We Were Promised Pokémon in the Real World
A Short Story by Budgie Bigelow
Keith waited for his phone to be fully charged along with the two friends in his car, Greg and Val. He had been friends with Greg since middle school. He was less dorky than Keith, and he was able to blend in better because of it. Val was newer to their little group. She knew Keith and Greg through their shared workplace, and the three had become chummy over their breaks and lunches.
Keith was a run-of-the-mill mixed race kid who had been raised by a single father. He was into sports and playing the violin, which his father had insisted he do. He considered himself a “normal dork”, usually sporting untidy hair, glasses, and a look that the hipsters of New Haven had somehow adapted. His father often told him he looked like Rick Springfield.
The three were in their mid-thirties, but Keith felt far from grown up. He hadn’t moved out of his father’s house until he was in his late-twenties when he and Greg rented a second floor apartment near their job.
“You all set there?” Greg asked. Keith looked at his phone to see if it had reached 100% yet.
“Almost,” Keith said. The game they were playing was simple, and it would likely take most of the remaining morning and some of the afternoon. They were going to all start their Pokémon Go apps at 100% phone battery each, and they were going on a wild Pokémon hunt. Their starting destination was random, and they now sat parked near the center of Hamden, Connecticut. They were not allowed external charging devices or stops to charge their phones. The only time they were allowed to shut their phones down was for a lunch break. Otherwise, they were to remain on until their respective batteries reached 0%, ending the game.
“So how do you win?” Val asked from the backseat of Keith’s car. “Tell me again.”
Val was new to Pokémon Go. She heard Keith and Greg going on about it, and she downloaded it to see what the hype was about. She was at level four, and she found boundless joy in capturing the endless streams of pidgies around their office park.
“You don’t really win or lose,” Greg said. He was the big expert and a level twenty player, and he made it known. Keith thought he was too old when Pokémon started airing after school, so he knew less than Greg. Most of his knowledge came from Greg or the game. “You just catch as much as possible, hit the Pokéstops, and just have a good time.”
“Good,” Val said, smiling, “because I’d lose.”
“I’m at 100%,” Keith said when the 99% made way for the full charge. “I’m ready when you are.”
Greg and Val both grasped the bases of their chargers, waiting for Keith to do the same. He did as obliged after putting his car keys in his pocket. “We unplug on the count of three,” Greg said. “One, two, three.”
The trio of Pokémon hunters walked toward their first Pokéstop, a church just a block away from where Keith’s car waited. They all spun the picture of the church around and gathered their booty.
“OH!” Val exclaimed. “A Pidgy!” She giggled as she tapped the Pidgy and entered the augmented reality version of the space in front of the church steps through her phone. The Pidgy scratched its wing with its beak as the first pokéball missed it. “Damn.”
“Let me give you a quick tip,” Greg said, watching over Val’s shoulder. “Turn off the augmented reality option. Your battery will last a little longer.”
“You can put it into battery-saver mode too,” Keith added, hoping he didn’t sound too eager to not be left out of the conversation. He always felt a pang of jealousy when Greg talked to Val. Keith had never spoken to his friend about how he felt about her, so he couldn’t blame him if he was interested. He didn’t know if she was interested in Greg in return. The truth was he had no idea about how anyone felt about anyone.
“But I like looking at the Pokémon in our world,” Val said, clicking off the AR function. “Makes the game feel more real.”
“I remember when they were teasing this game,” Greg said. “We were promised Pokémon in the real world, and this is what we got.”
“You should still make sure you save your battery,” Keith said. “You don’t want to be following us around if you can’t catch any if your phone dies before ours.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Val said. “It’s good exercise, and it’s beautiful out, too.”
That was the truth, especially compared to the recent heatwave that hit at the end of July. Now that the beginning August was upon them, the weather was a bit cooler and the humidity was gone. Keith hoped it stayed like that for the rest of summer. He’d have another excuse to get Val out on more Pokémon hunts. Maybe next time he can secretly plan it when Greg wasn’t available.
“Look at this notice,” Val said, looking at the glass-encased bulletin board by the church’s entrance.
Keith walked beside her and read aloud. “Local boy, Ray Brower, missing and presumed dead. He went missing while playing Pokémon Go and separated from his friends. Please, be aware of the dangers about when playing a public game that demands most of your attention. Our community is hurt but Ray’s disappearance, and we want no more Pokémon related losses.”
“Damn,” Greg said. “That’s a bit harsh.”
“I think my aunt shared that story on Facebook,” Keith said.
“They have a point though,” Val said. “It’s easy for a sicko to nab a kid when he’s walking aimlessly, staring at his phone.”
“We should go west,” Greg said, looking at his own phone, ignoring Val’s worry for the youth of Hamden. “I think we’ll hit a good vein of Pokémon that way.”
“Plus it’s where all the restaurants are,” Keith added.
“Fine,” Val said, “but after lunch I want to venture off the main roads. That’s what this Pokémon trek is all about right.”
“Pokémon hunt,” Greg corrected. “We’re hunting, remember?”
Three Pokéstops and a dozen successful catches later, Keith, Greg, and Val decided to make their way toward something to eat. The good thing about this area of Hamden was there were plenty of stops to get balls, and they were going to need them if they planned on veering from the main roads after they ate.
“Let’s just do something quick,” Greg said. “How about Burger King.”
Val made a face that said she didn’t agree with Burger King or it wasn’t going to agree with her. “Do we have to?” she asked. “Why not Friday’s? It’s right there, and we can sit for a bit and order something healthier than burgers and fries.”
Keith chanced a glance at Val. He knew it was a cliche to say her body was a temple, but he didn’t care. He’d feel privileged if he were allowed to worship there, even once. He was going to speak up to agree with her, but Greg beat him to the punch.
“Nope,” Greg said, shaking his head. “You’re getting plenty of exercise today, and we don’t want to waste too much time sitting around.”
“Fine,” Val groaned, “but one of you guys owes me a sit-down dinner.”
Keith’s heart leapt. She didn’t tell Greg he owed her the dinner, and he wasn’t piping up to offer. He figured he could bring it up later if Greg disappeared for a bit.
So the trio walked further down Dixwell AVE and went into Burger King. They ordered their food. Greg told them to sit and he’d bring them their lunch, and they picked a booth by the front windows, looking out at the traffic zipping by.
“What’s that trick Greg was talking about with the little brown foxes?” Val asked, he cup of Diet Coke in front of her.
“Do you have any?” Keith asked.
“No,” Val replied, “but I can get one today maybe.”
“You’ll need a bunch,” Keith said, “but when you catch an Evee, you change its name to Rainer, Sparky, or Pyro, and it will turn into a Vaporeon, Jolteon, or a Flareon respectively.”
“You lost me,” Val said.
“Look,” Keith said, turning his phone back on and opening the Pokémon Go app. “These are the evolutions of the elusive Evee.”
Val leaned in close to look at his screen. Whatever was in his stomach jumped around, as the scent from her shampoo wafted toward his nostrils. She lingered for a moment before sitting back down. “You have so many of them,” she said.
“I’ve been playing longer,” Keith said. “Gregg and I…”
Keith noticed Val was no longer paying attention to him. Her attention had shifted toward Greg and the blonde girl he was talking up near the register. She was shorter and looked to be in her early twenties. Keith noticed the way Val looked at Greg and the blonde girl. It was the same way he looked at Val and Greg when they talked and he was left out. He knew his suspicions were right. Val liked Greg. That’s why she downloaded the app and jumped at the opportunity to spend the day with them.
Greg pointed to them and started walking over with their tray of food. The girl followed, carrying her own tray. She signaled to someone else to come join them. Soon, Greg, the blonde girl, and a teenage boy were all sitting in the booth.
“I found some fellow hunters,” Greg said. “This is Natasha. Natasha, this is Keith and Val.”
“Hello,” Natasha said in a Russian accent. She wore a dark brown tank top with no bra and short, tight khakis. She carried a dark-brown canvas purse that looked like it had been beat up for a few years.
“And is this your little brother?” Val asked, smiling at the teenage boy with shaggy brown hair and thick, black, squarish glasses.
“No,” the boy said, snobbishly. “My name is Tyler, and I’m her friend.”
“Oh,” Val said. “Sorry.”
“Tell them what you told me,” Greg said, looking at Natasha.
“I came to America five years ago, when I was nineteen,” Natasha said. “I studied at the local high school for a year to learn English. My peers labeled me a freak in my homeland because of my belief in the occult and the paranormal, but I got a fresh start here. I didn’t even tell anyone at the school about exorcising the demons from my babushka.”
“I’m sorry,” Keith said. “Did you say demons?”
“Da,” Natasha said. “My babushka was a sensitive, and they came to her often; five times during my lifetime until she died. I can be a powerful medium if I concentrate. I started a paranormal research group in my high school, and I still conduct research with them. That is how I became friends with Tyler. He is in my old group.”
“And you love Pokémon, right?” Greg said, almost gleeful.
“Da,” Natasha replied, smiling. “Tyler does as well. He is very gifted.”
“How can you be gifted in Pokémon?” Val asked. “You just go around looking for them, right?”
Tyler gave a single, dry laugh. “You must be a noob,” he said. “What level are you?”
“Five as of today,” Val said.
Tyler gave another laugh. “Well, without bragging about my level,” he began, “I’m a mathematical wizard; and I’ve been plotting routes for people like you since this game came out, and they pay me well to do it. I use ancient Sanskrit texts and my ability to meditate and access my akashic records in order to do so.”
“Cool,” Keith said, trying to measure if he was being serious or not.
“You two should join us,” Greg said. “We’re doing a battery drain hunt?”
“What is that?” Natasha asked.
Tyler was the one who answered. “It sounds like they play Pokémon Go until the app drains their phone batteries to zero,” he said.
“Sounds fun,” Natasha said. “I just charged my phone on the drive here, but I’m game if you’ll allow us to join.”
Val and Keith looked at each other, but it was Greg who spoke up. “Excellent,” he said. “Let’s eat and go hunt some wild Pokémon!”
The trio was now a quintet, following the lead of the seventeen-year-old Tyler instead of simply wandering Hamden aimlessly. He insisted they hit a few Pokéstops before heading onto the road less traveled. Keith though Tyler was making the route up as they walked, but he couldn’t argue with the haul he was catching.
“We’re doing good, da?” Natasha asked.
“Yeah,” Greg agreed, flicking at his phone to catch a wild Geodude. “We’re doing great.”
Keith and Val had stayed mostly quiet since their group of three became five. It was more than apparent that Greg was more interested in Natasha than them and Tyler only seemed interested in the route.
“Oh,” Val said, looking at her screen. “‘My egg is hatching.”
Keith moved over to see what prize awaited her in the Pokémon egg she had been incubating since he showed he how two Pokéstops ago. It cracked and opened, revealing a two-headed bird. “A Duodo,” Keith said. “Good get.”
Val smiled as the Duodo was registered to her Pokédex.
“So now we’re celebrating mediocrity,” Tyler said.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Keith asked.
“All she had to do was walk until the egg hatched,” Tyler said. “There’s no skill in that.”
“So you don’t hatch eggs for the Pokémon inside?” Val asked.
“I didn’t say I didn’t,” Tyler replied. “I just want to know who would list walking an arbitrary distance as an accomplishment.”
“Stephen Hawking?” Keith asked. He noticed Val stifle a laugh as Tyler turned away. He kind of resembled Hawking.
“We’re turning down this dead-end street,” Tyler said, taking the lead of the group once again. “We’re going all the way to the end.”
“We’ve gone pretty far,” Val said, looking down the street. It was only a few hundred feet long and had three depots and a small warehouse. The end looked like it led toward a forest. “Are we going to be able to find our way back to the car?”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Natasha asked.
“We haven’t even hit fifty percent yet,” Greg added. “You didn’t think we’d walk around the block a few times and head home, did you?”
“I guess not,” Val said.
“There’s some real good ones down there,” Tyler said. “I’m never wrong.”
“He never is,” Natasha added.
“We’ll find the car,” Keith said quietly to Val. “I promise.”
Val gave Keith a warm smile, and they followed the others down the dead-end street.
They came to the end of the road. So far, Tyler had not been wrong about the rarity of the Pokémon they’d find. Keith was able to catch a Jigglypuff and help Val catch her first Crabby, but the dead-end road was a bust. “I guess that’s it,” Keith said. “Want to head back?”
“We’re not stopping,” Tyler said. He walked up to a locked gate, leading into the woods. “This is where you’ll find the good ones. I’m staking my reputation on it.”
“Well it’s locked,” Val said, walking next to Tyler, “so I guess the adventure into the spooky woods will have to wait for another day.”
“You don’t understand,” Tyler said, exasperated. “This path is only good for today. Another day means another path. Today, our path leads into these woods. The more time you spend arguing, the less power your battery has.”
“I have an external battery in my bag,” Natasha said.
“No,” Greg said. “We’re on a battery drain. No charging.”
“I respect your resolve to do this your way,” Natasha said. “But I must tinkle. I will go behind that building. When I return, I will go with Tyler into the woods and hunt the rare Pokémon. I trust him completely. You three can do as you please.”
They were silent as Natasha went off. Unsurprisingly, it was Greg who broke the silence. “So, Tyler,” he said, “are you and Natasha… you know?”
Tyler scoffed. “She is not my girlfriend,” Tyler said. “Not only would that be creepy and illegal, but she’s not my type.”
“Oh,” Greg said. “OK.”
“Are you going in there?” Val asked Keith quietly.
Keith looked toward the locked, chain-link gate. “I don’t think everyone will be up for climbing over that barbed wire,” he said. “Unless they find another way in, I think our walk ends here.”
Greg overheard and started playing with the chain around it the gate. “Hey,” he said, pulling a rusted lock off. “This isn’t even locked. We can pull the chain out and go right in.”
“I’m sure it was supposed to be locked,” Val said.
Greg smiled and threw the lock into the woods. “I’m going,” he said. “I’m tired of Pidgies and Weedles.”
Val sighed and looked to Keith. “We said we’d stick together,” he said. He saw the look of defeat in her face, and he instantly wished he left the rest of the group with her. He thought he had a chance when Greg started flirting with Natasha, but now he figured he ruined it without thinking before he spoke.
“Fine,” Val said, “but the sooner we’re out of the there the better.”
Natasha returned from behind the building. “We’re ready,” she said. “Da?”
“Ready,” Greg said, pushing open the gate. The five of them looked down the dark, rocky, weed-covered path before venturing into the woods.
“I can’t believe I caught a Poliwhirl,” Keith said, looking at his phone screen. “I haven’t even seen a Poliwag in ages!”
The quintet had been hunting for Pokémon in the woods, moving deeper inward at Tyler’s behest. There was garbage strewn all about, but the amount of it lessened the deeper they ventured. Little light made its way through the thick branches of the trees, but they had service on their phones, and their hunting was not interrupted.
“I catch Poliwags all the time,” Natasha said. “Bozhe moi, there’s a Ivysaur in here!”
“I told you,” Tyler said, turning to track some Pokémon or another on his own phone, walking past and old, stained couch.
“Got it,” Natasha said. “Ivysaur is now in my Pokédex.”
“Awesome,” Greg said, looking at Natasha’s Ivysaur as an excuse to be close to her.
“Maybe I’ll finally see Mewtwo out here,” Greg said, looking around.
Tyler let out a laugh. “Mewtwo is an internet myth,” he said. “Believe me, if Mew or Mewtwo were actually in this game, I would’ve found them by now.”
“If he does exist,” Natasha added, “some noob with a single-digit level will find him.”
Greg laughed. “Probably,” he said, putting his hand on Natasha’s shoulder.
“How are you doing, Val?” Keith asked, noticing the way she was giving Greg and Natasha a sideways glance.
“I’m alright,” she said. “I wish someone had some mosquito repellant, though.”
“I meant in Pokémon,” Keith said.
“Oh,” Natasha said, looking at her phone as if she forgot it was in her hand. “I saw a butterfly, but I ran out of balls trying to catch it. There’s no Pokéstops in here, so I guess I’m done for the day.”
“You can always hatch one of your eggs if you walk around,” Tyler said, walking past them while staring at his phone screen. He took long strides, pausing after each one.
“Do not wander far,” Natasha said.
“I won’t,” Tyler said. “I think we’ll tap this place out before these guys are at zero percent anyway.”
There was a noise to the north of them. Something ran through the brush and rustled the bushes. “What the hell was that?!” Keith said jumping back.
Natasha and Tyler laughed. Greg joined in a little too late for his laughter to be genuine. “It’s just a little chipmunk,” Natasha said. “You aren’t scared of a little animal?”
“It sounded bigger,” Keith said.
“Feed it a razz berry before you try to catch it then,” Greg said, eliciting a polite laugh from Natasha.
“I’m going a bit further,” Tyler said. “I’d put money on there being a Snorlax up the ridge a big, but I’ll have to climb a bit.”
“Do not get lost,” Natasha said.
“Did you get the Scyther?” Greg asked.
“Catching him now,” Keith said, flicking a ball on his phone. Val was close to him now, causing him to miss. He knew she was staying close because she was scared, but that suited him fine. He curved another ball, catching him this time.
“Nice,” Val said.
“I just got a Machop,” Greg said. “Damn, that kid was right.”
There was more rustling in the direction Tyler came from. The others turned to look, but they saw no animals rushing out of the bushes. “Tyler must have scared something off,” Natasha said, a bit of nervousness in her voice.
“Should we go up and look for him?” Greg suggested.
“Nyet,” Natasha replied. “Give him a few minutes. He knows what he is doing.”
Greg’s phone buzzed again, and he pulled it up to see what was near him. “Shit,” he said. “This must be a breeding ground for these little fuckers.”
“I feel something,” Natasha said. “One of us should check on Tyler.”
“I thought you said he knows what he’s doing,” Keith said, turning to track nearby Pokémon.
“Something has changed,” Natasha said.
Keith looked toward Natasha, and saw a look of genuine worry on her face. He remember how she told them she was some kind of medium. He had dismissed it as bullshit when she said it, but now he started to think she was right.
There was a loud noise like an animal screeching. “What the fuck was that?” Greg said, looking up from his phone. Something came falling from the trees between the four of them, and they all jumped back a step. There was a large cocoon made of what looked like spiderwebs, hanging from the branches above them from two thick, white threads. Keith approached it, wondering what the lumpy mass inside was. The cocoon turned as the branches above it creaked, and Keith saw the thick, black frames of Tyler’s glasses protruding from the bottom.
“It’s Tyler,” Keith said, stepping back. He heard Val let out a little gasp. “What the fuck did this to him?”
“I’m not sticking around to find out,” Greg said, running off. “Follow me. I can get us out.”
“Nyet!” Natasha said turning to grab Greg. “Do not leave that way!” She couldn’t grasp his shirt and ended up chasing after him.
“What do we do?” Val asked, shaking.
“We should go after them,” Keith said. He grabbed Val’s hand and pulled her forward. “Come on.”
Keith and Val moved quickly through the woods in what they thought was Greg’s direction. Branches scratched them as they did their best to hop of roots and rocks, threatening to twist their ankles with the slightest misstep. They were moving so fast, they nearly tripped over Natasha.
“Help me,” Natasha said, sitting on the ground, holding her calf, Keith knelt down to see how badly it was injured, but he saw some white gum-like substance on her. There was a pocket knife stuck in the mess of white.
“Do not touch it,” Natasha said. “It has me stuck. I cannot move, and Greg didn’t stop when I called out to him.”
“I can try to find a sharp rock,” Keith said, looking around the ground. “If I bring it down hard enough…”
“I can feel it,” Natasha said. “It’s happy. It’s toying with us like a child with his food. Its aura is old and… not human. I’ve never felt anything like it, not even when helping my babushka rid herself of the demons that plagued her.”
“Do you have a lighter at least?” Keith asked, making a mental note to try to understand Natasha’s rambling if they got out of the woods. “Maybe I can burn through this stuff.”
“Keith,” Val whispered. “Look up.”
Keith looked at Val, but her eyes were fixated on something else. He followed her gaze, looking at what was watching them from the branches only twenty feet above them. It was a boy, around ten years old. There were patches of black on his light skin. It took Keith a moment to realize the patches were needle-like hairs.
“Can you help us?” Keith asked. The boy smiled, showing a mouth full of black, pointed teeth. It’s eyes opened, showing only blood-red. It transformed, spider legs spawning from its sides. It’s head twisted and formed into that as a spider. It crawled down from the branches, a fully-formed, massive arachnid before its eight legs touched the ground.
Natasha screamed as the spider used its front legs to pull on the web attached to her ankle. Keith grabbed her hands as she slid toward it. He pulled with every muscle in his body, but his feet began to make trenches in the soft earth. He felt Natasha’s hands slipping out of his own, and she let out a brief scream as they finally came apart.
The spider dragged Natasha under its fangs. Her screaming was ended once the spider’s fangs were plunged between her shoulder blades. She was wrapped in webs as Keith tried to break his paralysis. Finally, Val pulled him by the arm, and the two ran away, knowing there was nothing they could do.
Keith and Val continued moving away from Natasha and the boy-spider. Val tripped over a root, but Keith caught her by the arm to stop her from falling to the ground. She gave a quick thank you as they continued moving down the path they assumed would lead them back out of the woods.
“Guys!” a harsh whisper said from their right. They turned and followed the sound, finding Greg. He was between a tree and a large rock, his legs and one arm completely tangled in what they now knew was that boy-spider’s webbing.
“Shit,” Keith said, looking around. “We couldn’t cut this when Natasha got stuck, and she only snagged her calf.”
“So she’s dead?” Greg asked. “That big spider got her?”
“Yeah,” Keith said. “Dragged her away from me. How are we going to get you out?”
“You’re not,” Greg said. “I tried to get my pants off, but this shit soaked through to my skin. I’m not getting out of here.”
Val gasped and tears started to roll down her cheeks. The severity of what they were facing finally hit her. “Greg,” she sad. “I…”
“Shut up and listen,” Greg said, whispering quickly. “That spider-thing hates the sun. It chased me over here, but I ran through some of the sun’s rays coming through the trees, and it backed off like they hurt it. If you have any hope of escaping, you have to get into the sun again.”
“We’re not leaving you here,” Keith said.
“Stop being noble,” Greg said. “This is what I get for trying to run off on all of you. At least you can make it out.”
“Now who’s being noble?” Keith asked.
“Just get the fuck out of here,” Greg said. “I have one free arm. Maybe if I punch it hard enough it will give you two enough time to get away.”
“Greg,” Keith said.
“Get out of here!” Greg snapped. “It’ll be back any second.”
Keith nodded, knowing Greg was right. He pulled at Val’s hand, but she hesitated, refusing to move. “We can’t leave you,” she said softly.
“I just had this conversation with Keith,” Greg said, rolling his eyes. “You don’t have time. Get to the sun.”
Keith found a large, round rock on the ground. He picked it up and handed it to Greg. “Give that thing Hell,” he said. He pulled Val, and she finally moved, watching Greg for one last moment before she followed Keith up the incline of the ground.
There was the soft padding on the ground behind Greg, and he gripped the rock in his hand. “You hungry?” he asked. “Come over here and get a bite to eat then, you ugly fuck.”
Keith led the way, nearly dragging Val forward. The woods were thick, and there was no sun coming through the leaves other than small rays. The small rays might be enough to deter the boy-spider, but it wouldn’t save them.
“I think we’re near the edge of the woods now,” Keith said. He could see the sun hitting the ground just a few hundred feet ahead. If they ran down the steep hill, they would be safe within a minute. He started to pick up the pace when something landed in front of them.
It was the boy again, looking at them with that strange combined look of fascination and glee. There was a gash in its forehead where Greg must have hit it with the rock. It observed them, tilting its head slightly. Fresh blood trickled down to its chin where it dripped and fell to earth. Greg made it bleed, and Keith knew it could be hurt at least.
“I want you to run,” Keith said softly. He wasn’t sure if the boy-spider could understand English or his intent. He bent down and picked up a large stick from the ground. “I’m going to hold it off as long as I can. I want you to run down that hill head for the sun.”
“I can’t,” Val breathed.
“You have to!” Keith said. “Get out of the woods and find someone, anyone. Just get out.”
Val didn’t say anything else, and Keith could only assume she nodded in agreement. He had locked eyes with the boy-spider, and he had no intention of looking the other way. His phone buzzed in his pocket once as a wild Pokémon appeared, and it caused the boy-spider to lunge at him, changing form as it charged.
Keith swung the branch, using every muscle in his arms and back. Val tried to run past, but the boy-spider sensed the movement and fired a load of white webbing from its back, tangling Val’s legs. She fell to the ground and rolled, crying out in pain when her body stopped moving. The momentary distraction caused the spider to misjudge the trajectory of the branch, earning a blow across its head, sending it crashing to the ground.
The branch had broken and splintered, but Keith didn’t let up on his assault. He brought the branch above his head again and swung downward, hitting the spider in its side. More webs fired from its backside, trying to tangle its assaulter, but it missed, sending thick tendrils into the branches above him.
The spider began to wale as Keith continued the assault. The branch broke again, so he was only holding the end of it. He dropped it and pummeled the back to the spider with his fists, being careful not to let it turn over and use its fangs on him.
The spider transformed during the attack, reverting into its boy form to try and squeeze away. Keith was too quick for the injured boy-spider, picking up another stick and hitting the boy-spider in its lower back. It fell to the ground, and Keith climbed on top again, putting the stick against the boy-spider’s windpipe and pulling back with every bit of energy he could muster.
Keith held the stick, strangling the life out of the boy-spider. It tried to crawl, digging tiny trenches in the earth with its fingers. The spider legs came out of its side again, thrashing at the ground as if it was trying to get away. Keith noticed some sunlight eking its way through the leaves, and he dragged the boy-spider toward it.
The boy-spider came close toward the light, and it redoubled its efforts to free itself from Keith’s grip. Keith kept air from entering its windpipe, but it was still strong. It tried to flip him over, but Keith kept his grip, rolling with the boy-spider and forcing its head into the sunlight. An inhuman howl came from the boy-spider’s mouth as the sunlight hit it. Steam and smoke emanated from its eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The screams hurt Keith’s head, but held firm, choking the life out of it. Soon, the human-like hands and fingers slowed as well before the boy-spider went limp.
Keith held the stick to the boy-spider’s throat long after the body went limp. He knew he’d eventually have to let go, but he didn’t trust it. For all he knew, whatever the monstrosity under him was didn’t die. The death throes could have been a ruse to trick him into thinking he was safe. He shook it, slamming its head into the ground as saliva and obscenities flew from his mouth.
“Stop,” Val said. “It’s dead.”
Keith looked over to Val, who was watching him. He frightened himself with the amount of murderous rage inside of him. It took the death of two relative strangers and his best friend to bring it out. He let the stick go and stood up, but the boy-spider remained still and smoldering. A pool of dark red pour from its mouth, and the earth greedily soaked it up.
Val pulled herself in a sitting position like some kind of mermaid with her legs bound by the spider’s web. The boy-spider was dead, but its webbing was as strong as ever. She tried her best to hop down the hill toward the sunlight with Keith supporting her, tripping often, but Keith kept her steady. When they got to the bottom they saw the stretch of green grass under the late-afternoon sun. The grass led to the backs of houses. They found civilization once more.
They let the sun warm their weary bodies. The web around Val’s legs cracked and crumbled off in the sunlight. Keith looked back toward the woods as Val brushed the last of the dried web off of her, knowing his friend’s body was inside.
“How are we going to explain what happened to the others?” Val asked.
“I don’t know,” Keith said. “I don’t even know if I can explain it to myself.”
Val leaned over and kissed Keith on the lips. He was so surprised by this he almost missed the buzz in his pocket. Out of habit, he pulled out his phone and turned it over. “Oh my God,” he said.
“What?” Val asked.
“It’s Mewtwo,” Keith replied. “He’s real.”
“Catch him,” Val whispered, gripping his shoulder. “Catch him for Greg.”
Keith nodded and moved a trembling finger to his phone screen and tapped Mewtwo. Now the Pokémon stood in front of him, jumping randomly. Keith took no chances. He went into his inventory and selected his last Ultraball and fed Mewtwo a razz berry for good measure, eliciting a heart around it. He held his finger on the ball, waiting for the right moment. The circle around Mewtwo shrank, and Keith let loose a curve ball that hit the mark exactly, eliciting a “great!” from the app.
Keith watched with a trembling hand as Mewtwo was sucked into the ball with a flash of light. The ball hit the ground, and he counted the shakes along with Val to the moment Mewtwo was caught. “One,” they said in unison. “Two…”
Keith’s screen went blank, and he stared in disbelief as his phone shut itself down.