THE DEAD AND THE DAMNEDIt was a horrifying and heartrending thing, realizing I was dead. I remembered my child, Cubone, clinging close to me, staring with frightened innocent eyes at the human men in the red in the black suits who had come to take him away. I remembered stepping forward, flaring with a protective anger, ready to kill to protect my son. And then...
Floating, disembodied, hazy. I stared over my own broken and bloodied form, detached and numb. Cubone was nowhere to be seen - I could only pray he'd fled to safety.
It took a time to realize what I had become. Torn from this mortal coil, I had become a restless spirit of resentment and sorrow. Around me, the eyes of my now-fellow spirits watched me, their faces unreadable. My heart stung with bitter anger. Neither me nor my child had done anything wrong, anything to deserve this!
I haunted the halls of the Tower I had known as a home for most of my life, amongst the other lonely dead. All mortal men were barred entry to my final resting place, the force of my grudge chilling their souls with my very presence.
Foolhardy humans, every now and again, attempted to capture me in Pokeballs, but they passed through my ethereal form. I would merely frighten such fools away, and so rumors began to circulate about my hauntings in the world of man... or so I had heard from the speakings of the Tower's other denizens, at least.
One day - though all time tends to blend together when you're a spirit - the men in suits returned. There was a violent anger in me, a vengeance for a time stolen from me.
I saw in their eyes dedication and malice. They had known I would be here, had come prepared. In the hand of one was an unusual black Pokeball with red markings across it. But I cared not how they decorated their useless trinkets. I had never been captured before, and I had come to believe that would never change. So, when the suited man tossed the strange Pokeball at me, I bothered not to attempt dodging.
That had been my greatest mistake.
There had been a sensation of being numbed, swallowed up into a neverending bright light, and being washed away by a gentle haze of sleepiness... but I found myself still thrashing about in a desperate panic even as I was captured. I became a formless nothing in an endless white space, and a dreamless sleep threatened to overtake me. I fought it viciously, of course.
But a sense of wrongness gnawed at the edges of my thoughts, closing around my fears of being controlled by the suited men. This was wrong. This was wrong.
I had never been captured by a human before when I had been living, but some of my siblings at the den I had grown up in had. They had told stories of humans both good and bad, but the stories of the sensation of being captured remained the same - a peaceful half-dreaming state where you could freely peek out into the world beyond your new gilded cage, perhaps even breaking out back into freedom with enough effort... nothing like this choking blindness where I scarcely had the strength to stay awake, much less escape.
Yet despite my inability to see the outside world, I could still overhear it. One of the suited men spoke in muttering tones - "Are you sure this'll work? I've never seen a Pokeball thrash this much..."
The other laughed with the warmth of a lake frozen to the bottom. "Of course it'll work. It was designed especially to hold... special cases like this. Besides, with what this thing'll do to its mind, soon it won't WANT to escape..." I believe he then picked up my prison, as the sensation of sudden violent movement was enough to make my grasp on lucidity slip away, casting me off into sleep before I could puzzle over the meaning of their words.
The experiences afterwards felt like hazy, unfinished snapshots - brief moments of waking, enough for me to understand something was happening, but not what.
Violent, shaking jolts, a different human voice demanding someone to put their hands in the air. The gentle thrum of something moving beneath me, no other sound but someone humming along to static-edged music. One of the human voices I overheard vaguely explaining to another what I was and that they understood not the nature of my Pokeball, a shocked and sympathetic exclamation of horror in reply. Then, finally, a whispered apology that my fate had been far too cruel, and then the sensation of my Pokeball being set onto a flat surface and left there.
For a brief time, the quiet stillness was all I felt and heard when I managed to fight my way into wakingness. I wondered if that was the end for me, if this was now all there was forever. But then, one morning, I heard the sound of some unfamiliar humans talking, and then the brief scuffle of a Pokemon battle. I pushed back against sleep to eavesdrop on a conversation that drew near my prison.
"What's in that one?" a young and disinterested sounding voice asked.
This voice, I recognized as the one who had whispered an apology to me. "That... I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't show you that Pokemon. I'm holding onto it for its own protection."
"But you want me to research all of the Pokemon, don't you?"
"Yes, but... this is different."
"I see." The stranger did not sound satisfied with that answer.
Footsteps, then silence broken only by a sigh. And then I slept again, for a time, until something very different happened. The feeling of being suddenly carried in silence, hastily whisked away to elsewhere.
Then, a hushed whisper of "did that old man really think he could keep me from this?" and then...
Freedom. I had been summoned forth from the Pokeball. In a glow of light, I spiralled forth from my prison into the quiet cover of night, my eyes widening in surprise to see the light of the moon and stars twinkling overhead. How far had I been taken from my resting place...?
Around me, the grass grew tall and wild, yet at the same time tame and peaceful. In the distance, I saw the twinkling lights of a small human settlement. I knew not where I was, but I understood that I was now a very long way away from home. I turned to witness my savior - ...captor? - and my thoughts stung.
For a moment, there was hazy, shaking colors obscuring my vision. A human child? No, no- humming, fizzing in my mind, my eyes clouded. I blinked away the static, staring again, and I couldn't believe myself.
In front of me, staring wide-eyed and trembling, was my dear Cubone.
There was a part of me, quietly, dimly, that screamed that this was a lie, that I shouldn't believe what I was seeing, but a gentle haze washed over my thoughts, encouraging me to trust in what I saw. I had been really, truly, reunited with my child.
I came close, hesitantly and gently, my eyes stinging with foggy tears. But shaky with fear, my child backed away, eyes unrecognizing. Desperately, I tried to reassure him that it was me, but my voice came out an indistinct and threatening spectral whisper, threatening to blow away on the wind. I felt devastated - in this ghostly form, had I become completely unrecognizable...?
I watched with a broken heart as he turned to run, but in a desperate attempt to soothe him I began to sing. It was a lullaby I had once sung him every night, a gentle and lonely tune meant to calm both the living and dead. He stopped in his tracks and turned to look at me. His gaze was one of confusion, but I would forever prefer it over abject terror.
Cautiously, gently, I reached out a hand to touch his face, but in an instant I drew it away as it passed through, an unnatural cold stabbing through me - and by the way he had flinched away, I could only assume the same had happened to him.
Then, in an instant, the dreamlike haze of the unusual Pokeball overtook me once more, and I found myself returned to my prison. I couldn't understand why this was happening.
I waited like that, for some time, though I couldn't be sure how long. There was the occasional sound of a scuffle, but nothing specific I could discern.
Then, it happened - I was released again to see the outside world. The sun shining above felt almost foreign after all this time. But my thoughts were interrupted by a pained cry and the sound of a harsh bird's screech. Nearby, my dear Cubone cowered against a tree, a territorial Spearow clawing at his face.
I felt a protective rage bubble up within me. I couldn't allow this! I reached out a claw to do something, anything, and I felt an unusual pain. Sickly-sweet and burning, the vengeful feelings of resentment I had built up bled out of me in a dark static, clawing and burrowing into the Spearow's soul. I could only watch in alarmed horror as the unfortunate bird released a gurgling and clipped scream, its wings frozen stiff as it fell to the ground. Blood mixed with some kind of sickly gray substance trickled from its beak and stained the grass, before finally it went completely limp.
Both me and my child stared at the corpse. I couldn't think to do anything else. Had... had I done that? Had I killed it?
I stared at my claws. They still fizzed a dismal gray-black from the curse I had lain. From somewhere within me, I still felt a sharp sting even as it ebbed away into the darkness.
Cubone was staring at me now, eyes wide but unreadable.
'I'm sorry, I didn't- I didn't mean to-' I wanted to plead. But my voice remained a wretched static hum.
He stepped close to me with shaky legs. "...What... what are you...?" he whispered, his voice frail.
Through my clouded thoughts, a part of me was screaming something was wrong, begging me to realize, but - in my shock, I could only stare at my son (no, he couldn't be, he wasn't-) and be thankful that he was alright. It felt like someone had tightened a rope around my mind and blurred my thoughts like the view outside a murky window, and the thought of protecting Cubone was the only light I had to guide me. What else could I do, anyway? The haze of dreamless sleep would overtake me either way.
And, of course, not long later, it did.
The next time I was released, I was greeted with a human child accompanied by a Rattata threatening my son. But when I looked upon his face, I saw not fear but a quiet intensity. He pointed at the Rattata accosting him, casting me a knowing glance.
I felt sick. What was happening? Why? None of this seemed to line up with the one I had once known. None of it made any sense. And yet, as I tried to make sense of the situation, it grew harder to think once more, until all I could focus on was my dedication. I had promised to protect Cubone. That was my only guiding light. I had no choice.
So, reluctantly, I placed my curse upon our foe. I tried my hardest to restrain it, make it non-fatal, but... in an instant, the Rattata was writhing in agony. Moments later, only I watched as its soul faded into the ether.
The human child crept forward and prodded at the body of its fallen companion, and for a few agonizing moments me and Cubone merely watched. The melancholy did not last long, however. Stumbling to their feet, the human child charged at my son with a furious and pained cry.
Impulsively, I cursed the human child. I shut my eyes tight as I did so. I couldn't stand the thought of watching what I had just done - though I could hear it. Oh, I could hear it.
When it had gone silent, I slowly opened my eyes to find the human crumpled and lifeless on the ground, and my son staring with horror but otherwise unharmed. He was safe. That was all that mattered, I tried to reassure myself. At the edges of my vision, colors grew blurred and wrong. I felt like I was beginning to give up a part of myself. It burned to use the resentment, and yet at the same time it felt to be an extension of myself.
My child then slowly turned to stare at me, seemingly scrutinizing me in some way. Then, silently, with little fanfare, I was returned to my slumber.
Repeatedly, a similar sequence of events happened. I would be summoned from sleep, called upon to protect my child, and with no other option I would lay a curse upon whoever opposed him, bleeding their soul out into the night. Then, just as quickly as I'd been released, I would be returned to my rest again. I grew unable or perhaps unwilling to question it, and I knew not the identities of those whose lives I was called upon to end - whether they be Pokemon or human.
And, with time, the curse drew forth more easily, more comfortably than before. The more I used it, the less it pained me, and the more it felt like slipping into a gentle and comfortable routine. The world was so violent. The world was so wicked. It wanted to hurt my dear Cubone, rend the flesh from his bones a thousand times over only to put him back together to do it a thousand more. The bodies left behind by my resentment became a comfort.
Red and purple hues danced around the edges of my vision and dyed the world in surreal colors as my curse grew in power. I really, truly was losing myself. But it was to protect my child, I thought. I was finally truly able to keep him safe.
That's what I repeated to myself as the human child in front of us froze as he cradled the lifeless body of a Butterfree in his arms, his body then twitching and trembling unnaturally as his eyes rolled back and he slumped to the ground without even being able to scream as the curse tore his soul away. The haze encroached deeper into my vision, and I was returned to my slumber once more.
One day in this cycle, I was released within a familiar domain. My mind stung with memories as I stared wide-eyed at the familiar surroundings of the Tower. The sight of those walls filled me with a bitter nostalgia. But there was nothing left for me here now, wasn't there?
By my side, my child walked cautiously. "Hopefully this will keep the other ghosts in here away," he muttered to himself quietly.
And I did - around us, the other souls of the dead pressed against the walls and stared at us with hostility or curiosity or pity or disgust or somewhere in between, whispering amongst themselves in hushed voices I couldn't pick up on. Even as a spirit myself, I felt an uncomfortable prickling sensation of being judged as me and my child ascended the Tower.
When we had reached the final floor, the room was conspicuously empty and quiet. Neither human, Pokemon, nor other lost soul lingered.
But, despite the peace and quiet of the room, I felt a sensation of wrongness bubble up within me - a bad omen, charged with malice.
The deathly familiar feeling of dread that washed over me threatened to sweep me away in its tide, but my child looked unphased. Perhaps... perhaps he could not sense it?
But this feeling was one I had felt a couple times before. All who lived in the tower understood what it represented, and that disaster was sure to come next. The Man of the Tower had arrived. I urged my child to turn back and run, to hide somewhere safe, but the earth had already begun to shift in front of us. A rotting once-human hand reached from the earth, and soon the Man of the Tower dragged its decrepit body from the dirt. Its saucer-like eyes gleamed a sickly white and appeared to stare straight through my son. It was staring only at me.
I desperately begged my son to flee, but as ever it appeared he understood none. But with a palpable fear I had not seen in him even ever since I had returned, he backed away with trembling steps. A chill wracked both of our bodies as he passed through my form, and he fled down the stairs. I stayed, not daring to take my eyes off the Man of the Tower. But the Man did not move.
"Ahhhh... what a pleasure to see a... familiar face once again...." The Man's groaning voice was dry and crackly, yet despite its frailty it echoed off every wall. "I haven't seen you since... the men in the black and red suits took your life." Its face twisted into a sort of cruel smile. "What business have you with the living, now that you are no longer one of them...?"
It somehow recognized me from when I was alive... Its presence pressed on me and clogged my throat. It seems the dead were just as helpless to it as the living.
The Man of the Tower tilted its head slightly and reached an arm out, taking hold of one of my claws as if it were solid. "Yes... the living, the dead... I am damned to be trapped between them, so all is the same to me." It could hear my thoughts, then. "Now... won't you tell me why you wander among them?"
"I have something to protect," I managed to choke out. The mere effort seemed to tear at my body, trying to return me to ether.
The Man of the Tower tilted its head towards the ceiling, its eyes distant and thoughtful, though its jaw still hung loosely and grotesquely from its face. Then, to my horror, it broke into a long, deep, and terrible laugh that crowed through every hall. It laughed and laughed until it broke into a wheezy, frail cough and turned back towards me with a grin ever wider than before. "So you really believe what you think you're fighting for, but... You can make a choice now, and return here where you belong.... it's so very lonely here."
I drew back and shook my head violently, rejecting the idea with every bit of my being. "I will not abandon my own child" - the Man hissed with laughter, though I knew not why - "to haunt these halls!" Perhaps it was foolhardy to reject my fate as a spirit, but perhaps motherhood had made me a fool.
"Your choice, then..." The Man's voice grew suddenly softer, but his words still rang with malice. "After all, we all have our own prisons..." - it made a small gesture towards the still-buried half of its body within the tower floor - "...but it seems some prefer the slaughterhouse to the snare!"
I stumbled over my words. I told myself that it was attempting to inspire doubt in me and send me into a confused and horrible spiral, but there was a small part of me that cried out to know what it meant. How was what I was doing wrong? (And, silently, a part of me desperately tried to remind myself of my doubts, of the fact that the reality I was living could truly not be trusted, but... I was too far gone to heed it.)
The Man of the Tower released one last cold, rotting laugh. "When all is said and done... perhaps you could bring me your 'son's' body...? I've been aching for some fresh meat..." Before I could even cry out in fury and disgust, the Man disappeared back into the earth, and the sense of dread it had exerted faded away.
However, the dread had not completely vanished - as I phased through the wall of the tower to spot my child sitting outside its door and staring at the ground, I found that Man of the Tower had rooted its dread and doubt in my heart. Gently, I tried to hum to him my lullaby as comfort, but I found the notes garbled and broken by my uncertainty.
I was thankful next time I was returned to the sleep - at least there, I could not think about it.
And so, again, we slipped into the same rhythm of curses.
I understood not where Cubone was going, or what he was trying to do. We travelled across the entire region, leaving corpses in our wake. All I understood was that he was on some sort of journey to battle the 'Champion,' and I suppose I was along to protect him.
How long it took to reach our journey's end, I cannot be sure - the passage of time, as indistinct as it already was for a ghost, was only further muddied by the constant slip in and out of consciousness. But, surely enough, we found ourselves at the gate of the Champion.
The human trainers before him were taken down so quickly and anticlimactically that it's almost of no worth to describe. There was a sinking feeling as we progressed, as though I were about to stumble into some horrible truth... perhaps, if my intuition had always been that honest to me, I would never have even gotten to this point in the first place.
When we stepped into the room of the Champion, I was rather surprised to see that the human boy in front of us was rather young - and more surprised still to see him regard Cubone with familiarity.
"Heh, you don't look all that surprised to see me as the Champion, huh?" the boy laughed. He had yet to notice my presence.
"I don't want to waste any more time." my child said flatly.
The Champion breathed a sigh. "Man, you're really excited to lose. Didn't you used to be fun once?"
My child gestured to me, and I floated forward, filling the room with a crushing darkness. The Champion went suddenly silent and wide-eyed, staring at me with a shocked horror.
"No, it... that wasn't you who...?" he breathed shakily, reaching for the Pokeballs at his belt. "You wouldn't..."
I wish I could have described the following events as some sort of grand battle between me and the Pokemon who followed the Champion. To say that even in his last moments, he and his team held themselves with dignity. But... it pains me to say that it was nothing quite so grand. One by one, the Champion's team feebly, fearfully tried anything they could to stop me, and time and again my curse broke them, twisted their life out of their bodies. By the end of it, the Champion, despite his title, was curled up on the floor, weeping as he begged for his life.
What remained of my conscience didn't want to kill anyone else. There was no triumph in this. But my conscience was not what was controlling what little there was of my conscious mind.
As the Champion's scream died down, we heard the sound of a door unlocking behind us, hurried footsteps approaching.
From the entry to the room before, the voice of an elderly human man cried out. "No!" In he walked, white-coated and haggard. I dimly recognized his voice from... some time in the past. "I... I was too late," he whispered, kneeling to feel the pulse of the Champion. But there was none to find, of course. "I... I'm so sorry, grandson. I wish I realized sooner."
My child stood there impassively. "What are you doing here, old man?"
Shakily, the man got back to his feet, slowly stepping towards my son. "Do... do you have any idea what that is that you have? What you've stolen?"
My son narrowed his eyes. "Stop. Don't come any closer."
Something was wrong, wrong-
"That was a special and highly unethical Pokeball created to control the 'uncontrollable,'" the elderly man explained grimly, staying where he was. "Forcing them to see what they want to see to make them... obedient. To do that to a restless ghost... It never should've been created, certainly never should have fallen into irresponsible hands-"
"Shut up," my child snapped. "Curse him." A command. But no, wait, it wasn't-
At the edge of my vision, on the fringe of my thoughts, the truth peeked through for the first time in far too long and my mind was thrown into question. What the man in the white coat was saying struck a chord of understanding within me. But I didn't want to believe it, refused to, wanted to go back into that haze and never think of it-
In the time I had spent hesitating, the two wrestled on the ground viciously and painfully, and in moments the man was now holding up the unusual Pokeball. It had been here the whole time, but yet it felt as though I hadn't seen it since all that time ago, when the men in the black suits had captured me... (Had I not seen it, or had I simply refused to?) And then, numbly, I watched as the man in the white coat threw the Pokeball to the ground and crushed it underfoot, stomping on it to destroy every last trace of it.
In that moment, it felt like an icicle had been driven into my mind. Cold, sharp lucidness chased away the fog I had lost myself in. And, as I gazed upon the world with new eyes and saw things as they always were, I looked at my 'child.'
This was no Cubone. This was some human child, disheveled and unfamiliar to me. There was no warmth in the way he regarded me, only a cold and calculated glare, as if challenging me now that I knew the truth. I was not a mother or guardian. I was a tool to be used and discarded.
I stared into those deceitful eyes truly for the first time without the haze of delusion my prison had put over me. I do not know what I sought; perhaps malicious glee or remorse? But behind them I saw nothing. I wonder if he had always been this empty, or if this human had completely given himself up to grudge, as I had done myself. This human (though I hesitated to call it that still) had a hollow husk of a soul, and staring into those eyes made me feel like I was to be drawn back into its yawning dark to lose myself again.
And these were the eyes I had believed were those of my child. These were the eyes I had killed for.
We were murderers. He had known the truth and lulled me into this thoughtlessness, and I had foolishly and obliviously let him stain me with the blood of too many to count.
My siblings back at the den where I had grown up teased me every so often. They all had told me that my crying had always sounded like laughter.
As I flew into the dark of the night, I prayed this was true.
I would rather die a thousand more deaths than give that wretch the satisfaction of hearing me cry.
I do not know the exacts of what had happened to him immediately afterwards. Somehow, he had managed to evade direct punishment from his fellow man - perhaps one couldn't truly prove that he had wielded a spirit's curse to strike down others? Regardless of what happened, however, he was left with little, but still free and living. And, I promised to myself, as long as he was alive I would ensure to eternally deny him peace.
So, I haunted the wretch's footsteps at every turn. In every mirror my face stared back, in every shadow the silhouettes of those he had made me kill would loom, in every song I interspersed the lullaby I had once sung Cubone - my REAL Cubone, wherever he was now - now a dirge and a threat. I sought to make him as miserable as possible, and I ensured he never found happiness in the rest of his life.
In the earlier years he would attempt to fight back. He would call me obscenities and attempt to hire exorcists, but I spread word of his crimes far and wide so no one would dare approach him. Then, as his life fell to pieces, he attempted suicide many a time. But time and again I stopped him. There was nothing more I wanted than to see him broken and bleeding on the ground... but first I wanted him to suffer. Eventually, however, he gave up and accepted whatever I did to him.
He did not age gracefully, his body declining rapidly as his age took its toll. Finally, one day I sensed he was at death's door. In a siren's song colder than I had once ever expected to come out of me, I asked him to head back to where it had began so we could finally settle this.
I watched him trek the whole way across Kanto on foot. He stopped only to eat, drink, and sleep, but he lived only off what he could gather as his fellow man no longer dared to go near him. By the end, he was bloody and battered from the elements, his clothes run ragged. He passed through the door of his childhood home - though it was now empty and overtaken by dust - and nearly dragged himself up the stairs and collapsed in the center of the floor.
Around him, darkness consumed the room, and he cried out "Come out and kill me, already!" But his face went pale with fear as the procession of spirits began.
A long line of Pokemon and humans began to walk by, each stopping to stare at him with empty eyes. Unwillingly, he locked eyes with them and relived each of their lives in a moment, only for the next one to arrive and do the same. The Spearow that had been our unfortunate first victim, the children who had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, the once proud team of the Champion who had been felled in moments, and the Champion himself, among dozens - maybe hundreds - of others. The wretch screamed and begged for it to stop, clawing at his eyes to try and tear them out, but I pinned his arms to the ground and kept his eyes fixed on the procession.
When, finally, the last victim had walked into the darkness, I made myself visible. The wretch wailed and swore my name incoherently, swinging wildly as I simply floated in the air and watched in silence.
"YOU RUINED MY LIFE!" he screamed, seemingly not caring that he was hurting himself much more than he could ever hurt me. For him to think, even after that, that he was the victim... "I HAD EVERYTHING, ONCE, AND YOU TOOK IT AWAY FROM ME!"
I was tempted to hiss 'you had nothing,' but I didn't want to speak to him. He was not worth my words, even if he could understand them.
"WHY AREN'T YOU FIGHTING ME?!" he wailed as he fell to his knees from weakness. Yet, he didn't stop desperately swinging. I remained silent. At last he fell to the ground completely. He had too little strength to fight anymore. I stared into those horrible, hollow eyes. I guessed that my own probably were just as cold and empty, now.
In my mind, I turned over my grudges, my resentments, the regret and anger and hatred boiling within me. I recalled the mistakes I had made and the ones he had led me to make.
I laid my curse upon him.