxie's, descended the steps outside of the house and walked towards her sedan on the street. Roxie and Cheren stumbled in their steps, being careful to lead and make sure they weren't moving too fast for Juniper, keeping pace and bearing her evenly distributed weight.

    Something caught Hilbert's attention as he stood there. Behind him, his mom cleared her throat.

    "Hey kid... Are you taking the Professor?" asked Darlene. She smiled sleepily on the couch, nestled deep in the fluffy cushions, her arm still slumped over her forehead.

    Hilbert put on a smile, looking past her for a moment before reaching down and grasping gently for her hand. They shared a moment, looking at each other and smiling.

    "I'll be right back. Just around the block. Cheren will follow and drive me back."

    "Good," she smiled, blinking lazily. "Don't be out too late, okay?"

    "You have my word," said Hilbert.

    Holding her hand, Hilbert lightly shook it, running his thumb over her knuckles. He frowned, something seemed off. Squeezing her hand, he figured it out.

    "Mom, your hands are really cold," said Hilbert, a questioning, curious look in his eyes.

    "My arm just fell asleep, a little numb, that's all," she said. She nudged him, knocking his hand away sleepily. She stretched, yawning, nuzzling herself deeper into the cushions of the couch. "Go get the Professor home. I don't want to have to worry about you tonight."

    The smile on Hilbert's face returned. He pulled away, seeing Roxie and Cheren hanging around just outside Juniper's car. He gave one last look before stepping out the door, heading down the path.

    ---

    The suspension of the car creaked, the whole body of the car lurching forward as the front wheels hit a dip in the road. The rear wheels immediately sent the car rocking again, the engine revving up again beneath the hood of Juniper's car.

    The revving of the engine was near silent inside the car. Hilbert felt the car lurch slightly, the headlights bobbing and waving over the rising road ahead. He held the wheel steady, keeping his foot on the pedal tense as he eased the car forward, the speedometer hovering around the '35' mark. Taking a hand from the wheel, he rubbed his palms on his jeans, cleaning the sweat from them, switching hands and rubbing the other hand on his other pant leg. He raised the brim of his hat, keeping it from his eyes, giving full view of the road ahead of him.

    Juniper snorted again. She then rolled forward with the rocking of the car, letting out a cartoonish laugh, laughing hard and loud. The car rocked again and she launched herself back into her seat, her head rolling against the headrest, her face frozen in a twisted, open-mouthed smile, her lungs choking for air as she let out another, incredibly loud laugh. She held her arms close around her torso, not quite sure what to do with them. A wild gleam had appeared in her eyes, masked by the hazy, strewn-about strands of hair that had fallen from her bun.

    "Aha... Haah! Eheheh..." Juniper wiped away a tear, regathering her composure slowly, giving a sleepy smile as she looked ahead at the road. She took in a deep breath, exuding a small, petering laugh.

    As Juniper's laugh faded out again, the quiet, warm-sounding old rock returned into the humor of the situation had worn off, the smile faded a long time ago. Hilbert was completely focused on the road.

    "My goodness, that's too much..." Juniper breathed. She reached for the water bottle in the center console, pulling it out and popping the latch on it. Half of what she drank dribbled down her lip and over her chin, all as she drank noisily from the bottle, giving out a loud gasp of relief when she finished. In the darkness of the car, she tried to secure the lid back on, fumbling through the darkness.

    "I've... I think I lost the joke," said Hilbert.

    "I have too," said Juniper. Before Hilbert could speak or say anything, Juniper cleared her throat loudly, grabbing for the knob on the stereo. "Gosh... What is this? This is great! Oh, Great Sky..." she stifled a belch. "Turn it up Hilbert!"

    Hilbert didn't reach for the knob, but his ears picked up as the volume levels of the song skyrocketed, the car speakers thundering with the doowop sounds of the old school music. As he tried to focus on the road, Juniper's voice pierced his ear, singing along and getting only half of the lyrics right. Her voice was a shout, blaring out the music that played. Instinctively, Hilbert reached down for the knob and turned it down halfway, keeping it a decent level. As Juniper's singing persisted, he finally turned it all the way down.

    "You're... You're gonna lose... Yeah... You're gonna... Gonna lose..." Juniper sang, her voice lowering slowly to a mumble as she realized the music had disappeared. Her eyes were shut, but she forced them open slowly, looking around the car. "W... Where did the music go...?"

    "It was a little loud," said Hilbert, seeing Juniper watch him from the corner of his eye.

    "But... Why? Why did you turn it down...?"

    Hilbert cleared his throat. "Uhhh... You know... I was afraid that you'd hurt your hearing...?"

    "I'd hurt my hearing... I'd hurt my hearing! Yes...! The audio levels in this car far exceed—" Juniper cut herself off with a burp, her head rolling limply as the choke of air escaped her. "Thank you... Thank you for that..."

    The road finally leveled out. Juniper's sedan lowered as the road came to a flat area, curving around an island dividing the road and bringing the car to a yield. The car stopped at the marked line, giving Hilbert the chance to look out the side, seeing the last few cars pass down the stretch of highway. The car rolled forward, the engine picking up and sending the car down the road, down the straight and level path. At the far end of the highway was a stoplight. The car road out the rest of the road and came to the redlight, the turn signal flashing on.

    Hilbert eased the breaks, feeling the car ease to a halt. Over the hood, just barely above where he could see, the line disappeared moments before he stopped. He sat back, breathing a sigh, hearing the doowop music return in the silence of the idling engine.

    "You're doing great," Juniper smiled, sleepily. Her head rested against the divider of the side windows, stretching out the seatbelt strapped across her torso.

    Hilbert nodded silently. "Thank you."

    Though Hilbert was staring down, looking at the glossy, immaculate hood of the car, he saw the reflection of the stoplight change to green. He returned his focus to the road, switching pedals, the car rolling forward and heading around the median, the engine picking up with a press to the gas pedal, humming and sending the car down the road. Though the sides of the street were lined with sparse trees, the roads were much cleaner, featuring sidewalks and streetlamps. The rolling of the tires was a dull rumble, not the bouncing, rocking venture it was earlier.

    "Your mother tells me you're—" Juniper hiccuped. "—you're in some kind of music-playing—some kind of music—a band. Is that right...?"

    "Yeah. 'Some Girls'."

    "Pardon...?" Juniper hiccuped.

    "Oh! Um, our band. It's called 'Some Girls'."

    The car roared. Over the smooth surface of the road, the car flew down, passing deeper into the small town. A sign whipped by, reading 'Old Aspertia Town'. The other lone car on the road, on the right lane, slowly crawling down the road, was passed by quickly as Hilbert took things quick behind the wheel of the car, letting the speed slowly increase. The brake lights on the rear of the car glowed a bright red as the road narrowed, bringing the car into more of the homely sights, slowing down as the car passed the first few shop fronts.

    "'Some Girls'...?" asked Juniper. "How many girls do you have in your band...? Darlene... Your mom only said one."

    "We don't know who the drummer is," said Hilbert. "We... Um... Don't exactly have a regular bass player either. Right now it's just myself and Roxie, who is a girl."

    "Heh... Eheh... Is this Roxie cute?"

    Hilbert went to protest, opening his mouth and rapidly stringing together a sentence, but stopped himself. He instead steadied the wheel of the car, moving it a lane over with ease, giving Juniper a passing look.

    "You met her tonight," said Hilbert. "What do you think?"

    Juniper gave a blank stare, looking off into the distance past Hilbert, at the black night that passed by, the many different store fronts appearing just beyond the street. Realization dawned on her slowly, and she sat back in her chair, staring out the front of the car, her head sliding side to side with each movement of the car. She let out a loud gasp of realization, her eyes forcing shut and her head falling forward into her hands, her whole body slumping over.

    "Ohhh! Roxie... Roxie! Yes! I'm so sorry Hilbert... I don't know what's happening right now... I should've known that..."

    Hilbert let out a small snort, grinning. "No worries."

    The turn signal switch flicked up behind the wheel, Hilbert keeping his thumb over the end of the switch. The car turn signal flashed at the end of the car, a green arrow pulsing on the dashboard. Hilbert let the car roll around the corner, entering a stretch of road surrounded by topiaries on either side. The island dividing the two lanes had a set of tall, manicured shrubs dotting the center all the way down, surrounded by very short red-flowered coverings. Between the sidewalk and the street, an array of rounded shrubs divided the two, filled in by deep green lawns. At the far end of the road, the white walls of a laboratory glowed.

    "You know how I never gave you your Pokemon...?" asked Juniper, shuffling in her seat, trying to sit herself a little more upright to help with the view. Her glazed eyes glowed at the sight of her lab.

    Hilbert swallowed. "Yeah, I remember that."

    Juniper gave Hilbert a smile. "I know the cut-off is twenty, but I'd still get you one... I owe your mom too much... A lifetime..."

    Hilbert stared out of the windshield with a pained expression. He eased the brakes, bringing the car into the circular, pool-like culdesac cap at the end of the road. Cranking the wheel, the slowing car moved around to the far side of the ring, coming to the sidewalk's edge.

    "That's fine, Professor. I—" Hilbert began. He was cut off.

    "But I understand... Honey, I totally understand. Not everyone was made to be a trainer, and that's not a bad thing. They were made for more important things in life. Tasks that only the Great Sky can give."

    Juniper's sleepy, lazy gaze moved with her wobbling head. She looked out the window beside her, looking up the stairs to the lab, seeing the door swing open.

    "My goodness... Someone's working late..." Juniper mumbled.

    Leaning down to see out of Juniper's window, Hilbert caught a glimpse of the figure approaching the edge of the steps.

    With long, dark and bluish hair trailing down over her back, smooth and uniform, swaying down around her hips, Fennel descended the steps. A large lab coat adorned her figure, buttoned around her torso, swaying around her naked legs. A pair of glassy blue eyes appeared far larger than they were beneath her glasses. She moved delicately, descending the stairs as quickly as she could, but moving careful and watching her unsteady steps.

    Hilbert caught himself staring. Though he wanted to make sure that Fennel's wobbling, unsteady legs made it down the stairs, he was paying attention to the way they moved, the way the muscles flexed beneath the smooth, glossy skin. He shook off the warmth he felt grow in his shoulders, catching it before it spread up his neck.

    Juniper's hand slapped and smacked lazily along the console in the door, trying to find the window controls. Her finger eventually found the tab switch, pressing in and making the motor go just slightly. She forced her finger down, the window rolling down about halfway before her finger slipped. Blinking steadily, she looked down into the dark of the car, seeing where her hand had slipped. The snapping footsteps of Fennel's flats approached just outside the window, making Juniper's head whip up and to attention, looking through a haze of her own hair to see her.

    "Fennel...! Hey! Fennel...!" Juniper half-exclaimed. Her hands fumbled with the console on the door, getting the window down just a few inches before she lost it again. Just outside her vision, where she wasn't paying attention, the lower half of Fennel's torso filled the window space as she reached down for the door handle, popping it open. The armrest console slid out beneath her arm, making Juniper's arm flop forward.

    The lights in the car turned on, a gentle chime playing as the door opened. The outside air slipped in through the opening, the sounds of the car engine apparent, up until Hilbert turned the keys back and kicked the engine off. All of the lights in the car choked and flashed for a second, before they all turned on.

    As Fennel reached in, finding the Professor's arm and grabbing for it, Juniper lazily slapped Fennel's hands away. Her head drunkenly rolled back in the seat, a ridiculous, sleepy smile appearing. "Fenfen, stop... That tickles...!" whined Juniper.

    Hilbert slipped the keys out of the ignition. He fastened his hat tighter to his head, grabbing his seatbelt and releasing it.

    "Hey Fennel," Hilbert said, trying to keep it less than obvious that he was enjoying someone else dealing with Juniper.

    Underneath the roof of the car, Fennel squatted down, her normally dreamy expression disappeared when she saw Hilbert. She ignored Juniper's catlike toying, her clumsy, outstretched arms reaching to play with Fennel's pink glossy earrings. Her expression held for a moment, looking over Hilbert for a long, frightened moment.

    The smile on Hilbert's face faltered after a moment, soon turning to confusion. "What's going on?" he asked.

    "Hilbert, I need to talk with you as soon as you can," said Fennel. "It's urgent."

    Hilbert popped the door on the driver's side open. He stood up, stepping out on the smooth pavement of the laboratory circle, getting around the door quickly and shutting it. He lingered on the side of the car, looking over to where Fennel's head had popped above the car's roof to see where he was going, moments before it popped back under the car. He sighed, looking out over the empty evening town, frowning.

    "I mean, I'm right here," said Hilbert. "What's going on?"

    Fennel's head popped over the roof the car, looking over to Hilbert and meeting eyes with him, her eyes wide and frightened. Juniper's hand continued to lazily reach up and paw at Fennel's face, getting lazier and lazier, reaching down over her neck and collarbone, moments before Fennel gently grabbed her wrist and pulled her away. When she went to speak, her eyes went away, her lips biting nervously. Her head disappeared back down, fumbling with Juniper as she undid her seatbelt and got her situated.

    Scowling, Hilbert quickly moved around the hood of the car, the lights still on, casting his pants in a blinding blue and making dark shadows far beyond the car. His sneakers scraped against the streets, moving hastily over towards the open passenger door, towards Juniper's grumbling.

    Fennel had managed to sling Juniper's arms over her shoulder, getting her arms up beneath Juniper's shoulders. Planting her feet in the ground, legs squatting, Fennel got ready to hoist Juniper from the car when Juniper let out a loud, sudden croak. Hilbert appeared behind and beside Fennel, leaning up against the rear passenger door of the sedan, making Fennel wince with surprise.

    "Fennel, what's going on? Is everything alright?" Hilbert asked.

    As Fennel went to reply, Juniper's flopping arm got a swing at her face. The wide, oval-shaped glasses adorning Fennel's eyes were caught in Juniper's raking fingers, pulling halfway over Fennel's ears. Forcing her eyes shut, making a sour face, Fennel blindly reached to get her glasses back, missing and further losing her grip on Juniper, making her slouch against her.

    "It's not bad... To be on the mooooon!" Juniper wailed, her shrill voice seeming halfway melodic to her half-awake brain.

    "Great Sky..." Hilbert groaned. He moved in quickly, prying Fennel's glasses from Juniper's clutches. He came around behind Fennel, squeezing the arms of the wire glasses over her cheeks and getting them halfway on, stopping momentarily to smooth her hair back to get the glasses on before Fennel groaned and waved a hand, egging him on, getting the rest of the glasses on. Once Fennel had her glasses back on, her eyes opening and looking through where her hair had stuck down beneath the lenses, Hilbert came around the other side, getting himself between Fennel, Juniper and the door, helping Fennel get her grip beneath Juniper's shoulders.

    Grunting, letting out a loud, battling groan, Fennel hoisted Juniper up out of the seat, launching herself a few steps back, Juniper's legs dragging and scuttling behind her on the sidewalk. She backpedaled quickly, moving back several feet before she forced herself to a stop, groaning under Juniper's weight.

    Hilbert had gotten out from between her and the door moments before, breathing heavily, watching as Fennel helped ease Juniper back towards the steps of the laboratory. He adjusted his hat, shutting the door back on the car, blindly reaching for the keyfob and locking the car, shutting the lights off.

    "There's more... More more more... More... Puuuuddiiiing..." Juniper crooned, her head rolling side to side on her shoulders.

    Squatting down, Fennel took a deep, exhausted breath and launched herself up the first few steps to the laboratory. When she felt the heels of Juniper's sneakers catch on the first step, she slowed to a total stop, lowering Juniper just enough to drop her on the steps. She felt the resistance as Juniper's rear touched down, sitting on the step, the rest of Juniper leaning back slowly on the steps until Fennel finally relinquished her grip beneath Juniper's arms.

    Fennel's spine popped unusually as she stood up. The flower clip in her hair came loose in her fingers as she pulled it out, squeezing the springtrap and taking a moment to brush her hair aside, smoothing it back into uniformity around her glasses and out of her eyes. As she placed the clip back into position, clamping down at the end of her swooping bangs, she paused where she stood at the top of the first landing of pure white stairs. She looked down, making eye contact with Hilbert at the bottom.

    Hilbert took the first few steps from around the sedan, bringing himself to the foot of steps, Juniper's half passed-out, sprawled body sitting on the steps between himself and Fennel. He kept his gaze affixed to Fennel, seeing her pause and hesitate when she saw him.

    "Fennel, what's going on?" Hilbert asked.

    "I... I..." Fennel began, but she couldn't get the words out. Something was keeping her.

    At the steps, Hilbert took the first stair, heading up the array of stairs, stepping around Juniper's sprawling form. He didn't say anything, just heading up the steps.

    At the top, Fennel stared in total fear. Her hands hovered over where the flower clip was supposed to tuck neatly into her hair, instead frozen in the position, watching eternally as Hilbert ascended.

    When Hilbert reached the top, he faced Fennel, stepping closer.

    "Fennel... What's wrong...?"

    Fennel was silent. She swallowed, pressing on, finishing putting the clip into her hair. When she had finished, she cleared her throat, taking a deep breath through her nostrils and straightening her posture.

    "Your... Um... Your mother..." Fennel began, quietly.

    "What about my mother...?" asked Hilbert. His voice trailed off. All the answers he needed were in Fennel's eyes.

    Down the road another sedan rounded the corner, tires squealing, the headlights wobbling as the suspension of the car did a lazy job of straightening the vehicle. The car, half a mile away, hurtled towards where Hilbert and Juniper's car was. The familiar brown hood of the car passed beneath a streetlight, the familiar color of Pop Roxie's car. It was Cheren.

    At the bottom of the steps, in the laboratory circle, Pop Roxie's old brown sedan came in wheeling off the street, wheels squealing as it came to a halt on the outer rim of the curb. The whole body shook, bouncing back and forth on the suspension as the tire rolled against the raised curb and suddenly stopped. The lights and the roaring engine cut out, the driver door swinging open suddenly as Cheren stepped out of the driver's side, looking up to where Hilbert and Fennel were.

    Though Hilbert gave a passing look to Cheren just beyond the steps, he looked up towards Fennel, seeing that she had turned away and was looking down at her feet. She made a strange, unusual choking noise with her throat, like she was holding back.

    "Hilbert, Roxie called," Fennel said, as solemn and controlled as she could manage. "Your mother had a heart attack."

    Hilbert's gaze was dead, staring off in the distance past the steps.

    All at once, the dam suddenly broke for Fennel. The tears she had been holding back exploded out in a gasp. She went across the landing to Hilbert, throwing her arms around him.

  4. #4

    Default Chapter 3

    Chapter 3: Hilbert, Part 3


    The whole car roared with thunder, the engine swelling and firing loudly as Cheren eased the gas pedal down to the floor. Outside the windows that surrounded Cheren and Hilbert, outside the car, the whole world whipped by at lightning speed. The speedometer beneath the glass of the dash hovered around 70.

    "Aspertia Hospital is this way... Aspertia Hospital is this way..." Cheren repeated to himself in the dark, under his breath. Where his hands gripped the wheel, his knuckles were turning white.

    Beside him, Hilbert was staring ahead, blank. He remained totally silent, keeping his eyes on the road, only moving to keep his head straight when the car bounced or rattled. His senses were filled with the roaring of the car, Cheren's near-hysterical whispering, and the gentle country music that played from the stereo.

    ---

    "She's up this way," a male nurse called, seeing Hilbert and Cheren arrive through the sliding glass doors. He waved them over with his clipboard, stepping around a moving gurney and several other assistants and nurses.

    A set of doors stood in the center of the far wall, the end to the lobby. The male nurse quickly headed to one side of the door, opening one side of the door to the main hall while another nurse grabbed another side.

    Cheren picked up the pace, jogging through the different distributions of people in the hospital and heading down into the hall, straight through the two nurses who held the swinging doors open.

    Far behind, Hilbert was only speedwalking. His exhaustion was getting to him. Everything he looked at, even the most mundane of things he stared at in disbelief.

    ---

    The room seemed to glow a heavenly white, the pure white walls and white linoleum reflecting the overhead fluorescent light. The green curtains had been pulled back around the overhead track, opening up the view of the hospital bed in the first area of the room. Darlene was there, resting back in her bed, lying flat on her back, completely unconscious. Overhead, the vitals monitor refreshed quickly, showing Darlene's consistent, sleeping heartbeat.

    Hilbert stopped after taking a few steps into the room. He was hypnotized, transfixed on where his mom was. He took the first few steps closer.

    Though Darlene was sound asleep, something seemed off about her. The hospital gown on her seemed ill-fitting, especially when she looked the exact same way she had when Hilbert had left her, mostly. As Hilbert approached, passing around her from left to right, he saw the serene, sleeping expression on her features was not present on her right side. The right side of her face seemed uncomfortable, her lip curled up sharply, some of her teeth exposed. Her cheek muscles were contorted, stretched thin and warped. Hilbert let out an audible gasp when he saw that her right eye was slightly open, the whites visible in the lower corner of her eye.

    As Hilbert's gaze trailed down, he saw that on her left arm several IVs had been attached to her veins, just beneath it was a wristband tag, the arm resting beside her soundly. Looking down further, the wrist of her right arm was in a leather strap, fixed to the metal railing arm rest on the bed.

    "Her arm was unresponsive. We didn't want her to suddenly harm it in her sleep," the doctor spoke up, breaking the silence.

    Hilbert looked up suddenly, surprised. In the doorway, the doctor stood, and just behind him he could see Cheren.

    As Cheren stepped around the doctor, catching a glimpse of Hilbert's mom, his footsteps slowed to a solitary halt. He laid eyes on where she was, taking a deep breath as he took in all that he saw.

    Giving Cheren a passing glance, the doctor stepped towards him. "Give us a moment," he whispered in Cheren's ear.

    The doctor sighed. Over his shoulder, the male nurse from earlier stepped in, lightly putting a hand on Cheren's shoulder. When Cheren found the male nurse's hand, looking back at him and then back to Hilbert's mom, he took a few steps back in compliance, stepping out of the room, being led down the hall. It left the doctor in the room's doorway with just Hilbert. Taking a deep breath, he reached around and shut the door behind him.

    "Forgive me," said the doctor, taking the first few steps in, moving as slow and careful as his words. "My name is Dr. Hendricks. I specialize in cases... Well... Just like your mother's right here. Unique medical emergencies."

    Hilbert continued to stare at his mom. His gaze frequently returned to the drooping eyelid and the pained expression frozen on her face while she slept.

    "Your mother has suffered a serious heart attack. Don't worry, she is fine now and under careful observation," said Dr. Hendricks. "There was a... A rather large complication as part of her heart attack. Your mother is now completely paralyzed on her right side. She has lost control of any motor function on the right hemisphere of her body."

    Everything around Hilbert seemed to slow down. As he stared down into the bed, hands by his side, staring where he did, his breathing became eratic.

    Dr. Hendricks hesitated. He watched Hilbert, seeing him freeze in place, leaning forward to see if he could make eye contact with him.

    "Son?" he asked.

    Slowly, Hilbert's head rolled forward limply, his head facing the floor. He shuddered, his hat sliding forward and off of his head, clattering to the floor moments later. Bushy tufts of brown hair stuck up, falling forward and slowly unfurling from his head.

    Hearing the first few footsteps of the doctor as he approached, Hilbert took a deep, sniffling breath and brought his head up. His eyes were burning bright red, all the blood in his face swelling around his eyes as they turned puffy, beady tears breaking off from the eyelid and dribbling down his cheek. Hilbert took his breaths in through his teeth. Down by his sides, his hands had turned to thick, balled fists.

    Without a word, Hilbert headed out of the room, his legs moving in a hustle, taking him out of the infirmary room and out into the hall.

    The door shut behind Hilbert with a dull thump, the doorknob latching. Dr. Hendricks stared, watching Hilbert through the window as he went down the hall.

    ---

    In a random hall on the same floor, Hilbert had found one of the many plastic seats that lined the hall. Hunched over, hands on his knees, Hilbert stared at the scuffed, glassy tiles of linoleum flooring in the hall, the dim hospital lights glowing on the surface. His hair had fallen over his brow long ago, still in the sweaty slicks that he had kept inside his hat, nowhere to be found. Just beneath his chair, Hilbert had removed his sneakers, his socked toes pressed to the floor.

    Down the hall, Hilbert could hear footsteps. He paid them no mind, instead staring down at the floor, head in his hands, letting the tears run down over his cheeks and sting. The footsteps never let up, instead coming closer and closer to him, a long, thin shadow drawing a warped image over the tile.

    Something flew out in front of Hilbert's face, snapping him from his daydream. It was his hat, and a slender, feminine arm was holding it. Hilbert's eyes traced up the slender arm, past the unpainted nails, past the dozen colorful, braided bracelets and thick, rubbery concert bracelets, up to the mass of hair draped over the woman's shoulders. He met with a set of beautiful, deep blue eyes.

    It was Hilda.

    Hilbert's longing, distant sadness suddenly refocused, turning to near-and-dear concern. He blinked away the tears in his eyes, his brow furrowing and eyes narrowing, squinting to see past the hospital lights.

    "You forgot your hat," said Hilda. Her face was hidden in shadows, obscured by heavenly, blinding lights. Hilbert thought he could see the familiar smirk.

    Reaching, Hilbert took his hat back. He didn't put it on, holding it in his lap, still hunched over and staring up in disbelief.

    Hilda's boots squealed. She walked around Hilbert, going for one of the few plastic seats beside him. In the empty hospital hall, she grabbed the chair by its handle and dragged it out into the hall, the rubber grips on the seat squealing and rattling the thin frame, clattering and echoing. She set the chair opposite Hilbert, sitting herself down in it and hunching over to match Hilbert's posture. Hilbert had been wrong, she wasn't smirking. A look of genuine worry was on her face, staring him down with a blinding intensity. Her features were tight, tired, worn but very healthy.

    "Where did you...?" Hilbert choked midway through his sentence. His voice was a croak, worse than he had expected.

    "Find your hat?" Hilda gave a flash of a smile. It quickly faded. "The doc was in the hallway. I thought I had seen that hat before and I figured you weren't far."

    Breathing, blinking several times and rubbing his eyes, Hilbert shook his head.

    "No... I mean... How did you get... Where did you... How...?"

    "I'm a lucky guesser. Besides, I think you woke up most anyone within a mile of the road you and your friend tore up getting here," Hilda chuckled lightly. "Nobody goes that fast without something being wrong. I passed your friend when he was on his way out, and well... I saw the doc and I could imply the rest..."

    Hilbert held his tongue, biting down hard. Another wave of tears forced his eyes shut as they burned.

    "The words don't always come so easy for something like this. It's very easy to want to try and give advice, try and speak into a situation like this," said Hilda, "but the words don't always come. When they come, sometimes they don't make sense. Sometimes you just have to say them, letting the chips fall. Sometimes you don't exactly believe those words or know what to do with them. It can be very, very hard sometimes to say the right thing."

    Sniffling, Hilbert let out a smile, a gasp of air. He caught himself between tears, wiping away one eye while a tear dribbled out of the other, running down his cheek and past his mouth. The collar of his lone, simple t-shirt wadded up beneath his thumb as he wiped it away.

    "That's a weird thing..." said Hilbert. He couldn't muster the strength to look at Hilda. "Especially from someone who knows exactly where to be at the right time... Heh... Or exactly the right thing to say."

    Hilda smiled gently. "Words never do as they are told. We only ever think we're saying what we're saying, and interpreting them is so much harder," she said.

    "Yeah, but you knew exactly what to say the other day," said Hilbert, sniffling again. "Nobody believed me when I told them what you said. They all thought what you were saying was something I made it up... It was just too good to be true... Too perfect... Heh..."

    Hilda lifted the brim of her hat out of habit, her lips crimping together to blow loose strands of hair out of her brow. She paused for several long moments, considering what Hilbert had said. "I've been accused of a lot of things, but never too perfect."

    Hilbert had just enough strength to give Hilda one passing look. The gaze he met with wasn't fixed at him; it was something forlorn and distant, fixed to the wall ahead of her, her blue eyes seemingly iced over as she stared at the wall.

    "They said it was too good to be true, and for a little bit I was believing them..." said Hilbert.

    "What was? Why?" asked Hilda.

    "You said I wasn't meant to be... I shouldn't be hanging out with Roxie or playing in a band. I should be training Pokemon and trying to make something in that area of your life. It's funny, 'cause everyone has been saying that lately. Like, everyone. Two more people said it to my face today, in some way or another... A lot of people had already said that by the time we ran into each other the other day... I don't understand why people think or say that. You think they would be happy for me if they cared at all."

    "And you expect me to say something profound now? Now that I've revealed myself to have 'the gift'?" asked Hilda.

    "Well, one could say you're batting a thousand right now."

    Through the bleak sadness that had taken over her features, Hilda let out a dry chuckle, shaking her head lightly.

    "That's not how this works," she said.

    "Alright then," said Hilbert. "How does this work?"

    "It works by you taking the next step. By pushing forward. After all, things don't just stop here. This is just one little part in the story, and there's so much more left. Things only get better when you push forward," said Hilda. She turned serious, sitting herself more forward to get a better view of Hilbert. She made sure he was paying attention, staring directly into him. "Do you know what the next step is, Hilbert?" she asked.

    "I mean... Is that a metaphor or something...?"

    "It's not. What do you think happens next?" asked Hilda.

    "I... I go home...?"

    "You go home. You don'r stay the night in the hospital, you don't stay the night with your friends or anything at all. You go home," said Hilda.

    Hilbert nodded softly. The wellspring of tears had dried up long ago.

    "You go home, and things are empty," said Hilda. "You go home, and there's nothing to do but wait and listen to the deafening, soul-crushing silence that awaits you. There's no mom at home now. She's at the hospital, and you don't know what's happening."

    Hilbert sighed. "That's awfully inspiring."

    "It's the truth. And you need to know it in order to go to the next step."

    Hilbert raised his head, looking at Hilda. He squinted, his eyes burning, swollen with dried tears.

    "And what's that?" he asked.

    Hilda gave a cold, dead stare.

    "Moving on."

    ---

    The door to the house was slightly ajar, light pouring out from the open side. The half shut blinds showed gentle warm light inside the living room, making for a familiar, homely scene.

    Hilbert took the steps up to the home hesitantly, being careful to make his way inside quietly. Each step he took made him pause and hesitate a little longer, stopping in his tracks, his head raising from where he watched those steps to look up to the door, a look of uneasiness on his face. Looking down behind him, he saw where Cheren was in Pop Roxie's car moments earlier, the driveway now empty.

    When he reached the door, he pressed his hand gently to it, the door swinging open with a familiar, dragged-out whine. The hinges squealed to a halt as the door fully opened, giving Hilbert full view of the room.

    The lone light in the room was a lamp, the shade knocked slightly ajar, the metal, wire-thin arms tweaked and sprung in odd angles. The light that shone through the glowing canvas walls was skewed, the fireplace at the side of the living room overlit and the walls surrounding it deep and dark. All around the couches, on the floor and carpet, decorative pillows had been strewn about. A deep wine stain had set into the velvety side of a pillow on the carpet, next to two of the photo frames that had fallen to the floor in a pile of shattered glass.

    "Aw man..." Hilbert scowled. He leaned himself against the doorway, taking his hat off and rubbing his eyes.

    Hilbert heard something familiar. The sound of a glass setting down on a table. His eyes followed the drunken, strewn-about mess up to the loveseat opposite the couch. Through the dim, uneven light, he could see a shadowy figure, sprawled across.

    "Hey big guy," said Roxie. "Rough night?"

    Roxie lounged in the loveseat. Her back slouched against the right arm of the chair while a leg had kicked up lazily over the left arm, her other leg sprawled across the floor beside the chair. A small, cylindrical whiskey glass rested in her lap as she held the rim, half-nursed, frosted over.

    Hilbert made his way from his slouched position in the doorway, walking himself around into the center of the living room. He found the couch opposite Roxie, easing himself down into the cushy seats. Down beneath his pantleg, the wet sensation of a wine stain set in the cushion reached him, making him shuffle and shift uncomfortably, scooting over to the other side of the couch. He blinked the sleep from his eyes, adjusting to the strange, warped version of his family living room.

    The coffee table legs creaked, something outside Roxie's vision being set down. He looked down when he felt the edge nudge his pant leg, making him look down. The ice in a similar, equally frosty whiskey glass clinked, the napkin it rested on scooting gently. Hilbert eyed the glass, giving Roxie a charged, annoyed look.

    Roxie narrowed her brow. "What?" she asked. "It's bitters. Great Sky..."

    Reluctantly, Hilbert took the glass from the table. Pressing the glass to his lips, he hesitated for a moment, taking a small sip and pulling the glass away, giving him a moment to process the drink. The club soda fizzled on his tongue, the taste of ginger working his way into his sinuses. The alcoholic bite never came. Hilbert took the little napkin, scooting it to his edge of the coffee table, setting the drink on it.

    Stiff, groaning, Roxie sat herself up in the chair. The feathery tufts of white hair on either side of her head batted against her cool face, the sleeve on her arm wiping away the tangled strands as she slowly, stiffly swung her legs over and planted her boots in the carpet. Her body hunched over as she found the edge of the seat. Her eyes stared ahead, cold and tired. The glass of bitters was clutched between her hands, just at the edge of her sweater's skirt.

    "Are you okay?" asked Roxie.

    "I'll be fine," said Hilbert, staring ahead.

    Roxie shook her head silently. Running her hand over her head, she felt the loose hair on top of her head, smoothing it into the knot on top.

    "Do you expect me to believe that?" asked Roxie. "You're 'fine'?"

    Hilbert looked up to Roxie. "I said I'll be fine."

    "Hilbert, I appreciate the whole 'being a man about it' thing, but really, if you need to let it out, let it out. It's not good to keep all that crap bottled up inside."

    "Why? What's it matter?" Hilbert snapped. His words seethed with venom, his eyes lighting up and boiling.

    Roxie sat back a bit, taking a sip of her drink, watching Hilbert from behind a veil of skepticism. When she finished her drink, she watched the drink as she set it on a coaster on the coffee table, leaving it be.

    "Because then crap like that happens. Hilbert, you gotta be honest, otherwise this doesn't work," said Roxie.

    "How about you be honest? What's 'this'? What's 'this' that's gotta work?" asked Hilbert.

    Roxie went to reply, but she hesitated, her mouth hanging open. She stared down at her drink, avoiding Hilbert's watching, expecting gaze.

    "Our... Mutual friendship," said Roxie.

    "No, our mutual 'you help me with my band' situation," said Hilbert. "Come on, you'd want me to man up and get past this so that way we can practice tomorrow. That's heartless as hell."

    "That's... That's absolutely slanderous..." Roxie said quietly, visibly hiding her rage. Her eyes flashed up to meet Hilbert's. "Don't you dare accuse me of something like that. Great Sky, of course I have a friggin' heart."

    "Yeah? Then—"

    "Don't ever accuse me of not having a heart," Roxie seethed, cutting Hilbert off. "I know you're in a rough spot, I know you're freaked out that your mom got real sick, I know you're not in the best state of mind and everything's a little emotionally touchy, but—friggin'—Great Sky—I'm your friend, Hilbert. I'm trying to help."

    Hilbert shut himself up. His lips folded into his mouth, his tongue trapped between his molars as he stared ahead at Roxie. His eyes burned, his ears glowing with embarrassment. The look of surprise on his face was perpetually frozen, meeting with Roxie's seething expression.

    Roxie's eyes flashed down, meeting with her drink. Only an inch was left beneath the frosted glass. Her fingers had sank deep into her sweater, slowly unballing as she tried to relax. She reached across, hastily grabbing her drink and downing the rest of it in a single gulp.

    "Here's the thing, Hilbert," said Roxie, keeping her words brisk and biting. "I run a tight ship in my band. I drink, I curse, I stay up all night and I'm not exactly the girl you want to take home to your mama, but when it comes to practice time I don't mess around. Why is that? Because I don't want to pass up the opportunities I have in life. It's not because I don't have a heart."

    Hilbert was staring down at his feet, perpetually. Even without looking at Roxie, he could feel her eyes burning into him.

    "You know what, Hilbert? I do have a heart. Despite all that, I still have a heart. There's a time to work and a time to play."

    "What do you call this? Work or play?" Hilbert asked quietly.

    Roxie froze up. Her eyes burned, her teeth flashing in a fit of sudden rage. She held herself back.

    "It's—I—It's neither," Roxie hissed. "This is... This is where we hit the pause button, okay? This is where things stop... I..." she swallowed, taking a moment to breathe. She paused for a long moment, her eyes searching the floor for words as the lull dragged out. All at once, she flashed her eyes back up at Hilbert's waiting gaze, picking back up her thought. "I like you a lot Hilbert."

    "But what?"

    "But nothing. I don't... I don't care what you do, okay? Listen, it's okay if you decide something different. You... You don't have to worry about disappointing me. You're still my friend, no matter what happens. And... And if you want to go ahead and... And go be a Pokemon trainer, I say go for it. I... I just want you to be happy no matter what happens. Just... Don't rush the decision."

    Hilbert looked up to Roxie. Now she was looking away. Something looked sad about her, like she couldn't own up to something. He couldn't spell it out, a confused look washing over his intent gaze. He chewed the corner of his lip as he thought, holding his hands out over his knees.

    "I... I know changes... They're scary," said Roxie, earnestly. "They don't come so easy, but... But they get thrust on us. It just... Suddenly it happens, and we're there."

    "Someone... She—" Hilbert cut himself off, sensing the mood in the room. "Somebody told me that the hardest part is coming home and trying to sleep in an empty home."

    "Yeah, that's true," said Roxie. "It is the hardest part."

    Shaking his head gently, Hilbert removed his hat. When he set it in his lap, it promptly rolled off and fell past his legs, falling down between the couch and the coffee table. He slumped back, staring into the dark corners of the room.

    "Hilbert," Roxie said, her voice almost sounding weak. "Don't make any rash decisions. Just... I'll be okay with what whatever you choose."

    Hilbert's brow furrowed.

    "What would I be choosing?"

    Roxie gave Hilbert a cold look.

    Roxie didn't say anything. Instead, she continued to turn the glass in her hand, gazing into her lap as the amber liquid sloshed on the inside. She gave herself a moment of cold silence, letting Hilbert's question hang in the air. She could feel his eyes on him, watching her every move.

    After a beat, she set her glass on the table. She got to her feet, planting her boots in the ground as she sat herself up and stood upright. Beside her, she shuffled the sleeves of her sweater, dropping and straightening them. She then picked her glass up again, passing around the living room, passing Hilbert where he stood on the couch.

    Hilbert continued to stare ahead as Roxie headed for the door. His hands stayed folded in his lap, listening to her reach the slightly-ajar door, pulling it open with a quiet whine. The warm glow of streetlights came in behind him, obscured by Roxie's shadow.

    "I'll see you tomorrow," said Roxie.

    Though Roxie hesitated a minute longer, lifting her glass and draining it, she stepped out onto the steps and pulled the door to a close behind her.

    Hilbert sat alone on the couch, alone in the empty home.

    ---

    The morning sun burned overhead, glowing blindingly in the clear morning sky. An array of trees lined the clearing, the wide space reserved for an array of thin, gravelly paths and the small, old diner. Several flocks of Pidove fluttered from the trees, taking to the morning skies as an easy breeze came through.

    Hilbert moved stiffly, his legs bending like boards as he sneakers scuffed on the gravel. He kept his hands in his pockets, his blue jacket sitting uncomfortably on his shoulders. A pair of sunglasses fit beneath the bill of his hat. Even beneath the black-tinted lenses, Hilbert found himself squinting at the sky whenever he looked up.

    Looking down, blinking away the blinding rays of the sun, Hilbert lifted his hat just enough to reach beneath. He rubbed away an intense headache, groaning.

    The thin, aluminum stairs to the diner rattled, Hilbert walking up them and ascending onto a thin platform that ran the length of the diner's front. He walked past planters, old rocking chairs and tin signs hung from the overhanging roof. The smell of sizzling breakfast foods wafted through the propped-open metal door, sounds of conversations echoing over the floor.

    ---

    "So that's why I couldn't tell Roxie, under any circumstances," said Hilbert. "She's not taking me seriously. I think she was taking me seriously last night, but she doesn't believe me, at least when I talk about Hilda."

    "I'll be honest," Cheren said, in-between bites. He hestiated, wiping his lips with his napkin, swallowing pensively. "I'm not exactly certain this 'Hilda' exists either. Every part of me says that there's no way this is true."

    In the opposite side of the booth, Hilbert slouched back, his hand resting comfortably in the grip of his coffee cup on the table. He stared beneath a set of black sunglasses, looking weakly, his head throbbing silently. His plate of pancakes was empty, the plate lined with sticky, syrupy residue, the glazed fork hanging over the edge. Instead of staring at Cheren, who was avoiding looking at Hilbert, he looked down at Cheren's plate, watching him eat hastily. Sighing, he took a long sip of his coffee, groaning as he sat himself up and hunched over the table. He removed the sunglasses on his face, setting them down on the table, rubbing his forcefully shut eyes.

    "That's... That's ridiculous..." Hilbert groaned, his headache rising to ten times what it was before.

    "I know it's not exactly a fantastic thing to accuse you of, but rest assured it's nothing critical. Honestly, I'm not even accusing you."

    Cheren's fork squealed along the plate, scraping up the last of his ketchup-y eggs against the edge of a knife. Taking another bite, he set the fork and knife down, grabbing his napkin and wadding it up, carefully stuffing it beneath the plate.

    Hilbert looked on in annoyance, watching as Cheren ate carelessly.

    "Cheren, that's the thing man," said Hilbert. "You are, actually, accusing me of something, and it's being absolutely friggin' delusional. There's only—"

    "I just think this 'ghost girl' is a little too conveniently on your side," said Cheren, shrugging off the thought.

    Scowling, Hilbert shook his head. As he looked about the table in annoyance, he grabbed for his sunglasses, unfolding the arms and fitting them snugly around his head. The vinyl seats squealed as he set himself back, slouching further into the seat as he reached for his wallet. He fished out a few, wadded out bills, finding a few jangling coins.

    Rocking the bench, Hilbert scooted himself out, getting to his feet in the diner. He flipped through the coins in the palm of his hand, dumping them out onto the edge of the table and dropping the crinkled bills beside them.

    "Well, let me know when acting friggin' rational is convenient for you," said Hilbert. "Great friggin' Sky."

    As Hilbert made his way away from the table, turning and avoiding an oncoming waitress just in time, Cheren looked up in confusion, realizing too late that Hilbert was leaving. His head craned around to see where he was going, his head then whipping around to the window beside the table when he heard the ramp thump with Hilbert's footsteps, Hilbert passing mere inches from the glass as he headed down. Sitting himself uncomfortably, Cheren reached for his glass of water, sipping as he lost himself in thought.

  5. #5

    Default Chapter 4

    Chapter 4: Hilbert, Part 4


    "Right this way, sir."

    The lights in the laboratory were blinding, glowing off the white walls, making Hilbert squint. Hands in his pockets, he walked carefully through the open workspaces, watching the plethora of scientists at their benches working on different devices, scribbling notes or coercing the Pokemon on their desks to cooperate. The whole space smelled sterile, cleaned and spotless, the hum of various machines and the low chatter of note-exchanging making the space seem human, even though it seemed truly otherworldly. Gigantic scopes had been lowered from the ceiling to inspect the scales on a blue-striped Basculin. Cables hooked up to a reactor snaked across the pure white flooring, going up to a counter where a Emolga was spreading its small, thin flaps, its beady eyes at the electrodes on the skin.

    Stepping between a few tables, passing close to a large reactor filled with blue liquid, an assistant scientist beckoned Hilbert closer. As he waved him over, he checked his watch briefly.

    Hilbert nearly tripped over a tray on the ground, rattling a set of discarded and used glass beakers and tubes, tinted with bright mercury-red resin. Watching his legs as he found the right footing, his head whipped around to his right as a scientist passed by with a box of assorted unusual rocks. He ducked down quickly, holding his hat, his sneakers squealing as he scuttled out of the way, avoiding a cursing scientist.

    Once he had caught up with the grinning, nervous assistant, they both entered the hall, looking down the long, wide stretch to a set of doors near the end. At the prompting of the assistant, he followed carefully, looking around the assistant to see the strange, official-sounding names on the doors, turning and looking at the rather plain halls.

    "I do apologize for the rush," said the balding assistant. As he walked stiffly down the halls, he looked down to his watch, then back ahead. "We're just slightly behind."

    Hilbert said nothing. Instead, his eyes narrowed on the figure at the end of the hall.

    Fennel had stepped through the set of doors, peeking her head through at the sound of footsteps. Stepping out, she eased the door behind her quietly, cutting off the dimly-lit office from view. She gave a dreamy, removed smile, her eyes lighting up slightly at the sight of the two.

    "Is the professor in there now?" asked the assistant, looking sideways to see in the door.

    Behind the assistant's shoulders, Hilbert was just barely able to see what was happening. He could see the dark, dimly lit edge of the cracked door. Fennel's gaze snapped to meet his when he tried looking in, and he promptly looked away. As Fennel shut the door completely, Hilbert realized he had been hearing muffled music, something operettic, now gone from the hall.

    "As always, for this week anyway," Fennel said with a deep, sighing breath. Her smile became more forced as she looked over to Hilbert, then back up to the assistant. "Won't you give us a moment? The professor would like to see just him... And myself, of course."

    By the confused, narrowed look that the assistant was giving, Fennel seemed a bit put off, shrinking back as he seemed to not take her meaning. It took a few moments before the assistant suddenly realized, snapping back to reality. He shook it off, nodding profusely before turning on a point, hastily exiting, his legs moving stiffly down the hall.

    Fennel leaned out from the doorway, watching as the assistant headed down the hall. Once he had gotten far enough down and out of the way, she reached for Hilbert's shoulder, who was also watching. She pulled him closer gently, reaching behind and near-silently opening the door. She backed up, leading Hilbert through and into the office.

    As he stepped forward at Fennel's guiding, he looked up to Fennel, pausing to give her a more confused, charged look than he had before. Swallowing, his adam's apple bobbing tenuously, he stepped forward into the dark entrance of the office.

    The music had returned. Epic, stirring notes played by full ensemble orchestra and paired with a full choir, played from a set of speakers inside. The choral notes swelled, pulling the song from something deep and brooding and into something dark and powerful. As Hilbert moved into the office, he could hear just how loud the music was. He put a hand over his chest, feeling the thump and drone of the subwoofer rattle the cavity. Once the choir had reached an apex, the musical tone reaching heights and peaking, the epic, sweeping strings of the orchestra took over, pairing with a set of horns as the music turned more grave sounding.

    A lamp at the desk was on, light coming from another lamp just behind the door. The warm haze of the lamplight washed over the walls, making the large, dark and polished wood installations seem ominous and luxurious. Hundreds of books, big and small lined the shelves, hidden in the dark alcoves. There were no windows, only paintings of coastal Unova in gold-tinted frames. Deep shag carpet covered the floors, wood board flooring going just beneath the desk. Just to the side of the room, on the side of the door, an ornate desk made of the same marbled wood that the shelves and wall installations were made of had a computer and several books on it. Professor Juniper sat behind, slouched over the tabletop.

    The door swung shut behind him, Fennel closing it with a steel-sounding latch. Hilbert lurched, jumping in surprise. Rubbing his arm habitually, he scanned the room again, taking a few steps forward.

    "Have a seat," Fennel whispered. When Hilbert looked at her, she nodded towards a desk chair opposite the desk, facing Juniper.

    Egged on, Hilbert took a few steps forward. As he did, inspecting the desk, he quickly found himself hypnotized by the sight of the professor. He kept moving towards the chair, but he eventually froze completely in his tracks.

    Juniper was laying over her desk, over the rubber mat set with papers. A glass of alcohol—something hard, from what Hilbert could tell—clutched in her hand. Her hair had come loose from her bun, seeming frayed and unkempt, similar to the night earlier. Her head was buried in the sleeve of her lab coat, almost as though she was asleep. As she heard Hilbert find the chair across from her, she slowly sat herself up, taking a deep, sniffling breath. She breathed, looking down and across, her eyes adjusting on Hilbert. Her eyes were red and puffy, dried trails of tears cutting through the foundation on her cheek and alluding to freckles.

    "Oh Hilbert... I'm..." Juniper took a deep breath, regaining her composure. She took a deep inhale of breath through her nose, shaking off the conflicting feelings she had. "I'm terribly sorry... I hoped you wouldn't see me this way... I, well, I hoped I would have everything together by now."

    Hilbert didn't say anything. He just watched, remaining silent.

    Carefully, Juniper raised her glass, staring out through the glass walls of it. She turned the glass, the light, tan-colored drink turning inside, clinking together a few, generic oblong chunks of ice. Sniffling again, Juniper forced a quiet smile, looking at the glass in the dim light.

    "I'm... Heh... I'm sure you're wondering why a... A professor would drink in barely the afternoon... Honestly I thought just this little bit would keep me together... But as soon as I poured it..."

    Juniper's smile faltered almost immediately. Her gaze softened, despite how strong she had tried to keep it. The fingers that held the glass quivered, shaking and slipping over the glass. She lowered her arm carefully, silently, setting the glass back down on the rubber mat of the desk. Though she faced Hilbert, he was staring past him, too lost in thought to focus. Her mouth opened silently, quivering as it searched for words.

    It hit. Juniper croaked, her eyes forcing closed, her eyes burning more than they could take. A few tears dribbled out from between her shut eyelids, rolling down onto her tense features. Her lips quivered, her teeth gnashing together beneath her closed, upturned mouth. Her long painted nails clawed at the rubber mat on the desk involuntarily, another croak escaping her.

    "It's... It's my fault..." Juniper wept. She took a deep, pained and shrieking breath before letting out a a quiet cry of pain. Her desk chair creaked as she sat back, flopping against the back support.

    ---

    In the long stretch of hallway outside Juniper's office, Hilbert sat close to the ground, his back resting against the wall. His arms had wrapped around his knees, slung over his legs, holding them close as he stared ahead at the floor. He kept silent, listening to the distant, muffled sounds of the laboratory as he breathed quietly. Tentatively, he swallowed. Across from him, resting on the ground across from him on the other side of the hall's wall, the red and black hat he wore sat pathetically like a husk. His gaze bore into the black Pokeball insignia on the head of it. The loose hair on his head had matted, resting in spiked slicks in an even, pine cone pattern layers.

    Deep beneath the wall behind him, a familiar sound resonated. Hilbert looked up to the side, seeing the green door to the office. The muffled sounds of crying came through, hurried and whispered conversations that Hilbert couldn't decipher. Thumps from desks, the shuffling of footsteps on the floor, all sounds familiar and inexplicable.

    Like the sound of thunder, the door exploded open beside Hilbert, pushed open with a sudden thrust. The door swung on its hinges, squealing to an apex before slowly swinging back. A hand caught the door. As Hilbert looked up, he caught a glimpse of Professor Juniper storming out, keeping her face covered with several papery tissues, her white purse dangling from her hand. His head whipped around as he watched Juniper move quickly down the hall, making a beeline for the bathroom at the end of the long hall, opening and immediately shutting the door.

    With his head turned, his gaze lingering, Hilbert lurched as he suddenly heard something behind him. He turned, seeing the door hang open. Looking up, Fennel stood just outside the doorway, holding the door's edge, standing out in the hall and looking down at Hilbert.

    "Come inside," she said.

    Getting to his feet, Hilbert gave a passing look to the hat across the hall. He quickly snatched it up, pulling himself up onto his feet and placing the hat back on his head, tugging it down snugly. All around his ears, brown tufts of bushy hair stuck up, barely held down by the hat. He caught the door's edge with his hand, just holding it open as he waited for Fennel to clear the inside, then stepped in after her.

    As the door shut behind Hilbert, the dim ambiance of the laboratory hall fading and disappearing completely, the warm, lamplit interior of the office took over. The opera music was gone, replaced with silence.

    Fennel moved silently through the office, her long white lab coat flowing behind her with her deep blue, long and straight hair following just behind. Her pink flats tromped silently over the thin layer of carpet, her movements careful. She brushed her long bangs out of her eyes, inspecting the tall piece of furniture at the end of the office she stood at.

    A tall, wooden breakfront stood in the center of the right wall. The tall structure, lined with cabinets among ornate wooden trim and small inset mirrors, had several trinkets and pieces of memorabilia that fit it in with the antiquated interior of the office. Several photos of family, Juniper's father as a young man among several pictures of her mother with him, as well as cousins from years past. On one side of the small, wooden columns that braced the upper cabinature, a faded photo of Juniper and Hilbert's mom in college, standing on a glass case with an incomprehensible electronic device. Hidden among the pictures were several old, dusty tomes, filled with old science and New Age thinking.

    From the pocket in the bottom of her lab coat, Fennel pulled an old brass key. Pinched between her fingers, she slipped the key into the brass lock on the main cabinet door, twisting easily. The latch clicked, and Fennel hesitated to open the door, slowly easing the door back just enough to lower the latch out the left side when she turned the key. As she pocketed the key, she gave Hilbert a passing look, watching as he approached the side of the breakfront. Beneath the glowing haze of the lamps, Fennel's eyes looked cautious, worried.

    Hilbert paid no mind. His eyes were transfixed on the photo of his mom and Juniper. The hazy glass showed a forest landscape, with thin and tiny black pine trees filling the background beneath a nearly white blue sky. His mother had bangs, her hair pulled into a sporty ponytail behind her, her straightened, damp black hair curving around her face in an awkward display of youth. Her eyes seemed young and alive, a toothy grin dominating the lower half of her face. She had her arms wrapped around Juniper's neck, showing off several armbands similar to Hilda. The camping sweater that Juniper wore seemed refined, if hammered and gross. Her freckles completely took over her face, going beneath the wide-rimmed glasses she wore. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail as well, though the dense curls made her look like a poodle.

    Down in their laps, they each had a young, happy Pokemon. Darlene had a Snivy, wide-eyed and serene. Juniper had a Dewott, seemingly just evolved, sitting awkwardly in her lap like she wasn't used to the new length of his body.

    As Hilbert looked past the photo, down into the glass case, he saw the leafy, aged label of a wine bottle. A bottle imported from Cherrygrove City. As the edges frayed, Hilbert trying to read the edges of the old paper label, a mess of wires stuck up at the edge. He looked down deeper into the case, seeing the long, olive-colored boards of an electronic device. A hazy, brass-colored mess of diodes and traces covered the surface, reaching hundreds of small metal capacitors and soldered-on components, black and square processors with a patchwork of metal teeth. Wires stuck up from the side, leading to several suction-cups on the ends of the wires, red dye lining the inside of the rubber cups like like it was pulled straight from the shell of a Pokeball. Up at the top of the device, an old, yellow-colored screen appeared, a small LED light beside it. Three data cartridges rested on the top of the device, scattered and unused.

    "The professor really wanted to calm herself down, get her composure, but she couldn't seem to pull herself together. While she has things to do today, she also knows that you have way more to do, and she didn't want to waste any more of her time," said Fennel. "While she is incredibly disappointed that she could not be here to help with this, she would be more disappointed if she didn't complete this."

    Beneath the cabinet door of the breakfront, an array of gleaming, darkly-lit Pokeballs appeared on the shelves. Down beneath the curved, rotating shelves, an old wooden box sat in the waiting shelf beneath all the different rows. Though Fennel's eyes wandered over the hundreds in Juniper's collection, she reached for the box and lifted it, pulling it out and setting it down on the counter top of the breakfront.

    Fennel breathed pensively. Her hands rested on the edges of the box, her eyes slowly wandering down to view the ornate, small box. Slowly fading back to reality, she grabbed for the key on the counter, lifting it and slipping it into the keyhole on the cabinet door. She flipped the latch up, then shut the door, locking it.

    Hilbert's gaze had diverted from the glass case and the device inside, instead looking at the ornate wooden box that Fennel had set down.

    Something seemed off about the way Fennel moved. She walked away from the box almost immediately, heading away from it and approaching Juniper's desk. She moved with purpose, heading straightaway for a plain chair that rested beside a bookshelf and beneath a painting, lifting it by the back and leading it out around the desk. She avoided eye contact with Hilbert as much as she could, moving quickly back to the breakfront, grabbing the box and bringing it to the desk.

    When she went to set the wooden box on the edge of the desk, she hesitated, looking down at the box as she slowly lowered it.

    "Have a seat," said Fennel.

    Hilbert slowly parted from the side of the breakfront, moving tenatively across the shag carpet, his eyes locked on the box. The chair he had been sitting in during his first encounter with Juniper was still there, skewed and just in front of the desk, where the box now was. When he reached the seat, he gave a passing glance to Fennel, seeing she was still just as removed as before.

    The long column of the desk chair creaked beneath Hilbert as he sat down. He sat on the edge of his seat, constantly switching his gaze between the box and Fennel.

    Fennel reached across the desktop, turning the box and facing the brass latch towards Hilbert. She carefully unlatched the box.

    "The professor... Juniper... She made a promise to your mother..." began Fennel. "She wants to make sure that you get your Pokemon. Before it's too late."

    The seat squeaked uncomfortably. Hilbert shifted in his seat, sitting a little more forward. The box had opened slightly as Fennel lifted it, his eyes darting to the dark opening. He then looked back up to Fennel.

    "Because..." said Fennel, continuing to talk and fill space. "You know... When you turn twenty, you aren't allowed to get a starter..."

    Fennel glanced up at Hilbert, looking pensive and distant. Her gaze shifted down to the box, her thumb propped just under the lid. Without a word, she motioned to the box, her other hand grasping the box as she carefully opened the top.

    As the lid flipped up, a wooden lever inside pressed up slowly, thumping quietly. . A wooden, velvet-lined platform rose to the top as the lid of the box lifted it, bringing the contents of the box up to the top. Three identical, gleaming Pokeballs sat in slots on the platform, their buttons all facing Hilbert from just above the velvety surface. As Fennel guided the lid as far back as she could, the platform lifted up just enough to reveal a set of brassy, metal labels at the foot of the platform, naming each of the Pokeballs.

    "Professor Juniper believes the time is right," said Fennel.

    As Fennel released her hold on the lid, she pointed to the leftmost Pokeball, a pink-painted fingernail tapping on the top shell.

    "This is Tepig," said Fennel, her eyes flashing to Hilbert. "A fire-type."

    Her finger glided over to the next Pokeball, tapping on the top once again.

    "Oshawott," said Fennel. "Water-type."

    At the last one, Fennel hesitated, looking to the Pokeball and then to Hilbert. She pointed to it again, then quickly pulled her hands into her lap, sitting herself more comfortably in the chair.

    "This is Snivy. A grass-type."

    Hilbert continued to stare down at the box. He wasn't looking at the array of Pokeballs inside the box, instead looking at the box itself, lost in thought. Hunched over, he slowly slipped his face into his hand, rubbing his eyes softly before dropping his arms into his lap in defeat.

    "I... I can't choose right now," Hilbert said, quietly.

    ---

    As another car passed in front of Hilbert, he gave one last glance down the opposite end of the street, hopping off the sidewalk and quickly moving across the unmarked street towards the opposite side. A tall, thin alleyway presented itself in-between a Pokemart and a warehouse, a neon glow coming from one of the signs.

    The sign to Roxie's gym glowed a faint, bluish green. The triangular, angled insignia of a Pokemon Gym burned against the brick of the walls, just above an old, ratty covering to a hammered steel door. A singular poster covered the door, advertising Roxie's gym like it was the venue for a rock concert.

    Down beneath, Hilbert grabbed the handle of the door, popping the latch open. An old, rusty whine came from the hinges as it opened, revealing the dingy hall on the other side. Bright lights overhead cast unusual, otherworldly shadows over the gray concrete steps and graffiti-covered walls. He took the first few steps in, careful to keep the iron lip of the door and not trip.

    Hilbert moved quickly down the steps. His hands remained tucked in his pocket, his sneakers clapping on the stairs as he sped down. He rounded the first landing, heading down the next few stairs.

    As he approached, Hilbert thought he could hear conversation on the other side of the door, coming from the echoing inside. He kept going, reaching the door and opening it just enough, heading inside.

    The former club was no longer decorated like a club. Instead, it had been set up like a gym, all of the tables cleared from the smooth wooden floors, all of the chairs stacked on another side of the space. Laid deep in the pattern of wooden boards, the outline of a league-style gym had been all marked out on the floor, with the center circle resembling a Pokeball and the outer boundaries defined. An unusual and familiar glow came from the lines. Up in the ceiling, an array of purple-glowing blacklight beams glowed.

    As Hilbert's steps slowed to a stop, he heard the door to the gym swing back and slam closed. He looked down, seeing he was standing on the starting line of the challenger. His eyes narrowed at the glowing line beneath the toes of his sneakers. As he contemplated this, he looked to the ceiling, seeing the blacklights.

    "That's... That's ridiculous!" a voice shouted. It wasn't Roxie's.

    Hilbert's head whipped up to the stage. A single, green-tinted spotlight was turned on Roxie, who stood at the top of the stage.

    Standing on the elevated platform of a gym leader, an area marked on the stage, Roxie had her guitar slung over her shoulder, the neck in her left hand and the body and strings beneath her right. A long chord snaked from it over to the black, leather-clad amplifiers, one a mere foot away. Beside her, hovering outside the green beam of light that cut through the hazy, smoky interior, Koffing was suspended in mid-air, his greasy eyes and thick, chunky teeth glowed a milky off-white in the blacklight haze.

    At the bottom of the steps that led down from her platform, at the line marked in the cleared gym floor for her, a young male trainer stood at the line. Clad in shorts and a goofy, large blue overcoat, a thick red headband keeping his bushy hair out of his face and head, he stood defiantly at the line and stared up at Roxie.

    By the look on Roxie's face, she was having none of it. She gave a flat look, staring down at the trainer.

    "Kid, what's your name again?" asked Roxie.

    "My name is Nate!" the trainer shouted, his voice echoing through the dim chamber of the club.

    "Nate, right," Roxie murmured, under her breath. "Listen Nate," she said, her voice rising loudly to pickup in the acoustics in the club. "Did I not defeat you?"

    "What? No, I mean—"

    "Nate, did I defeat you in your gym leader challenge? Answer me. This... This is real easy. It's a yes or no question."

    Nate looked indignant. "I mean, I wouldn't exactly call it a—"

    Roxie scowled. "Nate. Yes or no."

    "Yes! You defeated me! But... Really easily!"

    Roxie muttered something she couldn't repeat under her breath, as she lifted a glass of something dark brown to her lips, draining it silently. She let out a breath of relief, setting the glass down on the stage floor, just outside the marked leader platform. "Now Nate, what do the rules say about being beaten by a gym leader? More specifically, does it say you are entitled to a badge at this point in the competition?"

    "It doesn't say I'm entitled to a badge," said Nate. "But it does say I'm entitled to a rematch!" he shouted.

    "You're entitled to a rematch during gym hours. It's after 8 PM now."

    "Doesn't matter! You owe me a rematch!" Nate protested, loudly. "You're going to cite the rules after that BS?!"

    Roxie sighed. She stepped off the leader platform, crossing the mere foot between her and the amp beside her. In the lifted, leather-padded lid of the amp controls, six slots dedicated for healing Pokemon were filled with five of her Pokeballs. Beside it, entrenched deep in the velvety insides, a tray full of long and thin Poison Badges gleamed in the green light of the spotlight. She grabbed her Pokeballs, lifting her lengthy sweater just enough to tuck the Pokeballs into the utility belt on her shorts.

    "Listen," said Roxie. "I beat you fair and square. No tricks, no levels higher than you should have. I played by regulation rules and your starter collapsed in the first five minutes. I'm not going to have a rematch with you, we're closed."

    "No! Rematch! Right now!" Nate shouted.

    "You don't have any Pokemon. Scram. Go heal."

    Nate's face turned a boiling red. As his face tensed up, seething with silent rage, his teeth ground together with abandon. With a Pokeball clutched in his hand, he tried to articulate something his words were sputtering to come out with, but he couldn't come up with it. His fit of rage reached a point where he just let out a shout, throwing his arms out in defeat. He turned and hustled across the gym floor, hastily walking away. Once before he reached the middle of the gym, he turned, making the same, angry and incoherent gesticulations with his arms.

    "You'll see me again!" Nate shouted. "You won't forget my name! Nate! You'll hear from me again!"

    Roxie continued to sip her drink, watching as Nate hastily walked out of the club. Her eyes wandered up to Hilbert, watching as he passed around him and opened the back door, slamming it and heading up the stairs.

    Once the door had fully shut, Hilbert took a few steps forward into the gym, walking tentatively through the open space.

    "Busy afternoon?" asked Hilbert.

    The straps on Roxie's guitar slipped over her head and shoulders. She stepped around the loose black cables that hung from the guitar, turning and setting the guitar in a stand beside the amp beside the platform. She brushed a few hairs out of her face, taking her now empty glass and quickly hopping down the steps that led down to the point on the gym floor.

    "That's the one guy I've seen all day. Slow for a summer day," said Roxie, moving across the gym floor. A wall of knee-high concrete barricades divided the sides of the club from the space that was actually gym, covered in graffiti and old concert posters, directly in front of her path. Her long, leathery boots hung off of her legs as she walked quickly, her long sweater swaying around her hips. Behind her, Koffing floated along, drifting out in front of the stage and passing beneath the green spotlight, before disappearing into the darkness of the gym roof. The whites of his eyes glowed the same dim, milky color, the cracked poison symbol beneath his round body glowing faintly.

    Hilbert stopped in the center of the gym floor. He looked up to the stage, past the green-tinted lights, past the haze of smog that Koffing emitted, looking to the back of the stage. Over the brick wall, a long, tattered and old gym poster hung down, wafting gently through the air. The solitary emblem of Pokemon gyms had been printed on.

    Roxie had hopped over the barriers, and had reached the small bar on the other side. From a tray of ice just beneath the bar, she removed a can of cold brew, popping the lid and filling the empty glass in her hand.

    "Guys like that make me crazy," said Roxie.

    "In his defense, you do beat them easily," said Hilbert. He watched his feet, keeping his hands stuffed in his pockets and shuffling in place awkwardly.

    "Yeah? Well, that sounds like a personal problem," said Roxie, turning from the bar, a small spring in her step as she approached the barriers again. She hopped over them, keeping her drink overhead and being careful as not to tip the glass, taking a victorious drink from it when she came to the other side.

    As Hilbert stood in place towards the center of the gym, Roxie approached. He avoided eye contact, continuing to stare at the ground, listening to Roxie approach. It was near impossible to avoid her once she had gotten close enough, getting incredibly close to him. It forced him to look up, making eye contact with Roxie.

    "Are you okay?" she asked quietly, finally getting a response from Hilbert as he seemed to flinch, raising her eyes to her and taking a deep breath.

    "Yeah."

    "Yeah?" asked Roxie.

    Hilbert swallowed silently.

    "Ready to do a show tonight?"asked Roxie, cutting the momentary tension.

    With the question hanging in the air, Roxie took a long sip of her new, freshly-poured drink. She looked down past Hilbert as he thought silently, draining her glass.

    Hilbert seemed numb. He was looking down past Roxie, like he was looking through the long sweater that covered her body. In his current stance, he seemed to waver, like he was becoming more and more distant from reality. He bit his lip, unable to find the answer.

    Carefully, Roxie's arm reached up to Hilbert's side. She grabbed for his arm, snapping him out of his ever-distancing gaze, getting him to blink and readjust to the reality around him. When his eyes refocused and found her, Roxie gave a gentle smile, looking into his eyes. Her hand rubbed his arm gently, feeling how tense he was. Hilbert gave a passing glance to her hand, and as he did Roxie continued to watch him, her smile faltering somewhat.

    "Hilbert..."

    "What?" asked Hilbert.

    "Happy birthday," she grinned.

    The words seemed to hit Hilbert sideways. He winced, visibly going numb again as he thought about what Roxie meant.

    "Roxie, I need to wait on tonight. It's just... It's just too soon."

    It was Roxie's turn to go numb. Though she tried to hide it, where he rubbed his arm she found herself slowing to a stop. She tried to keep her smile up, rubbing his arm some more, but every time the cold realization hit her she slowed dead in her tracks. After fighting it, her smile completely faltered. A sad look came over her as she looked towards the ground.

    "I... Are you sure...?" Roxie asked, quietly. "I mean, we can always reschedule... But..."

    "There's... There's something else I have to do tonight..." said Hilbert.

    Roxie looked up to Hilbert, her eyes filled with confusion.

    "What is it...?"

    Hilbert took a few steps back from Roxie, watching her, staring into her eyes as she stood there and he backed away. In the near silence of the club, the thumping of his sneakers on the floorboards was the only thing any of them could hear. As he backed away from Roxie, she seemed to glow like a ghost, the blacklight making her hair and eyes glow a dim, frosty blue. The freckles and other imperfections in her skin glowed among the darkness of a healthy complexion. The blue stripes on her sweater glowed among the non-glowing purple stripes, matching the glow of her boot soles.

    "I... I'll talk to you later..." said Hilbert.

    Roxie watched from the end of the gym's floor. The green glow of the stage created an unusual haze around her. Just above her, Koffing drifted in, groaning at a murmur's level as he watched Hilbert with Roxie.

    On Roxie's features, the unadulterated sadness had turned mute. Something seemed off. She didn't even flinch when the door made a loud, echoing slam, lost deep in thought.

  6. #6

    Default Chapter 5

    Chapter 5: Hilbert, Part 5





    Me: 'Do you remember what floor mom was on ?'

    Cheren: '3 or 4. Why?'




    Hilbert closed the text message conversation, locking his phone screen. With his phone screen dark, he held the phone for several long seconds, contemplating it, holding the glossy plastic device in the grip of his hand, blankly staring past it and into the steps ahead of him. He then looked up, looking up over the rising steps.

    The tall, white edifice of the hospital building faced him, standing out against a pure blue sky. Several trees had clustered around the base of the building, hugging close to the base. A white staircase snaked through a rising hill, leading up to the sliding glass doors at the entrance. The red letters reading 'Hospital' at the front glowed weakly in the sunlight.

    Slipping his phone into his pocket, Hilbert made the trek up the stairs.

    ---

    The elevator doors slid open, opening up to the barren hall. The hospital lights glowed weakly, wide arcs of sunlight coming from glowing windows bathing the halls in an unusual glow.
    In the unusual silence, Hilbert took a few steps forward. His sneakers squeaked on the linoleum floors, the elevator doors behind him rattling and closing. Only the sounds of his sneakers filled the empty halls, echoing through. As he looked down the hall, seeing the lights were fully on in the hall across from him, a few nurses and other assistants passing between doorways and chatting, he gained the sensation in the hall on his side that he was truly alone. He walked, his brow furrowing in confusion, something seeming off about the halls.

    As he came around the corner to the short hall, the familiar scene of where he had been the night before appeared, seeing the doors line the left and right. The small, boxy windows set in the doors were dark, the lights off inside. He kept walking, carefully, almost hesitating as he reached him mom's door.

    The door to the hospital room was open. All the lights were off. Light poured in from the window at the far end of the room, the white curtains billowing silently in the air. All of the green dividing curtains had been pulled back, exposing the bare floors free of any beds, including the one for Hilbert's mom. All of the monitors were still in their place, surrounding where the large mechanical bed had been the night before, the cables snaking towards the invisible place on the floor. The bed was nowhere to be found.

    Hilbert's breathing had become tense. A look of worry filled him. By his side, both of his fists balled up, his fingers squeezing out of stress.

    As he turned, he nearly collided with someone who was standing directly behind him. He let out a shout of surprise, suddenly stepping backwards and tripping over his other foot, sending himself stumbling backwards. His arms flew to his sides, grabbing at the air in a desperate bid for support, moments before landing on his rear and then immediately flopping back. His shoulders hit seconds before his head clapped against the floor, his hat falling off. A loud groan came from him, his eyes shut as he slowly pulled himself up and rubbed his temples with the heel of his hand. As he pulled himself up, sitting up, he keeled over onto his side, lying there with his arm propped between him and the floor.

    Blinking steadily, Hilbert forced his eyes open from beneath his throbbing, pained brow. He looked over and across, seeing who was standing there. His eyes met with the familiar sight of pink shoelaces, knotting up a pair of black combat boots. He followed her shapely, naked legs up to her jean shorts, then the same white tanktop and black vest, until he met eyes with Hilda.

    "What... You again...?" Hilbert asked incredulously, groaning as he sat himself up.

    Hilda sighed, offering a smile, then offering her hand down to Hilbert once he had grabbed his hat. Her arms flexed, gripping Hilbert's outstretched hand as she yanked back and pulled Hilbert up to his feet with a clatter, his feet scuttling loudly beneath him.

    "Sorry about that," she said.

    Dusting himself off, straightening the blue overcoat he wore, Hilbert took a breath to recover. He gave a passing examination of the hospital room again, returning his gaze to Hilda.

    "Do you live here now or something?" asked Hilbert.

    "Just had a feeling you'd come back. Come here," said Hilda. She took a few steps back out of the hospital room, heading back into the wing of the hallway that the hospital rooms were in. Giving a passing glance to Hilbert, she looked down the hall, seeing that the hall across from them was clear.

    "So you know what's going on? I mean, where they moved my mom?" asked Hilbert.

    Hilda was still looking down the hall across from them. When she looked back, she paused, having been focused on something else entirely in her mind. She nodded, gesturing for Hilbert to follow, heading to the hall.

    "Yeah, I know," she said.

    ---

    In the dimly lit room, a gigantic, cylindrical, capsule-like piece of machinery occupied the entire left side of the room, a glowing aperature in the center of the flat side facing out into the room; an MRI. Several buttons and displays lined the donut-shaped panel around the aperature, glowing bright. A long platform was suspended at the lower lip, supporting a bed where Hilbert's mother lay. Nurses and doctors all stood around her, checking her vitals on computer systems mounted in stations around the room.
    Two Audino, dressed in nurse costumes, stood around Hilbert's mother; one holding a tray of medical equipment and various drugs as a nurse cleaned an injection wound on her arm, and another standing up by the head, humming as his paws glowed bright blue and sensed the aura of Hilbert's unconscious mother.

    Beneath tinted glass, Hilbert and Hilda watched the scene unfolding from an elevated waiting room. Both remained silent, trying to listen to the muffled chatter.

    Hilbert's stoic gaze faltered. As he stared at his mother, he switched his gaze from her to the scene in their hidden area on the hallway, seeing Hilda's reflection in the tinted glass. He swallowed quietly, gathering his thoughts.

    "I don't understand why now," said Hilbert, quietly.

    "What do you mean?" asked Hilda. Her arms remained folded as she stared, watching as they prepped the last few systems, Dr. Hendricks entering to preside over the examination.

    "Well..." Hilbert found himself stopping. He paused, thinking it over.

    Down below, the motors whirred to life, the bed Hilbert's mother rested in slowly moving along its track as she entered the MRI, entering the darkened opening of the large machine. A nurse reached for the controls on the wall, punching in the startup code, prepping for the scan. The lights inside kicked on, covering his mother in unusual, bluish light as she passed inside. Once the bed had stopped, completely slid into the opening, only the soles of her bare feet sticking out.

    "I'm... It just seems so strange that all of this is happening now," said Hilbert.

    "Are you implying that the fates are messing with you?" Hilda cracked a smile, giving him a passing glance. "You don't seem the pious type."

    "It's definitely not that," said Hilbert.

    A deep hum exited the chamber of the MRI. The lights inside the opening where Darlene was flashed, spinning gently. A red LED raced around the track of lights on the outside panel, in time with the spinning internals, picking up speed. A frantic mood fell over the nurses and assistants as they all worked to capture all the data. A nurse consorted with the Audino, through hand gestures trying to work out the state that Darlene was in as Audino kept track of her aura.

    "Okay, let me try this then," said Hilda, continuing to watch, loose flashes of light from the internal chamber washing over her face. "You're trying to be your own man, make your own decisions and really, truly navigate for the first time in your life. You've settled on a decision and you're trying to do your best on it, but you keep hearing something else: disagreement. People don't necessarily agree with the decisions that you've made. You're facing serious opposition from the people you care about."

    "Opposition is fine. I get it," said Hilbert. "That's... That's not the issue."

    "You're right, opposition isn't the issue," said Hilda. "It's that it's happening so suddenly. It's like a tidal wave, and you're suddenly faced with all this opposition, all these struggles and these things to reconcile."

    "I... I don't understand... Why do you even care anyway?" asked Hilbert.

    Hilda chuckled. "Always the same questions."

    "I'm serious. I've always meant that. Literally, why do you care?" asked Hilbert. "Why do you keep following me around? Why do you keep popping into my life?"

    "Let me ask you this: why does playing in a band mean so much to you?"

    "Yeah, that's one of the questions they keep asking. Still not sure why they—literally everyone—keeps asking the same thing."

    "Well, let's try something different then. Genuinely try to answer the question," said Hilda.

    Hilbert gave a frustrated sigh. His feet shuffled on the floor, adjusting his stance. Giving a passing glance to where Hilda had crossed her arms, he too crossed his arms, tightening his defensive posture.

    "I have a commitment to my good friend Roxie. Besides, it's something I enjoy. I don't have some kind of existential, greater purpose in participating in Roxie's band. It's not something that hinges on life and death for me at all. It's just something meaningful. It's a hobby. What's wrong with keeping a hobby?"

    "A hobby can be a fine thing to have," said Hilda. "But it's like anything, where if you let it grow out of control it can be very dangerous."

    "Do you think I've let it grow out of control? I've hardly begun."

    "There are other more important things going on right now. The natural course of life is getting in the way of everything and it's asking you to slow down, take a break."

    "Take a break and become a Pokemon Trainer? That seems just as irresponsible," said Hilbert.

    "Hilbert," Hilda said, the impatience rising in her tone. "I'm asking you to take a moment to just look around. I'm asking you to look at opportunities—yes, like being a Pokemon Trainer—before those opportunities pass you by. That's not a huge ask. That's a sane ask."

    "That's—Uhhh..." Hilbert went to protest, cutting himself off. He folded his arms, leaning himself against the railing, facing away from the dark of the MRI chamber, looking into the plain, sterile waiting room they were in.

    Hilda sighed, giving one last glance down to the MRI chamber, turning around and bringing herself closer to Hilbert, leaning against the railing. She gave a passing glance down him, eventually looking back into his eyes, biting her lip as she contemplated her words.

    "A lot of buses are going to leave without you on them, Hilbert," Hilda said, quietly. "All I'm asking is that you know what's on them first."

    "Yeah, well, I know plenty about Pokemon. What other bus am I missing?"

    "Your mother," said Hilda coldly.

    Hilbert scowled. He stepped off from leaning against the railing, taking a few steps into the open space of the waiting room, taking a few steps away from Hilda to give him some space, his arms swinging dejectedly by his side.

    "Don't play that card. Especially to get me to be a trainer."

    "I'm not kidding," said Hilda. "You ought to take the gravity of what the doctor is saying seriously. Your mother has never had a history of heart disease before last night and the doctors are only now just scratching the surface of what's really going on. Nobody knows how deep this goes. You really should take the possibility of her... The reality of her situation seriously."

    Folding his arms, Hilbert wandered deeper into the waiting space, stepping around loosely stacked waiting chairs on the level area, just in front of several raised steps for setting chairs on rose to give a better view into the MRI room. He kicked his legs in front of him thoughtlessly, keeping his head hung low and dejected.

    "Alright Hilda, I'll bite," said Hilbert. "What exactly does my mom have to do with being a Pokemon Trainer?"

    "More than you know," said Hilda. "Your mom is a wealth of expertise in areas—"

    "In areas like 'raising a kid on her own because her husband refuses to stop training', that kind of expertise?" Hilbert interrupted.

    "—in areas you won't ever get to know if you don't ask," finished Hilda, looking more resolute than ever. "Your mom has far more to offer than the pain of being a single mother. Yes, that is tragic, but don't think she'd ever discourage you for a second."

    As Hilbert turned, shaking his head and wandering through the scattered chairs, Hilda gave a sigh. She looked down through the window, seeing one of the nurse-dressed Audino waving to her. She offered a small smile, watching as Dr. Hendricks saw Hilda from the balcony view above, signaling to a nurse and waving her down.

    "It looks like you'll get the chance to talk with her soon," said Hilda.

    "Great," said Hilbert, the slow arc of his wandering steps bringing him back around towards Hilda. He watched the toes of his sneakers, keeping his head down and his arms folded.

    "Hilbert, don't let the sour taste I put in your mouth come out on your mother. Enjoy her company."

    "That sounds a hell of a lot more disgusting than I think you meant," said Hilbert.

    Hilda chuckled, her pensive expression remaining as she slouched against the railing. As she saw Hilbert come closer, his shadow drawing over her in the low lights of the waiting room, her eyes darted up to Hilbert, a sliver of light from below making her eyes glow an incredible blue. She brushed her hair out of her eyes, looking up into Hilbert's stony expression.

    "Just..." Hilda sighed. "Just please know I have your best interests in mind."

    "Well, enlighten me for a second," said Hilbert. "Say I truly believe you... Say I genuinely think you... Well.. I think you mean what you say... What should I ask to unearth this 'treasure trove' of information...?"

    Hilda's eyes locked onto Hilbert's becoming dead serious.

    "You could ask her about the Pokedex."

    ---

    A tall set of white doors stood at the end of the hallway. Beneath the tiny, square, porthole-like windows, a warning sign had been fastened to the door. 'Authorized Personnel Only: Radiation Danger'.
    Before Hilbert could even get close to the doors, they opened. Hilbert looked up to the tiny window to see who had opened up the door, looking up through the opening of the door, but didn't see anyone come to the door. Confused, he looked down, seeing the pink, furry body of an Audino coming through the opening in the door. A pair of wide, marbled blue eyes stared out, blinking slowly beneath a nurse's hat. A tiny maw opened, letting out a chirp.

    Just behind Audino, a tall figure approached. As he got closer, his appearance through the door's opening making it clear that he was Dr. Hendricks, he reached up and held the door above Audino, making Audino look up. Dr. Hendricks nodded, waving Audino out to the side, giving Audino the chance to let go of the door and head back into the room.

    "I'm glad you came, son," said Dr. Hendricks, offering a light smile. He opened the door, stepping through and stepping aside. "Come inside," he said. "Your mother just regained consciousness."

    Giving Dr. Hendricks a passing look, Hilbert walked ahead, entering the dimly-lit MRI lab. After taking a few steps in, he stopped.

    The crew of nurses and assistants Hilbert had seen from the vantage point above had thinned dramatically. Only three or four of them were in the space, working at various workstations or taking notes. In the center of the scene was his mother, still resting in the MRI's bed platform, a blanket draped over her. In the darkness of everything that was going on, small personal lights on for workstations and the glow of the various interfaces and buttons providing light, a large column of light came from inside the MRI's inner chamber. The glow seemed heavenly, washing Hilbert's mother in a perfect glow.

    Dr. Hendricks muttered something to one of the nurses. He then waved to several of the other assistants, the nurse signaling to her assistant as well as they headed towards the back of the room, entering a door opposite where Hilbert had entered. In moments, it was just Hilbert and his mom.

    Hilbert approached the bedside, carefully and quietly. As his figure loomed over her, his steps slowing as he brought himself to her side, Hilbert entered the glow.

    Stirring, Darlene forced her eyes open, her head tipping up to see Hilbert. A smile appeared on the half of her face that showed to Hilbert, her head turning fully to see him. Her good arm reached to the side of the bed, digging into the foam bed of the MRI platform and forcing herself up. She let out a groan of pain as she tried to sit herself up, wincing physically. Her other arm dragged beside her, limp and pale.

    Hilbert reacted instantly, getting down towards her and helping adjust her as she tried to sit up. With her help, he carefully lifted her head and stacked the awkwardly warped pillows up beneath her, fluffing them and the gently guiding her head down. As he did, her good hand reached for his arm gently. He looked down to see where she held her sleeve, feeling how weak her grip was. When he reached down, putting his hand over hers, he could feel her trembling, her cold skin.

    "Mom..." Hilbert said quietly.

    "Hi son," Darlene smiled. Her voice croaked, weak and sleepy.

    As Hilbert let his eyes wander, looking to the racks of medical equipment beside her, set up almost exactly like the hospital room of earlier, Hilbert felt his mom's hand grab blindly up his jacket. He gave her a look of quiet confusion, unsure what she was doing, when her hand reached her collar. She tugged gently, giving a half-smile as Hilbert slowly lowered. Hilbert then felt her arm slip over her neck, pulling him into a one-armed hug. His arm folded over her head, hugging her head in a moment together. She pulled him down, slow and jerkily, kissing just above his brow.

    The two parted silently, two dark figures overlit by the bright column of light coming from the MRI behind them. Hilbert lingered over her, looking down at her, silent and stoic.

    ---

    Overhead, in the observable area above the MRI lab, Hilda stood at the window, watching the scene beneath. Her arms were folded, her legs straight and stiff, making for an uncomfortable stance. Her gaze lingered, affixed past Hilbert and down to Darlene, staying on her with a numb look.
    Behind her, in the glowing entrance to the hall, a dark figure entered. Hilda looked back, seeing through the dim room that the figure was Dr. Hendricks, standing just at the entrance of the room. As she watched, he lingered for just a moment, seeing it was Hilda and no one else. He then stepped back in, heading down the hall, leaving Hilda be. She hesitated for a moment, her gaze lingering with a sense of worry at the area. She slowly returned to the window, stepping closer and looking down, seeing that Hilbert and Darlene were still there.

    As Hilda came back the edge, her hand finding the railing that braced her from the tall glass windows. She took a rocking step, pulling herself closer, the jean material of her shorts brushing against the metal railing as her hips leaned against it.

    She reached up, pressing her hand to the glass.

    ---

    Hilbert had gotten on his knees, resting at her bedside. His arms folded, he leaned against the plastic railing of the MRI bed, his chin resting in his arms.
    Darlene's head rested on its side, facing Hilbert. Deep shadows had been cast over the left half of her face, the glint of her eyes and the curl of a smile visible in the dim light. The right side glowed, bright in the MRI light, bringing every crooked detail into view. Her paralyzed eye had closed a little more, the bottom corner just peaking out. Most of the odd, misshapen smile she had the other night had faded, though her closed mouth curled up in a strange smile.

    As Hilbert stared deep into her features, he felt something grab at his hand. Looking down, she had grabbed his hand, holding it gently.

    ---

    At the far end of the hall, leaving the MRI room behind, Hilbert rounded the corner. He hesitated for a moment, catching a glimpse of Hilda at the end of the next hall, waiting at the beginning of the junction of four halls, hands in her vest, staring at the floor. He kept walking, pressing on, keeping himself together.
    At the sound of Hilbert's footsteps, she raised her head, seeing him. She removed her fists from her pocket, letting her arms linger by her side as she stepped back, letting Hilbert pass. Her head panned around slowly as he walked in front of her, eventually realizing he wasn't going to stop. Her steps picked up with his, walking just shortly behind him.

    "Did you ask her?" asked Hilda, trailing him.

    "No," Hilbert answered, flatly. He reached the corner of the junction, pressing in on the down button for the elevator.

    In the muddied, warped reflection of the steel elevator doors, Hilbert watched as Hilda approached. He looked just over his shoulder, seeing her get close, slowing in her steps as she reached him. A look of worry filled her, meeting with his cold, jaded gaze.

    Hilda didn't say a thing, continuing to stare into his eyes.

    "I... I believe you," said Hilbert, shuffling his feet and looking down. His gaze returned to her almost immediately. "About the Pokedex."

    "Hilbert... I didn't mean to burden you," said Hilda.

    "It's not that."

    A ding resonated from the top panel of the elevator. Mechanically, the doors slid into their pockets on the elevator, opening up into the smoky, dim interior.

    Looking past Hilda, Hilbert stepped into the elevator, turning and removing a hand from his jacket pocket just long enough to hit the starred '1'. Another ding sounded from the elevator, triggering the mechanical steel doors, the track rattling as they slid in.

    Hilda seemed dumbstruck. As the doors slowly slid in front of her, she put an arm out, her shoulder guiding her in as she quickly entered, taking a few steps in on the thumping carpet. The doors opened for a moment, lingering open as she stepped in. After a beat of silence, she watched as Hilbert reached out of his jacket pockets again, hitting the 'close' button. Out of the corner of her eye, the doors slowly slid to a close, meeting together and sealing them in.

    The floor lurched, the sound of hydraulics all around them humming at a near-silent level. A panel in the top corner counted down the floors, beeping silently with each ticking number.

    Though Hilbert stared at the panel of glowing buttons ahead of him, looking solemn and distant, Hilda continued to stare at him. Beneath her patient eyes, thoughts raced through her, her eyes flitting from side to side as they searched for the next move. She chewed her lower lip silently.

    As the lights on the top panel got closer and closer to '1', glowing red in the corner of Hilda's eye, she took a step forward. She took another step, getting close to Hilbert, continuing to watch him. Her arm reached over beside her, finding the panel of buttons on the elevator. A finger reached for the 'stop' button, pressing in and lighting up the button.

    The sounds around the elevator car slowed to a halt. The sensation of lowering seemed to slow to a halt, making gravity feel normal again.

    Hilbert saw her out of the corner of his eye, the sliver of her face visible. In the dim, small space of the elevator, she seemed that much closer. He gave a passing glance to her arm as it lowered from the elevator controls, resting by her side. Something seemed off about her, something in her body language hesitating. Looking down by her side, he saw her fingers curling uncomfortably, looking for all the world like she was struggling with something.

    "Come on an adventure with me," said Hilda. "Let's get away from all this. Let's go explore. Let's go... Embrace destiny."

    Hilbert didn't respond. He looked ahead, his gaze affixed to the glowing stop button down in the corner of the button panel. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Hilda got even closer.

    Hilda didn't stop or hesitate any more. She moved in closer. She reached down to Hilbert's hand, gripping it softly. As Hilbert turned, looking down, seeing the grip she had on his hand, he then looked up to her and saw her face.

    Taking a breath, taking a moment as she faced Hilbert, she leaned in, forcing her eyes shut as she leaned and pressed her lips to his.

    Hilbert choked for a second, his eyes going wide as his view was suddenly filled with Hilda's shut eyes. He forced his eyes shut, tasting Hilda's hot, gentle breath as her gentle lips pressed to his. He silenced himself, unable to process anything. Her hands slipped over his shoulder, caressing his neck as she nearly held him to the elevator wall.

    As Hilda pulled back, she let her eyes open gently, her gaze wandering over him, taking in everything she could see in the closeness of the two. Hilbert's cheeks had turned flush, his chest heaving with deep, confused breaths. Though her hand lingered on his shoulder, it passed down over his chest, then into the folds of his jacket, putting a hand over his chest, feeling the two of them panting together.

    It took several moments before Hilbert could reopen his eyes. As he did, meeting with Hilda's gaze, he took a deep breath from his nostrils.

    Hilbert's hand reached up, covering his chest. His hand slipped over Hilda's hand, his fingers brushing over her long, slender fingers. Holding it, he slowly removed it, lifting up from his chest and lowering it to down beside her until he let go. His gaze shifted past her, his other hand reaching down to the 'stop' button. He pressed it.

    Hilbert choked for a second, his eyes going wide as his view was suddenly filled with Hilda's shut eyes. He forced his eyes shut, tasting Hilda's hot, gentle breath as her gentle lips pressed to his. He silenced himself, enjoying the moment. Her hands slipped over his shoulder, caressing his neck as she nearly held him to the elevator wall.

    As Hilda pulled back, she let her eyes open gently, her gaze wandering over him. Hilbert's cheeks had turned flush, his chest heaving with deep, confused breaths. Though her hand lingered on his shoulder, it passed down over his chest, then into the folds of his jacket, putting a hand over his chest.

    It took several moments before Hilbert could reopen his eyes. As he did, meeting with Hilda's gaze, he took a deep breath from his nostrils.

    Hilbert's hand reached up, covering his chest. His hand slipped over Hilda's hand, his fingers brushing over her long, slender fingers. Holding it, he slowly removed it, lifting up from his chest and lowering it to down beside her until he let go. His gaze shifted past her, his other hand reaching down to the 'stop' button. He pressed it.

    Swallowing, Hilda turned her head down, staring down in disbelief. Her breaths were shuddering, her eyes blinking nervously. With her hands by her side, not quite sure what to do with them, she took a few small steps back, backpedaling. Her arms folded together, her body shifting and turning away as she faced the back wall, her head tipping towards the wall opposite where Hilbert was leaning. When she went to take another step towards the wall, she stopped herself, unable to bring herself to do it. She stood in the center of the elevator, halfway between getting away and staying.

    "I'm... I'm sorry..." said Hilda, finally bringing herself to say something.

    Hilbert had shifted his gaze, watching Hilda's shrinking body language. As she looked way, somewhat shamefully, her arms unfolded and she rubbed her arm, her foot crossing over the other nervously. Something moved in him again, something he had felt before, driving him to step off from where he leaned against the elevator wall, taking a few steps towards Hilda.

    Hilda found herself looking up, feeling Hilbert's arms wrap around her. She looked up, breathing soft and paced, looking down to see Hilbert's fingers brush over her naked arms. With her arms in the space between their chests, she didn't know what to do with either of them, instead choosing to lean into the hug. Her arms wrapped around his torso, bringing them closer together. Her head rested against his shoulder, nestling in and resting in the cozy space. In turn, she felt the warmth of Hilbert's head resting over her head, held close together.

    Hilda pulled her head above, holding his backside and meeting his eyes once again. She went to speak or say anything, but she was silenced. Hilbert leaned in, and their lips met again. The words that Hilda had bottled inside dissipated instantly, turning to a brief, muffled groan.

    It wasn't just one kiss. Hilda took a breath, moving in and kissing more, getting all of her lips up against Hilbert's as he leaned in, his fingers finding the soft material of her vest.

    Outside where Hilda and Hilbert were joined, the steel doors of the elevator slid open, slipping into the walls. The light of the hospital floor came through, sunlight washing in and casting light on their activities.

    A single figure stood at the entrance of the elevator. It was Roxie.

    As Hilda pulled away, she took a deep breath, resting her head in Hilbert's chest. She kept her eyes shut, running her hands over his blue jacket and his arms.

    Hilbert raised his head, looking over to Roxie. His dreamy, pensive expression hung for a moment, then disappeared in an instant. His eyes went wide. The loving grip he had on Hilda's upper back suddenly turned to a deep, fearful grip, waking Hilda from her passion-induced haze. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Hilda raised her head, blinking sleepily, looking over and seeing Roxie.

    Roxie's surprise faded in an instant. Her expression went blank. Deep beneath her eyes, the fires of hell exploded, her lips puckering in a soured face as she stared the two down. On both of her curled fists, her knuckles popped, loudly. The pale complexion of her face, normally the same shade as the white locks of hair surrounding her face, faded from a gothic white to a deep, tomato red.

    "Planning the funeral, huh?" asked Roxie, her voice short and curt. Something like a voice crack came beneath the real tone of her voice.

    Down by his side, Hilbert looked to Hilda. She didn't have the same look of concern. In fact, she seemed to have the same look of sadness plastered on her, completely unchanged.

    Hilbert shifted his gaze down to where he held Hilda's arm, his thumb grazing the soft, toned skin. As he took a breath, he went to reply to Roxie, barely squeaking out the first syllable.

    "Shut up," Roxie hissed. "Just... Shut up."

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