CN child abuse, residential schools
Chandelure followed the sobbing. The lights of the flames on his chandelier-like body made for an obvious approach, even as his ghostly arms and flames left no marks on the wet trees. He paused, reaching the small gap where the sounds began.
The creature resembled a small tree stump with a stubby black body extending from one end. It held its tiny arms up to its wooden face, wracked with its sadness, its tears scarcely noticeable against the chilly damp. Chandelure weighed his options.
Mid-thought, the brush opposite Chandelure’s vantage rustled, and a white apparition flashed into view. As the foliage thawed and snapped back into place, Froslass shook off a rime coating and raised her wide, draping arm.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, startling the creature out of its sobs with the sound of her name.
The creature looked up and turned around to face Froslass. Her red eyes still watering, she simpered out, “I’m lost.”
Froslass’s face scrunched as her own yellow eyes welled. “I know someone who can help you, Phantump. If you follow me, I can bring you to them.”
Phantump extended a tiny hand, and Froslass took it.
“You can come too, Chandelure,” Froslass announced to the glow behind the trees.
Chandelure emerged from the gloom and announced, with only a trace of ruefulness at the loss of a potential spirit meal, “I will light your way.”
None of them noticed the beady pink eyes watching them from high in the trees.
“I am glad you woke me,” Pumpkaboo announced as he levitated down a narrow path between the trees, Phantump, Froslass, and Chandelure following. “Helping spirits find their way is my specialty.”
“So you can bring me home?” Phantump asked, hope making her wet eyes all the sadder.
“I can guide you on your way, to wherever you have to go,” Pumpkaboo answered sonorously. “That might not be home.”
Phantump’s head lowered. “I’ll follow you anyway. I don’t want to be alone.”
Froslass put an arm around Phantump, pulling the insubstantial Pokémon close to her dress-like body. “You don’t have to be alone. The beautiful thing about this world is, no one does.”
Phantump returned Froslass’s embrace as the four eased onward. Pumpkaboo stopped suddenly and motioned for the group to come close. Froslass answered, “I see them.”
“See who?” Phantump asked.
“Team Rocket agents,” Pumpkaboo answered. “Stalking Jessie and Jane for as long as we have known them.”
“We should go around,” Chandelure suggested, “They can handle this.”
“We could do that,” Froslass answered, a mischievous gleam in her yellow eyes, “but my plan is much more fun.”
The four Team Rocket agents were startled from their slumber by a sudden hailstorm that seemed to encompass only their camp. Scrambling to cover their heads with anything they could grab and get out from the pelting ice, they ran in four different directions. One ran face-first into a carefully-arced Seed Bomb from Pumpkaboo and landed on his back, rolling, moaning, and cursing. A second’s clothes mysteriously caught fire as soon as she exited the hail, leading her to run to the nearest patch of damp moss and roll in it for a few minutes. The third received an Ice Punch to the back as she ran past Froslass, freezing her in a mound of ice. Phantump popped out of the ground in front of the fourth Rocketeer, sticking her tongue out and making odd noises to startle him into falling back into the hailstorm. Chandelure sped into the center of the hailstorm and issued a Flame Burst, destroying the Rocket agents’ camp and removing the eyebrows of the agent who Phantump had scared back into the falling ice. The four ghosts disappeared into the forest before the Rocket agents could get their bearings, snickering to themselves.
“It will take them days to regroup,” Pumpkaboo gloated, pumpkin-holes glowing with pride, “and they’ll be no closer to finding where our masters are staying.”
Froslass and Chandelure hugged and jumped for joy, Froslass carefully staying away from Chandelure’s flames. In their distraction, a dark blur leapt out of the trees, seized Phantump, and tumbled away.
Phantump and her assailant rolled across the damp earth, passing through several trees until they came to rest at the base of a short pine. As Phantump shook off her dizziness, her assailant bore down on her and began punching. From behind Phantump, another set of shadowy limbs struck in the same rhythm. As Phantump reeled back and forth with each blow, she finally got a look at her attacker.
Seeming to be made of black cloth, this Pokémon had three horns on its head, a long “tail” like flowing hair, and a mouth zippered shut. Each time its fist struck Phantump’s woody shell, the corresponding fist of its own shadow would follow and second the blow. As her shell cracked, she summoned dark power into her own tiny arm and lashed out, dissipating part of the creature’s body and sending it reeling backward. Phantump extended roots from her stump into the earth, collecting life energy from the forest, and shouted, “What do you want!?”
The attacker seethed, its response muffled by the zipper, and once more clawed at Phantump with its shadow. Phantump again responded with a shadowy Feint Attack, as pieces of her wooden shell began to break off. The strange assailant chuckled menacingly as it raised its limbs for another attack and Phantump shrank down in defense. Two Shadow Balls and a Will-o-Wisp struck the zipper-mouthed Pokémon from the side, and Froslass, Pumpkaboo, and Chandelure pulled into view. Shaken and injured, the mysterious creature fled into the woods.
As Phantump’s Ingrain healed her injuries, her friends asked her questions.
“Do you know who that was?” Froslass inquired, petting the scared ghost.
“I…don’t think so? It felt familiar, but I don’t remember.”
“I think it’s a Banette,” Pumpkaboo added, looking worried. “They come to life when dolls are abandoned by children.”
Chandelure looked at Phantump, saying nothing. Phantump looked away.
“Well, whatever it wants with you, we’ll protect you,” Froslass reassured, “Hopefully better than we did just now.”
Phantump put her hand on Froslass’s hand.
“It came after me before. Back where I was. I ran away and got lost.”
Froslass, Chandelure, and Pumpkaboo looked at each other.
“Maybe we should get Jane and Jessie,” Froslass thought out loud.
“We’ve gone too far already, and it’s late,” Pumpkaboo cautioned. “They need their sleep. It’s a long hike back to Lavaridge tomorrow and we get to rest in our Pokéballs.”
“You do not want to see what Flannery is like if she doesn’t get a full night,” Chandelure added, chuckling nervously.
“That’s it, then,” Froslass finished. Phantump’s roots retracted from the ground. The group wafted on their way.
An uneventful hour later, Phantump descended from her perch on Pumpkaboo’s head toward the base of a tree. Shaking some brush loose, she produced a tall, narrow wooden bowl, almost the size of her head, and a wooden rod conspicuously different from the natural sticks throughout the forest. The bowl was carved with linework, now scuffed and dirty. Phantump put the stick in the bowl and immediately shook with wailing sobs, clutching the bowl tightly, the stick making hollow banging sounds. Phantump traced the linework with her hands, rotating the bowl to follow each spiral and shape, each one punctuated with new tears. Pumpkaboo, Chandelure, and Froslass looked on in confusion. Froslass reached out, and Phantump reflexively pulled away.
“I remember it too,” another voice answered, shocking the four ghosts to attention. A Cubone stepped out from a tree’s shadow, wearing its kind’s trademark skull helmet and carrying its trademark femur club. “I remember the food, and the music, and the dancing.” Cubone’s voice faltered. “They took it all.” Phantump carried the bowl and stick most of the way between the two, dropped them, and hugged Cubone. “They took it all away from us.”
Phantump took Cubone’s hand and looked pleadingly at her escorts. Without words, they headed together on Pumpkaboo’s path, Phantump carrying the bowl.
Pumpkaboo’s directions led to a small clearing in the forest. Fog draped over everything, making the wooden ruin within hard to distinguish and turning snowy against Froslass’s body. The group approached the dilapidated building, Phantump visibly shaking, Cubone resolute. At the entrance, Phantump handed the bowl and stick to Froslass and ventured inside. Cubone followed, and Chandelure, Froslass, and Pumpkaboo entered last, staying near the back to let the other two explore in Chandelure’s ethereal light.
Holes in the ceiling had let in weather, wildlife, and forest debris. Time had yellowed and crumbled much of the paper on the broken desks, but it left intact the banner written in the ancient glyphs of Old Enoh in a hand that clearly resented that script: You Belong To The Land Now. Cubone took some of the decaying paper off one desk and handed it to Phantump. After a long squint, Phantump announced: “School assignments. I remember her. Her accent was stronger than mine. They…did things. To her. She didn’t come back.”
Phantump tried not to look at what was left of the posters on the walls as she pushed her way through a hole in the back wall. Cubone followed, and the others went around through the front entrance. Behind the abandoned school was a field of flat wooden stakes driven into the ground, each marked with modern lettering.
“You and your kin brought many things with you when they took you, to keep the memories strong. Most of them, like that pilón y maceta, got dumped in the woods, to steal your hope. My mother tried to stop them,” Cubone announced, voice quavering. “We followed your people here, when they took you. We were determined to never leave you alone, because you needed us and we needed you. When they took her outside, my mother tried to stop them. She didn’t come back, either.” Cubone gestured at the base of one of the stakes, where a hole had been crudely dug. “She’s here, now.” She gestured at her head with her bone club. “And here.”
“I ran away after that,” Phantump announced, running her hand along one of the wooden grave markers. “I didn’t get far.”
The moment was interrupted when Banette landed on Phantump from the roof, hissing in rage, holding Phantump’s arms down and raising her shadow’s arms to attack. Cubone raised her club, but Phantump shook her head. She spoke to her assailant.
“I did abandon you, Banette.”
Banette leaned in, the hatred in her eyes softening to curiosity for a moment.
“I ran from this place. I didn’t take anything with me. I saw what they were doing and I ran, and I left you here, and I didn’t come back.”
Banette leaned in closer still. Phantump pointed at another grave.
“That one is mine, isn’t it? Where they put what was left of me after I froze to death in the woods?”
Banette’s shadow-hands caressed Phantump’s wooden shell, dully scratching the bark.
“I didn’t want to leave you. Nothing would have made those last moments less horrible than having you with me. But I ran, and I left you behind, and I’m sorry. Did no one else ever play with you?”
Banette shook her head, whispered something, and shed a few tears.
“I’m so sorry.” Phantump reached up and hugged Banette, and Banette let her, the tears flowing freely now. “I didn’t mean to leave you. And I wish these monsters hadn’t left you in a closet to make sure that none of the other children would have any joy.”
They held each other in long silence.
“They took everything from us,” Phantump continued, “even each other.”
Banette hugged Phantump tighter. Cubone approached in answer.
“We found each other anyway,” she spoke, her club tracing scratches into the cold earth.
Pumpkaboo spoke up as he, Chandelure, and Froslass approached. “We know some people who can help.”
Phantump, Banette, and Cubone looked up in confusion.
Froslass continued, “We all recently stayed with some People of the Water. They’re not just memories and graves and ghosts. They live in Pacifidlog Town.”
Their eyes flooded with hope and longing.
“We just left, but I think it’s time we paid them a visit again,” Pumpkaboo continued. “They need to know this place is here, and you need to meet them.”
Froslass approached Phantump and put the pilón in her hands. “You all don’t ‘belong to the land’ anymore. And they’ll teach you their songs.”
Cubone took Phantump’s and Banette’s hands, and in a quavering voice, began the ancient lyrics: “In a place not so wholly faraway…”