Exactly 999 years later, it was a beautiful morning in the town of Sailance, North-West Ouen.
The trees’ branches swayed gently in the soft breeze, providing a constant, quiet rustle. The sun was rising, coloring the sky in a glorious, vibrant red. The air was comfortably warm and fresh. The only thing the scenery lacked was birdsong. That was also the only part of it that Mark Greenlet even remotely cared about.
He was short, thin, dark-haired, and currently on the way to school. A year ago, he would’ve been with his best friend Alex, chatting and feeling good. Now, Alex was probably somewhere with his Totodile having fun, while Mark was home in Sailance, walking alone, quiet and feeling miserable.
Mark’s parents were over-protective. There was no question about that. Almost all the other kids had been taken to Green town last year to receive a Pokémon from Ash Ketchum. Out of the ones left, Mark was the only one who had been looking forward to it for his whole life, only to have his parents tell him that it was too dangerous. What did they know, anyway – they had never been trainers and had lived in North-West Ouen for their whole lives.
The problem was that North-West Ouen had no Pokémon in it, for some reason that Pokémon experts had always debated about. The people who lived there were all lawyers or other rich people who wanted a life in peace without Pokémon and little kids asking them for a battle all day. And if there was anything that people who had lived there for more than thirty years did not understand, it was the concept of Pokémon training. Mark’s parents kept pointing out to him the possibility of getting a ‘real’ job. A programmer? How about a professional artist, since you draw so well? They would ask questions like that every time he mentioned that he wanted a Pokémon of his own, and were absolutely incapable of understanding how he felt when all his classmates and friends left.
Mark walked into the school building. He hated it, especially the prison-like outwards appearance and that dull, lifeless, rock-gray color of it. Mark loved living things; he had since he was little, and likewise hated cold rock because it was so lifeless. The corridors were even duller, even grayer and even more lifeless, which only added to the depressing feeling of the whole building. To top it all, all the students were snappy and irritated, usually because they wanted to train Pokémon, and the teachers were all snappy and irritated too, simply because of what the whole environment was like.
Mark’s first lesson on Thursdays was Battling Strategies, a branch of Pokémonology. He sighed as he sat down in front of the classroom. What a waste of time for somebody like him who was never going to get to train Pokémon anyway. Besides, whether it was because of his rather negative opinion on the classes or because he would rather spend them drawing on the back of his school papers, he was completely lousy at Pokémonology. For tests, he desperately sank himself into the textbook and sure enough, he managed to learn the bits of the text he found the most interesting pretty well. The problem was that they always asked about the most boring and uninteresting things, such as the level at which one Pokémon approximately evolved into another. This just made him despise Pokémonology even more.
He preferred Pokémon Communication classes by far – ‘Pokémonish’, as they were usually referred to in everyday speech. He was much better at languages than learning things by heart, besides finding Pokémon’s language very interesting in general. Those few things in Pokémonology that had sunk in over the years mostly had something to do with this remarkable language of syllables, bodily expressions and voice tones anyway.
One of the very best things in Pokémonish, also, was that in exams, live Pokémon were brought to classes and the kids got one Pokémon each to stage a normal casual chat with. At the end of the class, the Pokémon each gave the teacher a report on how well the students handled the conversation. Mark always got top grades for that; most of the students couldn’t talk nearly as well to Pokémon as he could, and he was rather proud of that. He remembered the test last year where he had discussed Pokémon rights with a Vulpix. He smiled faintly at the thought; it was probably one of the best memories of his life. The two of them had had so much in common, and they had ended up in an exciting discussion about Pokémon rights that went way past the time the exam was supposed to take. The teacher had been forced to recall the Vulpix into his Pokéball in order to get Mark to leave the classroom. Since then, Mark had been daydreaming about one day sneaking out to Green town on his own account and getting a Vulpix for a starter Pokémon; it was now his very favorite basic unevolved Pokémon.
But the class he probably enjoyed the most was Art. His Pokémon pictures received really positive comments by Miss Taintor, who was a professional Pokémon artist after all. She was the type of person that was always honest and all but afraid of telling somebody basically that their pictures sucked, but she mysteriously managed not to sound mean, however bad she thought the picture was. Mark was weird when it came to criticism; he subconsciously hated being criticized at all by other people, even if he completely agreed. That wasn’t too bad, though; it had caused him to suddenly decide to draw all day during the summer when he turned nine. When Miss Taintor saw his art in fourth grade, she had said, as he still remembered word for word: “Very big improvement, young man – if there were more students with determination like you in this stupid school, I’d be out of a job.” Probably another one of his very best memories – being congratulated by a harsh critic felt a lot better than the constant compliments from his parents and relatives who always pretended that everything he did was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and hearing a teacher call the school stupid just made him feel all nice. After that incident, he had started to appreciate constructive criticism – he still didn’t technically like it, but it definitely helped.
He was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of the bell ringing – the class was starting. Mark hated that sound; it hurt his ears. To his opinion, it should just be about as loud as the beep of his digital watch – at least everybody in the classroom heard quite clearly when it rang, and not even his own ears considered the noise too loud.
At least, he heavily stood up, groaned, and got in line with the only kids in sixth grade who weren’t out training Pokémon. Mrs. Grodski, who taught Pokémonology, was a very grumpy old lady who wore the biggest glasses Mark had ever seen, spoke through her overly large nose and had developed a strong hatred for Mark for some reason he had never understood.
“Good morning, class,” she said sternly as everybody had taken their places standing behind their chairs.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grodski,” the class mumbled, apart from Mark, who said his usual “Good morning, Mrs. Grumpy.” He knew it was safe; it drowned completely in the rest of the class’s murmurs.
“Today,” Mrs. Grodski announced with a frown at how tired all the kids sounded, “we will be studying up on recoil attacks. Sit down and turn to page forty-two, please.”
Mark sighed and opened his book as Mrs. Grodski watched him carefully, but as soon as she began reading aloud from the textbook, he silently took out his binder and started to draw a Lugia on the back of an English assignment. It was his favorite Pokémon; he drew it all the time. Articuno, his other favorite, was a bit trickier for him to draw, but that didn’t make him like it any less. He loved all Legendary Pokémon. In fact, he was utterly obsessed with them. He had been fascinated by those ultimate beings of the world since he was little.
“And just what do you think you’re doing, Mr. Greenlet?” Mrs. Grodski’s voice snapped. He looked slowly up from his Lugia, partially covering it with his hand. Mark had a hard time hiding his laughter behind an innocent expression.
“I believe I’m drawing, Mrs. Grodski, unless I’m very much mistaken,” he said in a sarcastically polite voice. There were some snickers from behind.
“Quiet!” the teacher screeched. “And stop scribbling on your papers, least of all in my class!”
Mark grimaced at her as she returned to her desk, and made the textbook stand open on the table, shielding the binder and making him look like he was actually reading.
Finally, the day was over. The sky was now slowly getting covered with depressing clouds. Mark went to play soccer with the fifth graders as usual, not really concentrating.
It was early May. May was something that Mark subconsciously connected to the bad knot in his stomach that formed every year as he watched all the lucky ten-year-olds drive away for Green town at the end of the month to get a Pokémon. The kids he was with now would probably all leave on an adventurous Pokémon journey soon while he would be left at home, standing at some street corner and drawing the city with imaginary Rattata poking out of the dustbins, Taillow singing in the trees and maybe a lone Meowth staring hungrily at them from below.
The ball came flying towards him and he kicked it away very hard, not bothering to aim anywhere. Stupid Pokémon! Why couldn’t they just get their butts over to North-West Ouen!
Mark felt all the unfairness of the situation turn to liquid form behind his eyes.
Oh, no, you don’t, you’re staying in there, he ordered, screwing his eyes shut for a second and opening them again. He felt a strong urge to be alone.
He ended up leaving the game and going home to sulk.
It was now gray and gloomy, fitting Mark’s mood perfectly; the clouds were thickening up and it would likely start raining soon. He quickened his pace as he turned down his home street. When he was just about to cross it, he heard something. Something that came from the bushes his back was currently turned to.
He jumped, twisting around immediately. Dead quiet, he waited for a few seconds. Then it happened again – a branch moved and a twig cracked.
Very slowly and carefully, his heart beating like a drum in his chest, he stepped up to the bush and pulled the branches apart. To his great disappointment, there was nothing there at all. Such a shame, he had been hoping he had found the first Pokémon of North-West Ouen… maybe a Vulpix. He grinned at the thought, but then shook his head.
“Come on,” he said to himself, “stop dreaming…”
He ran across the street. It was starting to rain.
After a very normal, quiet dinner with his parents while watching Bravo Trainer, he sat down in the sofa in the living room, and stared outside through the blurry, wet glass in the window facing the street.
He stopped dead.
There was definitely something moving out there. Something… reddish?
The word “Vulpix” instantly crossed his mind, although he knew it was ridiculous to assume that the Pokémon of his dreams had suddenly appeared in front of his house. Mark leapt to the front door, into his boots and pulled the door open. There was indeed a Pokémon there, but it wasn’t a Vulpix.
It was an orange, cute-looking bipedal lizard; one of those he had used to point at in picture books when he was little, announcing that it was a Fire-type in order to make his parents nod appreciatively and tell him he was really smart remembering it all.
But this was a real, living Charmander, not a picture in a book, and this fact made the Pokémon seem scary and foreign. It was lying limply on the middle of the road, and the flame that was supposed to be on the tip of its tail was merely a small, bright glow. That was still enough to indicate that it was still alive.
At first, Mark just stood there like a cow, staring, but then he was knocked to his senses by the sound of a car. He ran out onto the road, picked up the Pokémon and hurried inside with it, already soaked wet by the downpour.
Mark slammed the door shut and started fanning the Charmander’s tail flame stupidly with his hand in order to revive it, with little success.
“Mom! I – I found a Charmander on the road!” he panted.
“Really?” sounded his mother’s voice absent-mindedly from upstairs. “Very nice, but why don’t you just go into your room, dear?”
“Parents,” Mark hissed at nobody but himself and the unconscious Pokémon in his arms. Then he yelled: “Aren’t you listening? I FOUND A FREAKING CHARMANDER!”
He heard his mother, clearly thinking this was some kind of a game, sigh and stand up before coming down the stairs with red, tired eyes and a cup of coffee in her hands.
Crash! She dropped the cup and it fell to the floor, shattering to a thousand pieces and spilling coffee all over.
“Wha - what is that thing?” she then squeaked, sounding like this was the first time she saw a Pokémon close-up, which is probably was.
“It’s a Charmander!” Mark snapped. “A Pokémon! And it’s dying!”
“Oh God!” she uttered out, speechless. “John!”
“Not now,” Mark’s father mumbled from upstairs, sounding half-asleep. She dug her fingers deep into her curly mess of blond hair, repeating “Oh, what can we do? What can we do?” in a panicky voice.
Mark rolled his eyes, sighed and started waving his hand again in attempts to get the Charmander’s flame burning properly again. Slowly as the tail tip dried, the flame was restored. Mark breathed in relief; half because the Charmander was saved, half because his hand was getting stiff from all the fanning.
“Is… is it okay?” his mother asked carefully as Mark shook his entire arm to loosen the hand muscles.
“Yeah,” he said and smiled. “But I think it needs rest. Er… I guess you should go and get some old cloth so I can put it in my bed, otherwise it’ll burn the house down.”
His mother went back upstairs and got some old clothes of Mark he didn’t fit into anymore. He took them to his bedroom and placed them in the corner of his bed, laying the Charmander gently on top of them. The tail flame burned peacefully. Mark wondered who originally had the idea of making clothes flame-proof; it had always seemed very pointless to him, but now it sure came in handy.
He picked up the book about the Johto Legendary Pokémon on his desk and started to read, keeping an eye on the lizard. He was starting to calm down and think reasonably. Of course, this Charmander wasn’t wild. It obviously was trained. Charmander were very rare Pokémon from Kanto, how would one suddenly be in Ouen, let alone the North-West part? Its trainer was probably looking for it. Maybe he’d get a reward for finding it? Or maybe, just maybe… it had been released on purpose?
Mark grinned, looking forward to next morning.