Silence of a wanderer
He’s quiet. And by quiet, I mean silent, apart for the slow, rhythmic tap of one foot as he sits. He hasn’t said a word since telling me his name. That’s about all I know about him. Maybe he’s just as nervous as I am.
We sit on a long bench at the edge of the sand. In front of us is an empty pier, with only one boat at the water’s edge. That’s not the boat we’re waiting to get on, though. Our boat won’t be here for a little while.
As we sit, the waves lap lazily at the shore. It’s a very calm morning. The sky is cloudless, yielding a clear view of the slowly rising sun. A light breeze blows across the sand, sending little waves of dust airborne. The calmness feels like a sendoff, like the island is saying goodbye to us.
Back to my companion. He’s younger than me, 16 to my 20. He’s small but muscled, with brown skin and hair that doesn’t look like it’s ever been washed. He’s a very innocent looking kid, with very childlike features. I guess you could call it cute. Maybe that’s what drew me to him. Despite how he looks, though, he gives off an eerie vibe, one of fear and instinctive distrust.
I met him about a month ago, in line to sign up for the Hoenn expedition. He stood in front of me in line, staring into space as he waited his turn to apply. A small Pokemon trotted about at his feet. Dark grey, with a silver shell. An Aron. It noticed me watching it, and matched my gaze steadily. Its eyes were larger than most Aron, and yellow-green instead of the normal blue. After a moment, it looked away, returning to prodding at its masters shoes with its nose. Its trainer looked down at it, then behind him to me. “Cute Pokemon.” I said, glancing down at the Aron (who was now trying to eat one of its trainers’ shoelaces.)
The trainer looked down at his Pokemon as well, with a small smile. “Yeah…thanks. He’s a good little guy.”
“Strong enough to go to the mainland?” I asked. The question seemed to take him off-guard for a moment, which was odd considering that was the only reason he would be here now. “That’s, um…that’s what I’m hoping, yeah.” His reply was awkward, as if he didn’t understand why I was talking to him and was hoping I would stop. So I did.
Now, you may be wondering, if this small conversation was our first encounter, how did anything come from it?
I have a team of three Pokemon, and I almost always train them in Granite Cave, the only really good place on the island to do so. This morning, on the day we ship out for Hoenn, I took them up to the cave early for a last bit of training…and also to say goodbye to the place. When we arrived, however, we were not alone.
He was there, the kid with the Aron. They both stood at the caves entrance, staring into the dark cavern. The kid was talking softly to his Pokemon, words I couldn’t make out from even a few feet away. He didn’t turn around as I approached, but he stiffened, no longer talking. The silence was deafening.
After a moment, he did turn. His face was stony and blank, but his eyebrows lifted briefly in recognition. “You…” He started, then trailed off. A small cry came from behind him, and his Aron waddled forward. I hadn’t recognized the trainer up until now, but when I saw his green-eyed Aron, I remembered.
“Hi,” I said awkwardly, “sorry if I disturbed you. I just came to say goodbye to the place, y’know?”
The kid was silent, his eyes drilling into mine. He sill held a stony expression, but the blankness in his eyes was replaced by a strange fierceness. He gazed at me for a moment, and then nodded. He turned back to the cave entrance, his head turned to look back at me.
“I’ve seen you in here. All the time, you bring your Pokemon in here.”
Okay, I’ll admit, this caught me off-guard. Some random kid I had barely ever met was telling me he’d been watching me? I didn’t reply, waiting for him to continue. But he didn’t. Instead, he walked into the cave, the darkness quickly swallowing him up. His Aron followed, and so, after a moment of hesitation, did I. I felt like I had a right to know what he was talking about.
Inside the cave, it was dark. Well, of course it was dark, it was a cave, but just then the darkness was more noticeable, mainly because I couldn’t see the kid I was trying to follow. I could hear his footsteps, and I knew this cave well, but the nature of what I had just heard disturbed me a little, and I was having trouble concentrating.
“Garnett, use flash.” The kids voice spoke out of the darkness, and after a moment it was accompanied by a bright flash, which singed my eyes. It faded, replaced by a dull green glow coming from the eyes of the trainers Aron. It wasn’t very bright, but it was enough to illuminate the area. It was nice to able to see, but the surprise of the light had my attention now. “I never knew Aron could do that.” I said.
“Most can’t.” The trainer replied, not stopping his pace. “It’s his eyes.” Then he turned to face me once more. His face was still stone-cold, but I could see in his eyes that he wasn‘t sure how much to tell me. He had very expressive eyes.
“When I said I had seen you before…” he said, “I didn’t mean I had been watching you. I live here. Or, I have for a while, anyways.” He turned back around and continued his pace through the large tunnel that consisted of the cave’s top layer. His abrupt change of topic was odd, as if he was purposefully avoiding the topic of his Pokemon.
“What, you live somewhere in the cave?” I asked. Why would someone want to live here, I wondered, in the dark, damp, Zubat-infested cave? I didn’t ask that part, of course.
“That’s right.” He said, not elaborating at all. I decided not to press him further, quickly learning as I was that he was a man of few words.
We walked to the far end of the tunnel, past the passage that led down to the cave’s lower levels. At this end, the stone had been worn away at so it formed a crude staircase up to the rocky hill that ran along the cave walls. My guide stopped, bending down to pick up his Aron. He tucked the little Pokemon, stubby legs wiggling around, under his shoulder, and proceeded up the rocky stairs. I followed.
Up on the ledge was a small exit, through which some early morning light shone lazily. This was one of several small gaps in the cave walls that illuminated the upper area of the cavern. The silent trainer entered this passageway, and I followed. I hadn’t really expected what I found on the other side.
We exited into a large stone chamber. The rock walls were high, but the ceiling was open. The sun was still low enough that very little light penetrated the place. The strange part was in what occupied the chamber. There was a large mattress on the floor of the far side, with several pillows and blankets strewn around. There were stacks of books and binders lying around, and two picnic coolers sat near the entrance. The walls of the cave were plastered with drawings.
“I live here.” He still stood ahead of me, not turning to look at me, but he had stopped walking in the center of the room. I noticed him clench his fists. I approach him, standing beside him and joining him in the center of the room. I feel something soft below my feet, and notice a round carpet in the middle of the room.
“Why are you showing me this?” I asked. He didn’t respond at first, but turned to look at me. His eyes were blank again. He bent down, lowering his still-squirming Aron to the ground, where the Pokemon waddled over to me and began prodding my foot with its nose.
“…I wanted to prove that I wasn’t a bad person.” He spoke quietly and slowly. “I kind of…just want someone to talk to. Where we’re going, I’m a little scared. I kept seeing you around, and just thought…” He breathes in slowly, and exhales. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t really know how else to…”
It was at that moment when I realized something about this strange young man I had barely met. This quiet trainer, with the intense eyes that seemed to speak far more than his words or actions, had no idea how to talk to people. As I looked around the etched-out cave where this kid apparently made his home, I saw the portrait of someone who had lived his entire life in solitude. I didn’t even know his name, and yet I felt like I was quickly leaning a lot about him. He wanted a companion on this trip, one besides his Pokemon, but didn’t know how to find someone. If he lived here, then he had seen me train with my Pokemon time and time again for however long he’s been living there, and when we met signing up for the expedition and he recognized me, maybe he saw that as a chance to try and find someone to travel the mainland with. I couldn’t possibly understand his logic or the way he thought, but I would learn to accept it.
“Don’t worry about it.” I said. “It’s okay. I get it. You just don’t want to be alone out there, right?” He looked at me, but then averted his eyes to the ground. I couldn’t help but smile a little.
“Do you want to travel with me?” I prodded. He looked back up at my face. His eyes were calm, focused. An odd contrast to how he had just looked. We stayed silent for a moment.
“…Yes.” His reply was quiet, but I could hear happiness in it. I realized how monotonously he had spoken up until now. His face contorted into confusion. “You don’t even know me, though…”
“That’s okay.” I said. “It’s still better to travel with someone else, right?” I tried to sound as cheerful as I could, to hide how I felt. I was already nervous about this trip, and although the thought of traveling with someone else was comforting, the fact remained that this kid was a little strange. But there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned, which is a philosophy I’ve used as long as I can remember. No matter what doubts I may have about an important decision, I always follow my gut. And in this case, for whatever reason, my gut told me to stay with this kid, this crazy weird boy I just met.
As we left the cave, I asked him his name. “Jacob.” he replied, quietly and quickly. After he went silent again, I didn’t bother to try and prod more out of him. I decided I’d give him a while. The words I wanted to ask were replaced by the sounds of early waves striking at the shore of the beach.
And so here we sit now. In the distance, I can now faintly see the boat that will take us to the mainland. I decide to ask Jacob one last thing before we embark. Something that’s been bothering me since the cave. I turn to look at him, and he is staring out at the sea like he has been for about half an hour now.
“So, how long have you been living alone like that?
He doesn’t respond, at least not in words, but his actions spoke volumes. He keeps his eyes fixed on the sea, but more rigidly now. His hands tighten into fists, and his foot stops tapping.
After a moment, he turns his head to look at me. There is fury in his eyes, blazing like fire. It is like staring into the mouth of a dragon. And for the first time in the short period I know this boy…
…I fear him.
Shattered Gemstones is (c) Jay Petrequin, 2011