AGNPH Stories

Love Lost by cge0361


Story Notes:

Unlike most of my writing, I'm posting parts of this before it is complete.

Chapter 7a: Projections

-7- Projections.

Joe was reminded of the skin of a fried chicken breast as he peeled his jacket, stiffened by frozen swimming pool water, from Grace's new body. It stayed in one piece, but flexed with crunching sounds that competed against a hissing faucet. Grace leaned against him numbly as he guided her into the bathtub to be gradually enveloped in water that would gently raise her body temperature instead of sharply lower it. Her first un-assisted action since Joe found her was to roll the knob handle in its red arrow's direction with her foot and kick it to full-blast. Joe immediately vetoed her plan and reduced the flow to a trickle.

"No; Dad said warm water, not hot." Joe sat on the floor beside the tub Indian-style.

James entered the bathroom holding a mug of hot cocoa. "Unless you want to die from shock. If so, go right ahead."

Grace, managing a whisper, uttered, "I'll pass on that," before thanking James, despite his sentiment, as Joe passed the beverage along to her.

"Don't thank me for it. I don't know where this came from. I thought Alice whipped it up before she left a minute ago, but I'm sure we don't have any cocoa in this house."

Joe recognized the mug by its style as one belonging to the Finnegans.

James stopped as he exited the bathroom. "Not that my permission means much to you anymore, but she should share your bed tonight. Body heat is a sound treatment for her condition." He shut the door behind himself.

"Grace, can--ow!" Joe recoiled and shot Grace a scowl.

Grace was drinking from the mug, and gulped down her latest sip with a twitch. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to feel your mind. I didn't think about how my powers changed with my body. I won't do it again until I'm sure it won't hurt you."

Joe pretended that his ears were not ringing. "It's okay, but go easy on me. Now, can you tell me what happened?"

Grace drew a crooked expression. "The misdreav--uh, Marianne and I were talking and the discussion got a little personal, again. That lead to the fight, again." If it were not for her hypothermia, she would have blushed.

Joe placed a hand on her shoulder. "I could've lost you tonight. Please, tell me exactly what happened." He took from her the mug as she adjusted her position slightly to reach out to his temples.

"I'd really rather show you."

Still experiencing the after-effects of her previous attempt to connect to his mind, Joe's reluctance was obvious, but she did not take it as a slight against herself that he hesitated before leaning forward to accept her embrace. Their connection took a little longer to establish than usual, as she throttled her powers at first, ensuring that she did not overwhelm him again. Once she found the right level, the link seemed more vivid and natural than it ever did before.

Alice twisted her head and shoulders around to look behind herself. "You really didn't have to walk me home." She sensed no strong disruptions of local aura, but she also did not fully trust her new sixth sense, yet.

"That's the third time you've said that, and the fifth time you've looked behind us, Alice."

"One of Daddy's rules was to never let someone follow you home."

"Oh. I think I understand." Burner turned away slightly and then turned about. Alice stopped and grabbed his arm.

"I don't mean you," she whispered forcefully before continuing down the sidewalk after pulling Burner around and changing her grip to wrap her right arm around his left. "We're almost there, anyway. I know it's a little paranoid, but better safe than sorry."

Burner recognized the next block as the one that Grace was assaulted on by a loosed misdreavus.

"Well, this one is mine; sort-of. I know it looks pretty bad, but someday Daddy and I will get it fixed up."

"It's not very late but all the lights are out. Did he go to sleep without seeing you come home okay?"

Alice exhaled sharply into the cool night air. "Daddy doesn't live here." Her expression shifted to hopeful joy, although this time the sudden shift was clearly an act. "Yet!" She reached for Burner's other arm and tugged him down to give him a hug and a kiss. "I'll see you at the park. Stay warm tonight."

"You, too." Burner watched as Alice made her way into the darkness, passing around the side of the house rather than entering through its front door. As he turned to head home with an expression of curiosity on his face, he collided with a hovering purple cloud.

Marianne froze Burner with a gaze that was equally serious and regretful. Her form was rather disorganized and she spoke with a rasping tone. "I probably should have talked to you when you offered. I thought Grace and I had more in common, but we can't talk without things getting really out of hand." She began to drift away, toward neither of her known haunts. "Just, make sure she knows I wasn't really trying to kill her or anything. Make sure," she gestured at him with a tendril, "or I will turn your dreams into my personal buffet again."

That was encouragement enough.

While Joe placed an extra blanket upon his bed, Grace put on a pair of his socks and glanced at her reflection in the dark south-wall window. She considered the similarities and differences between her new face, her departed mother's, and that of the gardevoir she met in the gym's lobby. Her fixation broke when Joe flicked off the light, and her reflection with it, leaving the room lit only by his alarm clock.

Joe slipped beneath the covers. Grace waited for him to settle before sliding in beside him, negotiating somewhat to ensure her sensory nodes' inconvenient placement provided no intrusive obstruction.

"Don't be shy. I'm still cold," she whispered into the darkness.

Joe let his hand wander across her side, beneath her arm, and around until it encircled her.

"You don't feel very cold."

Grace giggled faintly. "Good. Keep me this way."

"Alright." Joe's eyes were already closed and he did not notice where Grace was gazing at that second.

An eavesdropper on the other side of the door was careful to not allow loose ice cubes sloshing against a glass tumbler's wall betray his position to his son, but Grace sensed him plainly as he slowly paced to the back door, took a seat in a patio chair, and lit up a smoke.

Vanessa was lost in her crossword when a thud against Rennin Pokecenter's front door glass brought her to attention. Marianne did not emit enough infra-red radiation to trigger the automatic door's motion sensor and she was too exhausted to think that far ahead. Vanessa set her crossword puzzle aside as the ghost slowly struggled through the glass and approached the reception desk, dropping her ball onto the counter.

"I'd appreciate it a little if you'd help me with that--thing--that fixes-up pokemon after fights."

"Gladly. Uh, technically your trainer is supposed to recall you first, is he or she coming?"

"He couldn't make it here."

Vanessa wondered why. "Alright, I'll do the honors." She flicked on the rejuvenation machine's power switch. "This shouldn't take too long once it warms up."

"I'm not in a hurry for anything."

Vanessa picked up the ball and cringed. "Lord! Where has this been? It's greasy and smells like death."

"My master has been holding it. He's in Eledoisin Field, in the part where they plant people who had no family."

Vanessa dropped the ball in a panic with an exclamation of shock as she dove for a tissue to wipe the corruption from her fingers.

"Hey! Careful with that ball. I don't want to be up for grabs because of some klutzy twat who's more worried about her manicure than--I'm sorry. I'm just very, very upset right now."

Vanessa picked up Marianne's ball and wiped it clean. "Yeah, I think I can see that." She recalled Marianne and placed her ball into a dock, setting the machine for a thorough processing.

Joe thought he opened his eyes to see a world filled with impossible topographical forms, strangely colored in varied tints of bright pastel. An almost patina-like green dominated the ground while a faint yellow flooded most of the sky. Other shades fought their way through with bold, however amorphous, strokes. He stepped slowly backwards as he looked about himself, until bumping into something light and airy. Quickly turning, he then faced Grace who hovered before him. She posed herself as though she were lying flat on an invisible platform with her chin resting on the backs of her overlaid hands, although there was nothing there and her free-floating dress waved gently in the rarefied yellow aether.

"Grace, where are we?"

"Inside us."

Joe glanced around again. "What do you mean?"

Grace rotated and stood before him, blushing slightly although noticeably, especially at the tips of her gills. "I'm not sure. Because I evolved, I wanted to try to do something my mother could do. It's something like, I have to synchronize with your mind, then try to turn the whole thing into an image and then send it back, like a loop."

She reached around his shoulders and floated near. "But, I can tell you're not seeing what I'm seeing. It's like, just a tiny little bit of it. I guess it would be different with a human and a psychic pokemon from what it was with two psychic pokemon." She drifted away, letting her arms slide from his shoulders, and pulled her legs up to her chest to sulk in disappointment.

Joe stepped forward and took her hands in his own. "Whatever this is, it's pretty cool for a first try. Is there anything we can do while we're here?"

Grace brightened up. "We're supposed to be able to do anything. With my mother, she could create any place either of us remembered, and combine parts of them, so we could visit all our favorite places at the same time. After we moved, we left them all behind, but whenever I started missing them, she'd take me there again this way." Grace's emotional state began to waver, and the hue of the artificial earth and sky shifted to match.

Joe noticed and grew concerned, which altered the landscape as well as the palette.

Grace felt the connection loosening and sought to stabilize it, reaching out to Joe's avatar and placing her palms on his temples. "Never mind that. Let's see what we can do that might be fun, and simple enough for me to handle on my first try."

For some time they played together, with Grace sharing with him through synthesized first-hand experience what it is like to become weightless and float freely about a world formed not of solids, liquids, and gas, but of thoughts, feelings, and emotion.

Burner entered his home silently, locked the front door behind himself, and went to the kitchen for a drink. A glimmer of a dying cigarette caught his attention and led him outside.

"Master James, the temperature hasn't stopped falling all night. Aren't you cold?"

"Yeah. Very."

"Is there anything I can--"

"Yeah. Sit down and hear me out."

Burner pulled up a patio chair and waited for some time as James smoked away.

"I guess there's nothing I can do about it."

"Uh, I suppose, you're probably right, right?"

"Probably. I guess it'll happen the way it wants to. Thanks for listening, Burner." James gripped Burner's shoulder as he returned inside, leaving the blaziken sitting in mild confusion for a moment before entering as well.

James, who was putting his alcohol back into its cabinet, with a muted whistle stopped Burner, who was walking by as he headed for bed. "One thing, though. Joe's still got a lot of growing up to do and a lot of responsibility headed his way soon. That lucario you brought home seems like a real angel, but don't you dare do anything with her that might land my son with a little riolu to babysit on top of everything else."

Burner hesitated, as that thought had not crossed his mind before, before nodding and swearing his oath with a "yes, Sir." He reached his bedroom door and gripped its knob before pausing and looking back to James. "On top of everything else?"

James locked his liquor cabinet and switched off the light in the kitchen. "Goodnight."

"Am-ster--no, not 'star,' put an 'e' there--dam."

Vanessa had never heard of such a thing, but it did fit into 27-Across. "You're being a jerk and ruining my fun. And my puzzle. Magazines like these aren't cheap."

Marianne laughed aloud. "You would never have gotten that one without me. So, should I keep helping you, or should I start nagging you with questions about where you acquired an un-redacted magazine?"

The pokecenter attendant turned about in her chair and rolled a short distance away.

"Okay, fine. I'll make my own fun by snooping around." Marianne drifted into the lobby area. "Maybe a trainer dropped something interesting around here, or maybe I'll find something to play with in the offices or the storage lock--" Marianne's eyes grew wide. "Oh--oh, fuck, yes!"

A happy ghost is often correlated with an unhappy mortal unless the ghost is an established friend, inspiring Vanessa to cast her contraband aside and try to figure out where the misdreavus disappeared to. She looked about the public area, demanding in vain that the ghost reveal herself, and was soon to check the private area when Marianne appeared before her, no longer wearing an expression of absolute delight.

"They lined that safe with silver, didn't they?" she asked in an accusing tone.

"Of course. Otherwise, crooks with ghosts and teleporting psychics could clean us out."

Marianne's tendrils stood outward as she shouted. "I'm not stealing anything! It's rightfully mine!"

"What is?"

"Dusk stone. Harvey ordered one for me and was going to pick it up when he--unless you resell stuff that doesn't get picked up, it might still be in there."

"Well, unless the lock-up's getting full or another center nearby needs something in a hurry, they usually leave the supplies where they're at."

Marianne's absolute delight returned. "Then open that bad boy up!"

Vanessa returned to her seat and her crossword. "You didn't order it, so you can't claim it, unless you've got his power of attorney."

"I don't have that. All I have left is my ball in his name and a lot of mistakes to apologize for. Oh, and the answer to 59-Down."

Vanessa ignored the ghost until 59-Down became the keystone in cluster of squares she could not fill. "Are you sure?"

"It's another off-the-map city, even though the clue doesn't tell you that. Starts with a 'G.'"

The pokecenter attendant glanced at the clock. It was always pretty dead at this time of night. She released a snoozing audino to watch the front desk while she lead Marianne back to the supply storage room and accessed the safe, where a small box labeled with Harvey's name and trainer ID number, stuffed with cotton about a dark crystal, lied in wait. The audino spun in a task chair and giggled until the loudest and most terrifying shriek it had ever heard sent it diving beneath the counter. It was especially terrifying because the sound was distinctly happy.


Joe awoke as Grace, indistinctly trying to say something in a strange language, put a palm on his shoulder and pushed him downward against the mattress as she crawled over him, reaching outward with her other arm, until falling off the other side and taking most of the blankets with her.

"Grace! Are you alright?"

His gardevoir rose slightly and rubbed her face hard with her right hand. "Unnngh. Yeah. That dream was weird." She gathered up herself and the sheets and got back into his bed. "I was at a train station, only I wasn't me. I was feeling awful because someone had gone away forever, and the place was packed with people that I was trying to squeeze through. And, they all stared at me like they were angry and their minds felt...mean." She began to settle back in as Joe's alarm clock triggered.

Morning preparations in the Rainier household went along their usual path, with the only excitement being James' cutting himself while shaving. Before he departed for work, James took Joe aside.

"For a wild pokemon, your gardevoir seems to have tamed herself well enough. If you think she's ready, I guess it'll probably be okay if you let her stay out while you're at school."

Watching Joe depart with Burner beside him, Grace felt a little beside herself. She saw the evidence that she had earned a new level of respect in James' eyes, but she had no idea what exactly she should do with the freedoms and responsibilities that were coming with it.

Remembering that she tore apart Joe's bedding, Grace began her day by tending to its restoration. Of course, it would be uncouth to only do Joe's, so while his began washing, she stripped James' bed and drew out Burner's make-shift futon as well. Stepping on a wild popcorn in the living room, soon she was using her powers to tilt up furniture so she could run a vacuum beneath them.

The proverbial snowball was rolling down-hill.

Percival's sister was filling a coloring book beside what was technically her starter pokemon in the Finnegan living room when a gentle knocking brought Delilah to the door.

"Yes...Grace? Oh, look at you, child! Well, come inside, it's freezing out there if you ain't noticed."

Twitching her gills to force some blood flow to their chilled tips, Grace followed behind Delilah into the kitchen. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting anything. I fell into a little housework and thought it'd be fun to do the whole place and surprise Joe and James when they come home, but I couldn't find a duster anywhere. If you have one, may I borrow it?"

"Sure you can. Let me guess, decorations' got enough dust on 'em they look like they're growing moss and you can peel it off like a sheet?"

Grace stifled a laugh. "In a few places."

Delilah fished a feather duster from a closet. "Men don't dust. That's a law of nature."

Grace drifted back a bit to admit passage of an ampharos wearing a Hawaiian shirt. "Really?"

"Yep. I got a theory on that, come over for tea sometime and I'll bend your ear with it. Those are ears, right?"

Grace gently pinched the base of one of her gills. "These? I think they're like, ear, nose, and some other stuff all together."

"Think? Maybe you ought'a look into it and know for sure. They are glued to your head, you know."

Frankie passed by again, this time carrying a summer sausage.

Delilah placed her left hand on her hip while gesturing at Frankie with her right thumb. "That lamb sure knows how to eat, don't he? They're going to have it out when Percy takes him on the routes this summer and can't afford to spoil him anymore. Now, I guess you better get back to work. Time's a wastin', and it's not like two boys are going to clean up after themselves, right?"

Grace nodded and noticed something distinct on the kitchen table, a mug of coffee with a familiar pattern. "Mrs. Finnegan, I'm not sure how, but I think one of your mugs is over at our house."

"Really? Pa's went missing last night, led to about a half-hour of searching and accusations. Better entertainment than what was on the T.V.; but how did it get down the block?"

"I guess--no--I, I have no idea."

"Nnnnnnn-huh. I'll expect it back with the duster."

"Certainly, and thank you."

Delilah intended to show Grace to the door, but the gardevoir closed her eyes and vanished with a flash.

Carlos dozed off while seated upon a park bench in Carthamus Township. Flat broke, he was surviving via his pokemon. Ruby and Rosa kept him warm at night, foremost, and despite a lost leg and a deafened ear, Ruby was still a competent fighter and could win a duel and earn them enough for a meal or two on most days. Rosa was learning fast and proving to be tough as nails like her mother. However, she still had some time to wait before evolving, since Carlos could not afford any gym events with registration fees to help her develop, and he no longer had rare candy privileges.

He awoke to a sharp yelp from little Rosa. She was on his lap, pawing at a paper crane. He plucked it away before Rosa got a chance to chew it up, and unfolded it. Ruby beside him awoke and rested her head on his forearm as he read a short message written on the paper.

"Mr. S. Well has created a 'failure match-making service,' as he calls it with tongue-in-cheek. You have been paired with Hunter. You are going to travel northward to Fenchone Plantation, receive equipment stored in locker 6-A, and then continue through Allylidene Forest, up the mountain, until you arrive at Sabrina's Cantina. Hunter will meet you there, thence you together will receive further instructions. -- Maximilian."

Carlos crumpled the paper into a loose ball. "Up the fucking mountain in the middle of winter. Torch this." Carlos balanced the note on Ruby's nose. Once he drew his hand away and placed it on her shoulder, she snorted it into the air and incinerated it with a burst of flame.

A bald man riding a chopper with a lopunny clinging to his torso sped over the park's brick walkways as though it were his personal road, driving pedestrians off of their share of the path. The lopunny drank the last of a beer she held, crushed the can against her forehead, and threw it away, beaning an old man walking with his glaceon.

"You know what, girls? I should've signed up for a biker gang." Carlos rose and approached the old man, hoping he was still an active registered trainer. He felt a little bad about doing so, but his houndoom and houndour had an elemental advantage over the glaceon, and Carlos needed money to feed them and himself if they were to make their appointment.

Grace fled from the bathroom with a series of bounding glides, touching floor only to pivot as she navigated into the kitchen and hosed off her sinistral gills with the sink sprayer. Momentarily absent-minded, she touched them with a hand coated in bath-and-tile cleaner as she brushed her hair aside. The contact instantly taught her that her gills were quite sensitive to chemical agents, and that the uncomfortable burning that exposure to their fumes had brought was nothing compared to what direct exposure could do to her. She toweled off her gills, her watering eyes, and some splash from the sprayer while trying to think of a way to protect herself. Cling film seemed like a crude, but effective option.

As she crossed the living room on her way back to her mission, Burner returned home with Alice alongside him.

"Gracie!" Alice shouted as she rushed to the gardevoir. "He said you were okay, but I had to come see for myself to be sure."

"Yeah, I'm okay. Kinda sore from fighting with that misd--Marianne, though."

"You evolved because she let you spar with her? It was so nice of her to help you along! Daddy didn't want any other pokemon, so I didn't have any teammates to learn from. Instead he started teaching me human fighting techniques, and letting me fight any pokemon I thought I could beat. Even after he learned that my kind doesn't evolve by fighting. Hey, that reminds me, want a massage?"

"What?" The topic shift caught Grace off-guard, as she was following a brief negative dip in Alice's mindset.

"One time we met with a guy who had a medicham--I lost bad and Daddy had been working hard that week so the next day we were both sore and stiff. We saw the guy again at the market. He was on his lunch break and invited us to the massage parlor he worked at for a 2-for-1 deal, plus he sneaked in an employee discount. It really helped, and his medicham taught me the basics as a bonus while Daddy got treated. I've gotten pretty good over the years."

"Thanks Alice, but--I've really got to get back to work so I'll be done before Joe gets home."

Alice watched how Grace moved as she walked toward the bathroom. Burner returned to her side holding a glass of salt water for himself and lemonade for Alice.

"See that gait? Her muscles are stiff as wood planks." Alice sucked long on her drink's straw. "Come on, let's get you face-down. It's been a while, so I'll make my mistakes on someone big and tough enough to take it until I get the groove back."

Grace hustled through the remainder of her chores, or at least, the ones that she anticipated. The snowball kept rolling. Expecting to relax and enjoy a snack after the bathroom, she realized the disarray that had befallen the refrigerator. Reaching to the rear, she found a box of sodium bicarbonate that was likely older than she was. Playing with her powers, she created a weak, but sufficient, barrier across the front of the opened refrigerator to keep the cold air inside and re-arranged its contents into a more orderly pattern. Excepting the box of soda, that is, which she gladly pitched into the garbage. It seemed to possess an inorganic aura, as dark and ghastly as the gho--Marianne's.

She equipped the Finnegan's feather duster again and by levitating herself about a meter, she set about cleaning the top of the refrigerator, which was almost the least tidy surface she had tackled all day. Atop it and pushed near the rear was an unfamiliar box. Curiosity was getting the better of her, but as she guiltily raised it toward her palm, she heard a noise at the front door. The box fell down and cast a tiny plume of dust as Grace hastened into the living room to welcome home the young man she sought to impress.

Six feet beneath the ground's surface, Marianne replaced her ball, trusting it again to the putrid remains of her master. She argued with herself about what to do next. Giving up seemed like the best option. All she had to do was rotate the control dial to its locked position and trigger it. She would be inside and stay there until the power cell, efficient and long-lasting as they were, finally gave up the ghost. With the ball locked, it would not spit her out as an emergency measure when the battery level fell critical after a number of years.

Her essence fumbled in the dark. The dial found its intended setting and settled into its notch with a sharp click. The button began to give way, but it provided more resistance than Marianne expected. Perhaps the action was gummed by rot. The resistance was more than she was willing to exert against it. She released the ball and let it roll across Harvey's rib cage and settle beside him. She wanted to scream, louder than she ever had before, but while it built up inside her, all that could escape was a long, tearful whine as she began to sob and collapsed against, and then through, the corpse she hovered above.

She needed his comforting words, his reminding her of how she had saved his life, his validating her existence. He was gone, because she wanted a dusk stone. A dusk stone that she finally received. Gifted with the fruits of its influence, her first thought was to crawl into a hole and commit suicide by entombing herself within a pokeball. She got him killed just so she could squander his generous gift by killing herself, too.

Marianne began to imagine how she would react upon meeting someone who fit her own description. It was someone who was not worthy of death by ball discharge. It was someone who deserved to be buried for all eternity. Thus, she decided there is where she would leave that vile, disgusting, pathetic someone.

"Goodbye, Harvey. And, thank you; for everything. Especially for forgiving me."

No comments posted
No reviews posted