Chapter Fifteen – Then and Now
Erik stared solemnly out of the thick glass window, rain battering the pane whilst sending a mist high into the air, clouding his view of the city outside. Large industrial buildings neatly sat alongside huge skyscrapers as both loomed menacingly over his rather modest household. However, it was the paved road of the street immediately outside the window that held his attention, his father would be strolling down that road before entering his home any moment now.
A flash of lightning struck overhead, shortly followed by a raucous roar of thunder as Erik eyed the frightening grey sky inquisitively. His gaze snapped back to the street, a rapidly moving flash of black catching his eye to the right.
His father sprinted down the street, holding a leather briefcase over his head for protection from the torrential rain, which ended up soaking his suit anyway, despite Norman’s best efforts.
The thick pine wood door burst open, Norman having to duck under the small frame, he only stood at just under six foot tall and was dripping off what seemed like an ocean of water. He almost collapsed as he finally made it back into his humble home. Erik didn’t care about getting drenched himself, as he raced towards his dad and hugged him, receiving a warm embrace back from his hero.
“Daddy!” Erik squealed, “I’ve missed you so much!”
“I’ve missed you too Son,” Norman replied, a loving smile taking to his young-looking features. Even now, Erik could tell that holding his child made all his father’s problems disappear, if only temporarily. “Come through to the living room, I need to have a chat with you and your mother.”
Father and son briskly made their way towards the house’s main room. A small leather couch greeted them as they entered the medium-sized area, a fireplace in the centre of the room was accompanied by a small beanbag – where Erik usually sat. A small television in the corner of the room remaining switched off as Erik’s mother made her way out of a second doorframe, emerging instantly from the kitchen.
“Hello, Caroline.” Norman greeted his wife by planting a kiss on her left cheek, before continuing. “I have important news that you both need to hear, something big is about to happen which will change our lives tremendously.”
“Is it about my birthday next month?” Erik asked innocently, standing at a height with his father’s stomach.
“Your sixth birthday is a very special occasion, Son.” Norman replied patronisingly, bending his knees so his eyes were level with Erik’s own. “Unfortunately, my boss at work says I may have to move away very soon.”
Erik felt a tear escape his eye at the news. “I can’t cry!” he told himself. “Daddy can’t see me cry!”
“I need you to be strong, Son.” Norman continued, placing thick hands on Erik’s bony shoulders, “What is your dream? Keep reminding yourself of that.”
“I want to become the best Pokemon trainer the world has ever seen!” came Erik’s enthusiastic reply.
“This is why you need to learn to be strong, when you grow up and get your own Pokemon it will follow you until the end. But if you were to lose a Pokemon close to you, it’s like a pain you’ve never experienced.”
“Where are your boss sending you to?”
“Hoenn. To become a Gym Leader.”
“Is that far away?” Erik felt his eyes tearing up again, but told himself that Hoenn was probably in the next town, along one of those Routes he was always told about.
“I’ll always be close.” Norman turned back to his wife and asked her to join him in the kitchen. “Stay here Erik, your mother and I have a few things to discuss.”
Erik remained where he was for only a moment. Hearing raised voices in the next room, he tip-toed over to the edge of the kitchen doorway and hid behind the wall, listening intently next to the doorframe in an attempt to overhear his parent’s conversation.
“You’re being blackmailed by him again!” Caroline cried. “How many times has your manager threatened us now? Ten? Twenty?! Why give in now?!”
“It’s Erik,” Norman replied, his voice was shaky as if it were about to break away completely. “He’s threatened Erik.”
“Is there no one you can go to with this?!”
“He’s the foreign minister, who can I go to?!”
“Why Hoenn?!” Caroline’s voice sounded full of resentment as she swiftly changed the subject.
“To become a Gym Leader, we will have unchallengeable influence over there if we play our cards right.”
Erik couldn’t bring himself to listen to anymore. He could bear remaining strong no longer and charged into the kitchen, leaping onto his father as tears streamed relentlessly down his young face.
“Please don’t leave me Daddy,” he begged, “I need you.”
Time had flown during Erik’s trek from Lavaridge back to Mauville Town, he was so deep in thought throughout that he could hardly remember the journey back. Unchaining the bicycle he had kept locked up in the glass city, his thoughts wandered to contemplate over who had purchased him the two-wheeled gift and handed it to him completely free of charge. He mounted the green-coated vehicle and moved his left foot onto the pedal, before a violent buzzing in his pocket distracted him, almost causing him to embarrassingly fall off the bike.
It was his PokeNav, vibrating viciously against the unpowered meteorite. May was calling him.
“Hello Erik, how’s things? Just ringing to let you know I’m feeling a bit better now after what happened in Meteor Falls,” a more chirpy May said. She certainly sounded a lot better.
“Just got my fourth badge,” Erik could feel the strain on his voice, each word weighing a ton in his throat as he tried to force each and every one out.
“What’s wrong?! What happened?!” May almost screamed, clearly detecting the pain in Erik’s tone.
“Meet me on Route 111, the one north of Mauville,” she demanded. “I’ll be there.”
Erik was only just coming to terms with how devastated he was by Ice’s loss. “You need to be strong,” he thought to himself. “Losing a Pokemon close to you is like pain you’ll never have experienced,” the familiar words echoed back and forth through his mind.
He hopped on his bicycle, attempting to remember how to ride one. Shaky at first, he soon got the hang of it, envisaging what his mother had taught him when he was six, riding the small bike he had received as a leaving present from Norman for his sixth birthday.
The wind sailed through his hair as he rode relentlessly out of Mauville City, pushing his legs with force and onto the route he had met Gabby and Ty for the first time. He remembered how Cecilia had saved him, and her advice had proved correct with the world forgetting him after the media outlets found a new story to pick up on the next day, something about strange events taking place outside Mossdeep City, on the eastern edge of Hoenn.
A shadow landed on Erik, seemingly following his movements. A quick glance to the sky showed him a Swellow, ridden cooly by May. Slamming the brakes on his bicycle before leaping off, he let his bike drop to the ground with a thud as the bulky blue bird hit the floor next to him, the lady on top jumping off and sprinting over to Erik, wrapping her arms around him before landing a soft kiss on his left cheek.
Erik burst into tears, a sadness that had been boiling inside of him erupted all at once. Flashes of all the Pokemon he had lost entered his vision, from String to Ziggy to Ice and all the others in between, ones he had barely known like Bunny and friends he had loved and bonded with like his old Mightyena.
“It’s okay,” May whispered softly into his ear. “It’s okay.”
Minutes passed by quickly, each second hastily blending into the next as Erik felt almost at peace in May’s embrace. Emotions that were building up and held within were released uncaringly towards her, as if Erik saw May as the one person that could save him from himself.
“I have an idea,” May blurted suddenly, ruining the serenity. Although Erik didn’t care. “You need new Pokemon to complete your team, right?” she continued, sounding excited by her thoughts. “I could let you borrow my goggles so you can go to the desert!”
“That sounds good.” Erik attempted to force a smile in response, a tough task but one he managed to achieve, just. “I stopped Magma on Mt. Chimney, by the way. Had some help from that Archie guy, but I did it,” he continued, almost looking for reassurance and hoping it would impress May. He was now feeling a sense of insecurity he had never felt before.
“Well done you!” May replied delightedly, lightly planting a kiss on his forehead. Erik wanted to respond by kissing her on the lips, a deep desire branching from the depths of his heart. But his body refused to respond, like he was frozen in place by fear of rejection.
“I must be going, I’m always a phone call away if you ever need me, Erik.” May smiled ever so sweetly at him, before hopping back on her Swellow and flying away. Erik was furious with himself, he felt like his only chance with her had just slipped away. Even though he told himself he would have other opportunities, he couldn’t make himself believe it.
Resting his bicycle up against the hillside, half hidden by a large boulder, he began his journey towards the desert. He would traverse the sands in hope for a new member of his team.
A large black suitcase rested neatly alongside two cardboard boxes at the front door. A further box was bought through by Norman as Erik stood stoutly in the doorway, refusing to let his dad leave the house.
Erik struggled to get his head around the fact his dad was leaving, he didn’t believe he was truly going. Too young to fully contemplate what was happening. He only knew that he didn’t like it, so he puffed out his small chest and folded his skinny arms, trying to fill up the entire doorframe so Norman couldn’t get through.
“Son,” Norman started, “you need to be strong here. You’re acting like a child.”
“But Daddy you can’t leave me,” Erik shouted as loud as he could, hoping the louder he sounded the more chance he had of forcing his father to listen. “Me and Mummy need you.”
“Mummy and I,” Norman corrected him. “Hoenn needs me too, Son. A whole region of people need me to help guide them towards a better future.”
“I don’t care about them!” Erik roared. “I want you here.”
“My boss won’t allow it, I need to go to be able to support our family.”
“Why do you let him tell you what to do!”
“I listen to him, the same way you listen to your mother or I. Everyone has people they need to listen to Erik, even me.”
“I’m still not moving!” Erik said stubbornly.
“Then I’ll have to move you!” Norman chuckled, picking Erik who laughed in return, moving outside into the street and spinning his son around in the air. Erik felt as if he were flying, as if he was being elevated above all his problems and worries, all the negative emotions. His father always had that effect on him, and he loved him for it.
Blustery winds filled with rough sand blasted Erik’s face as he strode through the desert. The goggles that May had given him were working marvellously against the constant bombardment of the sharp dirt-brown grains smashing against him. Through impeded vision he could see large amounts of rocks sticking out of the sand, the desert surrounded by sharp inclines and rocky cliffs like the rest of this part of Hoenn.
Erik tripped, a rock he didn’t see getting in his way as he landed face first into the sand, suddenly rolling around to find himself staring straight at an angry Trapinch, the ground typed Pokemon furiously snapping its large jaws at him. He must have kicked the Pokemon and tripped over it.
Erik rolled out the way as the Trapinch charged head first, obviously looking to hurt Erik rather than seriously injure him. The Pokemon missed, slowly turning around for another charge but the trainer was faster, grabbing a spare Pokeball on his belt and lobbing it at the creature, who swatted it away with its abnormally large head.
The distraction gave Erik a chance to send Leaf into the fray, the Gloom immediately sending sleep powder into the air as the Trapinch charged again, stuttering halfway through its attack and falling asleep. Erik glided over to the Pokeball he had thrown earlier and captured the Pokemon, naming it “Snappy”.
“Erik?” a familiar female voice drifting through the winds and into his ear. A turn of his head saw a woman in her very early twenties approach carrying a small sack, the small grey bag clutched within her right hand. Her smooth skin matched the colour of the sand they stepped on.
“Cecilia,” he replied as she wandered up to him, her identity becoming clearer the closer she got. “What’s in the bag?”
“Just fossils,” she said sweetly, opening the small burlap sack to reveal two fossils. The first was in the shape of a claw, sat neatly on top of the second which was hard to identify underneath the other, but looked rather more like a root of some sort. “I go fossil hunting sometimes in the desert.”
“Why?” Erik enquired, she had piqued his interest.
“Just a hobby,” she giggled. “I’m glad I saw you out here actually, I always wondered why you disappeared that night.”
“Erm..” Erik hesitated, scratching the back of his head nervously. “At the time I felt everyone was against me, the media saw me as their enemy and people from all over Hoenn were hunting me. Magma were also attacking me. So I didn’t really know who I could trust.”
“Oh,” Cecilia replied, looking genuinely disappointed. “I was only trying to help.”
“Sorry,” Erik frowned guiltily, “look, maybe you are a good person trying to help. But I don’t know you, and in my lifetime I’ve been betrayed by people who I have known. People who I have known very well.”
“I’ll show you,” she replied, pulling the claw-like fossil out of the bag. “Have one of my fossils, they’re rare and of an ancient Pokemon.”
“She’s really trying to prove herself to me,” Erik thought to himself, before saying aloud. “Thank you, what’s your story anyway?” he asked the woman of mystery whilst taking the fossil.
“Oh not much,” she giggled again, “I’m from the Johto region myself.”
“How’d you end up in Hoenn?”
“I wanted to prove to my dad that I could be independent. He’s a businessman over there and paid for my trip over here, he even bought me a house in Rustboro to live in.”
“So why do you stay in the treehouse?”
“Oh I don’t usually, only when I’m stressed. I find it really relaxing in there.”
“What stresses you? Are you a trainer then?”
“I’m a trainer but I don’t really battle. I love Pokemon so I like doing research into them and finding out about them. I want to someday own a Pokemon ranch where I can look after and breed other people’s friends for them. They’d pay me of a course,” she finished with yet another giggle, a cute sound which made Erik smile.
“Like a daycare centre?” Erik enquired, worrying he was sounding like a game of ‘Guess the Pokemon’, a fun activity he used to play as a child where one person would pick a Pokemon in their head and the rest of the players would have twenty questions between them to try and find out which Pokemon it was.
“Kind of, but better!” she declared. “How about you? What’s next in Erik’s journey?”
“Petalburg.” The word sounded like fire on his tongue. “To challenge my dad for his badge.”
“Wow, good luck! Don’t let me keep you.” She flashed him a final smile as she began bumbling away.
“Thank you,” he called out after her, before reimagining the battle to come for what seemed like the one thousandth time in his mind.
A day had passed since his dad had moved out, and Erik had been sat at the windowsill for the past hour waiting for Norman to arrive home from work for the day.
“He’s always home by now,” Erik thought to himself as he gazed out of the glass pane and out into the overcast day, grey clouds casting a dull shadow over Saffron City. “Why is he not here.”
A further ten minutes passed, then another. And Another. Until Erik ran into the living room to his mother.
“Mummy!” he wailed. “I think Daddy’s in trouble.”
She got up from the couch and moved over to her son, bending her knees so her eyes stood at a height with Erik’s own. “Erik, sweetie,” she began, “Daddy’s not coming home, remember?” She smiled sweetly at him.
“No!” Erik yelled, stubbornly refusing to believe it. “He’s probably been kept behind for detention at work. I was one time at trainer school for talking too much in class.”
He ran back out to the hallway window besides the front door before his mother had time to reply. But after another half an hour of waiting he had given up, his father wasn’t coming home and Erik didn’t understand why.
Over the next few days Erik spent less and less time by that window, going from spending two hours to an hour to ten minutes waiting for his father to come home, as he had done for as long as he could remember. But Norman never showed.
His sixth birthday had arrived, along with three loud knocks at the door. Upon hearing the very first knock Erik screamed, “Daddy!”, and sprinted towards the sound. Opening the door, he was shocked when instead of seeing his father, he saw a delivery man holding a small bicycle, complete with stabilisers.
“Present for Erik, from Norman?” asked the man, clad in a full black suit with purple undershirt.
“Where’s my Daddy?” Erik replied, to a stunned look from the man.
“I’m not sure, I’m just here to deliver this.”
Erik ran back inside, tears streaming down his cheeks. It had finally sunk in. His father wasn’t coming back, Norman had abandoned him.
He had breezed through Mauville on his bike, the cool air flowing through his hair as he headed west to Verdanturf, and then through the tunnel to emerge in Rustboro City, withdrawing Sunny the Solrock from storage to complete his team of six. Through the dreary city littered with grey and brown stone, Erik cycled the breadth of it in no time. Exiting from the southern side, and almost running over an old friend.
His bicycle screeched to a halt as he slammed on the brakes in order to avoid hitting Wally, the trainer seemingly struggling to capture a Roselia for his team. Wally stood motionless, like a shy Pokemon in headlights he was too scared to move out of the way.
“Hey Wally,” Erik said half joking, half relieved that he didn’t run his friend down.
“Oh.. Hey.. Erik,” Wally forced each word out, as if he were recovering from a near-death experience. “How are you?” he followed up, this time speaking with slightly more conviction.
“Do you need a hand?” Erik enquired, avoiding the question.
“I’ve never caught a Pokemon by myself before,” came the reply from a clearly downbeat Wally, the green haired boy slouching despondently.
Erik sent Leaf out of her Pokeball, and ordered his Gloom to send the Roselia to sleep. Using the same tactic as he used to capture Snappy, Leaf sent out the powder for the wild Pokemon to inhale. Wally caught on to Erik’s ploy and followed up by throwing a Pokeball at the grass-typed creature, successfully capturing it.
“Thank you.. Erik,” Wally said shakily, he looked more like the boy Erik had first met rather than the more confident trainer he had encountered in Mauville.
“You’re welcome, is everything okay with you?” Erik asked, hoping everything with his friend was alright.
“Fine thank you,” Wally said, unable to keep eye contact as his vision remained fixed on the ground. “Happy I have a new Pokemon thanks to you.”
“Good to hear,” Erik replied. He was sure Wally was lying, hiding something he was afraid of telling him about, but remained silent. He couldn’t waste any more time, he wanted to get to Petalburg City and challenge his dad for the Balance Badge. “I’ve gotta run Wally, I’ll catch you later!” he shouted as he cycled off.
“Bye Erik,” a faint voice called from an ever growing distance.
Petalburg Woods proved no challenge for Erik and his team, significantly stronger than when he first trekked the forest. Crossing the treeline at the southern exit, the city of Petalburg lay ahead of him, from the rise of the hill he could spot the gym. Nothing else mattered now, his father awaited him.
It had been four years since Erik had last seen his father, so when an aging man who looked like he could either be in his mid-thirties or late-fifties stepped through the doorway, the boy hardly recognised him.
“Norman!” Caroline said in a tone half resentful and half shocked. “You look like you’ve aged twenty years in the four since we last saw you.”
“Hello, I thought I’d pop by and pay Erik a surprise visit on his tenth birthday,” the man said glancing at his son. “But I can see neither of you are too happy to see me.” Norman’s voice had changed, from a soft voice with obvious care to strained, almost toneless, as he spotted Erik standing behind his mother with arms folded.
“What did you expect?!” Caroline cried out. “You haven’t seen your boy once in all this time.”
“I haven’t had a chance,” Norman groaned.
“You’ve had four years worth of chances!” Erik’s mother screamed.
“I did it all for Erik,” Norman said despondently. “All this stress, fatigue and pain, and I didn’t even get to see my son. But things are about to change again, I’ve been told now Erik has turned ten I am allowed to come and see him monthly.”
“We don’t want you here!” Caroline was apoplectic, Erik had never seen his mother this angry, in fact, he couldn’t remember ever seeing her angry at all.
“Fine, but at least let me wish him a happy birthday.”
“You have one minute,” she snapped in reply, moving out of the doorway and allowing Norman to pass.
Norman strode up to his son, and the closer he got the more Erik could see how much his dad had aged. When he had last seen his father, he remembered him looking young and fresh faced, now he just saw lines and wrinkles, with deep and heavy bags holding up his eyes. Norman bent his knees so he stood at a height with Erik.
“You’ve grown so much, I’m so sorry I haven’t been there to see it happen.” Even at a young age, Erik could sense the sorrow in his father’s voice.
“Go away!” Erik shouted, “I don’t want you here.”
“I know,” Norman welled up as he spoke. “I’m so sorry. This is probably the last time I will see you before I break completely. I only wish you grow up to be stronger than I am, to be able to resist what I couldn’t. I’m so sorry.”
Erik had no comprehension of what his father was telling him, as a lone tear rolled solemnly down his dad’s wrinkled cheek. “What do you mean?” he asked, but got no response. Norman walked out of the house without glancing back, the only words that followed were the oft repeated two, “I’m sorry”.
“Norman,” Erik growled, staring directly at his father’s young-looking face. “It’s time.”
“Indeed it is,” Norman replied, signalling for his three trainee gym leaders to stand down. “I know he is worthy to challenge me,” he told them, “he is my son after all.”
Erik baulked slightly at the heavy emphasis on Norman calling him his son, almost like a hissing noise erupting from his father’s mouth.
They stood in the main entrance room of the gym, where they had had their sitdown chat before, but this time Norman went through the back door, waving Erik to follow him through. The door led to a wooden set of stairs, a sharp upwards incline with another doorway at the summit. Through this doorway led Erik to the battle room.
The large pinewood room was rather plain. Lilac cushions in each corner with tables, chairs and even a sofa littered around the place. “This is more of a home to him than our house in Saffron ever was,” Erik silently raged. The most prominent thing in the room, however, was a huge glass window to the rear, which granted him a view of a back garden abundant with trees and flowerbeds. A trap door occupied the far left hand corner of the area, Erik guessing it led to Norman’s bedroom, he did live here after all.
“Welcome, my son,” Norman said in his usual cool voice with a smirk. “I hope you are strong enough to face me?”
“My team are strong enough to beat anyone,” Erik snapped instantly.
“Not your team, you.”
“I’m stronger than you think.”
“I hope so, I need to find out if you are strong enough, I don’t care if you win and take my badge.” The smirk grew ever wider on Norman’s face.
“No, I want you to know what’s going to happen, Erik.”
“What.” Erik was fed up of the conversation, he just wanted to get his revenge once and for all on his father.
“I want to find out if you are strong enough,” he repeated. “That is why I don’t care if I lose the fight, but why I gifted you that Torchic. So you would bond with it. So I know you are strong enough to handle losing someone so close to you. That’s right, I’m going to kill Blaze. That was the plan all along.”
Erik’s heart fluttered, the very thought of losing Blaze was devastating for him, as the battle with Maxie flashed before his eyes. remembering the unbearable pain he felt as he saw his oldest friend close to death.
Before he could reply, his father sent out his first Pokemon, a Slaking. The beast roaring at his opponent. Erik fingered each and every one of his Pokeballs, before his grip rested on one of them, he knew exactly who he was going to send out.
The ceremony was only a few moments away, the bride and groom were getting ready and Erik was left with a man he wasn’t sure he had ever met before.
“Why can’t I see Mummy or Daddy?” he asked the strange man, who looked back at him through narrow dark eyes, a warm smile breaking his otherwise menacing features.
“They are busy getting dressed, and we can’t have little four year olds wandering around by themselves now can we?”
“But I want to see Daddy.”
“You will very soon, my boy,” the man brushed through his chestnut brown hair as he spoke, swiping off a couple that fell onto his black suit. “I’ll tell you what.”
“What?” Erik interrupted excitedly, jumping so suddenly at the thought he accidentally threw the fruit juice he was carrying, a portion of which landed on the man’s undershirt.
“You’re lucky I’m wearing purple and the drink won’t show,” the man chuckled. “I’m your dad’s boss at work, so how about after the wedding we can both tell him what to do!”
“Yay!” Erik screamed delightedly. “So you’re the forry minner?”
“The Foreign Minister,” the man corrected, laughing wholeheartedly again. “I like you, son, I think you’ll made a great addition to our organisation one day.”
“I don’t want to be a minser though.”
“You never know, you may even take my place one day. Don’t rule it out son,” he laughed again, as he took his seat on the front row alongside Erik.
Erik looked around the room to see if he recognised anyone. The hall was packed full of people, many of which wore black suits and lilac undershirts, the same as his dad would be wearing, Erik remembered. He saw many women wearing black or purple dresses, his mother would be in white, he also knew.
“This is a very special day, Erik,” the Foreign Minister spoke quietly to him. “Your parents will be together for the rest of their lives.”
“For ever and ever?” Erik replied, happy at the thought that his Mummy and Daddy would never leave him.
“As long as we are all happy.”
“Yay!” Erik shouted once more. “Are you happy?”
“Oh,” the man replied. “Very. Now that I am sitting next to my future successor.”
Music blasting out of the speakers around them signalled the start of the ceremony, a cheery tune echoing throughout the hall, as Erik’s mother marched down the aisle in a flowing white dress, and crowned with black and lilac flowers. Erik smiled, this was the happiest day of his life, one that he would remember forever more. His parents were going to be together forever, and everyone was going to be happy.