Unlike most of my writing, I'm posting parts of this before it is complete.
Chapter 4b: Perceptions, concluded.
"No, Joe, you gotta hold them on tight. She's gonna squirm and if you let both slip--don't let them slip. There's no un-do with this sort of thing." Percival re-positioned Joe's hands and the earphones that were strapped to them. "Now, squeeze. Harder."
Grace whined as she lied on the comforter-futon that was the official Rainier Pokemon bed. It covered half of the spare room's floor. The things that were there previously Joe stacked atop things that stood on the other half of the room's floor in lieu of actually clearing out the chamber properly.
"Better, but the foam pads aren't flat yet; harder."
"Percy, this is hurting her."
"Just wait until I press the play button on this thing."
"Are you squeezing?"
Joe squeezed Grace's head between the earphones even more strongly as the high-pitched squeals emanating from Percival's T.M. reader seemingly penetrated every bone in his body, making him suddenly tense. Grace writhed and thrashed while Joe wondered how long a T.M. played. "How much more of this does she have to take?"
"Another twenty seconds. Speech is a big program because it has to burn its own little place in the brain. That's also why it can't be erased; it's too pervasive to block off or blank out."
That explanation consuming ten of the twenty seconds, it still felt like an eternity before the noise finally subsided and Percival's T.M. reader ejected its spent media.
"Okay, give her the headache medicine and let her sleep. Her ability to talk will kick in when it feels like it. I've got to get some work done on that paper due next week, later." Percival gathered his equipment and returned to his home.
Burner was sitting besides James on the couch, but followed Joe as he walked to his bedroom. He recognized this opportunity to spend time with Joe, alone.
"I want to play with you."
"This." Burner pointed at the television screen that was still working its way through corporate logos and introductory cinematics. "Show me how so I can play with you."
Burner settled on the floor and studied the game's control pad while Joe switched the game disc to a fighting game, since it seemed like something that Burner would understand easily, and it would support two players. An imported role-playing game about a world that did not have pokemon might take a while to explain, and Joe was already using all of its save slots.
Once Burner acclimated to his controller, he began to demonstrate as much prowess in the virtual ring as the real one. The simplification of combat to a half-dozen kicks and punches plus a few combinations made the game's fighting seem trivial, at least until Joe quit going easy on him and started fighting back. Then, it started to seem like a digital Alice was inside that screen, as Joe's avatar started racking up points three at a time just by deftly blocking until Burner's avatar was committed to an attack, and then wrecking him with a devastating counter.
Joe and Burner were, for the first time, genuinely having fun together. Just like when he was in the ring, Burner's tendency to gain momentum when he should be wearing out kicked in, and as he became increasingly frustrated with Joe's neigh-unbeatability, he also became less gentle with the controller, pushing the buttons harder as though that would make his avatar deliver stronger blows. His controller's plastic shell soon split and shattered, scattering a few triangular shards onto the bedroom carpet.
"No! Oh, man." Joe snatched the controller away from Burner, who winced and recoiled slightly. "Why did you do that?"
For all his waiting to evolve and gain the power of speech, Burner could not think of what to say. He merely groaned a shamed and wavering, "kraaaaaw."
"Well, game over." Joe swung the controller's corpse by its cord into a trash bin and exchanged his fighting game for his role-playing game again. "Why don't you go to your room and find something to break in there. It's all junk, anyway. Just don't wake up Grace."
Burner got to his feet and started slinking away, but stopped at Joe's door, straightened up, and sat on Joe's bed, despite his orders.
"Master Joe. Do you like me?"
Joe ignored the question.
"Not like you like Grace. I know you don't. I'm not good enough. But, do you like me at all?"
Joe suspended his game by switching to a status screen. "I don't hate you, Burner. But, I do think you should've gone to a real trainer."
"Are you going to trade me away to one?"
For a moment, Joe considered it. One of the trainers-in-training would probably take him; they knew he's a winner in the ring. Considering who would give him the best home brought Percival to mind, and suddenly Joe wondered if he had planned for this all along.
Then, another thought came to Joe's mind: a memory of Grace reminding him that as angry as he was, he needed to find his friend and bring him home. It was followed by a flash of imagination of what it would be like, to release his ralts--no--kirlia alone the next time he went to the park. To activate his T.D. and see only Grace's entry. To not see Burner walking up to him after a fight, win or lose, with that look in his eyes saying that the only thing that mattered to him was the words of congratulation or consolation his master was about to give him.
"Nah. I'd miss you."
"I'd miss you too, Master."
Joe patted the floor beside himself.
Burner slid off of the bed and sat where he was instructed. Joe reached around him with his right arm, drawing him into a side-by-side hug. He completed the loop by bringing his left hand and controller to where the right could now reach, and together, Joe and Burner battled against digital images of evil forces until lights-out.
Grace grunted and rolled over on her side of the make-shift futon. While a part of her motivation was her struggle to become comfortable in her alien body, wracked by the after-affects of having its entire language center forcefully restructured, Grace's primary goal was to find an orientation for her sensory organs that would let her know what Joe was up to. While her special abilities grew with her body, the closest mind, geographically-speaking, was that of the neighbor, Mr. Pearson, who was broadcasting vivid reactions to his favorite football team's territorial gains and losses. Straining her hardest, the most she could catch from her family was that all three members seemed happy.
She felt a strange need to get closer to them; why, she could not say. Plainly, Grace wanted to join them, but the part that compelled her to get closer also made her second-guess leaving her room. Indecisively touching her room's doorknob, Grace felt a spark of static electricity. Completely unwittingly, the surprise distracted her from her own efforts to sense their mental states, and for a brief moment, she felt herself receive an impression of James' current contemplation. It gave her cause for pause, and led her to lie down again. James was happy, an emotion she rarely felt from him, because Joe and Burner were together, getting along, without her. Given the option between going back to sleep and enjoying her family's happiness vicariously, or interrupting and bringing at least James down and possibly the others as a consequence, she chose the former.
At the top of the hour, Burner entered the Pokemon room and took his place on their futon. Grace poked him a few times after he lied down to get his attention.
"Burner, did Dad start a film, or go to sleep?"
"I think he's going to bed. I want to, too."
Grace struggled to filter out the neighbor's mental noise. The best she could manage was to notice a slight drop in overall consciousness nearby, and hoped that it was indeed James falling asleep. Reaching for the doorknob again, she realized that her other powers should have grown as well. Grace closed her eyes, cleared her mind, and focused on her exact destination. A series of walls between here and there seemed to stand defiantly before her, until suddenly they stood defeated behind her.
Joe awoke paralyzed with an unfamiliar weight seated upon his chest. Unable to struggle, he looked at the faint figure above him, illuminated only by a trickle of moonlight and an alarm clock's red electronic glow.
"I love you, Joe." Grace's whispered voice was weak, but clear. After a few seconds, she removed her palms from his head. "I'm sorry I woke you up that way. I wanted to make sure the first thing I said to you was the most important."
Joe remained paralyzed by bewilderment instead of psychic intervention for a moment. Once that faded, he reached up to draw her into a hug.
"If Dad catches you in here--"
"It wouldn't be as bad as getting caught playing games instead of being in bed, right?"
"I hope not."
Blind teleportation from one corner of her home to its other left Grace feeling completely drained. She invested the last of her stamina into slipping into Joe's bed and finding a position for her foreign body to align with Joe's form.
"Grace, you feel a little warmer than you used to be."
"I'm a little happier than I used to be."
They bade each other goodnight with whispered, exhausted voices.
It was just a window shutter that refused to choose between being open and shut, and Alice knew this. Despite Daddy's best efforts to train Alice in logic and reason, and in the art of critically analyzing situations as they presented themselves, she had one wound that refused to heal.
Alice drew her bedding, a dusty old curtain pulled down from one of the abandoned house's larger windows, around herself like a cocoon and pressed her body against the backrest of a smelly and threadbare recliner. As offensive as it was, there were no other soft surfaces in the abandoned house, since any worthwhile furniture was removed by its last tenants.
Without any further options for symbolic withdrawal, Alice whimpered and whined. That damned window shutter striking against the siding sounded too much like the warning often heard when Dad came home. Not the Daddy that Alice learned to love and trust, or even her biological father, but the mad dad.
Debbie gasped and started collecting all of her dolls. This tea party was over. Alice tried to help, but newly-hatched and un-coordinated, she could not carry much. As ordered by his mistress, Osborne soon entered the bedroom with a hurried step and gathered the things that Debbie was leaving behind in her haste. As the girl leapt into her bed and Alice retreated to her pet bed in a corner, hiding herself beneath a tiny comforter, Osborne turned off the bedroom's light and discarded the leather-and-steel gloves that guarded his paws' dorsal spikes. He took a position hidden inside Debbie's closet, leaving the door open, and let his aura senses begin seeing for him. The room was silent except for tense heartbeats and echoed voices of an angry man and an angry wife yelling at each other. Were it on stage, it could have been a demented opera.
A wail from a crying woman with a bleeding nose behind heavy plodding footsteps headed toward Debbie's room marked the second act's beginning. Debbie prayed that this time would be like the other times. That he would see her "sleeping," and switch back from his manic to his depressive mode--locking himself in his den with grape juice for grown-ups and picture books of people with their clothes off that she knew she was not supposed to know about--and be not-mad dad in the morning.
"Princess. Prin-cess. I know you're not really sleeping. PRINCESS!"
Even if she were asleep, she would not have been after that.
"Why did you lie to me? Is Daddy's little princess becoming a woman, just like the others?" Mad Dad began to slowly walk into his daughter's room. "Like that shrew who thinks she can tell me what to do with my life? Like that whore who fired me because I'm a real man who won't check his balls at the gate like those pinstripe-suited pussies?"
With absolute stealth, Osborne sneaked out of the closet and approached in parallel, keeping just beyond Mad Dad's peripheral vision.
"Is that why you just now lied to me about being asleep? I wanted you to be my princess forever. Don't you want to be Daddy's little princess?"
Debbie clutched the leading edge of her sheets and pulled them up to her chin. "Yes, Dad."
"And what do princesses never do?"
"That's right." Mad Dad slowly knelt at Debbie's bedside. As his left knee reached the floor, it landed on a stray jack that dug its spike into the soft spot between his patella and tibia. He howled with pain, although it was not much louder than his earlier yelling. "And you know what princesses always do?"
"Keep their rooms perfectly clean."
"God damn right they do!" he shouted through his teeth with his voice in a lowered register. Mad Dad removed the jack and cast it aside. It struck the wall and landed near Alice. "I was right. You aren't my little princess. Not anymore. My little princess wouldn't hurt me, and I wouldn't hurt her. But you're not her, are you?"
Debbie screamed as he tore her blankets away and seized her, shaking her with gaining-momentum as he shouted.
"Who are you? Who are you! What did you do with my princess you filthy monster!"
Debbie wailed after he slapped her, not much differently from the way he slapped his wife.
"I want my god damn princess back! Stop crying and tell me how I can get her back!" He slapped her again and she screamed and cried even more forcefully.
Osborne had seen this pattern many times before in the kitchen and living room. Mad Dad always threw a punch on the third swing. In those rooms, he had been ordered by his mistress to stand fast and do nothing. In this room, however, his orders were different.
"Princesses don't cry! They do what the king tells them to do because they love their dads. Where is my princess at? What did you do with her!" Removing his right hand from her body, she fell half-kneeling on the bed, held put and steady by his left. His free hand balled into a fist as his arm drew backwards. Blinded by rage, he was not cognizant of how hard he was about to strike his daughter, who he truly did love, inside his fantasy realm where he was a king, and not a mentally-unstable washout who could not keep even menial jobs for any significant duration and took out his frustrations on the women around him.
The crackle of shattering bones and splintering cartilage competed with Debbie's cries, and won-out depending on where you were in the room, as Osborne jumped onto Debbie's bed and used his right paw's dorsal spike to block and deflect Mad Dad's fist, splitting it halfway to the wrist between its middle and ring fingers.
Screaming and cursing at the top of his lungs, Mad Dad swung his ruined hand around, flinging spotted trails of blood all about his daughter's room. After a moment, he adapted enough to the pain to speak coherently. "You fucking mongrel! I should've had you put down on day-one. But, no, she says: love me, love my dog." His gaze turned to Alice. "Hell, I even let her let you make another one of ya'." Mad Dad pulled his shirt off and wrapped his hand with it while he staggered out of Debbie's room. "I can un-make those mistakes."
Osborne tried to comfort Debbie and activated his sensory organs to track Mad Dad's movements. Tracing his aura, Osborne did not see him go into the bathroom for first aid; instead, the lucario sensed him entering his den, and digging around for something. The dark shadow it cast upon surrounding aura fields indicated that it was something small, heavy, and solid.
Osborne barked a grainy "come!" to Alice while he took Debbie by her arm and ran out of her room. He found Debbie's mother in her usual post-fight position, leaning face-down over a table, arms wrapped tightly around her head to block out the nightmare that surrounded her. She was slow to rouse but Osborne was most insistent.
"R-r-run, now!" Osborne was either a mute or a failed T.M. subject, but had practiced enough on his own to be understood in a pinch.
As the mother and daughter fled, leaving the front door open behind themselves, Osborne turned to his own offspring and nuzzled her affectionately. "You r-r-run. Don-sop. Ket kood home."
Mad Dad marched into his daughter's room and found it empty. "Come on out you fucking mutts. I got something for the both of you."
"Ko!" Osborne spun Alice to face away from him and shoved her into a run that carried her out through the house's front door and into the night.
Armed with a pistol, the king saw an enemy knight. "There you are."
Alice crossed the welcome-mat.
No good. Mad Dad had never fired with his left hand before.
Osborne began to channel an aura sphere; he only needed a few seconds.
Alice passed a beater in the driveway.
A half-channeled aura sphere dissipated, releasing little more than a forceful shock-front that staggered the king and knocked picture frames off of the walls.
"Too easy." Mad Dad began to advance toward the door. "Now, to do the same to your worthless litt--ow!"
In defiance of the bullet that destroyed many of the organs in his abdomen, Osborne managed enough strength to fling himself from the floor and clamp his jaw on the man's right leg. Despite the man's attempt to kick him away, Osborne would not let go as long as he lived.
Alice was near the end of the block, but the gunshots somehow seemed as loud as they were at their source.
Despite the distance, the riolu's hearing was acute enough to discern the shooter's voice as he shouted complaints.
"God, I hate Steel-types! Please, fucking die already!" The king twisted into a half-crouch and pressed his revolver against the knight's forehead.
Alice felt a sharp ripple of aura fade suddenly.
Thirty-nine seconds after Alice turned the block's corner, officers from the Nybomy Fields Police Department arrived at the home and took a deranged man with an unloaded pistol into custody. She ran through the neighborhood until she reached a small commercial area and headed for the brightest lights she saw.
Nybomy Pokecenter's automatic doors glided open with a--
"Daddy!" Alice tearfully cried out to and for either, or both. Neither could hear her, and neither would come to comfort her. She was alone with only her dusty old curtain to keep her company.
As the storm passed over through the night, Alice endured a cycle of falling asleep, re-living the night her biological father died, awakening to the sound of an unsecured window shutter, and crying out in lonely terror.
A few meters above her on the attic floor rested a strange red necklace. Beside it lied a photograph of what appeared to be a distinguished gentleman, and a crudely-torn piece of newsprint bearing a similar image. Between the necklace and the photograph someone carved a message into the wood floor with a rusted nail: "Come on, Harvey, let's play!"
With every fearful twitch, anguished whimper, or scream of terror that Alice suffered, the necklace responded. At first, it began to emit a subtle, deep-crimson glow for a few seconds, but as the night wore on, it slowly lifted itself from the surface upon which it rested for years. When the light of the morning sun pierced a small screened ventilation hole, it revealed a tenuous cloud that slowly swirled and expanded around the hovering necklace.
The same sunlight awoke Alice, who groggily emerged from her cocoon. Taking stock of the situation, she figured that she could afford a mid-day nap and still have time to finish her costume, but first she needed to visit a neighbor.
"I've got to borrow that hammer again."
The window shutter was going to be silenced one way or another.