Unlike most of my writing, I'm posting parts of this before it is complete.
Chapter 5a: Reflections.
With an anxious tremor, Alice crumpled pieces of scavenged aluminum foil around a hoop of wire. She could feel distant eyes upon her; no matter that every time she turned, she saw nothing but out-of-fashion texture on the ceiling, decorated with mummified insects dangling from webs hung by spiders who had long since moved on to find greener pastures. Desperate for a distraction, she reached for an emergency flashlight/radio--a thrift store bargain since its bulb was useless--and cranked its handle furiously for a minute before tuning in a station and returning to her work. For something made completely from salvaged garbage, Alice felt that her Halloween costume was looking pretty good.
A red necklace in a dark fog bled through the ceiling again. Alice's sensors twitched. The necklace and fog vanished. Alice turned around and squinted at the cobwebs with her ears folded back. She did not appreciate being spied upon, but there was not much she could do to truly threaten a Ghost-type. She gave her radio a few more turns and increased the volume a little. "If a pokemon was squatting here before me, why did it wait until now to reveal itself?" she thought, uncertain if she was intruding on its territory or if it was intruding on hers.
A red necklace in a dark fog bled through the ceiling again. Alice's sensors twitched. The riolu made a silent pact with herself to ignore it completely, unless it actually attacked her. She soon questioned her judgment as she felt it drifting slowly but steadily closer to her from behind. Instinctively, her five basic senses began to yield to her sixth, making work on her costume difficult. The form of the cardboard and cloth she handled became indistinct as her vision started interpreting aura patterns alongside visible light, causing her own paws to shine through. The field of view of her mind's eye expanded to include a dark vignetting around its fringe, with intermittent points of light on each side.
The darkness grew around her until she lost sight of all but her paws before her. She focused her mind on her own energies, which she could feel being siphoned away ever-so-slightly, and anticipated a powerful attack. Right at the moment she expected a point-blank shadow-ball to the back of her head, Alice felt instead a sharp tug on both of her sensors.
She sat for a moment nonplussed. Instantly, there were no aura patterns nearby but her own. Alice looked about and found two blue ribbons that were tied into bows when she had been wearing them, lying on the floor.
Alice completed her costume in peace, although she kept the radio charged and playing at a faint volume. As the afternoon ended, she dined on a can of Vienna sausage, donned her costume, and with a plastic bag in hand, passed through the basement setting out to claim her piece of the action.
A misdreavus seeped upwards through the floor wearing half of a smile. "Good sport." Marianne glanced at Alice's radio, shifting to a frown. "Bad taste." She adjusted its tuning with her hair-like tendrils to a station whose format was more familiar, and floated to the room's well-shuttered windows, peeking through a thin gap. The neighborhood looked a little different. Marianne began to wonder aloud how long she had been--effectively--dead of starvation. A scrap of newspaper amongst Alice's costume detritus gave her a figure to work with. She felt conflicted by simultaneous realizations that she had underestimated, and that it meant absolutely nothing at all.
Marianne let the paper fragment drop as she drifted upward into the attic and returned to the spot where she revived. She re-read the obituary clipping that lied beside Harvey's photograph, and then addressed his image.
"You liar. You promised me, you damn asshole!" Marianne shrieked with soul-deep intensity before biting the edge of the photograph's frame and slinging it across the attic, shattering and scattering its glass in a distant corner.
Marianne hung her head; at least, as well as a creature that is little more than a head can. As she settled down upon the message she scratched into the flooring, she glanced away from the mess of shattered glass and whispered, "I miss you."
After hours of anticipation, the sky began to change, growing rouge and magenta. A similar transition in color was happening to Grace, whose conversion into a spectre was nearing completion.
Joe smeared one last streak of purple face paint down Grace's skirt. "Perfect! Hey, Dad, don't you think she looks just like a mismagius?"
James, sitting on his couch, let his newspaper fold downward enough to see over it, and listlessly agreed. "Yeah, looks just like one."
Joe adjusted her cloak of purple tulle and necklace made of large red non-precious stone pendants. "Come on, follow me to the bathroom. You should get a look at yourself in the mirror."
Grace levitated off of the coffee table and maintained a few inches of altitude at all times. The coffee table's glass would be easily cleaned of the grease paint that marred it while Grace was becoming disguised, but the carpet would prove far less forgiving should she touch it.
Turning to face the bathroom mirror, she shouted in surprise. Aside from her eye color, she truly did look like a mismagius. She floated over sink where Joe was washing his hands and neared the mirror to ensure that the real her was still there beneath the make-up.
Joe heard the phone ring, followed by a summons from his father. Percival called to see if Joe and Grace were ready to head out for trick-or-treating. Joe confirmed their preparations' completion, called Grace to his side, and with bags in-hand, bade James goodbye for the next few hours. He reminded them to watch for traffic.
At the Finnegan home, Percival, Sam, and Burner were waiting impatiently. Sam donned a very elaborate costume, modified from the designs worn by cinematic samurai, while Burner was looking slightly ironic, wearing an inappropriately-sized plastic fireman's helmet and a simple suit made of yellow ochre colored scrap fabric with reflective tape accents, intended to look like it were made of nomex. At least the air tank that he wore, effortlessly, was legitimate, although its history was betrayed by red rectangular sticker with a white diagonal stripe. Frankie was outfitted in a small Hawaiian shirt and a black baseball cap, struggling to figure out how to set the television's recorder to save a slasher marathon during the time he would be compelled to serve as a self-illuminating chaperone.
Neither Joe nor Percival wore much for costumes. They each put on an eye-patch, a hat with a jolly roger in the center, and in Percival's case, a prop bird made of styrene and glued feathers attached with an alligator clip, establishing himself as the pirate captain. While trick-or-treating remained traditional for the younger children, the older ones let their costumed pokemon handle candy collection in their stead. So many youths with their pokemon walking the streets would not be seen again until school let out for the summer and journey trainers began their walkabouts.
After four ignored rings, James' answering machine took a call for him. The voice being recorded was less than a welcome sound.
"Mister Rainier, my good friend. I feel we should share a conversation, recent turns of fate being what they are. Since you are obviously more interested in sitting in your chair and pretending to watch T.V. than you are in rising and picking up your telephone like a proper gentleman would, I will arrange a personal visit at my convenience. Please set aside some politeness in advance."
James paced to the front window and saw the tail lights of a limousine fade southward. He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow. "Anything for you, Mister Well." He sat again, turned off his television, and thought back to the last time he said those words.
Nine divers in uniform gathered as ordered and awaited further instructions, biding the time by discussing recent news in low tones. They all fell silent the instant that Captain Biltmore entered the room.
"We've got to get moving fast, so this meeting will be brief. The good news is that, while the project sub is heavily damaged, it's resting shallow, all hands are accounted-for, and most of the men survived. The bad news is, the wreckage has damaged some underwater pipes, the boat itself is leaking fuel, and it was carrying some equipment that we have been ordered to recover. You tadpoles have been chosen because you're the best divers and wet welders we have. Now, between the blood in the water and seasonal migratory patterns, that area has enough sharks and hostile aquatic pokemon for me to make a joke about walking there and back without getting my boots wet. One of our private contractors has made us a generous offer that we are accepting. Mr. Well?"
A man, looking a little older than he actually was, replaced Captain Biltmore in standing before the dive team. One of the divers snickered and elbowed his neighbor, seeing that the man's identification tag read "Mr. S. Well," coinciding with the moniker of an adult-film actor, which he found slightly humorous at four-something in the morning.
"Gentlemen. I have at my disposal a vast collection of pokemon indigenous to regions across the world, and have prepared a selection of aquatic ones to help protect you during this operation. Of course, I make no promises that they will obey any of your orders, but they will obey mine to help keep you safe."
Captain Biltmore returned to the front of the room. "Now, I know most of you aren't pokemon trainers, or only have had them as pets. Just ignore them and let them do their job. Treat them like you would a special security team. However, a few of you do have your own pokemon; if they're suitable for this job and you want to work with one you know, have a word with me now. The rest of you, get out of here and get your equipment."
A young diver with sharp facial features approached the Captain. "Skipper, I want to bring my own pokemon."
"Tell me what you have."
"He's a floatzel. Before I signed up, we used to go on deep dives every other weekend. I know he can't stay down forever like aquatic ones can, but he can go eight minutes on one breath, so one pony bottle will last him as long as I can stay down, Sir."
Captain Biltmore scratched his chin beneath his orange beard and approved Petty Officer Third Class Rainier's request to bring his personal pokemon into the operation. James was elated by this opportunity. While all hands were allowed to keep one pokemon with them, a program inspired by a study that showed better performance metrics and lower stress-related incidents amongst men--past trainers and otherwise--who were allowed to interact with a familiar pokemon, practical concerns and duty cycles meant that some pokemon were only out of stasis a few times each month, and most became bunk-side decorations, as their masters found it easier emotionally to let them sleep in their balls than to bring them out only to share a brief moment of affection, a small meal, and recall them once again.
Mere minutes later, Nelson slipped into an improvised harness that held his pony bottle and a small radio transponder. There was no equipment sized for a three-foot-tall weasel, but a roll of hurricane tape can attach just about anything to just about anything else.
The divers and their new mascot loaded themselves and their equipment onto a small emergency-response boat and ran though checklists as the morning sun began to illuminate the sky and hide all other true stars, leaving two planets suddenly alone and outclassed.
Mr. S. Well also came aboard, arguing with a temperamental wireless connection as he began electronically withdrawing the pokemon he was loaning to the Navy divers, and arguing with a new-hire who was showing much promise behind a feisty attitude. Despite the boy's lack of years and decidedly dandy styling, he never backed down when Simon tried to bully him. Mr. Well respected Maximilian's moxie, although that was only on the condition that Maximilian always completed his tasks.
Biltmore hollered out from the wheelhouse, "be ready to dive in six minutes, men. We're just waiting on a report from the smokers." A team that arrived ahead of the divers was attempting to drive off wildlife using an aquatic form of smoke grenade, but while it made the water around the disaster site murky, it was not fending off any of the more-aggressive species.
James heard the words "six minutes" and "smoke," and decided it would be a good time to have one. He was halfway through it when a legitimate cough was followed by series of melodramatic forced ones. Turning about with a statement prepared on the topic of non-smokers asserting their personal opinions with melodramatic forced coughs, James paused as he realized he was looking at someone whose field commission was of higher rank than his own real commission.
"Doing that reduces your lungs' capacity and efficiency. Not a preferred situation for a diver, and I do believe that it is against regulation under these conditions." Mr. Well snatched the cigarette away from James and took a drag for himself as he walked back to the cabin.
The divers were separated by task into three teams. Four men were assigned repair duty, bandaging the sunken ship's fuel leak and then repairing the damaged pipeline. Three were to recover the experimental equipment and black box, and two were equipped to cut away any wreckage that blocked the salvage team's path.
James found himself working on the pipeline. Its damage was relatively minor, and the repairs moved quickly. Glancing around just to be sure they were there, he could see Mr. Well's pokemon on patrol as shadows against the morning sun above the sea's surface. Occasionally he recognized one of the forms to be a floatzel, and smiled. It had been a long time since Nelson had a chance to enjoy both a good swim and a few good fights with wild pokemon.
The doorbell chimed. James suspended his recollection and attended to his first customer. He was quite surprised to find it to be a lone riolu wearing a halo and wings made of aluminum foil and scrap paper.
"Trick or tr--" Alice paused; she noticed something in the air and sniffed subtly. Three faint but familiar personal scents, and a new fourth one that stood before her.
"I don't have any pokemon treats. Should I expect a trick?"
"Not if you have chocolate!" Alice's eyes twinkled with delight as James tossed a handful of bite-sized chocolate bars into her sack. "Thank you, Mister," she said with a curtsy, before skipping away delighted.
"This area sucks! There's like, two houses with lights on for the next two blocks. Matt, your map is stupid." Solymar snapped her fingers, to which Komo, wearing a cape an a luchador's mask, responded by opening her bag so she could fish out a jawbreaker.
Matthew ignored her insult. "Three houses for the next five blocks. The third house matters."
Joe noticed that Grace was touching ground every few feet. "Hey, are you getting tired? We can go home if you are."
Grace spun about on a peculiar axis to face him. "A little tired, but I won't really look like a ghost if I don't keep trying to float."
"That's okay. Ghosts kinda creep me out, anyway. Your mismagius is a little too convincing."
Grace passively scanned Joe's mind and giggled.
Tapping the sidewalk with her toe for a boost, Grace floated beside him, rising to match his height. "It's just that deep down you're thinking about how you would like me just the same even if I really were a mismagius."
Joe began to actively visualize the possibility, and stumbled a bit.
Through a gap in a damaged window shutter, Marianne watched the youths and their companions pass by. Few bothered to travel this block, but those that did were targets. Most she simply harassed by scaring them and when possible, stealing some of the victim's candy. However, after one target released an umbreon on her, the misdreavus felt tolerably content to just watch the trick-or-treaters pass by while enjoying the candy she already gleaned.
Suspended in her foggy form, a floating peppermint seemed to unwrap itself before drifting into her mouth from below, where her substantiated tongue began to work on its consumption. Its presence distorted her words as she spoke to herself. "Oh, a whole group. Groups are good, groups panic easy." She took stock of the group's walking pokemon. The kadabra and machoke looked like fun targets, but the combusken and mareep would intercede. She huffed a faint wisp. "Pass." Resigned to avoiding a second beating, she rolled her peppermint around in a listless manner until she noticed the mismagius amongst them. The surprise would have seen her choking on the candy if she needed to breathe. Marianne pushed through the window shutter while fading invisible.
"It's good, Joe, because I have a secret." Grace closed her eyes and reached for Joe's head and turned it to face her. "You see--" With her palms on her temples, she manipulated his perception to see her eyes as shining red and amber instead of green. "--I am one."
Joe yelled and stumbled backwards, almost falling down.
Roscoe stopped, laughing so hard that the placed his hands on his knees for stability. The rest of the group was left confused, since they were unable to feel psychically how Grace's joke affected Joe, and wondered how it was possible that Joe was startled by his own pokemon.
"That wasn't funny, Grace. I never want to see eyes like that again."
Grace floated upward again, now about a meter before Joe. "So, you like green eyes better than mismagius eyes?"
Joe gently nodded. "Uh-huh." A second later, his view of Grace's eyes was blotted out by an inky cloud, and a second after that, it was yelling at him, with angry, red and amber eyes.
"Ghost eyes are beautiful, asshole!" Giving the group no chance to respond, Marianne darted toward Grace, and together their bodies faded with a purple glow and vanished into the darkness of the night, leaving Burner to swallow the ember he was primed to release at the ambushing ghost.
Marianne's shadow-sneak delivered her and her guest to the foyer of the abandoned house. "Tell me where you found it! Or where he found it. I don't care! Where?"
Grace was too stunned to respond coherently at first, although she recognized Marianne's maneuver. "What? Found what?"
"Dusk stone, moron. Where did you get yours?"
"I never had one. I'm not a ghost." Grace removed and replaced her witch's hat to illustrate the fact.
Marianne became visibly displeased as she fondled the costume and felt foolish. "You smell like a ghost. Anyway, if you can't tell me where I can get a dusk stone, you're worthless." Her voice shifted into a scream. "Get out of my house!" Marianne wrapped Grace's right arm in her tenuous tendrils as she flew in a tight circle around Grace, spinning her about and then slinging her through the home's front door.
The group had split up and were searching about the entire block when Roscoe sensed Grace's body shifting back into normal matter, and wordlessly teleported himself and Joe to her as she rolled down the house's approach.
Joe shrugged off the shock of sudden relocation, falling to his knees and lifting his kirlia up from the unkempt yard's shaggy grass. "Grace! Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Let's go before she comes back."
The group reassembled on the sidewalk, and Matthew made a note to avoid this street in the future.
"Oh, fuck. Fuck! It shifted!"
James' radio was half static and all garbled, but there was no mistaking the panic in that voice.
The channel was filled with tense voices and many broken utterances. Eventually one voice came through clear, that of the Skipper.
"Alpha Team, is the damage repaired enough that you can leave it?"
Alpha's leader responded with an "affirmative, Sir; over."
"Alright, drop it and get over to the sub to help Charlie Team with the wreckage. Something broke loose and all three on Bravo Team are trapped inside."
Inside the boat, the welders worked on cutting away the blockage, but their air tanks were almost depleted. Soon, too, would be the tanks of the men inside.
Biltmore spoke again a few minutes later. "Alpha, Charlie, You boys have to come up. We've got a rescue specialist on a fast boat coming out; hold on Bravo, we're going to get you out of there."
As the divers began to ascend, James looked back and saw Nelson struggling through a gap in the wreckage. Without a means to communicate with his pokemon, James headed upward.
A few moments after returning to the boat, James heard Nelson barking near the starboard hull. With a few loose gestures, James figured out that Nelson was asking for another pony bottle; the one he carried had been removed. "Skipper, do we have any more air? Nelson thinks he can get it to them!"
Nelson disappeared beneath the waves just as a boat carrying the rescue specialist arrived.
Equipped with a camera on his gear, the men watched the specialist at work as he carefully cut away at the wreckage, stopping only to let Nelson through a few times. Soon, he had the hole opened wide enough for a diver to pass through. As he entered, the screen went almost completely blank, with the only light coming from the specialist's flashlight when its beam waved across the camera's field of view. The beam flashed only a few times before the feed stopped showing anything but black.
Tensions were eased as the specialist and one member of Bravo team surfaced. "Camera's out," the specialist quipped, ripping it from his gear and throwing it into the boat. Not long afterward, he returned with another man and with Nelson, who stole a fresh breath and dove again. "Who's pokemon is that?"
James identified himself. "Mine, Sir."
"He's the hero on this op'." The specialist submerged.
Mr. Rainier returned to present times, again summoned by his doorbell. After serving the costumed kids, James took a sheet of paper, wrote upon it "take one," and left the shallow crate on his doorstep. He was not interested in having his recollection be disturbed again, despite being not particularly interested in remembering the incident anyway.