Note: The poor grammar/spelling in the dialogue is intentional. (ie--perticular in place of particular, yer in place of your, all of those ain'ts, etc.) Of course, if there are other mistakes, that's another story.
“Come on,” said Jimmy, “you're a Ponyta. Can't you go any faster?”
I laughed. “Of course!” Lowering my head, I galloped harder and harder, listening to the rhythm of the my hooves against the earth, loud enough to bury Jimmy's triumphant shouts.
It was so bright in the field outside the Millers' farmhouse, I could barely open my eyes. I flew through unruly grass, beneath thick oak trees, and atop smooth hills that could have been waves, frozen in place, of a well-behaved sea. It was the perfect place for a Ponyta to run, and here, I felt my flaming mane and tail explode with heat.
The fire that dappled my clean white fur revealed my emotions—always huge and powerful when I felt joy, and withering and pathetic when I felt despair. Running through this field made it expand, billow, swell—so that when sprinting, I looked like a soaring meteor, shooting across the farm to escape empty space.
My flaming mane and tail never looked so grand, however, as when Jimmy and I went riding. I don't remember when I met him. I may have just hatched from a PokeEgg, or perhaps I met him later and thought him insignificant at the time. If, during my infancy, I had thought him unimportant, that had certainly changed. I loved him with the passion that only a fire Pokemon could. He was my human, and I was his Ponyta.
“Hey,” he said, patting my neck. “Let's stop under the willow tree.”
I slowed as I gazed upon our favorite resting spot, which was just ahead. The weeping willow was old—probably even older than Jimmy's Ma, and its trunk was thick, gnarled, and rough. Many of its branches drooped all the way to the ground and lazily sprawled upon the grass, the hanging leaves surrounding the massive tree like a thin veil. Jimmy and I always pretended they were walls of a fort, which, he often told me, human children did with bed sheets and blankets. Of course, our fort was much better. Here was a base that human children could climb, and then afterwards, have a great deal of privacy.
Poking my nose through the leaves and parting the branches, I crept inside. Right next to the tree trunk were two dirt-patches, the spots upon which Jimmy and I usually lay. He slid off my back and took the smaller space, while I yawned, folded my legs, and plopped onto the larger.
Leaning against my shoulder, Jimmy sighed and blew his yellow bangs away from his forehead.
I cocked my head. “What's the matter?”
“Ma seemed upset this morning,” he said with a shrug. He sat up, and with his index finger, traced lines in the dirt.
“She's always actin' that way, though!” I shook my head and snorted.
“But she ain't just actin', Nyta,” said Jimmy. “The crops ain't bringin' in any money. I know nothin' about money—I am only ten, after all—but I know she's bothered by it.”
“Yeah, always bothered,” I said, sending a wicked smile in Jimmy's direction.
He failed to return the sentiment. “I'm serious, Nyta. I'm worried about her. Real worried.”
“All right, all right,” said I. “Sorry. I'm just trying to cheer you up, ya know.” Resting my head on my forelegs, I asked, “has she tried sellin' the hogs? The horses?”
Jimmy shook his head. “Some of the hogs ain't full grown yet, and the horses ain't healthy enough for any breeders or racers to be interested in buyin' 'em. I'm worried about Ma, but I guess I'm also scared that...”
I raised my head and furrowed my brows. “Scared that what?”
“Well,” Jimmy said, his voice cracking, “Ma's always sayin' that the only thing we could sell is... you.”
I snorted again and stood, wondering if he could see the fear in my eyes. “Why me?”
“Nyta, you know Ponytas are rare in these parts. Heck! Pokemon in general are rare. We got Ma's Miltank, but still...” When he noticed my expression, he raised his eyebrows, and shook his hands in front of his chest. “I ain't gonna sell you! That ain't what I want! I was just sayin' what Ma told me.”
But I wouldn't hear it. I raised my chin, closed my eyes, and faced away from him.
In a heartbeat, Jimmy was at my side. He threw his arms around my neck. “Nyta, we'll always be together. Don't you know that?”
I glanced at him from the corner of my eyes, but kept my chin raised. I had to keep the act going to make sure he was true to his word, of course. “Promise?” I asked.
“Yeah! Always together,” he said, stepping back and extending his arms as if trying to pull me into an embrace.
With a laugh, I turned to face my human, giddily stomping the ground with my hooves. “Always together!” I echoed. “Now tell me a story!”
Jimmy smiled too, and I could see the gap in his front teeth. The sunlight peeked between the branches and touched his cheeks, illuminating his dense freckles and golden eyebrows and sparkling against the sapphire of his eyes. He sat on the ground with me, ran his fingers through his honey-colored hair, and then relayed the adventures of Huck Finn—that is, until we were interrupted.
The sound of an engine roared from a spot near the farmhouse. Jimmy froze and widened his eyes, and we both listened to it growing louder and louder, approaching the house.
I didn't understand why Jimmy looked so alarmed. “Who could be visitin' your Ma, I wonder.”
But he didn't answer. He rose and said, “Quick! Help me climb the tree!”
I wanted to stop him, to ask him why he seemed so frightened, but the urgency in his voice forced me to obey, and to remain silent. I stood along with him and propped my body against the trunk of the tree. Effortlessly, Jimmy hopped onto my back, clutched the branches of the willow, and rose onto the strongest, thickest branch of our magnificent fort. I watched him as he slid forward and across the branch, balancing by clutching it between his knees, until he reached an opening in the cover of hanging leaves.
“What are you doing?” I hissed.
Jimmy shushed me and peered through the leaves, perhaps trying to identify the visitor. After a while, he said, “It's—It's—” But he couldn't finish. Hanging on to the branch with his hands, he swung his body over its side, and, steadying himself, dropped to the ground. Without an explanation, he ran towards the house.
“Jimmy!” I yelled, jumping away from the willow to watch him sprint towards the house.
It was a one story cottage, with wooden shutters, now uneven due to the push and pull of storms and discolored due to the light of the sun. Its roof, long and pointed, shaded its porch, upon which sat a rocking chair that creaked as it swayed. Thanks to the Millers' visitor, Jimmy's Ma had abandoned her knitting on the chair, her knitting needles rolling back and forth, stopping only when the half-knit sweater blocked them from falling off of the chair.
I sprinted after Jimmy as quickly as I could. Normally, of course, a Ponyta would outrun a human child with ease, but Jimmy already had a head start, and he reached the farmhouse before I could catch up. He yanked open the screen door, leaped inside, and then slammed the door behind him.
I would've run in after him, regardless of not being allowed in the house, but I froze when I saw the truck parked ten feet away. Worn and rust-colored, it was hooked to a large, white trailer behind it. The trailer had one window on its side, and an arch-shaped roof. Pictures had been painted on its outer walls. My eyes traced a picture of red curtains, a bright, round amusement park ride between the curtains, and fancy lettering, which I, of course, couldn't read.
“I'll ask Jimmy what it says later,” I said to myself. Then I turned my gaze from the trailer and focused on the house. Someone spoke inside, someone whose voice I failed to recognize. From his mouth spilled the occasional burst of anger, and then he would lower his voice and continue to speak in whispers.
I had to see this person. I had to watch as he spoke to Jimmy and his Ma, so I lowered my head and crept around the side of the house, until I ducked beneath a foggy window. Flattening my ears, I peaked just above the window sill to see Jimmy's Ma sitting at the kitchen table, her eyes bulging and her lip quivering in fear. With my eyes, I traced the outline of her crooked nose, broken years ago by the husband that left her, Jimmy's Pa. Beside her stood Jimmy, clinging to his mother's arm and resting his chin on his collarbone, so it looked as though he lacked a neck. Jimmy stared at the floor of the kitchen as the man—whoever he was—rambled on and on.
As usual, darkness beheld the kitchen. From what I could see, it looked as though everything, including the chair in which Jimmy's mother sat and the table upon which she rested her hand, would crumble or collapse at any moment. But perhaps that was just the way it appeared, because the Millers had had that furniture for as long as I could remember; it hadn't broken yet. Behind them hung spoons, knives, and spatulas, and just off to the side sat their old stove, which rarely cooperated, according to Jimmy.
My attention snapped to the right, however, as the man who spoke stepped into view. His hands on his hips, his cowboy hat tipped low over his eyes, he glared at Jimmy and his mother. Although the window pane muffled the softer sounds, I could imagine him growling as he tapped his foot impatiently and sneered at the Millers.
“You're lying,” he said, jutting his head forward like a snapping Arbok.
Jimmy's Ma pulled him close when he jumped. “No!” She said, burying her son's head in her bosom. “Honest, Baurs, we ain't got nothin' to give you!”
After pulling a toothpick out of his mouth, dropping it, and stepping on it with the soul of his leather boot, he said, “I know you're lying! Word around the neighborhood is—you got stuff you can sell, but you're holdin' out.”
Jimmy threw his mother's arms away from him. “We ain't got nothin' for you!” he shouted.
The man called Baurs chuckled. “Actually, I hear you got somethin' of perticular use to me, and I'd like it now.” When the Millers were silent, Baurs shrugged and said, “if you give me what I want, I can take away all yer troubles, meanin' all yer bills. Don't you want that for yer Ma, son?”
Jimmy wiped tears from his eyes and nodded. “But I can't...”
“Yes, you can,” said Baurs. He dropped to his knees, so that he was eye-level with Jimmy. Then, from his pocket, he removed what looked like a marble bag made of black velvet and handed it to my human.
Jimmy looked inside and bit his lower lip. After tightening the string around the opening of the little bag, he shoved Baurs aside and sprinted towards the door. I heard the screen door slam, and I trotted towards the sound of Jimmy's quick footsteps as he fled from the terrible scene, and the terrible man alike.
“Jimmy!” I shouted, and ran after him. This time, I caught up to him in no time, and jumping in front of him, blocked him from running any farther. “Jimmy, what's wrong—?”
“Just take me far, far away from the house,” he said. “Now!”
Immediately, I crouched, allowing him to hoist himself onto my back, and galloped hard towards the edge of the field, past the willow tree and over the hills. I didn't stop until we reached the forest that bordered our farm. Only then did I hear someone starting the engine of the truck, but it sounded as if it was miles away.
“Okay,” said Jimmy. “Lemme off.”
I did, and watched him brush stray white fur from the front of his overalls. Then he dropped to the grass and stared up at the soft, white clouds above. I snorted, trying to get his attention, but his gaze stayed fixed on the bright sky.
“Hey!” I said. “Who was that?
“I just wanna forget him, Nyta,” said Jimmy. “I don't wanna talk—”
I stomped the ground with a front hoof, silencing him. “I don't care!” I hardly realized how loud I was being, until a flock of birds, frightened by my roars, fled from the nearby treetops. “Just tell me, Jimmy.”
He sighed. “Fine. That's Baurs.”
“Yes, I heard that,” said I.
“Well, he's the man who owns our property,” Jimmy answered. “In fact, he owns many of the businesses in town, including the water and heating companies. He's pretty rich, but he ain't got time for those that can't pay their bills.” He sat up, plucked some grass from the earth, and tossed it near my hooves. “And we can't pay our bills.”
I frowned. “What was he pullin' from his truck?”
“A trailer, I think,” said Jimmy. “Like I said, he owns lotsa businesses. One of them is a circus, so he pulls horse trailers. Keeps all kindsa animals in 'em, though.”
I couldn't help but laugh. “A man like him runnin' a circus?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said, as though it should have been obvious. “His circus brings him the most money outta anything, really.”
“And what did he give you in there?” As soon as I asked, Jimmy stared at the ground. “You know,” I tried to clarify, “the thing in the black bag?”
“I knew what you meant,” Jimmy said, crossing his arms over his chest. “And I ain't tellin' you. Not now. I don't wanna talk about it no more.”
After that day, things only got harder for the Millers. It seemed as though Jimmy's Ma never stopped crying, never stopped moaning and whining to Jimmy about their financial troubles. She sold much of the furniture left in her home, and had Jimmy working extra to help her during harvest season, but still, she couldn't make ends meet. She remained disheartened and hopeless.
Baurs still came by on occasion. During those days, Jimmy made me hide under our willow tree. I obeyed, of course, but I listened and watched between the hanging branches. About a year after I first saw Baurs there, he visited again, and though I couldn't hear the conversation from my hiding spot, I did hear plates shattering and other unidentifiable objects being thrown against the walls of the old farmhouse. These visits always concluded with Baurs storming out of the place, slamming the Millers' screen door, and speeding off in his truck, and with Jimmy's Ma howling with grief.
These were the worst times for both Jimmy and me, times when we desperately needed each other for comfort and support. Our relationship stayed the same, for the most part, but sometimes, he was so angry, so hurt by what Baurs was doing to his mother, that he couldn't bear to speak to anyone—even me. And whenever I tried to lighten the mood by joking about Baurs, Jimmy either changed the subject or gave me the cold shoulder for the remainder of the evening. He was always fine the following day, or he at least acted fine, but after a while, I learned never to bring up Baurs.
Still, even when we carried on with our lives as we always had, I noticed an increasing sadness in him that hadn't been there before. Or, perhaps it was an increasing seriousness, or sternness. It was hard to say. Regardless, I tried my hardest to support him, and to be his friend.
Not long after Jimmy had turned thirteen, we were sitting in the shade of the willow tree, and he was about to tell a story.
“Remember David Copperfield?” He asked me.
I thought about it for a moment. “Oh! You mean that long, long book your Ma was readin' to you? The one you didn't wanna tell me about 'cause it was a whole life story?”
He laughed quietly. “Yeah, Nyta. That one. Turns out it's better than I thought, though. You know, Davy goes from rags to riches.”
“Yeah, well,” I said, nuzzling him with my long snout. “You know that can happen to us too, right?” I would always say things like that, and I'd have to, seeing as Jimmy's favorite theme in any story was now the poor man becoming the rich man. He told dozens of stories in which unfortunate souls found happiness in some way, and usually, it was from some massive increase in the character's monetary earnings.
, I'd think, rolling my eyes. Always too concerned with the material
But it had gone much further than concern for Jimmy; now, it was obsession. I found that out the hard way.
One day, after Baurs had driven his noisy truck into the Millers' driveway, I jumped under the willow tree and waited for Jimmy. When Baurs had left in his typical way, I approached the house, trying to decide what I could offer Jimmy so that I could cheer him up, or at least prevent an emotional outburst.
More story time
, I thought. No! A ride in the field. It's a sunny today, and he'd really enjoy—
The sight of Jimmy interrupted my flow of ideas, however. He shoved open the door, and marched rapidly towards me, huffing and snarling and furrowing his brows. In his hands he held the black marble bag, swinging hard along with his thin arms.
“Jimmy,” I said. “Is everything okay?”
But he didn't answer, and he didn't stop walking. His cheeks flushed crimson, and sweat dripped from his brow. Only when he stood about five feet away did he halt and wipe his forehead with his sleeve. Then he ripped the marble bag open and pulled out a small orb of red and white. It was an object I vaguely remembered seeing before, perhaps from looking at picture books with Jimmy during our childhood, but I couldn't identify what it was.
“What is—?” But in a flash, it came to me. “Jimmy,” I said, trembling. “A PokeBall? That's what Baurs gave you—a PokeBall?”
“Don't speak, Nyta!” said Jimmy, with so much fury and regret in his voice, that I barely recognized my best friend. Then, directing his voice behind his shoulder, he said, “Ma, let Miltank out.”