I love Pokémon; It was the first game I ever really got into when I was young - maybe sixteen or seventeen - and it stayed with me as I grew up. I always thought I'd play Pokémon all my life, because I could never put it down. It just has that effect on you. You already probably know what I mean, right?
I guess I was a bit older than the average Pokémon fan when I got my hands on my first game, which I remember being a copy of Pokémon Blue. Like a million other kids that year, I received it as a Christmas gift. Across the country, countless Pokémon games were being unwrapped, that very morning. They all came from the very same factory in Japan, crafted together by the same hands. They were all stuck in shiny new Game Boy handhelds and turned on for the very first time. I remember I had the biggest smile on my face when I began my adventure, nestled beside the Christmas Tree, decked out in full winter pajamas.
I selected Bulbasaur as my starter, caught a Pidgey, and caught a Caterpie. I brought my strong three-man team through the first couple of gyms without a hitch. I thought everything was going well. Brock and Misty were a piece of cake - Bulbasaur IS easy mode. Rock and Water types bow down to Grass. Admittedly, Lt. Surge gave me some issues, but I eventually triumphed after a bit of grinding. It was one after the other.
Eventually, I came across the HM Cut and was given access to Route 9 and soon after, Rock Tunnel. It took me a day to navigate through the darkness, but I did it. By then, the month of December was reaching its close. I'd shut myself up in my room for a few hours every day playing Pokémon, grinding Pidgeotto, Butterfree, and Ivysaur up a few levels each time. I didn't care. I was having a blast. A friend of mine even traded me a Sandslash for a Charmander, which brought my team up to four strong. I didn't think the game could get any better. Then I stepped foot into Lavender Town.
For a few seconds, I stared at my Game Boy's screen as the color scheme turned gloomy. The music began playing and I made a face. Lavender Town's melody was melancholy and sad - completely unlike all the other themes I'd heard so far. I immediately realized this place was something else, something the developers wanted to set apart from the rest. I didn't know any other reason they would have gone to the lengths they did to make Lavender Town seem so dark. The haunting music followed me into every building, even the Pokémon Center. No longer smiling, I waited impatiently for Nurse Joy to heal up my pals as the depressing sounds wore on. I thought they'd never end.
Having hung around Lavender Town long enough, I made my way to the Western exit. Everything was going according to plan until I realized I had majorly goofed and forgot to check out the town's main feature: the Pokémon Tower. Lying back on my bed, I pulled the Game Boy close to my face and squinted. Pretty much everything was hard to see because the Game Boy obviously didn't have a backlight, so I turned on my room's lamp and glanced at the window. It was maybe nine or ten PM about then. Everyone in my house was going to head off to sleep soon.
I decided to play on. As I walked into the Pokémon Tower and talked to the depressed NPCs, I began to lose some of my focus. My eyelids were getting heavy and I was mashing buttons subconsciously. I talked to the same girl over and over without realizing it. Her dialogue filled the bottom of my screen a few times. "Growlithe, why did you die? Growlithe, why did you die? Growlithe, why did you die?" It was weird how the characters always say the same thing over and over again. You'd think it was an error or something - that these poor NPCs are glitchy fragments of real people, doomed to say the same thing over and over until the end of time. Here, at least, it seemed fitting. They were only mourning.
I progressed up the levels of the tower, beat my Rival, and entered the floor with the mystical healing pad. I walked over it a few times, tentative to breach the edges, let another unidentifiable 'Ghost' appear. I was getting tired of my Pokémon being immobilized with fear.
While facing one of the Pokémon tombs, I selected Sandslash and scrolled down his options. The friend that had given him to me already taught him Strength. Curious, I opted to use the move and was intrigued to read the game's note: "You can now move heavy boulders around!" I know a tombstone wasn't what the developers had in mind for Strength's purpose, but I had Sandslash push at it anyway. To my surprise, it moved, revealing a small black hole in its place. My character immediately dropped through it.
I thought I would appear on the floor below, but I didn't. Instead, my character was surrounded by a black screen with the Lavender Town music playing. I scootched back on my bed and brought the Game Boy right up under my lamp, thinking I'd be able to pick out some features of the new level if the screen was better lit. There was nothing to be seen. I tried to move my character, but the game just emitted that 'dunt dunt' sound it always does when you walk into something.
Next thing I knew, the Lavender Town music stopped playing; it cut off right in the middle. I figured the game froze, but when I tried to move my character's feet still jostled and I still got that 'dunt dunt' sound telling me I couldn't walk anywhere. I swallowed; there was a lump in my throat. I was nervous. I hadn't saved my progresss in a while and I didn't want to lose everything I had accomplished by flicking the power off. Plagued by indecision, I set my Game Boy down, reeled my legs over the side of the bed, and put a hand to my forehead. I was sweaty and clammy. My attention darted back to my Game Boy and I saw that the sides of it where my hands had been resting were slick with sweat as well. I must have had a fever.
I stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the lights, looking at my gaunt reflection in the mirror. I was pale as a sheet, my eyes seemed milky and glassy, my lips were pale, and my hair was unkempt. I stunk from devoting all my time to Pokémon and not hygiene. Just as I reached forward to turn on the faucet, something on the corner of the counter caught my eye. It was my Game Boy. I hadn't brought it in with me, had I? I retracted my hand from the faucet and set it on the small electronic device instead, pulling it up and frowning at the screen. It was all black now, but still dead quiet.
Maybe it was partially because I was in a daze from having a temperature or I was just really tired, but I couldn't drag my eyes off the screen. My eyelids peeled back and I kept staring into the black abyss, wondering where my character had gone. The Game Boy's power light was lit, so it hadn't shut itself off. The game was still running.
After a minute or so, the chill from my bathroom was starting to get to me. The feeling of little icy fingers dragged up my spine and fixed around the back of my neck. I breathed in deeply and looked back up in the mirror.
My reflection was gone.
Instead, I was seeing the reflection of my empty bathroom and the open doorway leading into the dark hallway by my room. I rubbed my eyes a few times, but my reflection didn't appear. It was obvious I was having some sort of nightmare. Smiling to myself and thinking it stupid to get scared over what was clearly a fever-induced dream, I picked up my Game Boy and rolled it over my fingers a few times. Ready to pinch myself and wake up, I looked at the screen one last time and froze. I was now looking into a very pixelated, distorted version of my reflection. My eye sockets had gone black and my empty mouth was gaping open, stretched down my face. My fingers were digging into my temples. Music started playing and got louder and louder, even though I wasn't touching the volume dial. It wasn't Lavender Town's theme. It was eerier, less constructed. It didn't take me a minute to realize it was the song being run backwards.
I dropped the Game Boy, which clattered against the bathroom tile. The back popped open and the batteries flew out and rolled towards the doorway. Throwing my hands into my sweaty, messy hair, I went weak at the knees and sunk back against the wall, pinching at myself, trying to wake myself up. The music was getting louder still, even with the Game Boy face down, without batteries. My glazed eyes darted to the mirror.
It was entirely black, as if it and the Game Boy had swapped visuals. My heart began beating really fast and I could feel those icy fingers scraping down my back, forcing me to look over my shoulder. It was then that the lights in the bathroom went off, making everything pitch black. I screamed and jumped out of my skin, spinning around and feeling for the light switch, trying to turn it back on. I must have turned the wrong way because I was no sooner facing my mirror, which had the faintest glow to it, like a weak electronic screen. I cried and beat my hand against it, waiting to feel the glass-like sheet to shatter against my fist. It didn't. Nothing broke. All I heard was a soft thumping.
I spun away and tried to feel around the darkness, but it was as if all the walls had closed in around me. The music was blaring in my ears, hot and unnerving, making my head want to burst. Tears streamed out of my eyes as I struggled, but there was nowhere to go.