Lightning Rod

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11 min

It’d been about a month since the fire, the cause of which is still unknown. I don’t like to think about it, not because we narrowly escaped with our lives, but because our two dogs didn’t.

Since then we’d relocated to an apartment in the city while our house got fixed up. Things hadn’t been the same since then. Our home atmosphere, which had usually been warm and lively, had since shifted to a more depressing one that nobody wanted to be around.

The insurance company had been kind enough to scavenge the house after the fire, collecting any items that survived and repair them from the fire damage to the best of their extent. They’d dropped off a few boxes that morning containing what was saved, the majority of which were pictures and other things that were valuable in only our eyes.

It was a shame our dogs couldn’t be saved. The insurance workers said that their ashes had been mixed in with the rest of the debris. On a good note, a few pictures of them did survive.

One particular saved item caught my attention, however. It was my old DS Lite, which had been stowed away in my closet during the time of the fire.

My copy of Pokemon Platinum was still in the cartridge slot, and when I slipped it out to see if it looked to be in working order, I noticed that there was a notable section where the label had been burned off. I swear it formed a paw print.

Seeing nothing else better to do, as nothing else of use in the boxes belonged to me besides the pictures of the dogs, I plugged my DS up to my charger (which had also survived) and decided to play the game that the insurance workers had been so kind as to return.

At first the DS failed to read the cartridge, but it worked just fine after I blew on it a few times. It reeked of smoke.

Everything loaded just fine, and my save file, which I had put a solid twenty hours into, was still intact. A small smile crept on to my face as I loaded the file.

An hour later, I would wish I hadn’t.

The game loaded and set me in a house I had never seen before. It was far bigger than the player’s house, but smaller than the Old Chateau. No music was playing, but I knew the speakers were working because all the menu sounds still worked.

Standing on either side of me were two dog-like pokemon that moved wherever I did. The larger, which was standing on the right, appeared to be a Flareon. It’s counterpart situated on the left was an Eevee.

An odd thing, as the only games pokemon walked with you were Heart Gold and Soul Silver, but even in those, two pokemon never walked with the player- only one.

It was dim in the house, at least by pokemon standards. I checked the town map, which I had assigned to the select button, only to find that I was off the map, my cursor nowhere to be found.

More confused that unnerved, I ran around the house for about a minute or so, the Flareon and Eevee mimicking my every move. I’d checked all the first floor rooms when a chill crept up my spine as a sudden realization dawned on me:

There were no exit doors.

My instincts began telling me to get out. I checked my bag for an escape rope. Nothing.

I then selected my party, as I vividly remembered I had a Dugtrio that knew dig.

I dropped the DS when I saw the modifications that had been made to my party.

My solid team of five pokemon, averaging at level fifty, had been replaced by a Flareon and an Eevee. Their names were Bess and Ryder, respectively.

The same name and age of our dogs that had died in the fire.

I picked the DS up with shaky hands and checked the Pokemon’s stats.

Bess, the Flareon, was level four- her age in years when she had passed. She had but two moves: Strength and Ember. Despite her being at full health, the PP for ember was completely diminished, and strength had a mere two uses remaining.

Ryder was an Eevee, suitable, as he was born to Bess when she was two. He was level one, and had one move, which was Growl.

I hadn’t a clue what was happening. Yes, I’d had pokemon named after my dogs, quite a few actually, but never an Eevee and a Flareon- I didn’t even know where to get those.

I knew about hacked games and what not, but the only way this could’ve been a hack is if one of the guys at the insurance company did it- but they didn’t know about the dogs.

I was just a tad too shaken to wonder about the game’s conception for any longer. As I exited the menu, I started to look at the house I was in with new eyes.

I did another quick run-though, and upon close examination of both the first and second floors, I realized that the inside of the house was a near perfect copy of the one that had burned down.

Suddenly thunder cracked and lightning illuminated the house in a way I’d never seen in a Pokemon game. The sound of rainfall much heavier than anything I’d heard in the games before filled the void created by the lack of music.

The dogs began to shake, with worried icons appearing over their heads. Ryder let out a little yip, and Bess ran over to comfort him.

The thunder crackled and the lightning flashed once again.

I remembered that the dogs always felt safest in my room. My hands sweating, I led the dogs up the stairs, down the now darkened hallway, and into my room, which was situated on the far left.

Upon entry, the dogs scrambled under my desk, where they usually hid in storms like this. I walked over to them and tried to talk with them like in the Johto remakes, and was happy to see that their worried expressions had apparently changed to anxious smiles. They were aware it would be okay; that it was just a storm.

But it wouldn’t be okay.

The thunder crackled and the lightning struck with extra force, and something could be heard clicking.

Suddenly, the room began to grow brighter with an orange glow. Wood could be heard creaking, and I swear I could feel the DS heating up in my hands.

The fire had started.

My player ushered to the dogs to follow him out, but they refused to come out from under the desk. My character then turned towards the door as if he’d heard something, then back at the dogs.

I swear I saw a tear fall from his eye as he ran out the door.

The camera shifted its focus to the dogs, and I was surprised that I was granted control of them. They moved very slowly in a single file line, with Ryder mimicking Bess’ every move.

I led the dogs to the bedroom door and out into the hall, where the fire had begun to spread. Incredibly realistic flames danced across the walls.

Bess led Ryder down the hall and into the stairwell when the sickening sound of wood failing to support itself came through the speakers. Before I had time to react, the screen shook and a massive, flaming chunk of the roof fell from above.

It was prepared to land on Ryder, but Bess pushed the Eevee out of the way just in time. She wasn’t fast enough to save herself though.

Bess found herself caught under the chunk of wood, the flames it held slowly creeping toward her. Ryder tried desperately to move it, but he wasn’t strong enough. Then I got an idea.

I opened the menu and navigated to Bess’s party slot. I pressed A and selected Strength.

“Bess used Strength!”

My face lit up as Bess started to stand up. But then she fell back to the ground with a sickening crack.

“Bess wasn’t strong enough.”

I looked closely and saw that Bess’ front left paw was bent at a disgusting angle. It had been broken because of the strain of her lifting the roof, which was likely one hundred times heavier than her.

Ryder let out a desperate cry as he tried to push the roof away, but it was no use. There was no saving Bess.

He wandered over to his mother and began jumping up and down as if he was talking. Frowns began popping up in bubbles above his head. The flames finally crept up to Bess’s resting place, and she screamed in agony as the flames began to reach her hind legs.

Bess looked at Ryder one last time, and a sad, but accepting look appeared over her sprite. Ryder looked at her one last time before walking around the debris and heading to the first floor.

There were numerous holes in the stairs, and more would appear every once in a while. It was a challenge to avoid them and the pillars of flame, but somehow I managed to get Ryder down the stairs.

He was in the home stretch to the front door, which had finally appeared, when another creak could be heard and a massive piece of the roof came crashing to the ground.

It didn’t land on Ryder, but it landed close and completely blocked off his path to the front door. I started to backtrack, but another piece of the roof fell. I thought I was trapped, but the first chunk that had fell had a gradual slope to it, and I realized that I would have to go over the debris.

I started to walk up, careful to dodge the flames, hoping that if I somehow managed to get Ryder out alive, it would put his soul at rest.

That wouldn’t happen.

As soon as I reached the highest point of the debris and began to plan my descent, the thunder cracked one final time, and a massive bolt of lightning descended from the sky.

And it struck Ryder right between the eyes.

The little Eevee let out a gut wrenching scream as he fell on his side, twitching from the electrical shock. Tear began streaming down my face. I’d failed them. Both of them. I had been too selfish to wait for the dogs, and now I had to watch their suffering.

The fire slowly began to devour Ryder, but he was too weak to scream as the flames engulfed him. The camera slowly zoomed in on Ryder’s face, fading to black after showing a clear view of tears streaming down Ryder’s cheeks.

I buried my head in a pillow, sobbing. It was my fault they died. They were scared, yes, but I could’ve taken them up in my arms and carried them out with me. Instead, I saved myself, and only myself.

I took a moment to collect myself and picked up the DS, ejecting the cartridge and throwing it against a wall. Nothing happened, and with tears flying down my face, I put the game between my teeth and bit down as hard as I could.

The satisfying crunch of plastic was all that I could focus on. I slowly walked over to the trash can and spat out the remains.

My strength then left me, and I collapsed on my bed and cried myself to sleep.

My parents had offered to get a pair of dogs, two golden retriever puppies in fact, after the fire. I refused.

After playing that game, at night, when the dogs of the city are howling, I have to put my pillow over my head and turn on my radio. I can’t bear to hear the sounds of canines anymore.

Even the happy ones.

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