1. We have moved to a new forum system. All your posts and data should have transferred over. Welcome, to the new Serebii Forums. Details here
    Dismiss Notice
  2. We have received legal notice about the sharing of certain images for Pokémon Sword & Shield. Due to this, we have a new rule. If you post said images, you will be removed from the forums until 15:00 UTC on November 14th 2019. We have also killed the leak discussion threads for the time being. Thank you for your patience during this. If you have any queries, use the contact form
  3. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

[Yuletide 2017] Wild Horses in Winter

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by icomeanon6, Dec 26, 2017.

  1. icomeanon6

    icomeanon6 It's "I Come Anon"

    [Merry Christmas, Serebii! The following is my contribution to this year's Yuletide Tree, addressed to Negrek. I was very pleased to get a prompt that was totally in my wheelhouse. (Kudos to Jax for exemplary prompt assignment.) For those who want the context, here was said prompt:
    We're very used to life with pokéballs and how that informs the way humans interact with pokémon. But of course, pokéballs (or their analogues, like apricorns or whatever that thing was in the Celebi movie) haven't always been around. I'd love to see a story set in a time before pokéballs, or a situation where pokéballs don't work/can't be used for some reason. How do humans get along with pokémon if capturing them is out of the question, or is far harder than with the quick and simple pokéball? Please don't use an established canon idea for this one (i.e. Rangers don't "capture" pokémon as such, there are no pokéballs in ReBURST, etc.).
    Happy Yuletide, Negrek! And to you as well, if you're not Negrek! Enjoy!]

    Content Warnings: Brief language, blood, alcohol. Not recommended for readers under the age of 13.

    ******************

    Wild Horses in Winter

    It was cold. It was real darn cold. A gust was blowing over the plains and picking up a fine powder of snow along with it. The wind was Canadian, but this was Dakota Territory, just barely. Hal stuck his mittens into his armpits. It helped a little, but it drew a roll of the eyes from his big sister.

    “If this is getting to you already, we can try again next year.”

    Hal shook his head vigorously, which was a good excuse to shiver. “I’m fine.”

    “Quit lagging behind, then.”

    It was easy for Rachel to say, cause her legs were a lot longer. Hal was nine years old (and seven months, don’t you forget it), but she had another ten years on top of that. Moreover, the bundle of blankets he had on his back wasn’t exactly light. They walked on, but Hal stuck his tongue out at her while she wasn’t looking.

    He pulled his tongue back in when he noticed Shungmanitu’s ears perk up. You couldn’t slip anything past a monster, especially not one with ears and a nose like a mightyena’s. The black, canine monster even stopped, turned around, and looked at Hal with an eager gleam in her eye and her tongue hanging out, as if to say, ‘Oh boy! You wanna fight? Huh? Huh? Do you?’

    “Don’t tease him, Shung.”

    Shungmanitu did as she was told, then jogged ahead of them. Even if she was a natural-born troublemaker, she was still Rachel’s monster and knew how to listen. Though Hal understood that years ago she used to be much more of a handful. That certainly spoke to his sister’s know-how when it came to monsters, which was why he couldn’t afford to get on her bad side today—not if he wanted to come home with a monster of his own. He tried harder to keep up.

    Rachel pointed at a white spot in the distance among other white spots. “Couple of bushes over there. Come on.”

    Hal didn’t know how she could see them. Everything that far off was just a blur to him. He wiped the snowflakes out of his eyelashes, but it didn’t help. It was only when they were halfway there that he saw anything. Maybe when he got bigger his eyes would be as good as Rachel’s.

    When they got close, Hal was surprised to see that the bush had very little snow on its branches. Surrounding it was a big circle where the snow was only an inch thick, and he could even see some of the crushed grass sticking out.

    Rachel sighed and shook her head. “That close.” She walked up and inspected the bush’s green, thorny leaves all the same. “Yup, it’s burnberry, but we can’t use it. It’s already picked clean. Ponyta’s been here, no doubt, so that’s a good sign at least.”

    “Don’t you mean, ‘ponytas have been here?’” Rachel was usually the one trying to get Hal to talk more proper-like, so he jumped on every chance he could to correct her for a change.

    “No, I meant ‘Ponyta has been here.’ She, not they.”

    “How you know it’s a she? Or just one? The tracks are snowed over.”

    Rachel came to her feet again and surveyed the endless expanse of white around them. “Might be more than one, sure, but Ponyta’s a girl, just like how Mightyena’s a boy even though Shung’s a girl.”

    “Huh?”

    “There’s lots of them out there, but they’re all Ponyta. It’s just how the Indians talk about monsters.”

    “I don’t get it.”

    “Don’t worry about it. Papa used to say it doesn’t really make sense till you’ve shared one of their pipes.” Shungmanitu had started to wander, so Rachel took off a mitten and used her fingers to whistle her back. “We’ll find another one. Let’s keep moving.”

    According to Rachel, burnberries were the best way to lure a wild ponyta—rather, to lure Ponyta. It was their—her favorite food in the winter, and Rapidash often melted the snow around the bushes to make their preferred place to sleep. Hal just wished the shrubs weren’t so few and far between out on the prairie. He breathed into his mittens to try to warm his face as they started walking again. It was just past noon now, and it wouldn’t be fun if they hadn’t caught his Ponyta by nightfall.

    *********

    Two hours had passed. It was getting harder and harder for Hal to dig his feet through the snow, but at least his boots were keeping them dry. Now they were moving south, following the banks of a silent, sleeping river. Whatever kept the wind at their backs was fine with him. His nose was starting to run when Rachel spoke for the first time in a while.

    “There’s another one. Our side of the river, too.”

    It took Hal a moment to realize she had said anything. He was more tired than he thought.

    “Look alive, cowboy. Bet this is it.”

    Hal hated it when she called him that, but he didn’t feel like saying anything about it at the moment. He trudged on after her until at long last the bush came into view. The snow on this one was thicker, so it took him longer to see. There was no sign of a melted circle around—the place was untouched.

    Rachel took a squat and gently brushed the snow off the leaves. “Yes! Hal, take a look!”

    Among the sharp leaves were some red berries, each about as thick as a thumb. Rachel took off her mittens and felt with care for a good branch. “Get out your flint. It’s time to get to work.” She broke off the branch. It had three berries on it, which drew the hard attention of Shungmanitu’s nose. “Not for you, girl. Unless you get frostbite and we need some.”

    Hal set down his bundle of things and dug out his trusty, worn block of flint and steel rod. Rachel held out the branch and said, “Go for where the twigs are thickest. It’ll catch the berries after that.”

    “I know.” He didn’t add that he was pretty sure he was better at starting fires than she was. Instead, he concentrated on getting his sore fingers to strike the steel with enough force. Soon he had sparks, and soon they caught the branch. The smell was almost overpowering, even to Hal’s runny nose. It left a sour, unpleasant taste in his mouth.

    Rachel set the burning branch in the snow a few yards upwind of them. Then a gust picked up and Hal expected the flame to go out, but somehow it stayed strong. “…Wow.”

    “That’s how you know these things are special. They love fire and know how to hold onto it, cold be damned. Ponyta eats this stuff like candy.”

    Hal thought about summer, when the candy-maker’s wagon would come into town for a week. He hated winter. “How long till a… till Ponyta smells this?”

    Rachel put her mittens back on, took out a small spade, and began clearing the snow away from a patch of ground. “Good question. Few hours if we’re lucky. I think we’ll have to light a new one every four.”

    Hal shivered. “…Can we start our campfire now, then?”

    “Nope. We’re not lighting anything that didn’t come from that bush.”

    Hal’s stomach sank. He couldn’t have heard that right. “…Huh?”

    “If we lit logs, then the wind would smell like a human fire. It has to smell like Ponyta’s relations found a burnberry bush and set a little of it on fire to let the others know.”

    “But… but you brought all that wood in your pack…”

    “That’s cause Mother wouldn’t have let you come if I didn’t tell her we’d have a fire.”

    Rachel had now sitting on a patch of cleared ground downwind from the flame. She patted the spot next to her and Hal sat down with some reluctance. It was better than sitting on bare snow, but not by a lot. He wasn’t sure he would have gone along with this plan if he’d known there wasn’t going to be a real fire. “Wish we could do this in the spring.”

    “And miss this beautiful snow-scape?” Rachel shook her head. “Anyway, winter’s the only time when Ponyta’s not happy with living outdoors and might prefer to take up with people. If we wanted to do this in the spring you’d have to pick another kind of monster, cause I ain’t going to try physical persuasion on a fire-monster.”

    “I don’t want to strongarm my monster.”

    “I know, cowboy.”

    There was no talking for a long time. The wind grew more and less tolerable in fits and starts, but all the while the berries stayed lit. Hal bet that he was going to have this terrible smell on him for weeks. But then he realized that that was probably the point. All that mattered was that Ponyta wouldn’t be put off by him when she got close, and she liked this smell. Though Mother would probably have some complaints about the odor when they got home.

    “In case you’re wondering,” said Rachel at some point, “Once this smell’s nice and set in our clothes, we’ll put up a lean-to to get out of the wind. I think we’ll be good by the time the sun goes down.”

    It was torture waiting for that point to arrive. The tips of Hal’s fingers were soon not just sore but felt like they were being pricked by dozens of needles. He did everything he could to keep them moving, and fortunately they didn’t reach the point where he couldn’t feel them at all. As the sun was getting lower in the sky, he had to do the same with his toes. Then out of nowhere Rachel grabbed his shoulders and rubbed them with too much vigor. He shook her off. The last thing he wanted was for her to start treating him like a baby. Though his shoulders did feel better for a minute there.

    All the while, he kept his eyes on the wide expanse for any sign of Ponyta. But there was none. There was only a flat, endless plain of white that extended to the horizon.

    *********

    The clouds to their left had turned deep red as the sun touched the land. Hal had barely moved an inch and hadn’t said a word since they lit the second branch an hour ago. How it had taken him this long he didn’t know, but he was coming to the realization that they were going to have to sleep out here in the cold. Even if Ponyta were to show up now, they wouldn’t be able to get back to the farm without him falling asleep on his feet. And now he had to wonder if he would wake up in the morning or just freeze before then.

    Rachel stood up. “Okay. I think we’re good to get out of the wind now.”

    Hal tried to stand up as well, but he couldn’t do it right away. His bones creaked like an old chair when he finally came to his feet, and after that he couldn’t manage to do much more than shuffle along slowly, arms crossed over his chest all the while.

    “Cheer up. This’ll be worth it when Ponyta doesn’t run away at first smell of you.” Rachel took the burning branch and moved it downwind of their snowless patch of ground. “Clear away some more of that snow. Get enough room for us to lie down.”

    She handed him her spade. His spirit sank at the thought of bending his knees, much less of moving snow. But he had to do what she said or it would go even worse for him, he knew. He stared at the stuff and slowly convinced his body to get to work. While he shoveled away, Rachel unrolled the largest part of her pack: a tanned buffalo hide. She was done staking it into the ground about the same time Hal was done clearing their spot.

    Altogether it was no more than some sticks, skin, rope, and heavy nails, but to Hal it might as well have been a cabin. It was large enough that only half of it made up the actual lean-to: the rest could serve as a floor. Tan-side out, fur-side in. Hal sat down again—rather, collapsed—and for the moment at least it was enough just to be under cover. But it wasn’t long until it became apparent that getting out of the wind wouldn’t be nearly enough to warm him up.

    It wasn’t quite dark, but already Hal was starting to nod off. A few more hours passed, and at some point Rachel gave him some jerky and hardtack for “supper.” He tried to dig his teeth into the aged biscuit and immediately regretted it. It was difficult enough to chew the things when you were fully awake, but since Hal was freezing, drowsy, and miserable it was a sincere struggle. It took several swigs of water to get through the whole thing. And it only annoyed him that Shungmanitu got through hers in only a few bites and was now begging for more with her tongue wagging.

    Before Hal knew it, the sun was gone. All of the daytime animals and monsters would be going to sleep soon. The day was finished, and they hadn’t seen Ponyta.

    “Well,” said Rachel, “Guess we ought to bunker down for the night.”

    She gathered up the blankets from their packs, three in all. She laid out one on the hide-floor to make it a little more comfortable for their backs. The other two she kept together, and she laid down under both.

    Hal was in disbelief. Did she think he didn’t need one? “…Where’s mine?”

    “Right here. We have to share.” Rachel patted the spot right next to her.

    She couldn’t be serious, Hal told himself. He was nine goshdarned years old and hadn’t slept with anyone since he was three.

    “Don’t give me that tough-guy look, mister. We’ve only got so much warm between us, and we can’t waste any of it. You’re not sleeping under just one blanket and that’s final.”

    “But—”

    “Hal! I am in charge of you out here and you’ll do what I tell you or you’re going to wake up frostbitten and fingerless or dead! Now get under here!”

    For several seconds, Hal did nothing. With as much defiance as he could muster, he weighed his options. If he tried sleeping without a blanket at all, he would probably die. And there was no way he could just take one of the blankets because Rachel was too strong. And he couldn’t imagine that she would listen to anything he said, either. He was stuck.

    He frowned, laid next to Rachel, and made a point to keep his back to her. Then the blankets fell on top of him, and he did have to admit it was pretty warm compared to the open air.

    “C’mere, Shung. Bedtime.”

    “—Oof!”

    Hal wished he’d known that Shungmanitu would interpret ‘bedtime’ as ‘lie down on top of us.’ She was heavy, and one of her hind paws was digging into his gut. He had to shift his weight around to get anywhere close to comfortable again. It was warmer this way, though.

    Then Rachel put her arm over his shoulder and pulled him in closer, and Hal knew he had to draw some kind of line. He tried to shake himself loose. “Get off.

    “Shut up. You’re shivering.”

    Hal screwed his eyes shut and fumed. He really couldn’t stand her some times. He just wanted to get to sleep and put this terrible day behind him.

    A few minutes passed. Then to Hal’s dismay Rachel spoke up again. “You know,” she said, “Papa used to say he wished you’d come along sooner. Just so he wouldn’t have to wait so long to get you your monster.”

    Hal didn’t say anything. What was he supposed to say? He never knew, not when she talked about Papa.

    “Do you remember him at all?”

    What kind of a question was that? That was like asking if he remembered first learning about Christmas. He knew what Papa looked like, sort of, and a little of what he sounded like, but that wasn’t the same as remembering any particular day when he was there.

    “I’ll never forget when we caught Shung together. We had lots of daylight to work with cause it was summer. You should’ve seen him wrestle her down. She was so quick when she was Poochyena, it was like trying to catch a mouse with only your toes.”

    Shungmanitu was already snoring. Hal felt her side move up and down.

    “I just had to get her to take the apricorn powder. Got a few scratches trying, but that was nothing to what she gave Papa. His face was a mess. All had a happy ending, though.”

    Hal didn’t like hearing this story. Rachel could never tell him why it didn’t matter that Shungmanitu didn’t want to come with them at the beginning. All she ever said was that it had a ‘happy ending.’ And it was true that now they probably couldn’t get Shungmanitu to leave if they tried, but still. He didn’t like it.

    “You know, this is where you usually call me and Papa monster-bullying tyrants.”

    “…I ain’t never said that.”

    “Guess it was my imagination.”

    Hal heard the wind pick up, but the lean-to kept if off them. The only cold he felt was where his face was exposed to the air. He burrowed deeper under the blanket, but it felt like he was getting less air that way.

    “Hey, Hal, listen. Tomorrow might not feel right for you, when you meet Ponyta. Even though you’re not fighting her, it’ll feel a bit like you’re tricking her, like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Or that it’s the powder calling the shots and not her.”

    Hal said nothing.

    “Thing is, monsters are like little children. They don’t always choose what’s best for them cause they can’t think far ahead. That’s why the ones who end up with the right people are the lucky ones. They live longer and happier than they do in the wild. They get sick less and they grow up smarter and kinder. So it’s not about what you do tomorrow, it’s about how you bring her up from there.

    “That’s how Papa always put it, anyway. Keep that in your head when it’s time.”

    He didn’t know what to think about that, but for now he was too tired to try. The only thing on his mind was falling asleep. So eventually he did.

    *********

    “Hal, get up.”

    Even though it was still darker than lighter, Hal was already awake. He just thought it seemed too hard to act like it. He tried to crack his eyes open but they wouldn’t move right away. It was like trying to pry a shovel loose that had frozen flat in the mud overnight. When he could finally see, the first thing he noticed was his breath.

    Rachel pulled the blankets off. The cold attacked Hal’s body all at once; even through his thick clothes. He heard Shungmanitu running in circles around them and barking—just her normal morning self. Hal’s own morning self was bad enough, but right now he was ten times worse. There was no part of his body, not one joint, that could move without concentrating on it. He started with his arms to prop himself up and eventually he was on his feet, but he felt rooted to the spot. It seemed like if he was going to move at all, it would only be because the wind knocked him over.

    “Get out your flint. Time to light a new branch.”

    From there the morning moved only in aching, interminable stretches, and Hal seemed to lose the transitions between them. At some point he got the fire to stick, at some point they ate some more hardtack, at some point he had to pee. The last item took the longest.

    Morning-twilight turned to dawn, and dawn to day. The sun helped a little, but as it rose the wind picked up as well. Today at least he was spared having to sit in it. But that mattered little when his insides felt like ice.

    “…and she still won’t let it go. I swear, every night after you go to bed she’s always on me about…”

    Hal missed the context of whatever it was Rachel was saying. How did she still have the energy to speak? He lost track of the one-sided conversation just as quickly as he’d become aware of it.

    Minutes or hours or weeks later, the sun was half-way through the sky. The thought should have come to him already, but now Hal had to confront the idea that they might not see Ponyta today, either. Surely they wouldn’t sleep out here for another night in a row? That would kill even Rachel, wouldn’t it? Hal would have to say something, anything if it came to that. They had to be home by nightfall or he didn’t know what would happen.

    But he did know what would happen if he said he even might want to quit. Rachel would never take him out here to try again. Ever. He might even have to wait three whole years, that’s how long it would be before he could ever convince her that he was in fact ready. So between this awful knowledge and the biting cold, Hal’s mouth stayed shut tight.

    Then Rachel nearly jumped out of her skin and snapped him out of his thoughts. “Hal! Look!

    His eyes jolted open. He tried to look, but everything past the little flame on the branch was just white and blue. It stayed white for seconds and seconds, until finally he caught something to his right. Standing out from the rest was a small blur of orange; taller than it was wide.

    Hal’s tongue got caught in his throat. He came to his feet as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

    “This is it!” Rachel quickly knocked down the sticks holding up their lean-to. Hal understood immediately: it couldn’t look like a human encampment from a distance. “I’ll get myself and Shung a good ways away. You take care of it from here! Got your pouch?”

    Hal felt around his belt. The pouch of apricorn powder was present. There wasn’t much in it, but he knew what to do with it.

    Shungmanitu was bounding all around from the excitement in the air, but she followed Rachel as she led their way up-wind. It was more so the mightyena wouldn’t become too aware of Ponyta’s scent than the other way around. The two followed the frozen river north until they looked very small to Hal. And when he looked back, the blur that must be Ponyta had grown larger.

    Hal tried to anticipate what would happen when Ponyta came close, and what he would do in response. The first thing he settled on was that he needed to make sure he got her attention in a way that didn’t scare her off. So he bent down and picked up the burning branch from its place in the snow. He also tossed his mittens to the ground, and somehow it didn’t occur to him how cold his hands were. All he needed was the warmth of the tiny fire to fool himself.

    Then he waited. He kept his eyes on the orange blur in the distance, and slowly it began to take shape. The colors separated into the flickering orange mane above and the lighter, paler body below. When he could discern her face and her legs moving at a steady walk, he started to feel his own pulse. There was sweat forming beneath his cap.

    Ponyta stopped five yards in front of him. Her mane and tail were nothing like the drawing from Papa’s old book. They ebbed and flowed in a way Hal had never seen from any fire: slowly, deliberately. And just as his eyes were fixed on that hair that was truly flame, Ponyta’s were fixed on the strong-smelling branch in his hand. Those eyes were dark and deep, full but sharp; and in a sad way, very hungry. Hal was too nervous, too taken to move his feet, but he knew that the correct thing to do was to make her come to him. He held the branch with the smoldering berries out further, and didn’t dare make a sound.

    She stepped closer. Hal saw that her footsteps melted the snow beneath them and left damp ground. She stuck her nose out to the branch and was close enough for Hal to touch. After a number of careful sniffs, she took a bite, paying no mind to the fire. She held her portion in her mouth for a few moments before breaking it off, and at the same time the flames on the rest of the branch subsided. It felt as if she was eating the heat itself as well as the berries.

    As she chewed, Hal decided it was time for the next step. He opened the clasp on his pouch and took out a pinch of apricorn powder. ‘It won’t make a monster love you, but it’ll keep it from attacking you. Might help them listen, too—never was sure if that was just the Indians exaggerating.’ Those were the words from Papa’s journal. Hal was very aware that it had taken Rachel over a month of saving to buy just the little powder that was between his fingers, and years to build up their entire stock. He thought for a moment, then sprinkled it on the remainder of the branch.

    Ponyta finished chewing, stuck her nose in for a second helping, and paused. She sniffed all around Hal’s hand. Five agonizing seconds passed, and Hal worried that he had blown it. He’d been too hasty and done something suspicious while Ponyta was still wary. It was back to square one, he was sure of it.

    Then Ponyta bit off most of the rest of the branch, taking a small dosage of the powder along with it. She chewed, Hal breathed again, and he noticed that a drop of sweat was rolling down his temple. But he didn’t lose his focus. He reached into the pouch for an even smaller pinch, and applied it to what little remained of the branch.

    Before he was ready for it, Ponyta took her third portion and nearly got his fingers along with it. Now both of his hands were free, but he was at a loss for what to do with them next. He supposed it would be smart to get another branch from the bush, but he wasn’t confident enough to move from that spot. And he had no idea whether Ponyta had taken enough of the powder that it was safe enough to touch her.

    Ponyta gulped down the last of her small meal. Her eyes all over: to the river, to the bush, to Hal, to the open space. The image of her walking away for good entered Hal’s head.

    But then he knew what he was supposed to do next. It was anyone’s guess where this unshakable conviction came from, but it pulled his right hand up to within ten inches of Ponyta’s head. He would put the powder to the test—seize what might be his only opportunity before it was gone.

    Ponyta stared at his hand, and didn’t move a muscle. Other than his shaking fingers, he didn’t move a muscle either, not at first. But slowly he did move—no more than an inch at a time.

    Then he felt the heat. Ponyta’s mane was true fire, and he felt it. It hurt, and he pulled back the last inch he’d just taken. The heat didn’t reach there. ‘The Indians say that monsters control their fires better than we control ours. That makes me think they’ve never met that devil-dog of Cottonwood’s back east, but maybe they know something about the prairie monsters.’

    Hal swallowed, and moved his hand closer by that one inch again. The heat was still there, and it still hurt. He held his hand in place for ten seconds before he had to wince and mutter, “…ow!” But Ponyta kept staring and didn’t move—not forward but not away either. Hal didn’t know if he would be punished for showing weakness or…

    The heat subsided. It was still warm, but it was no longer unbearably hot around his fingers, even though nothing had moved. Before Hal was certain about what this meant, he moved in another inch and a sliver until it was hot again. There were few more seconds of pain, then as before the air cooled down until it was tolerable. So Hal moved in closer. He inched toward the mane in this way as slowly as the hands on a grandfather clock. Then at last there was a sharper pain as the tip of his index finger brushed against a strand of fire. But that pain and that heat faded as well. When it did, he stuck in his entire hand.

    He was not burned.

    It felt the way his hands did when they were under a blanket and close to a fireplace. The mane looked like all one fire, but now Hal thought he felt the single hairs. When he tried to close some between his fingers they escaped, but when he held still and open, they brushed against him in waves like tall prairie grass in the hot sun. He could put that exact sensation into words in his head even before he realized how wide his smile had grown.

    Ponyta moved closer and sniffed his coat. Hal was more than glad now that Rachel had made that burnberry-smell sink into their clothes yesterday. Her nose tickled him and he laughed a little. He patted her head and she let him.

    After a minute, he pulled away to move on to the next test. He walked to his pack, pulled out the small, leather bridle, and held it in front of Ponyta. Her eyes narrowed a little, and she shifted.

    “Don’t worry,” said Hal, with no stutter and with a clear throat. “It doesn’t hurt. You’ll get used to it in no time.”

    Ponyta took a glance at the burnberry bush and then stared at the bridle again.

    “We’ve got lots of food at the farm. And I’ll take you out to get berries lots.”

    Ponyta’s eyes were less narrow now. Did she understand him, or just like his tone? It must have been the tone, but Hal was perfectly happy either way. He slowly, carefully slid the bridle over her nose, and gently fastened it around her head. He’d practiced a lot with the mule back at the farm, and he knew how to make it comfortingly snug but not tight.

    The bridle didn’t catch fire. That more than anything told Hal that Ponyta didn’t mind. He patted her on the head again and then rubbed her fiery back. “Good girl. You’re really going to like your new home, promise. Good girl.”

    After some time, though maybe it was only a minute, Hal heard careful footsteps behind him. Ponyta took wary note of the new person there, but stayed close to Hal.

    “Oh my God,” said Rachel. “You actually got her.”

    Hal turned around and saw her a good ten yards away. Rachel’s hand was in front of her mouth for a moment before she rubbed it over her eyes. “Sorry. I just had my big ‘we’ll get one next year’ speech ready and everything. I mean… holy cow, Hal, this is unbelievable.” She was laughing by the time she got the last word out. Hal had to chuckle a little, too.

    Rachel started to move again and held up her hands. “Don’t worry, I won’t get too close. Don’t want to scare her. And I already told Shung to keep some good distance behind us. You just keep her calm and I’ll gather up our things!”

    “’Kay!”

    The last twenty-four hours suddenly felt like a bad, distant memory. Now it was warm and he was going home with his monster. And she was the best kind of monster, one that Papa never thought he could bring back. He couldn’t wait to get home and get started on what Rachel said Papa called, ‘the hard part.’ But everything was falling into place now, so he knew that wouldn’t be a problem. There was a happy ending, just like Rachel said.

    *********

    Home was still several miles away, but the sun was high enough in the sky. Walking next to Ponyta was making the return hike so much warmer and easier. Hal supposed that her considerable heat would make it more difficult in the summer, but he couldn’t bring himself to care just then. He had the reins in his hand, but she kept perfect pace and he never had to tug.

    “Don’t forget,” said Rachel from a good distance ahead of them, “We’ve only got about two months’ worth of apricorn powder. She’s got to like you a lot by then.”

    “I know. Don’t worry.”

    And he really wasn’t worried. He was more concerned about thinking of a good new name for Ponyta. Something better than ‘Shungmanitu,’ definitely. He’d always thought it was too long and that even ‘Shung’ sounded weird.

    Just as he was thinking this, he heard Shungmanitu growl from far behind him. He stopped at once and looked back at where the mightyena stood. She was staring at the horizon and had her back arched.

    “Stay there.” Rachel jogged past him, making sure to stay on the far side from Ponyta, and approached Shungmanitu.

    They both stared. And stared. And stared.

    “God damn. God damn, God damn, God damn…”

    Hal couldn’t see anything. He didn’t know what was making her talk like she didn’t care about Heaven or Hell.

    She turned around and barked at him, “Hal, run! Move it!”

    Hal was about to ask why, but he stopped when he saw an orange blur surrounded by red off in the distance. It was getting bigger, and quickly.

    Rachel turned her back to him again and yelled at Shungmanitu, “Get her!”

    The mightyena darted forward. At the same time the blur formed into an unmistakable shape. Rapidash let loose a rolling cry that sounded like it would travel for miles.

    Rachel threw her mittens to the ground, reached for her belt with both hands, and pulled her knives out of their sheathes. Then she looked behind again and looked surprised to see him. “Don’t just stand there, you dunce! That’s gotta be the mother! Run!

    But Hal’s eyes were stuck on the monsters. Shungmanitu met Rapidash head-on, jumping claws-first at her. Rapidash swung her head as she ran full-steam. They crashed, and Shungmanitu was tossed aside like a ragdoll. Rapidash charged on toward them. Hal’s legs locked in place and his lip trembled.

    “Hal! Move! Get the hell clear of that ponyta! Please!”

    He heard the words, but they stopped in his head and didn’t make it to the rest of his body. Only one part of him wanted to listen and get to safety; a greater part wanted to curl up into a ball, and another still couldn’t bear the thought of letting go of those reins. He couldn’t.

    ****!” Rachel seemed to give up on him. She turned away and set her feet.

    Rapidash was only seconds away from Rachel. Her hoofbeats were as loud as thunder. Rachel pulled her right arm back with a blade between her fingers. She threw it. It stuck in the ground only a few feet in front of Rapidash, who reared onto her hind legs and screamed. It was high enough to split Hal’s ears but also low like a raging wildfire. He fell onto his seat.

    In the midst of his panic, Hal looked to his side, where Ponyta too was in some kind of panic. Her legs could not stay still. They staggered forward, fell back, nearly crumpled, but never moved far from her spot. Her ears stood erect.

    Rachel spread her arms wide and waved her other knife. “Go on! Git! Git!

    Rapidash stamped her feet down again and lowered her head. Her mane and tail flared up, and flames began to appear around her teeth. At the sight, Rachel froze for a moment. Then she pulled her arms in front of her face.

    She was just in time. A small blast of fire shot from Rapidash’s mouth. It would have struck Rachel right in the eyes, but her arms were there. She still screamed, fell, and landed on her back, dropping the knife. With a frantic roll she managed to prop herself back to her feet again, but by then Rapidash was closing in. While Rachel was still off balance, Rapidash charged horn-first.

    Aaaagh!

    Hal didn’t see where it hit. He just saw Rachel collapse. Rapidash’s horn was red. She reared up on her hind legs again, and Hal saw the razor-sharp edges of that hooves that hung over his big sister.

    What he didn’t see right away was Shungmanitu. She had run in an arc and was now barreling in from the side, mouth snarling and frothing. Rapidash spotted her in time, but she wasn’t ready for it. Shungmanitu leapt for Rapidash’s thick neck and caught it with her fangs. They went toppling to the ground in a thrashing heap, and Shungmanitu ended up on top.

    Rapidash screeched, flailed, and pulled herself free. The bite-marks all around her throat weren’t long or deep, but they were surrounded by wisps of shadow. While she was still barely to her feet, Shungmanitu breathed in deep and let loose a roar that made Hal’s head ring, even though it was aimed in the opposite direction from him.

    Rapidash bolted. She galloped away as fast as lightning, and showed no sign of slowing down.

    Then a fearful whinny came from Ponyta’s mouth that caught Hal by surprise. He felt the slack escaping from the reins in his hands, and without thinking he yanked back hard. Ponyta’s nose was pulled downward, and if she had been about to run she had stopped now.

    In that moment, Hal felt both panicked and sick. She clearly wanted to run, but he wouldn’t let her. She might have fought him to get away, but she had taken the powder. She might have wanted to follow her mother, but he couldn’t let himself let her get away now; not after everything he had gone through, not with how badly he wanted her to stay.

    He wasn’t inviting her. He was capturing her. Just like Papa had said was the only way to do it.

    Then he noticed Rachel again, and felt even sicker. Not only was he a regular monster-catcher at heart, but he had let it take over his mind when he should have been panicking over something far more dire. He dropped the reins and scrambled over to his sister.

    Rachel’s eyes were screwed shut, her teeth were clenched, and she was pressing hard on her right arm. Shungmanitu was whining and trying to lick underneath her fingers. There was blood seeping out.

    Hal stammered, “R…Ra…”

    “Hey.” Her teeth barely opened. “Put some… snow on this for me. …It’s hot.”

    Hal immediately scooped up all the snow he could. He leaned over her and tried to press it into her wound even though her hand was still in the way. She pulled it out from underneath and pounded the ground a few times. Hal noticed the charred parts all over the sleeves of her coat. There was some faint steam coming from wherever snow touched them.

    “I… I’m s… sorr…”

    “God damn it, you little goblin. I told you to run. See if I ever take you anywhere again.”

    “I’m sorry!”

    Hal realized he was crying. He knew he had no right because this was all his fault, but he was crying.

    “Put some pressure on it,” said Rachel. “It’s still bleeding.”

    Hal tried.

    “…Good girl, Shung,” she said. “Way to put the fear of the devil in that dumb horse.”

    Shungmanitu still whined and hopped nervously back and forth. She tried to worm her head in front of Hal’s as if she could help, and he couldn’t brush her off while he was trying to stop the bleeding. So he just had to put up with the fur in his face.

    “She still there?”

    Hal jerked his head up, then realized Rachel wasn’t asking about Rapidash. He looked over his shoulder, and there was Ponyta. She still looked skittish in her stance, but she was staying put.

    “…Yeah.”

    “Good. It’d be a real damned waste if you lost her after we got rid of the nuisance.”

    Hal’s eyes kept leaking.

    “I just need a few more minutes here,” said Rachel with a slight gasp, “so pull it together, you big baby.”

    *********

    It was after sundown when they saw the lamp outside the farmhouse. The last few hours had been the first time Hal knew of where he had to slow his pace to let Rachel keep up and not the other way around. She still had her left hand pressed against her wound, but she was moving and they were here. When they came to the fence, Shungmanitu jumped over it and ran off to her kennel. Mother didn’t allow monsters inside.

    “I can get her a stall in the barn before bed,” said Hal of Ponyta. “I don’t need help.”

    “Good,” said Rachel. “Don’t think I’m up to help with that anyway.” Her eyes were already half-shut.

    As for Ponyta, she seemed to be trying to take in her new surroundings with what little light was left. Hal opened the fence door. They walked up to the house, and Hal thought for a moment about tying the reins to a post. Instead he decided that since there was a fence, it would be better to trust her and just take the bridle off. When he did so, Ponyta snorted and gave her head a quick shake, as if dealing with an itch. Then she relaxed.

    “I’ll be right back out, okay?”

    Hal couldn’t tell if Ponyta got the gist of what he said. He supposed they would have time to work on it. He kept his eyes over his shoulder as he followed Rachel inside. Then he shut the door behind them and they were closed off from the sound of the wind for the first time in what felt like a week.

    “Help me with these boots.” Rachel collapsed onto the bench in the short foyer. While Hal pulled her boots off, she began to remove herself from her coat. She winced. Hal had to help her with this too when he was done freeing her feet.

    He swallowed when he saw it, but the truth was that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. The horn had managed to punch through both the coat and her wool shirt, but it had hit her arm at an angle and the puncture wasn’t half as deep as it could have been. Still, the dry blood and the burns were hard to ignore. And in the process of taking the coat off, the wound had opened a little again.

    “…Damn.” Rachel rolled up the sleeve to her shoulder and pressed her cap against her bare arm.

    “…Kids? Is that you?” Mother’s voice came from the kitchen.

    “Time to get his over with,” said Rachel as she staggered to her feet.

    “Get what over with?”

    Rachel just sighed. Then she led the way around the corner and into the kitchen, where Mother was sitting by a candle at the table. The look on her face when she saw them was indescribable. Hal thought at first that she looked terrified, but there was something else there that seemed simply angry, which couldn’t be the case.

    Then she exploded. “What on Earth happened!

    “Accident. Wasn’t his new monster. It was another one.”

    The chair scraped loudly against the floor as Mother jumped to her feet. She put her hands on her temples. “How does that make a difference? You said you were going to be careful!”

    “Mother, later.” Rachel was gritting her teeth. “Can you please just get the grain alcohol and the sewing kit?”

    “‘Sewing kit?’ Show me right now!”

    Rachel groaned and pulled her hand away, revealing the open wound.

    Oh my God!

    Hal wanted to say something to the effect that it was all his fault; that if he’d let go of Ponyta then they could have run out of the way, and Rapidash might not have chased them as long as she got to her foal. But something was keeping his mouth shut. He was pretty sure it was fear.

    So instead, Rachel started to raise her voice. “Mother, please. Can you just get me the stuff so I can tend to this before it gets infected?”

    Mother covered her eyes, sobbed, and moaned, “You’re not going to be able to work for weeks. And after leaving me here all alone overnight, all so you could bring another one of your father’s demons home… Ohhhh… And now I’ll only have Hal to help me for Lord knows how long… How can you do this to me?”

    Then Rachel exploded as well. “To you!

    Hal disappeared. He slunk out of the kitchen and would have run right back out the front door if he didn’t need to get his boots and coat first. The shouts from the kitchen grew louder, and that convinced him not to waste any time with his cap and mittens. He couldn’t be in the house while they were like this; not even in winter.

    *********

    “Okay,” said Hal. “All finished.” It was closer to midnight than sunset. Hal had spent the whole time in the barn, except for when he’d snuck back into the house to get some hardtack from his pack. The last thing he’d heard when he grabbed his modest supper was Mother yelling about the smell. He didn’t regret his decision to work on Ponyta’s stall instead of sticking around to listen.

    The new stall was next to the mule’s, and it was perhaps more spacious than it ought to be. But the important thing was that Ponyta had plenty of hay and her own bucket of water. She stepped into her new quarters with some trepidation at first, but after a minute she seemed to get the idea. She relaxed, and even laid down on her side to get ready for sleep. Her mane didn’t set the straw on fire, which Hal supposed he ought to get used to even if it seemed uncanny.

    “Lookin’ good.”

    It was Rachel’s voice, and Hal was relieved to hear it at normal volume. It sounded a little lop-sided, though. He looked over and saw her leaning against the stall on her good arm. Her wound was covered in gauze, which was good. Less good was that her face was flushed, and hanging from her left hand was a familiar bottle. At least it was just her bathtub gin instead of the grain alcohol, straight. She’d only drunk that once before, the time Mother thought she wasn’t going to wake up again.

    “The stall,” said Rachel. “S’lookin’ good.”

    “Uh… yeah. She seems comfortable.”

    Rachel took a short swig, then said, “Hey, Hal. C’mere.”

    He did as she said. Up close, the liquor somehow smelled stronger than the burnberry smoke that was still stuck in their clothes.

    “You know, you did real, real good.”

    “Thanks.”

    She nodded too many times. “I mean it. Papa couldn’t a’done better.”

    “…Thanks.”

    “But hey.” Now the volume was fluctuating; this time too much on the loud side. “I know what you’re thinking. And I just wanted a’say…”

    Hal was thinking that something always felt deeply wrong when she was like this. But he doubted that was what she had in mind.

    “Wanted to say here’s why you did the right thing. Getting Ponyta away from her mother.”

    Hal was silent.

    “A real mother… wouldn’t a’stopped a foal that didn’t wanna stay home. And a foal that wanted a’stay home would’a run after her. That weren’t no real mother. Was all about her. Cryin’ murder when the kid tries to do somethin’, and givin’ right up soon as it gets her hurt. Y’got Ponyta ’way from a bad deal. S’God’s truuf.”

    Hal stayed silent. He knew better than to listen to liquor-talk. But it was tough when she was saying what he wanted to hear. Maybe she was right regardless, but how could he know?

    For a little while, Rachel was silent too. In fact, she looked like she might fall asleep standing up. But then out of nowhere, she said, “Y’know I’m leaving, right?”

    “What?”

    The air stood still. Hal couldn’t process what she’d just said. It didn’t stick.

    “I mean it. If you can catch Ponyta you’re old a’nuff to live with Mother by yourself. So I can walk ’way now. Three weeks—no more’n four. Never comin’ back.”

    He’d never known. He would never so much as guessed that she felt that badly about home. How could she imagine living somewhere else? Where else was there?

    “But I want you t’know… ain’t your fault. Not your fault. And you done Ponyta a good turn today. Real good turn. …Real good.”

    She stared at the floor for a while. Then she looked him in the eye with half a smile, but no more than half. “’Night, cowboy.”

    She staggered away. Only when she was close to the barn door did Hal say back to her, “…’Night.”

    Then he was alone. Rather, they were alone. Ponyta seemed to have fallen asleep. It had been a long day.

    Hal stared into space for a few minutes. He tried to think, but he couldn’t come up with anything—not about Rachel and where she would be soon, nor about Ponyta and where she should be right now. Those problems were too big for him. He would have to settle for dealing with the smaller problems, like getting Ponyta to love her new home before they ran out of apricorn powder. The first thing that came to mind as far as this problem went as this: keep her company overnight. That suited him just fine right then. It certainly sounded more pleasant than heading back to the farmhouse for now.

    He walked over to Ponyta, who was beginning to snore. With especial care he laid himself down with his head on her warm belly. She didn’t stir. Her side just rose and fell beneath him. His eyes closed on their own.

    At some point she shifted a little, and her long, fiery tail flopped over and just reached his arm. While he was still half-awake he brushed it with his fingers. For the second time, he felt those hairs that barely existed. Prairie grass in the sun. He fell asleep, and dreamed of spring.

    The End
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2018
  2. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    All right, we've got more space here. Let's get right to it!

    Really like the characterization in this paragraph; it's cute, and it also feels wonderfully nine-year-oldish.

    I definitely had to Google "shungmanitu," haha. I liked these little glimpses into other cultures that also live with pokémon in this environment. It's one of the details that really the sells the setting for me. I also wonder whether Rachel might be planning to try to live with a local tribe after running away... I'm a little unclear on her age, I was thinking around fourteen although at times I think it's implied there's a larger gap between her and Hal. Anyway, if she's that young, then it would be pretty tough to try and make it on her own out in the prairie, and she obviously has a lot of interest in Native American culture and maybe associates them with her dad a bit, so I don't know if she might go to them after leaving home.

    This is another great detail that adds to the versimilitude of the world, and it's integrated so nicely with the narrative as one of the ponyta "signs" the characters are looking for. Burnberries being something like aspear berries (or "burnt berry"), or just a mundane kind of plant and not a "pokémon" berry at all?

    This too!

    Aaaand I hope Rachel took some discreet opportunity to dump it somewhere to retrieve later. It would suck to have to lug all that useless stuff around. XD

    That's such a great way of describing the feeling of things you've "always known," and works perfectly for getting across how Hal remembers his dad.

    Love how you get across that cozy warm-under-the-blankets, freezing-outside feeling with Hal and Rachel's sleeping arrangements, here. And of course the dog would lie on top of you in a totally uncomfortable position. This whole section definitely brings back unpleasant memories of winter camping, haha.

    The description of Hal moving his hand through the ponyta's flames, especially at the end there, is really beautiful. Even though pokémon is all about journeying with magical monsters, it's very rare that you get this sort of tactile description of what it would be like to interact with a creature that is, e.g., partially made of living fire.

    In general the sequence of Hal meeting with the ponyta the first time is good and tense. You get his nerves down perfectly, and it creates a real bated-breath moment while the ponyta is cautiously checking him and the food out.

    *glances at scrollbar* Oh dear, Hal.

    The rapidash encounter has some great tension, too, and the action works wonderfully for the setting (it all comes back to the setting, doesn't it? Heh). This isn't a tame pokémon battle where the monsters are going to scuffle a bit, but the humans will be fine and in the end nobody's going to get seriously messed up. It's brutal and frightening and quite possibly fatal. And Rachel facing down a rapidash with nothing but a couple of knives? Damn.

    So as I mentioned in the Yuletide thread itself, I really appreciate all the thought you put into rafting the setting. This feels like a very believable US pokémon AU, and it feels very different from your standard pokémon setting, too. The great plains setting lends itself really well to the tone of the story, too: harsh and bleak and lonely. You get the sense that the environment really impacts the characters' lives, that they're a lot more strongly tied to/reliant on the land than you see in the main franchise's much more safe, technologically advanced regions.

    There are a lot of little information teases that make this feel like a legitimate part of a larger world, and one that would be a lot of fun to explore, at that. How does ? What's life like "back East," where things are presumably much more industrialized? This strikes me as a world that you could have a lot of fun in if you wanted to.

    ...I feel like I've been talking about the setting to the exclusion of the other aspects of the story, haha. That happened to be what stood out to me the most, but that doesn't mean the rest of it was bad by any means! The characters feel like real, believable people, and I like how you tied in Rachel's parental issues with her interpretation of the ponyta situation, and how you gradually brought those themes to the surface over the course of the story. The encounter with the rapidash was a nice action scene, and in general I think that you wrote the interactions between the pokémon and the human characters very well. Shung is super cute! All in all I thought the story was tightly written, with all the elements working together effectively. It doesn't feel nearly as long as it is.

    Thanks again for writing this! I'm glad you enjoyed working with the prompt, and I think the final product turned out really well.
     
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    So, not gonna lie, saw the prompt and thought of your Pokécommunity oneshot, but then I read the opening and, being a former resident of the great state of Montana, had to give this a look-see for myself.

    And, while I know this is a period piece, having gone backcountry snowshoeing before, I think you nailed the slogging sense of a kid trying to walk through the cold. Definitely felt like a typical slog through winter, if that makes sense. As is the brush tree stuff. It struck me as rather authentic. The kind of careful preparations that you'd need to do to make in the back country (since you explicitly called it Dakota Territory, I'm assuming this is pre-statehood and thus the place was mostly wild lands). It also brings to mind some of the older staff from high school who were hunters, and their tidbits about using proper camouflage and taking steps to "create a scent that wouldn't frighten wildlife." It's the same feeling with setting up the lean-to. It's this whole "battling the elements" mentality that takes hold, especially with the snow. And I enjoy seeing Rachel's and Hal's different opinions of all this.

    Which, of course, bring me to the two of them. Obviously, I don't have a time machine, but I do seem to recall learning that in the olden days, the nuclear family was a cornerstone of American culture. So, it feels pretty genuine seeing Rachel caring so much for Hal, with an occasional bit of playful ribbing that's not overdone. Which gets reinforced all the more when she starts talking about their (deceased?) dad. I liked his quote about Pokémon that get raised by humans doing better than their wild counterparts. Little bit of game logic applied.

    Onto the actual Ponyta encounter/befriending. And I like how you approached it. Without Poké Balls, it becomes the exact opposite of your typical capture. Slow, methodical, and in this particular case kind of like trying to coax a mare from a stable (or something like that). I like how you tied the Apricorn powder to Native Americans. It seems like the type of mystical, spiritual item that they would have access to. Which is a sharp contrast to when Rapidash shows up because, boy, that got ugly right quick. Pretty visceral to have her get Rachel with the horn. But if you were trying to get your kid back, I'd imagine this is what you'd do. In any case, I wasn't actually expecting to have them go back home, and it looks like Rachel has some maternal issues, hence that drunken (but on point) spiel at thend. I can't help but feel like those wounds kind of put her on a clock, so to speak. But the story ends, so that's just a pessimistic guess on my part.

    Anyway, I quite enjoyed it. Everything felt in-tune with the time period and setting. So, it was quite fun to read. ^^
     
  4. icomeanon6

    icomeanon6 It's "I Come Anon"

    Fun fact: at first I was worried that I wasn't spelling "Shungmanitu" in a way that made sense, but then I realized that Rachel would almost certainly spell it in an unsatisfactory way in real-life. That's a great idea about Rachel's potential destination, I hadn't thought of that! She's 19 for the record. That detail's kind of hidden in the second clause of the sentence with Hal's age. She's definitely an adult, so I should probably state her age in a less round-about way.

    ("Verisimilitude" is one of my favorite words to have tied to my writing.) They are indeed aspear berries; just a local variety with a different, older name and probably a different size because that was more convenient for me. Who knows, maybe they've changed through human selection since the 19th century in the same way corn once did.

    Add this to the list of Stuff That Didn't Occur to Me. :p

    I'm really glad that stuck out. My worry was that the siblings' connections to their late father wouldn't resonate or would feel otherwise extraneous to the story.

    Shung's a good dog. :D And ouch, you've got unpleasant memories of winter camping, too?

    I was reading Bulbapedia during the planning stage, and at first I was thinking about how Ponyta's fire works, but then I realized a much more interesting question is how does it feel.

    I think the whole "happy ending" thing might have been a little too on-the-nose, heh.

    The "safety" of the Pokemon regions is one of the things that I would change if I were in charge of the games. That basic idea of "the environment is indifferent at best and hostile at worst, journeying is hard, catching pokemon is harder," was what I started with here. The more challenging part was tying that idea into the life experience of some characters, who came later. So that's probably there's more to say about the setting than the rest of the story, which is fine with me.

    And sometimes you just want your story to have a cute doggo. :)

    WHEW. For real, I was worried about that.

    You're welcome! :D And thank you very much for the kind words.

    I've definitely been harping on some of the same themes lately. Glad to see I'm hooking that key ex-Montanan demo, tho. :V Real-talk, I was worried about making the setting authentic to that part of the country in its frontier days, as the closest I've been to there was driving from Chicago to Milwaukee in the summer, which is hardly the same.

    Glad it feels authentic. That's one point in favor of taking time out of writing to do research, I guess. Boy Scout camping in the Appalachians certainly isn't the same as roughing it in North Dakota (especially not pre-statehood).

    Yes, deceased. Family as cultural cornerstone is a good connection to make, and I wanted their family to seem particularly sad in that olden-days context. The dad's dead, the mom and the firstborn hate each other, and the secondborn doesn't appreciate how much the firstborn cares for him. Even worse, one line I thought about including but decided it would distract too much from the core of the story was Rachel's and would go something like this: "Papa used to say I got his inside and you got his outside, and that one of the ones that didn't make it probably got Mother's." If things had gone according to the mother and fathers' plan, there would definitely be more than two kids, which was a small number for the time.

    And yeah there's definitely game logic there, but I think also a bit of rationalization. Like other characters I've written, Rachel has a very human-centric view of the universe, and sees humanity as the benevolent monarchs of nature. The idea doesn't sit quite as well with Hal, but mostly he just really, really wants a Ponyta.

    I'm undecided on whether this takes place in the same universe as The Magician of Ilex Forest. I suppose the Apricorn could have gotten to the west coast in an AU where the Johtoans (from pseudo-Japan) made contact really early. Or it could have evolved in both places from pangea-times, and the two cultures came to recognize its monster-affecting properties independently. Lots of questions with lots of potential answers!

    I do wonder if it feels out of place to have them go home. The idea was that the broken nature of their family shines a light on why Rachel sees it as an unambiguously positive thing to pull Ponyta away from her old family.

    Don't worry, Rachel's not on the clock. She got it closed up and disinfected, and recovers fully. As for what happens next and if she goes anywhere and where, that's undecided.

    Excellent! Thanks for reading and replying! :D
     
  5. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    So when I first read the summary's premise, I thought "oh cool Western Pokemon,' and I enjoyed your take on it a lot. I did get a good sense of how it was like to live during the wild west, and I like your references on connecting Pokemon with Indian/Native American culture. The scene with Hal getting Ponyta was a sweet one (only to get things crazy later with the Ponyta's mother ouch). I do like you have Rachel's motivation wanting to go on her own and able to see younger Pokemon feeling the same way. Great work here!
     
  6. icomeanon6

    icomeanon6 It's "I Come Anon"

    Hey, thanks! :D I had a little trepidation about the American Indian aspects because I'm certainly not an expert and I wanted it to feel respectful and authentic. Glad that worked for you. I think it'd be fun if Western or at least old-timey fics became the next fad.
     
  7. Ooh, I really liked how you tackled Negrek’s prompt here, likening capturing to almost-but-not-quite hunting. Hal’s doubts with the ethics of said capturing was expected but at the same time a great layer that elevated the story, and I kind-of like how it wasn’t fully given closure (drunken talk from Rachel aside) since, as he himself realizes in the end, it’s an issue much larger than himself.

    But I think what I like the most here is the setting. I like how Hal progressively reacted worse to the unfortunate setting, and how you set up the camp, the snow, and the burning bush painted a really concrete picture in my head that made it a much more effective read. The things that Rachel did almost automatically not only built up her character well in contrast with Hal, but did a good job in immersing the reader into the cold right along with them.

    Your prose when Hal meets Ponyta for the first time was really good, too. I thought you handled the tension very well. I like how you described Hal’s reactions to the flames and how you came back to that image several times until the end. Really great job with this story! :)
     
  8. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Oooh, I really liked this. Like, to give some idea of how much I liked this, I read it on a night I was feeling so dreadfully unmotivated, I didn't want to write, read, play games, nothing. But I took a peek at this and was immediately sucked in.

    I love the desolate atmosphere you set up right off the bat with the description of the setting. And just like in your other writings, I'm a big fan of the way you sprinkle in details through the narration, like all of the fun little childish asides from Hal that paints a pretty solid picture of his relationship with his sister before we're even a few pages into the story.

    The bit about all the members of each Pokemon species sharing one name and identity was cool! Even if I assume you didn't make that one up, and took inspiration on that from real-world cultures, it's a neat inclusion that I've never seen in Pokemon fic. That, and it was just really interesting to get this look at just how you would go about finding and taming Ponyta, from the burnberries, to the fact that a wood fire would scare her off, to the use of the Apricorn powder to make a Pokemon docile, but how you have to make sure it likes you enough to stick around after the powder wears off, ect. And gah, that scene where they literally have to sleep out there on the prairie aaaaaaaa. (Seriously the midwest wind is terrible and I can't fathom having to sleep in it, reading that part hurt, by which I mean good job.) Shung flopping onto them as they huddled under the same blanket was pretty great.

    By the end of it, you got we really wanting to see more of how Hal would raise his Ponyta! But I wouldn't say it felt incomplete or anything. Just that it got me wanting more. ;P Not to mention how all of Rachel's rambles about Rapidash and Ponyta were really more about herself and her own mother. Added quite the bittersweet edge to the ending. Which, of course, was exactly as you were hoping it would, I bet.

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  9. icomeanon6

    icomeanon6 It's "I Come Anon"

    Oh, shoot, I meant to reply to these earlier. I'm usually in the habit of replying when I have new content, but that obviously doesn't work for one-shots. :V

    I'm glad you're cool with the unresolved-ness of the issue. "An issue much larger than himself" is a great way of putting it, and one that I might use myself in describing it from now on. Hal after all is still a kid who grew up a certain way and mostly goes by his feelings, which is understandable for any kid.

    Feel the cold, reader. Feel my pain. True story, my main inspiration for the setting was February camping in Scouts. I figured that winter-camping in Appalachia in tents would be about as excruciating to a kid in the soft 21st century as winter-camping out in the open northern plains would be to a tough 19th century kid.

    I was definitely thinking, "My prose is always too dry, time to kick things up a notch or this won't be much of a moment," with the scene where he meets Ponyta.

    If I honestly improved someone's day, that's the highest compliment I can get as a writer. Thank you for sharing.

    Sometimes I worry that it's less "sprinkle" and more "dump." I worry about the same thing when i'm seasoning spaghetti sauce.

    Honestly, I think my main inspiration there was from Pokemon itself and its capitalization quirks. What I was thinking was that the games' capitalization scheme makes the most sense in pokedex entries. It's always "Pikachu is the Marketing Pokemon," not "Pikachu are the Marketing Pokemon." The species collectively is treated as a character with a proper name, so I introduced that idea here explicitly and adjusted the capitalization accordingly when grammatically the species name was used as a proper noun.

    You cannot escape the bite of my fictional chill! Dogs make writing so easy, seriously.

    Bittersweet was indeed the flavor of the day. With Rachel and Hal I was thinking a lot about the real-world ethical dynamics of hunting (see DM's observation), where people's perception of it is undeniably colored by their experiences with their family, whether positive or negative. It may be that one day people in the poke-future decide that catching wild pokemon is unambiguously wrong, but to Rachel it was what good fathers did and what bad mothers hated.

    Thanks to both of you for reading and for your kind words! :)
     

Share This Page