The handwriting begins smoothly, even if it is a bit blocky and irregular. After all, a mere child, no older than you are now, penned it.

To whoever might be reading this: You shouldn’t feel guilty. This was never meant to be a private journal. I wanted to keep a record of my life now that I’ve become champion so the days don’t blend together so much like they have been lately. It’s just been hectic day after day of battles, interviews, scolding, and politics. I want to have this to give to people when they ask what it’s like, seeing as I can’t exactly tell them myself. Mom says it’s called “selective mutism” and that it’s an anxiety thing. I can usually count on Charizard’s flames to do the talking anyway. Today there is another interview with some news station or other. I want them to stop. They scare me so much with their fake smiles and whispers behind my back about my “condition”. Ever since the first time I noticed, I’ve felt myself getting more and more paranoid around all the adults in my new life. Sometimes they offer me candy, as if that will make the lump of nervousness lodged in my throat go away. I want it to. I’d tell them to leave me alone.

A challenger managed to make it past the Elite Four today, so I had to battle her. She had really long, vibrant red hair and bright green eyes, filled with determination. She gave her commands as if she squeezed her conviction into a pulp and spat it at her pokemon. Lapras would have none of it and easily hydro pumped her arcanine half to death. After that, the courage, the fight melted out of her, and her gaze was dull as she inevitably ended up dragging herself out of the stadium. I felt empty inside, knowing full well that I had just crushed someone’s lifelong dream, and for what? I don’t even like being champion- there are too many people who want to hold me down.

I’m desperate. I can’t… I can’t take this anymore. All the adults try to drown me in their empty words, constantly cooing over the cute little boy who conquered the world. The Elite Four laugh about me, I’m sure of it. My world is becoming more and more claustrophobic and I feel suffocated. My chest even feels tight when I watch cartoons, knowing I’m not allowed to explore or have fun or do normal kid things anymore because it would ruin my public image. It doesn’t help that Lance reminds me every day that my victory was a stroke of luck. Maybe if I get stronger, people will take me seriously.

Today, I was talking with Pikachu. Well, more like I was talking to Pikachu- I can’t understand what he says, but I still feel like he understands me, you know? But we- I- had an idea. We’re going for a walk, I’ll tell them. I won’t even be lying. It’ll be just like old times, right? Just the few of us- the team and me- visiting new places and taking on new challenges. There’s a whole other region just west of the Indigo Plateau. Maybe we’ll go there. It’ll be risky- I won’t be able to go back until we toughen up, and if they catch me, the walls will squeeze on me even tighter. I’ll have to sleep on it.

I’ve decided. I hope nobody wants to read my journal today…

Westwards we went. If this is Johto, it’s awfully desolate. The terrain is rough and the wild pokemon are strong. In a way, I relish it- it’s a new experience for me and the team, and just the thing we all needed to let loose and travel together like the old days. I’m writing this as we camp at the foot of a mountain. The flames of the campfire are crackling peacefully and everyone else is asleep. It’s quiet here. Lots of things could go wrong, but we’ve always pushed through it together, and that’s how it’ll always be.

Today, we started climbing the mountain! The cave system is awfully complex, and the pokemon are even stronger inside. Luckily, most of them are rock- or ground-types and I have three pokemon with water or grass moves. I think I might be the first person to climb this thing- there are no items lying around like there were in the other caves I’ve been to. Pikachu is sitting in my lap and purring like a big fat meowth. This is the happiest he’s been since we last traveled together. I can’t help but think this was definitely the right decision.

The next page, the handwriting has changed. It is jagged and sloppy, nervous in nature. It has a more mature quality to it, however- it was written by a more experienced hand. There are wet marks on the pages, smudged by someone carelessly swishing the drops away with their hand.

I haven’t written in this journal in a while, huh? I remembered how happy I felt when I wrote in this old thing before. It always felt good to vent everything out onto a piece of paper. I’ve picked it up again because a newspaper clipping somehow blew up here to the summit on a particularly ornery (and cold) gust of wind. It has my face on it, way back from when I first earned my title. You can see the gaps in my teeth, which have long since grown back in. I can imagine the headline- “Champion Drops Off the Face of the Earth”. I can’t go crawling back now. It’s only been a few weeks. I can only return once I can prove I’ve acquired true strength.

I held a meeting with the team this morning. We’re done dicking around up here. Time to start training for real. We’ve defeated wild pokemon after wild pokemon, so many I lost count even though I tried to keep track. My nose nearly froze off. Everyone’s ready to become the strongest together, and we’re all pumped up to continue this new training regimen, no matter how exhausting it is. I’m definitely using Snorlax as a pillow tonight- she’s nice and warm and soft.

It’s been a few days since my last entry, and everyone, including myself, is getting more adept at the art of battle. They’re more focused, and the fire in their eyes is burning more intensely. I’m worried about Venusaur, though. His petals are growing ragged and discoloring brown around the edges. He’s been sneezing, too. He can wait and photosynthesize however much he can in the perpetual blizzard up here by the fire if it helps him feel better. I’m sure he'll be fine.

Venusaur’s condition is worsening. His flower, normally resilient to any condition, is beginning to wilt. His nose is chilly to the touch and beginning to lose chlorophyll, just like his flower. Worse, he sporadically coughs, hacking out great puffs of poisonous pollen, so none of us can get close to him. Charizard will be helping keep him warm today. I can’t stand to see him like this…

I can’t look at him without crying anymore. I can always tell by the way my tears turn to glistening frost on my face. I try to comfort him by holding his vines, but they’ve been deteriorating to the consistency of overcooked spaghetti. His cough is getting worse- his pollen is just a thick sludge now. Venusaur… You’ve got to pull through this. I’m doing everything I can for you. We all are.

The wet splotches on the page are more pronounced now, and not one of them was blurred in the slightest. The writing is heavy and deliberate.

Venusaur won’t move. He’s even stopped coughing. His flower hangs limply over his eyes, melancholy. His frame is less heavy-set than it was before and his jungle-green skin has faded to a sickly pale hue. I’m afraid, more afraid than I’ve ever been. I hope he isn’t in too much pain.

Venusaur is dead. I can’t bring myself to train so hard anymore, not when it cost one of my best friends his life. It’s my fault. If I had just stayed home, warm and safe with plenty of food, Venusaur would still be alive. Nobody will look at me, and I don’t blame them. It’s my fault.

I just sit around the makeshift tent and cry now. I feel pathetic. I am pathetic. I let him die. I could have stopped it. I could have climbed down this godforsaken mountain and brought Venusaur to the hospital. I didn’t. Pikachu is tugging at my sleeve, staring balefully up at my face. I can’t make myself look back.

I have to do something to get everyone’s morale back up. All I can think of is to inflict our hurt onto others- that is, keep training like there’s no tomorrow. Snorlax and Blastoise are a little sluggish today, and there were growls and grunts of dissent from the whole team, but nobody could think of a better solution. Charizard and I ventured into the cave, and his flames burn with an agonized vengeance. I feel the same way.

Blastoise’s nose is turning blue. I think it’s nothing worse than minor frostbite, but I don’t want to lose anyone else. God, just thinking about it makes me want to vomit and cry and scream until I’m just an empty husk. We’ll do better at keeping him warm, I promise.

Today, I woke up early, when the sun was crimson and shining behind the layers of frost whipping by in the wind, just barely peeking over the ragged horizon. I found some miraculously dry wood near the entrance to the cave system. I hefted it back up to the mountaintop and had Charizard light us a bonfire. Everyone is huddled together around Blastoise, giving soft cries of encouragement as he rubs his nose in an attempt to ward off the chill, as well as in embarrassment. Pikachu is leaning on my side, and it feels nostalgic to share body heat with my partner again. I’m so grateful that he forgives me this once, even if I haven’t.

Everyone… I’m so glad you still believe in me. There were tears, so many tears, Pikachu tears, Charizard tears, Blastoise tears, Snorlax tears, Lapras tears, my own human tears. There was laughter, forced and genuine. There was a group hug, and all of it was a big happy blur. Everyone’s paws and claws were frigid to the bone, but it was a wonderful reunion nonetheless. I could swear I even saw Venusaur’s smile.

Something is wrong with Blastoise. His cannons only fire in chaotic jets and spurts, not the continuous, high-pressure stream of liquid we’re both used to. He looked back at me with fear in his eyes. I cried out all the water he couldn’t produce. When we trudged back to the summit, Snorlax, sweet as she always is, gave us an unsteady hug. Her fur was like icicles, frozen down to the follicles, and her body didn’t radiate the comforting heat it used to. I think we’re all sick in one way or another.

Snorlax hasn’t been able to do much for a while. She and Blastoise have been talking, about what, I don’t know. Lapras has been bringing them berries from the sparse foliage around the mountain. I tried one and it was very spicy- it felt like fresh, hot smoke was filling up my sinuses. I don’t know why the three of them are doing this. I won’t ask. It’s not like I’d be able to understand the answer, anyway.

I did it again. I’m the worst trainer ever. I heard Blastoise yelling, which woke me up, and Snorlax was just… lying there next to the ashes of last night’s campfire, limbs akimbo rather than tucked in how she likes to sleep. I checked for a heartbeat and I swear my own stopped too. I screamed until my incompetent little lungs gave out and nobody was okay. None of them said anything. They’re all so disappointed in me.

While I sobbed and sniveled, Blastoise’s condition worsened. The freeze had accelerated, even, since Snorlax’s passing. When I stumbled out of my tent, I was greeted by the sight of Charizard desperately coughing hot air onto the charred wood pile, his tail flame sputtering, and Blastoise staring into the sky, eyes like glass, unblinking. He’s dead, I thought, and panic clutched and tore at my entire body until I fell to my knees, unable even to cry for him, as my lungs constricted. Blastoise tensed a little, and I’ve never been more relieved in my life. I stumbled over to him and babbled to him, I don’t remember what I said, until his pulse weakened beyond hearing.

We’re going back today. I don’t care what people will think, I can’t lose another friend.

The author’s handwriting is nearly too frantic to read.

Dammit, I don’t remember the way down. None of the survivors have enough energy to brute-force the way through the maze of caverns. Charizard tried so hard, so goddamn hard, but even with an assist from Lapras, we never made it to any recognizable landmarks. Maybe it’s that my brain’s going numb from the frigid temperatures and I just don’t remember. That would be funny, wouldn’t it? Ha… We’re going to die up here, and it’s my fault. They won’t forgive me, nor should they. I can make out the little glares Charizard keeps shooting me. Of course, I never actually catch him, but I know he’s doing it. I deserve it.

Charizard’s tail flame is no more than a pitiful, dim little ember now. He’s trying to roar, but it only comes out as hoarse, raspy noises from out of a horror movie. I can’t believe such a proud pokemon was reduced to such a miserable creature. I’m… I’m going to do it. I’ll put it out myself.

The page is splattered with copious amounts of saltwater. The hand that penned it jittered uncontrollably, and you can barely make out what the ink was meant to read.

It was so easy, so easy. All I had to do was make a snowball, and avert my eyes as Charizard sputtered and coughed for just a moment before losing all signs of life. It was hard, so hard. I’ll always see these burns on my hands, even though they were never really there. Lapras and Pikachu are conversing quietly outside. Their hatred for their trainer, now a cold-blooded killer, must be overflowing, and they’re right to hate me. I hate me too.

While I was sulking and clutching Pikachu for dear life, sobbing inconsolably into his fur as he chewed softly on my hand, Lapras went to gather berries. When she came back, her left fin was bruised and bloody. She must have found a rough spot and fell. I pressed some snow, some of this awful white disease that slowly killed us all from the inside out, to the wound to dull the pain. She seems to appreciate it, at least begrudgingly. She seems to appreciate me, even; even after all I’ve done to hurt her so much worse. That’s wishful thinking on my part- what I’ve done to her, to all of them, is unforgivable.

The snow on Lapras’ fin is tinged red, like a strawberry snow cone. I checked it, fearing the worst. I was right. It’s infected. There’s nothing I could do. She nuzzled me one last time before limping off somewhere. I screamed and pleaded for her to come back, please, let me at least say goodbye to you, but she gave me a sad cry in response and just… left. Of course she couldn’t stand to be around me any longer, I’m an awful trainer. Maybe she can survive on her own without me dragging her down.

I think this will be my last entry. The view is wonderful, isn’t it? The sun setting, fringed by an eternal blizzard. I can’t feel my face or my fingers or my toes, and the digits are an unhealthy grey, covered in minute crystals of frost. That’s beautiful too, in its own way. I almost laughed out loud, but I’m too busy conserving every last warm breath I have for Pikachu. He hasn’t moved for a while, but that’s just because he can’t bear to look at me anymore. It was my own fear and my own pride that killed the rest of the team, after all. But I’ll pretend not to care, no matter how deeply the memories wound me, and we’ll stare off into the sunset until the end of time.

There is no more writing in the battered and torn notebook, just inkblots and smudges, that the specter handed you after your battle, during which its words were swept away by the frosty wind but its voice sounded heartbroken anyway. It stares at you with a hollow gaze, and the sorrowful look pointed in your direction makes you think it expects you to be mad at it. You take a step forward, and it- he- Red- shrinks away, refusing to meet your eyes. The ghostly Pikachu by his side tugs at his sleeve and points at you. You wave back tentatively. The boy turns back towards you ever so slowly, tilting his head to the side in a silent plea for forgiveness. You nod. He doesn’t smile, simply turns to his team, so strong, even in death, and they each give their own form of approval- a hearty slap on the back, a whistle between the teeth- and they are gone, leaving nothing behind but the journal and a boyish laugh that soon dies on the howling gale.