Becky knew something was wrong when the kids came back to town quietly. Normally evenings were full of laughter and yelling as they came back from the swimming hole, or from playing in the woods. Tonight she saw them slip into town alone or in pairs, and nobody was looking at each other.

She pushed her brown hair back over her ear and decided she needed to know what had happened. Climbing out of the porch swing, she headed down the street in the direction of the river. Two houses down she ran into an older boy with dark hair and a deep tan – Johnny. “Hey, what happened?” she asked him.

“Nothing. I have to get in for dinner,” he answered her. Before she could ask again he was inside, slamming the door behind him.

Now she knew something was wrong – he was usually the first to blow off his parents, and the last to come home. She quickened her pace, looking for a friendlier face. She found one at the edge of town, where Hill Street ended in a thicket of trees.

Sitting on one of the low branches was Pete – the boy she thought of as her best friend. He was looking down at the feet he was swinging aimlessly below the branch with a shiny bruise developing around his right eye.

“Pete!” she cried. “What happened?”

He looked up and met her eyes for just a moment, then cast his eyes downward again and said nothing.

She was glad she’d worn her pants today. They didn’t tangle around her legs as she climbed up to sit next to him. “Pete, who hit you?”

Pete didn’t look up, but did finally mumble an answer. “One of the older kids.”

“Why?” she asked. “What were they trying to get you to do?”

“Nothing,” he answered. After a moment’s silence he added, “It was the other kids they were pushing.”

She frowned. “For what? Were they throwing them in the swimming hole again?”

“Johnny found another way into the caves,” Pete said. “They dared the younger kids to go in it.”

Becky gasped. “But they blocked those after that kid got lost, and almost died. Why would they tell them to go in?”

“They heard some story that there was treasure in those caves. They sent the younger kids in to go get it.” Pete looked on the verge of crying. “I tried to stop them, and one of them knocked me down. They were too big to stop.”

Becky leaned over and wrapped her arms around him. “It’s okay, Pete. We’ll go tell my dad, he’ll get people to help us find them.”

“We can’t!” Pete said, breaking her embrace and turning to look at her. “Luke will get in trouble!”

Luke was Pete’s older brother, always trying to hang out with the oldest kids. He might have even been involved in the dare, trying to impress them.

“That doesn’t matter, Pete,” Becky said. “We have to help those kids!”

He shook his head. “I heard my parents. If he gets in trouble again, they’re sending him to a special school in another town. He’s the only brother I have!”

“Fine,” she said to him. “Then we have to go do it. At least go see if Old Man Henderson will help, he doesn’t always tell on kids.”

Pete’s eyes brightened. “Hey, yeah. He never told on us for the thing with the beehive.”

“I’ll meet you down there,” Becky said. “You go see if he has a flashlight or something.” She hopped down from the tree branch, and headed towards the swimming hole. She heard feet crashing behind her, heading off towards the run-down cabin on the edge of town where Henderson lived. Even the Pokemon that normally filled these woods with noise were muted.

She reached the swimming hole in short order and stared across the water. The river made a bend here, and the flow of water had carved out a deep pool. Normally in late afternoon it was packed with laughing and splashing kids, but it was eerily empty. Even those not involved knew enough to not be around. The lost kids weren’t in immediate danger of starving, but nobody knew how far the caverns and tunnels extended. It had taken almost a week to find the last boy who was lost and she didn’t want that to happen again.

After an agonizing wait of a few minutes, she heard a crashing as a small and a large figure came hustling through the undergrowth together. Pete’s blonde hair was mussed, but that was nothing compared to the older man’s appearance. Old Man Henderson had been a local fixture for years; a crazy but harmless man who lived at the edge of town. He was famed for the wide collection of strange statues, pictures, and other knickknacks that filled his house.

Today he wore an orange floral-print shirt, had cargo shorts above combat boots, and a large coil of rope slung over his shoulder. His white hair was several stages beyond messy and he peered over dark sunglasses. “Now where are theh?” he asked with a thick accent.

“Up the river a bit,” Pete answered him. He led Henderson and Becca further upstream, to where a small collapse in the bank revealed a dark hole leading into the earth with a trickle of water running down it. It was narrow, and Becky wasn’t sure anyone larger than her would fit.

Henderson unslung the coil of rope and dropped it on the ground. He grabbed one end of it and handed it to Becky. “Take th’ rope with ya,” he said.

She took the rope end and tied it around her waist. Henderson dug a flashlight out of his pocket and handed it over to her too.

“Four of them went in there. And be careful,” Pete said to her. She flashed him a smile that looked more confident than she felt, then knelt down and started crawling into the tunnel.

It was very narrow for the first dozen feet, but soon opened up large enough she could crouch over rather than crawling. Becky turned on the flashlight, and the weak beam threw a little light on the uneven stone floor before her. Outside of that small pool of light, the darkness just seemed deeper, and she tried not to imagine things lurking in those shadows. The trickle of water found a depression and pooled there, leaving the rest of the tunnel dry.

She carefully made her way forward, and the tunnel wound for a short distance before it opened a few feet above the floor of a larger room. She heard sniffling ahead and waved the flashlight beam around until it hit a small lump of color on the floor.

It proved to be a blue shirt worn by the first of the children, hunched into a small ball. “Are you alright?” she asked.

He startled, sitting up and turning to look at her. His face was filthy, with streaks running from his eyes where the tears had washed tracks through the grime. “We fell down the ledge and couldn’t find it again. I didn’t want to go farther in, but Tommy wanted to find another way out.”

Becky sighed. If they’d stayed put, they would all be safe now, but her job wasn’t done.

“Okay, I will have to go find them.” Becky played the light on the rope trailing behind her. “Come grab this rope, and you can follow it to the outside.”

The child picked himself up. Becky gave him a little boost to get onto the ledge, and then he took hold of the rope and walked down the tunnel towards the entrance.

Once he was out of sight, she ran the flashlight beam along the walls of the cavern. The walls sparkled slightly – probably from mica or quartz. The gaping mouths of two tunnels led away and she moved closer to each of them. One seemed to lead slightly downward, and the other was roughly even, but there was no sign of passage on the hard stone floor.

She leaned into the downhill one and yelled. “Can you hear me down there?”

After a few moments, the weirdly distorted echoes came back to her. She listened a little longer but no other voices made it back to her, so she moved to the other tunnel.

“Is anyone down there?” she called out. It took longer this time to hear the echoes, and they weren’t as loud. Something was different about them; she couldn’t put her finger on it, but perhaps it was someone yelling back. Keeping the small pool of light before her, she ventured into this tunnel.

An eternity later that was probably a couple minutes, and she reached another split in the tunnel. This time when she yelled, she definitely heard a voice from the right-hand path. She followed it until she reached another child, this one sitting against the tunnel wall and not as distraught as the last one. His white shirt stood out starkly in the dim light.

“Are you hurt?” Becky asked him.

“I banged my knee on a rock,” he said. “It’s better now, but Tommy was already gone and I didn’t know where he was.”

She smiled at him. “It means you got found that much sooner. Here, follow this rope that’s tied to me – it will lead you back to the entrance.”

He stood up and stretched as best he could in the cramped space, then reached over to put a hand on the rope. He started walking along it, and she followed him with the light until he reached a bend in the tunnel and disappeared from view.

She turned and headed forward again. She was certain that her borrowed light was growing dimmer, so she pressed on as quickly as she dared – the floor of the tunnel here was smoother and she felt more sure of her footing.

Becky heard the next one well before she saw him – she heard whimpering and moaning echoing down the tunnel and a shriek as he saw the light. This one’s yellow shirt matched his blonde hair, and panic was evident in both his face and his scrambling movements to get to the light. He reached her and snatched it out of her hands, pointing it in random directions with shaking hands.

After a minute of doing this, he seemed to calm down some as the panic subsided. When he finally held the light still for more than a moment, she could definitely tell the light was starting to flicker.

“Are you okay now?” she asked the kid.

“It was so dark,” he said. His voice showed he was still on the edge of panic.

She reached out for the hand clutching the flashlight. The kid had a death grip on it, and there was no way she was getting it back. She pointed the flashlight behind her, at the rope that had been dragging more heavily. “Do you think you can follow this out?” she asked him.

“Y, yes,” he stammered. He didn’t move though.

She gently guided the hand and the child over to grasp the rope. The motion seemed to calm him further, and without further help he started following the rope, keeping it firmly in the patch of light. She waited until he was out of earshot to mutter, “I hope the flashlight lasts long enough to get him out.”

As the last hints of light faded away, the darkness went from menacing to suffocating. She knew she could turn and follow the rope back out – she had found and saved three of these kids already, and the fourth one was the most foolish of the lot.

But he was still down here somewhere, and she could do something about it. She turned and went back to crawling along the pitch black tunnel. She felt with her hands, up both side walls and forwards, as she made progress by inches.

There was no sense of time as she crawled forward – feel the right wall, knee forward, feel the left wall, knee forward, and repeat. The only change was when the rope drew taut and she couldn’t pull it forward anymore. A few yanks revealed steady pressure; she must have reached the end of the rope. She’d found no tunnel branches so far, but also no Tommy.

She scowled. There was only one choice now that she had come this far. She untied the loose knot around her waist and stretched the rope to its furthest before letting it drop.

Without her lifeline, she continued forward. She realized after a moment that she had reached another fork where the path continued forward but also climbed to the right. She called out but got no response down either path beyond her voice echoing back. Straining her eyes, she thought she saw a faint glow up the right-hand tunnel, so she started crawling up it.

After a short distance she knew she was right about the glow. She crawled up into a small chamber that was dimly lit by a purple radiance. It seemed to be coming from a sphere set into one wall, about the size of her fist. As she drew closer she realized it had something inside the orb – it looked like a leaf stretched sideways, with strange striping on it.

She heard a faint groan to her left, and looked over to see Tommy lying flat on the floor. She knelt next to him, noticing a large lump on his head. He was starting to stir – she wasn’t sure how long he had been out, but if he’d hit his head she needed to get him out as quick as she could.

She couldn’t carry him through the tunnels though. She tried to pat his cheeks and shake his arm, and he seemed to wake enough to look over at her. “Where…” he said, and then seemed to run out of energy.

Becky slid an arm under his, helping to move him up to a sitting and then a kneeling position. “Come on, Tommy, let’s get you out of here.”

Crawling back down into the dark was nerve-wracking, and she had to half drag Tommy along with her. He was awake enough to support some of his own weight, but she had to do most of the forward work. She turned left at the main tunnel she’d been in, and almost cried when she felt the rope beneath her hands again. She tied it back around herself, leaving a long end, and tied that end around Tommy’s waist.

The darkness seemed less oppressive as she groped her way out; the only difficulty came in trying to lift Tommy up the ledge in the first room she’d found when they finally made it back that far. She didn’t see the glow from outside until she was looking at the hole’s entrance and realized she could see stars.

Pete and Henderson both smiled as Becky and Tommy climbed carefully out of the hole. The other three boys were nowhere to be seen, but Pete spoke up before she could ask. “You found them all, Becky. They all went home as soon as they got out.”

She let out a sigh of relief and sat down on the riverbank. Laying back she watched the stars twinkling above.

“Tha was a brave thing, lass,” Henderson said. He was coiling the rope back up as he pulled it from the tunnel.

She smiled at him. “But they’re okay.”

Pete broke the good mood. “Our parents are going to skin us for being out this late, though.”

Becky rolled her eyes. “Then let’s get home.”

Tommy was well enough to stand shakily. Henderson walked the group back to the edge of town, bidding them good night and heading back towards his cabin. Becky watched her friend help Tommy to the front porch of his house, who then disappeared into the gloom towards his own.

She smiled again. It had been scary, but worth it. She went inside, endured the scolding from her parents, had a cold dinner and went to bed.


The next morning, the family was surprised after breakfast by a knocking on the door. Becky’s father opened it to see one of the town elders. “Good morning! Your daughter has been selected for a great honor. The Pokemon league has decided to open a branch in our region, and they sent out officials to induct new trainers to challenge each other.”

Her father smiled, then it turned into a frown. “We’re honored, and I am sure Rebecca would be great. But if I can ask – why was she selected?”

The elder caught sight of her standing in the living room and gave her a smile. “She comes very highly recommended by someone with a connection to the league. But please, come to the town square. The official will not be here for long.”

Her father turned to look at her. “Well, this is sudden, but it’s an exciting opportunity. What do you think, Becky?”

“Of course I will, dad!” she said. The chance to be a Pokemon trainer! A few kids had gone to another province to participate, but one right here at home would be an amazing chance.

She and her father followed the elder over to the middle of town. A few other families were there, but the stranger stood out pretty quickly. He had short brown hair, a white lab coat, spectacles and a brown briefcase.

Talking to him was Old Man Henderson! He spotted her approaching and smiled. “There, Elm, tha’s her.”

The official turned to see and offered a hand to shake. “Hello! Professor Elm, at you service. You are Rebecca, then?”

She nodded as she shook his hand. “I am.”

“Excellent!” he said. “You’re the last one I needed to meet this morning.” He placed the briefcase on the ground and opened it towards her; inside were several small red-and-white spheres, along with a few small red devices about the size of a paperback.

“All trainers will get a Pokedex – that’s the red device there – and then you get a choice of starters.” Elm withdrew one of the red devices and opened it like a book, showing her a small screen and a lot of buttons, before closing it and handing it to her.

“For your starter Pokemon, you can pick either Chikorita, Cyndaquil, or Totodile.” He showed her their pictures. Chikorita was a light green in color, with a large dark green leaf extending from its head, and four dainty feet under the bottom. Cyndaquil was dark blue on top and light cream on the bottom, with a prominent snout and flames erupting from its back. Totodile was a light blue bipedal reptile, with a stubby tail and its huge maw open in an infectious grin.

“They’re all so cute,” she said. Her eye kept coming back to the last one though –it’s red fins and tiny fangs looked like it was trying so hard to look fierce. “I think… I’ll pick a Totodile.”

Elm reached into the briefcase and withdrew one of the spheres marked with a small blue drop of water. “An excellent choice,” he told her as he handed it over.

She took it carefully from him, amazed at how light the little ball felt to hold a whole Pokemon inside it. A sudden commotion made everyone look up – a figure had appeared on top of a roof. It was quadrupedal, with white fur and a black face, and a curving black horn emerging from the right side of its face, arcing over its head.

Becky recognized it right away, though she didn’t know what it was – she had seen it before, one time she had been lost in the mountains. It had helped her get back home, and it regarded her with piercing red eyes. They made her feel lightheaded – the noise of the people around her faded, the world seemed to start to spin, and she clutched tighter to the Pokeball as she fell to her knees.

Things seemed to darken around her, and a surge of emotion threatened to overwhelm her, but she fought it back. She had faced the darkness in the tunnel and beat it; this would be no different. And besides, she could see a light ahead of her this time. She crawled forward to see where it led.