Exactly 999 years later, in the town of Sailance, North-West Ouen, there was a boy called Mark Greenlet.
He was eleven years old, thin, green-eyed, had short, messy black hair and went to the Public Sailance Primary School.
This fateful day, he walked to school as usual. He was quiet. He was always quiet those days. He had in fact been quiet since all his friends left on a Pokémon journey at the age of ten. Mark’s parents, however, were over-protective and were too afraid to send him on a dangerous Pokémon journey. Especially since if that were to happen, they would have to get him all the way to Green town, where Ash Ketchum annually gave out starter Pokémon for ten-year-olds. North-West Ouen had no Pokémon; the people who lived there were all lawyers or other rich people who wanted a life in peace without Pokémon and little kids asking them for a battle all day.
Most parents in Sailance, of course, were kind enough to go to Green town and let their kids get a Pokémon, but not Mark’s. They were hoping he would become a stock investor, a programmer or in the worst case a professional artist, as he happened to draw very well. Not some stupid Pokémon training kid. Neither of them had been trainers when they were young; that was perhaps the reason why they never properly understood the concept.
He automatically walked into the school building. He hated it, especially the prison-like outwards appearance and that dull, lifeless, rock-gray color of it. Mark loved living things; he had since he was little, and consequently hated cold rock. The corridor with the classrooms was even duller, even grayer and even more lifeless, which only added to the depressing feeling of the whole building. To top it all, all the students were snappy and irritated because they wanted to train Pokémon whether they were hindered by their age or their parents, and the teachers were all snappy and irritated too, simply because of how depressing the whole environment was.
Mark’s first lesson on Thursdays was Battling Strategies, a branch of Pokémonology. He sighed as he sat down in front of the classroom. What a waste of time for somebody like him who was never going to get to train Pokémon anyway. Besides, whether it was because of his rather negative opinion on the classes or because he would rather spend them drawing on the back of his school papers, he was completely lousy at Pokémonology. For tests, he always desperately sank himself into the textbook and sure enough, he managed to learn the bits of the text he found interesting. The problem was that they always asked about the most boring and uninteresting things, such as the level at which one Pokémon approximately evolved into another. This just made him despise Pokémonology even more.
He preferred Pokémon Communication classes by far – ‘Pokémonish’, as they were usually referred to in everyday speech. He was much better at languages than learning things by heart, besides finding Pokémon language very interesting in general. Those few interesting things in Pokémonology that had sunk in over the years usually had something to do with this remarkable language of syllables, bodily expressions and voice tones anyway.
One of the very best things in Pokémonish, also, was that a few times such as in exams, live Pokémon were brought to classes and the kids got one Pokémon each to stage a normal casual chat with. At the end of the class, the Pokémon each gave the teacher a report on how well the students handled the conversation. Mark always got top grades for that, and was rather proud of that since most of the students couldn’t talk nearly as naturally to Pokémon as he could. He remembered the test last year where he had discussed Pokémon rights with a Vulpix. He smiled at the thought. They had ended up talking excitedly for an hour before Mr. Flintlake, his teacher, politely commented on how he would really like to get that lunch break he was supposed to have. Even then, he had been forced to recall the Vulpix into its Pokéball in order to get Mark to leave the classroom. Since then, Mark had been daydreaming about one day sneaking out to Green town on his own account and getting a Vulpix for a starter Pokémon; it was now his very favorite basic unevolved Pokémon.
But the class he probably enjoyed the most was Art. His Pokémon pictures received really positive criticism by Miss Taintor, who was a professional Pokémon artist after all. She knew what she was doing when she gave feedback; she was always honest and wasn’t afraid of telling somebody basically that their pictures sucked, although she never sounded downright mean since she always pointed out the good aspects too. Mark was an odd person when it came to criticism; he subconsciously hated being criticized at all by other people, even if he completely agreed. That wasn’t too bad, though; it had caused him to suddenly decide to practice drawing all day during the summer when he turned nine. When Miss Taintor saw his art in fourth grade, she had said, as he still remembered word for word, “Very big improvement, young man – if there were only more students with determination like you in this stupid school.” He remembered it so well – being congratulated by a harsh critic felt a lot better than the constant compliments from his parents and relatives who always pretended that everything he did was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and hearing a teacher call the school stupid just made him feel all nice. After that incident, he had believed in constructive criticism, and despite not technically liking it, he wanted it.
He was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of the bell ringing – the class was starting. He hated that sound. It hurt his ears and was far louder than it had to be. A simple digital watch could beep loudly enough to be heard clearly all around a classroom – why did they need such an ear-splitting noise? It wasn’t like there was any more talking on the corridors than inside the classrooms or anything.
At least, he heavily stood up, groaned, and got in line. Mrs. Grodski, who taught Pokémonology, was a very grumpy old lady who wore the biggest glasses Mark had ever seen, spoke through her overly large nose and had developed a strong hatred for Mark for some reason he had never understood.
“Good morning, class,” she said sternly as everybody had taken their places standing behind their chairs.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grodski,” the class mumbled, apart from Mark, who said his usual “Good morning, Mrs. Grumpy.” He knew it was safe; it drowned completely in the rest of the class’s murmurs.
“Today,” Mrs. Grodski announced with a frown at how tired all the kids sounded, “we will be studying up on recoil attacks. Turn to page forty-two, please.”
Mark sighed and opened his book as Mrs. Grodski watched him carefully, but as soon as she began reading aloud from the textbook, he silently took out his binder and started to draw a Lugia on the back of an English assignment. It was his favorite Pokémon; he drew it all the time. Articuno, his other favorite, was a bit trickier to draw as he saw it, but that didn’t make him like it any less. He loved all Legendary Pokémon. In fact, he was utterly obsessed with them. He had been fascinated by those ultimate beings of the world since he was little.
“And just what do you think you’re doing, Mr. Greenlet?” Mrs. Grodski’s voice snapped. He looked slowly up from his Lugia, partially covering it with his hand. She was standing over his desk with an expression that strongly reminded Mark of that evil mustached animal world-dictator he had heard about sometime in History. Mark had a hard time hiding his laughter behind an innocent expression.
“I believe I’m drawing, Mrs. Grodski, unless I’m very much mistaken,” he said politely. There were some snickers from behind.
“Quiet!” the teacher screeched. “And stop smudging the back of your papers, least of all in my class!”
Mark grimaced at her as she returned to her desk, and made the textbook stand open on the table, shielding the binder and making him look like he was actually reading.
Finally, the day was over. Mark went to play soccer with the fifth graders as usual. But he wasn’t concentrating. He knew that this bit of fun wouldn’t last for long. It was May already, and the starter Pokémon giveaway at Green town would be soon. Then these kids would probably all go and get a Pokémon, as they kept talking excitedly about these days, but what then? Would he go and play with the fourth graders, two years younger than him, for the remainder of the year and until next May? He doubted the fourth graders would even want to hang out with somebody two years older than them, anyway. He could blend in pretty much with the kids from fifth grade; he was short enough for them to be able to imagine he was just a tall ten-year-old, but the difference couldn’t be much bigger. The few people other than him in sixth grade who hadn’t gone on a Pokémon journey never wanted to be with him; he didn’t really “fit in” and wasn’t much for talking, which was all most of them liked to do.
He ended up leaving the game and going home to sulk.
But when he passed the bushes opposite his house, he heard something.
He jumped. A branch moved and a twig cracked. Mark’s heart beat faster.
Very slowly and carefully, he stepped up to the bush and pulled the branches apart. To his great disappointment, there was nothing there. Such a shame, he had been hoping he had found the first Pokémon of North-West Ouen… maybe a Vulpix. He grinned at the thought, but then shook his head.
“Come on,” he said to himself, “stop dreaming…”
He ran across the street into his house. It was starting to rain.
After a very normal, quiet dinner with his parents while watching Bravo Trainer, a popular TV show from Hoenn, he sat down in the sofa in the living room, which was positioned under the window that faced out into the street, and stared outside through the blurry, wet glass.
He stopped dead.
There was definitely something moving out there. Something… reddish?
The word “Vulpix” instantly crossed his mind, although he knew it was ridiculous to assume that the Pokémon of his dreams had suddenly appeared in front of his house. Mark leapt to the front door, into his boots and pulled the door open. On the middle of the road, there was indeed a Pokémon.
It was an orange fire-breathing bipedal lizard; one of those he had used to point at in picture books when he was little, announcing that it was a Fire-type in order to make his parents nod appreciatively and tell him he was so smart remembering it all.
But this was a real, living Charmander, not a picture in a book. It was lying limply on the middle of the road, and the flame that was supposed to be on the tip of its tail was merely a small, bright glow.
At first, Mark just stood there like a cow, staring, but then he was knocked to his senses by the sound of a car. He ran out onto the road, picked up the Pokémon and hurried inside with it, already soaked wet by the downpour.
Mark slammed the door shut and started fanning the Charmander’s tail flame stupidly with his hand in order to revive it, with little success.
“Mom! I – I found a Charmander on the road!”
“Really?” sounded his mother’s voice absent-mindedly from upstairs. “Very nice, but why don’t you just go into your room, dear?”
“Parents,” Mark hissed at nobody but himself and the unconscious Pokémon in his arms. Then he yelled: “Aren’t you listening? I FOUND A FREAKING CHARMANDER!”
He heard his mother, clearly thinking this was some kind of a game, sigh and stand up before coming down the stairs with red, tired eyes, messy hair and a cup of coffee in her hands.
Crash! She dropped the cup and it fell to the floor, shattering to a thousand pieces and spilling coffee all over.
“Wha - what is that thing?” she then squeaked, sounding like this was the first time she saw a Pokémon in real life.
“It’s a Charmander!” Mark snapped. “A Pokémon! And it’s dying!”
“Oh God!” she uttered out, speechless. “John!”
“Not now,” Mark’s father mumbled from upstairs, sounding half-asleep. She dug her fingers deep into her mess of blond hair, repeating “Oh, what can we do? What can we do?” in a panicky voice.
Mark started waving his hand again in attempts to get the Charmander’s tail flame burning properly again, saving the Pokémon’s life.
Slowly as the tail tip dried, the flame was restored. Mark breathed in relief; half because the Charmander was saved, half because his hand was getting stiff from all the fanning.
“Is… is it okay?” his mother asked carefully as Mark shook his entire arm to loosen the hand muscles.
“Yeah,” he said and smiled. “But I think it needs rest. Er… I guess you should go and get some old cloth so I can put it in my bed.”
His mother went back upstairs and got some old clothes of Mark he didn’t fit into anymore. He took them to his bedroom and placed them in the corner of his bed, laying the Charmander gently on top of them. The tail flame burned peacefully. Mark wondered who originally had the idea of making clothes flame-proof; it had always seemed very pointless to him, but what mattered was, of course, that the Fire Pokémon wouldn’t burn up the house this way.
He picked up the book about the Johto Legendary Pokémon on his desk and started to read, keeping an eye on the lizard. He was starting to calm down and think reasonably. Of course, this Charmander wasn’t wild. It obviously was trained. Charmander were very rare Pokémon from Kanto, how would one suddenly be in Ouen, let alone the North-West part? Its trainer was probably looking for it. Maybe he’d get a reward for finding it?
Mark grinned, looking forward to next morning.