Story by Jack Bumby
The water splashed up at my torso.
“That’s just swell.”
“Char! Char!” Charmander scolded, from his position on my shoulder.
“It didn’t go anywhere near your tail flame, Charmander. Stop your whining.” I continued through the tunnel. It was getting deeper. We were just passing beneath the factory labs at this point. I made a quiet prayer to myself that it was only water splashing me and not chemical waste or runoff from some unpleasant experiment. The labyrinthian system beneath the factory had turned out to be a lot easier to navigate than I’d expected, thanks in no small part to my Charmander and his impeccable sense of direction. His tail flame also lit up the tunnels better than any torch could. He was a regular swiss-army Pokémon.
“Charmander, up ahead.” I pointed forward at the upcoming crossroads. Charmander raised his claw to his chin and scratched. The flame on his tail pulsed and wavered.
“Char! Char!” He pointed right.
“Thanks pal.” I turned right, deeper into that warren of confusion.
It was our first job – literally the very first, we’d barely even set up shop. We’d not even paid the first month of rent on the office. I was still moving my desk in when an old guy knocked on the glass of our door. Our first client.
“Are you the Hitokage Detective Agency?” his nasally voice whispered into the office.
Actually, forget about old. This guy was prehistoric. I remember almost jumping out of my skin when I saw his shrivelled face peering in, the huge spectacles magnifying his cloudy ancient eyes, his bald and liver-spotted head serrated by the shadow of the office blinds. My first thought was that it was a Pokémon I’d never seen before. I’d heard they were cloning ancient Pokémon in a lab somewhere, but no, this was just a man. I put on my business face, invited him in, and heard him out.
Like anyone else who still lived in that hellhole, he worked in a factory. In fact, he owned a handful of factories, he explained. And his top factory was in trouble, someone kept blocking the inflow pipe and it looked like corporate espionage. He wanted us to catch the criminals in the act. It wasn’t the romantic first case I’d imagined but he was paying in cash. The money was good. And besides, in Gringey city, romance was a foreign word.
“Sir, we’ll take the case.” I said once he’d explained his situation. He stuck out a cold and leathery hand – the texture and colour was the same as the hide of a Sandshrew – and I shook it with a wince. Once he’d left and Charmander had woken from his nap, we headed out into the haze and smokestacks of Gringey City.
“Char! Char!” He pointed forward. I could see it too. The tunnel was getting wider. It was getting shallower too. Which was good, because moments earlier it had almost reached my chest. I’d nearly had to carry Charmander above my head, which wouldn’t have gone down well. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light of his tail flame reflect off of something on the wall. I moved closer. The brick here was dark and furry-looking, as it had been since we entered the tunnel. But in this section of the tunnel, the wall glistened with a shimmering film, like someone had sneezed all over it.
“What do you reckon Charmander?”
“Yeah, I’m not stupid. I wasn’t exactly going to stick my hand in it.” I saw his tail flame flicker. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. This place is freaking me out.”
“Char!” I felt his hand grip my shirt.
“You too, huh?”
His attention was no longer on the wall. I saw that he was pointing off further down the tunnel. Something was down there.
“Ok, calm down pal.” We began moving down the tunnel. I could feel him rumbling on my shoulder, getting ready to attack. His tail began to light up the remainder of the tunnel. A dead-end. The wall at the far end was covered in the same slime.
“I thought you were leading us to the inflow pipe?”
“Don’t shout at me, you’re the one who led us down a dead-end.”
But all of a sudden it made sense. Charmander wasn’t shouting at me. He was shouting at the wall. The wall that was slick with a sticky substance. The wall that had begun to twist and writhe. Spots of moonlight shot through the wall as cracks began to appear. It seemed to be alive. Looking up, I realised that the ceiling of the tunnel was bending and snaking too, in the same eldritch way as the wall. Something fell from the top of the tunnel with a wet slap. It landed in the water at our feet, a large pile of purple goo. Charmander was urging me to move, but I couldn’t look away. Two eyes appeared out of the goo. Then a toothless, gaping maw.
“GRIIIIIME!” it croaked. Something inside of me snapped, the spell of fear that had been cast over me broke. I began to back away.
“Ok Charmander, not too quick. Let’s just-“ My sentence was cut short as a pile of the gunk hit me on the back, propelling Charmander from my shoulder. Another hit my other shoulder, sending me sprawling.
“Char! Char!” He stood on his tiptoes, holding his flame high above the dirty water.
“Hold on Charmander. Just keep your tail out of the water.” Another mound of sludge hit my belly as I tried to scramble to my feet, knocking the wind out of me. I went to scream, and a heap landed on my face. I felt it begin to seep down my throat. Some began clogging my nose. I couldn’t breathe. The smell of sulphur and mould was unbearable.
I felt more land on my arms and legs as they pushed me under the water. There were dull vibrations as more of the things landed around me. I began to black out.
“CHAAAAAAAAAAR!” There was a blast of heat overhead, above the water. I felt the muddy weights move off me in a flash, retreating from the flames. I could hear muted squeals. Desperate for air, I threw my head above the water as soon as the fire disappeared and took in a deep gasp. My mouth still tasted foul. Behind me, Charmander stood still holding his tail above the water. Smoke curled around his snout.
“Flamethrower, huh?” I croaked.
“Well done buddy, I think you just saved me from a whole heap of trouble.” I stood up and spat out the last of the grime. The Pokémon seemed to have fled, revealing the inflow pipe at the end of the tunnel, where the pulsating wall had been just moments earlier. I reached down and picked up Charmander, putting him on my shoulder.
“I don’t have a clue. But they were disgusting. At least they seem to have gone now. They must have been clogging up the inflow pipe.”
“Yeah, I guess it was a success. Though when they make the movie adaptation of our life stories, they can leave out this case.” We began walking back out of the tunnel. Charmander’s tail was flickering and glowing.
“Of course you’d be the star of the film.”
“I don’t think you’d want him to play you.”
“Good point. C’mon, let’s go get paid.”