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Note: This is a tale set in the world of Pokémon. While many of the characters in this story are of my own creation, I do not own the canon characters and do not intend to profit from this story in any way.

<-- The Tale of Popolo: Part 3 ll The Tale of Popolo: Part 5 -->

 

Four hours later, I reached a part of the road blocked by tall grass. Whatever lurked in it was completely out of my sight.

“Alright, Koosh,” I said to the little Cyndaquil in my arms, “We might encounter a few Rattata here, so be ready to do your stuff.”

Koosh nodded, and trilled happily.

I stepped into the grass, holding Koosh above my head.

Halfway through, I heard a familiar chatter, and something furry brushed my leg.

“This is it,” I said, and looked at Koosh.

 Koosh was about half the size of a Rattata.

  “This isn’t it,” I said, and took off running.

As I ran, there were more chatters, here and there, some of them in groups.1 But I didn’t stop to engage them. They might gnaw me to pieces if I did.

Reaching the road again, I stopped, and turned to face the grass. The Rattata weren’t coming out of it. Perhaps I had outpaced them.

Koosh hissed at me, and jumped out of my arms.

 “What?” I said. “I didn’t want you to get eaten! You were half the size of those things!”

  He hissed again, and glared at me.

 “I just want to get to Cherrygrove, alright? We can engage the Rattatas once we’re done there.”

 He hissed again, and, as we continued walking, he refused to meet my eye.

We saw no more Rattata, nor roadblocks, for a long while. There was only the wind rustling the trees, and strange noises in the dark woods. I knew we could go into them, easily, but from what Ethan had told me it wasn’t likely we would come out again. And the Rattata stayed in the grass. What about these creatures made them stay away from roads? And if they did stay away from roads, what was keeping everyone from just trying to make sure the roads were clear?

Then again, we didn’t get many visitors in New Bark the first place, so there was little incentive to keep any path to our remote village clear.

Around mid-afternoon, we saw a creature with big floppy ears and brown fur poking its head up behind a boulder.2

“Ah hah!” I said. “Here’s something you can tackle, Koosh!”

Koosh ran around the boulder, and stopped.

A lanky man, face tanned and wrinkled, stood up from where he’d been hidden, and stepped away from the boulder. He was wearing a battered straw hat, and leaned on a butterfly net. “Howdy,” he said. “I don’t see many folks on this road. You’re from New Bark, I take it?”

I took off my hat, and scratched my head. “How do you figure? I could be returning to Cherrygrove.”

“Naw,” he said, “You don’t look weary enough to be from Cherrygrove. You look like you’ve got a spring in your step. Hah!” He spat on the rock. “You might lose that spring, once you get to Cherrygrove. And that Pokémon of yours!” He pointed at Koosh. “I’ve seen Mr. Elm come by with those weird colorful Pokémon, back when he and I weren’t too young to be scared of the tall grass! That’s a Pokémon he’d give you, alright. Just as vivid as the one the young fellow had, when he brushed past me.”

“Did this young man have red hair?”

        “He had long red hair.”

        “And was his Pokémon a reptile?”

        “With a red crest.3 I rarely see reptiles around here. Say, that wasn’t from Elm too, was it?”

        “Not by Mr. Elm’s choice.”

        “Well, that explains why he didn’t stop to say hello.” He spat again. “A rapscallion! I didn’t stop him! Well, I wouldn’t have asked Chucky here to stop him.” He reached his hand behind the rock, and brought out the brown Pokémon. “We’re not much for fighting these days. Ain’t that right, Chuck?”

Chuck was a round thing, with stubby arms and legs, but he mostly stood upon the end of his tail anyway.4

“I’d have fought that blue lizard”, said Chuck, “but you told me not to. What, old man? Were you scared I’d die?” Folded his stubby arms and frowned at his companion.

        “Ain’t that always a possibility?” said the old man. “Both of them looked mean enough to go for the kill, I tell you. You’re all I’ve got out here, Chuck, besides the rare traveler.” He patted the Pokémon on the back.

        “That’s the truth,” said Chuck, looking around. “Not much to do out here, though, besides hunt bugs and try to find a way to the other edge of the woods. I ask the other Sentrets, and they won’t even answer.”

        “Surely the woods have another side?” I said. “Even though I’ve never seen it. You could keep trying. I mean, what have you got to lose?”

        “Well, I’ve got this hat, and this net, and this rock,” said the old man, “and I’ve got Chuck. I sure wouldn’t want to lose you, Chuck.”

        “Sure, we keep each other alive.”

        “Can’t you do the same going through the woods?” I said.

        “We usually go in about fifty feet and quit,” said the man, turning towards the trees. “Those woods are easy to get lost in, and the Rattata are big. They don’t come out of the woods, but let me tell you – ”

        “Look, I have to keep going towards Cherrygrove. Thanks for telling me about the thief. If I pass this way again, will I see you?”

        “You might,” said the man, turning back to me. “Or we might have girded up our loins and headed into the forest. Or we might have ventured a hundred feet in and gotten eaten. You’re planning to pass this way again, are you?”

        “I might see Elm again.”

        “Tell him I’m still alive, will you? Tell him old Zebulon is still kicking. I haven’t spoken to him in twenty years. That young Ethan used to relay messages between us, but last time he passed this way was – ”

        “Three years ago,” I said. “He’s been gone from New Bark for a while. I’ll be sure to tell Elm about you, don’t worry. Just…don’t stay here forever.”

We set off down the road.


1: The number of Pokémon encountered on the road varies between stories. Sometimes they are numerous, as in this tale; sometimes they are but a single, gigantic monster, as in Giovanni Furioso and The Song of Popolo. In any case, the total Pokémon biomass exceeds plausibility by exceeding the probable carrying capacity of the area. There couldn’t be enough Rattata on the road to pose a serious threat; but then, Popolo here exaggerates the threat from them in any case, which leads us back to the question: How much of the supposed danger from Pokémon exists solely within everyone’s head? Consider this passage, from book 5 of Giovanni Furioso (2594) (Ed. Dr. Edward Wood. Saffron City: Bulbasaur Press, 3376):

            Long days I trod

            Over far mountains, and deep vallies,

            And foul beasts met,

            Towering bears and twisting snakes,

            And vile demons met,

            Gaseous, grasping, shadowy.

The towering bears and twisting snakes, Ursaring and Arbok, respectively, are still extant species, acting as apex predators in their habitats. But because they are apex predators, they're quite rare, and they would have been so even when Giovanni Furioso was written. The typical lone traveler would not have encountered them. Heroic tales also have a tendency to place these sorts of apex predators together in habitats that would not have supported both; for instance, the Apricorn Chronicles places dozens of Fearow and Noctowl just outside Cianwood, in an area barely fit for even a few Fearow.

2: In the Apricorn Chronicles, this is a trickster figure known as Sentret, who takes the place typically reserved by The Ladies, leading the protagonist Pokémon on a journey that ends in an ambiguous fate. His presence in the Tale of Popolo as a companion of some old coot seems like a demotion; here he seems to retain none of his trickster personality. But, who knows what will happen to the old man?

3: Question Mark is usually considered a hero, but his snappish nature has earned him the moniker “Crocodilian.” It makes sense, then, that in a story that starts out with a low opinion of him, he would choose a crocodilian Pokémon. And to take it from a kindly fellow who meant no trouble, well -- one thing mythology does well is smear campaigns. Much mythology, in fact, arises from someone’s attempt to change the reputation of contemporary or historical figures. Giovanni Furioso, for example, is a heroic interpretation of the crime-boss archetype who, in other stories, is a flat character. Likewise the Song of Popolo was written in the eighth century, a time of peace, when the reputation of the Gate Guardians was waning.

4: Note the features that belong to similar trickster-figure species: the ears of a rabbit, the tail of a Raccoon, the shape of a woodchuck. Sentret is portrayed as a generically cute, conventionally clever animal.

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