What defines a monster?
There are real monsters inhabiting the world, of course; the land, the waters, even high above the clouds. Pocket Monsters. Not many people know that that’s what the word ‘Pokémon’ means. The term was coined a few hundred years ago, with the invention of the technology that allowed the so-called ‘magical creatures’ we share our world with to literally be carried around in your pocket. I don’t know why they call them monsters, though. Pokémon aren’t scary. All right, some of them can be scary – show me someone who didn’t shriek out loud when they first saw a Cofagrigus or a Hydreigon, and I’ll show you someone who’s a damn sight braver than I am – but even those ones aren’t always as bad as they seem. I know that, because I have one: my Absol, Hotah. People say that Absol bring disaster and death, and yet Hotah is my best friend. Sure, he’s stubborn, but he’s loyal, and he’s never let me down. And, of course, I haven’t died yet.
I came close a while ago, but that’s a story for later.
Of course, there are the fictional monsters too, the imagined creatures of horror movies and video games; the creatures that can haunt your nightmares for days afterwards. Trust me, I know this. I once watched a horror movie with Hugh, one night when I slept over at his house – one of those cheesy werewolf flicks, I think. How Hugh managed to get hold of what was clearly an R-rated movie in the first place, I’ll never know, but what I do know is that that were-thing took up residence in my head and refused to leave. For a month, I could hardly sleep for fear of the beast looming over me in the night and ripping me to shreds.
My dad went ballistic at Hugh when he found out exactly why his fourteen-year-old daughter was suffering from perpetual fear-induced insomnia, but the funny thing is, the were-whatever in the movie probably wasn’t as scary as my mind made it out to be. My imagination made it seem more frightening than it really was. It’s all about perspective, I think. In the same way that Absol, to those who have been raised on the rumours and hearsay, can appear as harbingers of doom, something that actually is frightening can become even more so through the machinations of our minds.
The thing is though, the creature that stalked my nightmares wasn’t real. There are actually real monsters out there in the world, more frightening than the most terrifying fictional creation. I know, because I’ve seen them: one a traditional fairy-tale creature, the other a being that I never believed could even exist. I was young, naïve; how could I have known beforehand that the worst monsters are the ones that don’t look like monsters? The ones hidden away so no one can see them?
It happened while I was travelling through Unova. We were so carefree at first, Hotah and Cleo and me, making friends with each other before having our first battle together: Cleo and me against Hugh and his Tepig. I wandered all over the region, winning battles by the number, even winning Gym badges. Imagine, little me defeating Gym Leaders! I was so happy then, right up until I defeated Drayden, that terrifying day that Opelucid City became encased in ice. Hotah tried to warn me that something bad was going to happen. It should have been a sign of things to come.
The thing is, though, is that it really started in Lacunosa Town. That was probably when I began to feel uneasy.
When I travelled to Lacunosa Town, I heard a story, a tale from many years ago. It told of a meteorite that crashed near the town, a meteorite that released a creature of ice: a terrifying monster that would devour any foolish enough to stray outside the confines of the town after dark. A tale from legend, passed down from generation to generation. If I had heard it any other time, I might have passed it off as mere hokum, a story to frighten children. Who could have guessed that it was actually true? That the ice monster did exist?
I know this, because I met it.
Kyurem. I saw him, there in the place where he was said to roam. The monster, in all his glory. Except he wasn’t. Because when I saw him for the first time, he wasn’t rampaging, or hunting, or doing anything a stereotypical monster is wont to do. No: he was alone, brooding, locked away in a cage. I knew that he was the creature spoken of in the Lacunosa Town legend, but he didn’t look like the devourer of those who strayed after dark. He didn’t look scary. He just looked sad.
He wasn’t the monster. The man who imprisoned him was.
I remember. Tracking down Team Plasma, finally cornering their leader in a secluded cave, deep in the snowy wastes north of the town, Hotah by my side. Standing before the dragon of legend, the remnant of the creators of the Unova region. Facing the man who imprisoned and tortured him. Realising belatedly that I was out of my depth. Suddenly being filled with panic when the man ordered the dragon to attack.
It was so simple. ‘Kyurem, Glaciate.’ Two words, forming an order that, rather appropriately, chilled me to the core. This man, ordering a comparatively innocent Pokémon to freeze a fourteen-year-old girl where she stood. Ordering my fate worse than death.
Terror. How can it be accurately described? Not that abstract feeling that’s bandied around so often, but a very real mixture of emotions: fear, helplessness, despair, horror. And yet, in the midst of it all, there still remained a need to protect my Pokémon.
‘Hotah. Run! Please, run!’
Had Hotah sensed this coming? Had he realised? Maybe so, but he didn’t run. He refused to leave me; he stood by my side as our prison of ice began to form around us. I remember crouching down on the freezing ground and throwing my arms around my friend’s neck. I think I closed my eyes, unwilling to accept our fate, but too afraid to stare it in the face.
Until I heard the rush of a large body in flight, and a full-blooded yell from behind and above me.
‘Reshiram, Fusion Flare!’
When I opened my eyes, looked up, it was as though the sun had just risen, the light burned me so. Not just light, but heat; a fierce fire was washing over Hotah and me, effortlessly reducing the pillars of ice that had been rising up around us, the ice that even Drayden’s Haxorus had failed to smash, to mere puddles. And there, in the midst of it all, was a young man, a few years older than me, sitting astride the legendary Pokémon of light and truth as though he had been there all his life. Giving the order that saved me.
And the other man knew him. Ghetsis, the leader of Team Plasma, recognised my saviour, and he was pleased. Pleased because he had expected the young man to show up, so he could use the DNA Splicers stolen from Drayden to fuse Kyurem and Reshiram into one. And he did.
The horror I felt as I watched the process take place can’t be put into words, so I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for the young man called N to witness his friend and partner reduced to his dormant state and absorbed into Kyurem’s body, merging to create the abomination that faced us. A grotesque fusion of the two Pokémon, unnervingly streamlined and yet unfinished; it terrified me. But even then, I couldn’t think of the creature as a monster. This wasn’t Kyurem’s fault, was it? It was all Ghetsis.
What could drive a man to do something so in violation of nature? How could he stand there and watch N’s distress as Reshiram fought vainly to escape the DNA Splicers’ grasp, his horror as he listened to the dragon calling to him for help from within the other Pokémon’s consciousness? Because N could hear Reshiram’s voice, he said, begging him to defeat the hybrid Pokémon. How could anyone be so cruel as to put someone through that pain? It was almost as though Ghetsis had no discernible human feelings whatsoever. I’d never believed that that was possible; I always thought that people were generally, well, human. But this man, clearly, wasn’t, and it scared me more than anything that day. Even the thought of possible death and the fact that I was the only one there who could fight back wasn’t enough to override the unease and sheer disbelief I felt at this man’s insanity.
But I had to fight. N couldn’t fight Kyurem and rescue his friend himself, but I could; I had to push aside my fears and face this monster head-on. And I was going to start with saving Reshiram and Kyurem.
The battle was exhilarating, if mercifully quick. Kyurem must not have got used to his new abilities yet, because my Crustle and Azumarill were able to exhaust him between them – Zuzu incapacitating the ice dragon with Bulldoze attacks, and Malach using a combination of Shell Smash and his newly learned Rock Wrecker to defeat him and ultimately release the two dragons.
Of course, Ghetsis was less than pleased with this turn of events. His rant at me might have been comical were I not so disturbed, and he not so willing to hurt me. Still, I had to fight him, because who else could have? I had no way of knowing if Hugh would show up in time to help me, or if he even knew where I had gone; it was all down to my team.
The battle that ensued was the most tense of my career, but in the end it was strategy that won it. Images from the fight still remain with me, as reminders of how proud I was and am of my friends. Malach setting up a Stealth Rock early on, chipping away at every Pokémon the Team Plasma boss threw at us. Cleo, my Serperior, throwing Seismitoad aside with a Leaf Blade. Sigilyph inexplicably seeming to recognise N, calling out to him in joy, before easily defeating Toxicroak with his Psychic. Zuzu fighting Drapion, battling back from a worrying moment where he was encircled by the Poison-type’s great claws. Lucario, finally evolving at the crucial moment, taking down Eelektross with a barrage of Close Combat and Copycat. How proud I was of them all as we smashed Ghetsis’s resistance aside, together, like the greatest synchronised team in the universe. And finally, when it seemed that hope was lost – Ghetsis’s last Pokémon, Hydreigon, defeating almost all of my team – it was Hotah who shone through, as I knew he would. With all the grace befitting his species, he fought off the Dragon-type with fast, accurate strikes, eventually ending the fight by learning Megahorn and sending Hydreigon crashing to the ground.
Ghetsis lost it. Completely, utterly, out-of-his-mind lost it. OK, so he hadn’t exactly shown sign of being mentally stable to begin with, but at least he seemed fairly eloquent with his outbursts. Now, though... he was barely coherent with rage, ranting about his perfection and superiority, totally bewildered as to a random teenager had defeated him for a second time.
A second time? I had wondered for a moment then. It was funny, though, because the Trainer who had defeated Ghetsis two years before... I had heard her name throughout Unova. Celebrated in the Musical Theatre, remembered by Drayden as a Trainer who promised a bright future. If one battle with her could haunt a man such as Ghetsis so profoundly, send him into such a pit of madness, there must have been something special about her. One more defeat – one more upset to his grand plans ¬– must have been enough to send him over the edge.
And over the edge he went. He had already heaped scorn on N, calling him an abomination, a ‘freak without a human heart’, completely missing the irony of his insults. Even from a few minutes of watching N and Ghetsis, listening to each one’s words, it was painfully clear to me that the boy who grew up in the forest with only Pokémon for family, who could apparently understand Pokémon as easily as though they were one mind, was infinitely more human than the man who had raised him. But then, as though I needed any further convincing of the young man’s gentle nature, N spoke out to Ghetsis, begging him to understand what he and I both knew: Pokémon are our friends. Even more surprising, he called him ‘father’.
If this had been a movie or a fairy tale, the antagonist would have been stopped in his tracks by the utterance of that word. Even after everything, N still accepted Ghetsis as his parent; in a story, that would have turned things around, shocked Ghetsis into realising what he had done; he might have broken down, embraced his son, maybe even apologised for all he had done wrong by him. Maybe there could even have been a chance of reconciliation between them.
Did Ghetsis do any of those things? Of course not. This was the real world, and although I knew then that things hardly ever go the way they do in stories, I never expected him to respond in the way he did.
‘Shut your mouth! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!’
I jumped. Hotah jumped. Even Reshiram seemed taken aback by the fury that spilled from the older man. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
‘Don’t talk like a person, you freak! No real person could talk to Pokémon!’
That moment, right there, became the defining point of my journey: the moment a man lost control in front of everyone, condemning his own son as an abomination, right when the son tried to forgive him. That was the moment I realised that the worst monsters don’t exist in horror movies and ghost stories, don’t fall from the sky in the form of frightening-looking creatures and devour until there is nothing left. No, I learned; the worst monsters are the ones that exist in us, in humanity itself; the monsters that slumber in our heads, surfacing sometimes to rant at the injustice of it all, howl and scream at the sky until they are finally sated. I had seen one emerge that day, from one man who was probably intimidating enough on his own without the insanity that fuelled his final stand in the Giant Chasm.
What scared me the most, however, was the aftermath, because that last hysterical outburst was what ultimately broke Ghetsis. He fell silent, spent, almost catatonic. I heard later that his spirit had shattered irreparably, the former leader of Team Plasma reduced to a non-functioning wreck; a fate both fitting and terrifying. Our monsters, it seems, can destroy us if we allow them to take control.
Things ended happily for the Unova region, after all of that. Reshiram was released, and he and N reunited. Kyurem fell into hibernation, exhausted and deeply affected by the trauma he had been through but, N informed me, grateful. Opelucid City was released from its icy shroud, Hugh found his sister’s Purrloin – by now a Liepard with serious trust issues, but happy to be away from those who had mistreated her – and brought her home, and what remained of Team Plasma disbanded. And me? I travelled on to Victory Road and the Pokémon League, with my friends at my side, pleased that Team Plasma was finished but unsettled.
I keep seeing the encounter at night when I try to sleep. Just like my experience with Hugh’s werewolf movie, my dreams are haunted by memories of ice and fierce-eyed dragons and hysterical howls. This time, the monster isn’t a creature of the night, but the fury that lay inside the mind of a man. That’s what a monster is, I think: something that doesn’t just scare you on a physical level, but makes you question everything you thought you were sure about. How do you fight something like that?
I fear that one day I might witness the rise of a monster again. I don’t want to have to fight one again.