Time Works in Funny Ways
#1
Pokemon Attempting: Ralts (Hard)

“If time is a vast sea and we are a small speck in this proverbial water, where are the islands that denote our destination?

These were the thoughts written down in an old, dusty leather bound journal that had recently been discovered in some ancient ruins. I had thought about that passage a dozen times, wondering the same thing the writer had. I was a solitary sort, had been that way since my parents abandoned me when I was 8. I lived by the life motto, “Trust no one, don’t create attachments”. Because of my closed-off psyche and emotional baggage, my mind was left to wander constantly without the need of focusing on someone important. 
 
I was essentially a drifter, floating from town to town for over 15 years. The only difference between me as an 8-year old and now was my appearance. Tangled black hair covered my head, which I had to constantly shove away from my eyes and forehead. Dirty but perfectly maintained jeans and a sky-blue t-shirt made up my only bit of wardrobe. My old and reliable gray sneakers kept my feet wrapped in white socks from the unforgiving ground during my travels. The only other thing I had in my possession was my black knapsack, a relic of my time as a boy. 

Whenever I reached a new town during my travels, I would spend my time reading through local periodicals and visit the local libraries. Searching for knowledge, anything that could give me the answers to the universe. When you were alone as long as I was, you had to find something to fill the time. Often I would stay in those buildings until the librarians had to kick me out, but it was worth it. My head was filled with so much knowledge, and I knew how to use it to get what I wanted.


In order to survive, I had to learn how to fend for myself. Not by fighting or any sort of forceful means, but with ingenuity and intelligence. I would set up in the town I had drifted into, and challenged anyone and everyone to a game of wit. The challenger would choose any general question they wanted, and I’d have one chance to answer. I won much more often than I lost. It’s how I could afford food and lodging before setting off to my next destination.


I had just arrived in Fallabor Town that morning, and I immediately headed to my favorite destination. The library was small, perfectly sized for the equally small town in the north of Hoenn. Two intimidating marble Mightyena statues guarded either side of the entrance, fangs fully bared. Walking into the library, I smelled the familiar scent I had grown to adore. Paper, and plenty of it surrounded me on all four walls. I was in a safe place finally.


I walked up to the elderly woman behind the central desk, assuming they were the librarian in charge. She was dressed in very old-fashioned clothing for the time, a long dark-brown cloth skirt with a pure-white button top blouse. Her salt and pepper hair was tied up in a tight bun, with two long needles sticking through to keep the shape perfect. The wrinkles on her fair-skinned face didn’t diminish the gentle smile she gave to me as I walked up to the counter. I gave her a sly smile in return as I finished approaching and asked calmly, “Hello ma’am, I was wondering if there was any charge to use your library.” The elderly librarian gave a polite chuckle and responded kindly, “Oh silly dear, our library and the knowledge within are free to everyone. Please, explore to your heart’s content young one.” Upon hearing the word free in the same sentence as exploration, I smiled and gave the librarian a deep bow as a sign of gratitude. I then set off in search of my next stream of information. 


Hours had seemed to pass judging by the natural light inside the library, as I scrounged through dozens of old books and scrolls. Facts about rare Pokemon and the fall of the meteors which left the craters in town piqued my interest the most. The authors of these tomes wrote with such fascination for their subjects, and I was hooked on every word. As the light inside was beginning to dim, I knew I would probably have to be asked to leave shortly. However, I wanted to read one last book to make use of my time. That’s when I found it. The old, dusty leather bound journal which held the passage that rattled in my head that very night in my lodging. 


The author never mentioned who they were, or what time period they lived in. Although this seemed to be a diary written for their thoughts, I could not glean anything personal about him or her. Instead, each passage was a random philosophical quote or some curious rambling. I dismissed most of these as they pertained no value to me. When I hit that particular sentence however, my eyes and brain just stopped buzzing altogether. I became focused on what they could have possibly meant, and why they would have written this in the first place. It wasn’t too long after discovering this line that the librarian kindly asked me to leave and I bid her farewell with contemplative gratitude. As I left the building, I noticed some rustling in a nearby shrub but brushed it off as the wind. 


Having had enough money from my previous contest in Lavaridge Town several days back, I checked myself into a room to rest up for tomorrow’s travels. However, I quickly realized I could not sleep. That passage haunted me, and it drove me crazy as to why. Was it because I had spent so much of my life endlessly drifting that time felt like it was inconsequential? To be honest, I had never thought about time as something important. I didn’t have birthdays, nor did I ever have a schedule to keep. Sometimes, it felt like the only reason I knew time existed was because of people kicking me out of their libraries. 


Perhaps I was enamored with the destination aspect, in such a way that I contemplated what my end goal was to be. I knew I didn’t want to be a drifter my entire life, but it was the only thing I knew how to do. Before the incident I care not to remember, I always read books about Pokemon and how people were admired for becoming Champions. “I’m going to be admired by the world one day, I know I will,” was the thing I would always tell myself in those distant memories I held close to my heart. They were still true, but they were dashed so many years ago that I gave up on hope. The pain I would feel whenever I saw a trainer and his partner Pokemon joyfully playing together burned more than the pain I felt being abandoned. I had made peace with my parents’ decision to go off and research in Galar, even if they did so while leaving me behind with no reasoning why. The fact that it affected how I had to be as a child and teenager wasn’t forgiven. I was robbed of my childhood dream of getting a starter Pokemon from Professor Rowan, and that I held with such bitterness.


Tears began to stream down my face as I contemplated those bitter feelings, unable to shake the feeling I would be doomed to be a drifter forever. Forced to live with cleverness and guile, unable to enjoy what was considered a normal thing for the rest of the world such as raising Pokemon. I sat upright in my bed, and reached into my trusty knapsack which held the few belongings I kept. Pulling out a red and white orb, I felt my anger and sadness swell up. It was a random Poke Ball I found lying on the ground during my travels as a teenager, empty and abandoned like me. I took it as a reminder of my once beautiful dreams, and the almost non-existent hope I would be able to fulfill even a portion of them. Never had I felt like that insignificant speck the author of that diary mentioned more than I had at that moment. “Where is my island? Am I doomed to float forever in this world by myself?” I questioned with a seething tone to my voice, as I clutched the Poke Ball firmly. 


Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-


I snapped myself out of my intense rage, startled by the seemingly angelic voice coming from outside the hotel. I hastily wiped away the tears that had been rolling down my face, and tossed the Poke Ball back into my knapsack. Standing up, I felt my knees crack from standing too quickly. I winced, but walked over to the window which had a view of the town, including the library not that far away from the hotel. It was pitch-black, with only the randomly dotted streetlamps at every intersection providing enough light to see what was going on outside. I scanned around the view, looking to see where that voice that had broken me from my anger was coming from. In the dimness of the town, I couldn’t make anything out except for the random buildings such as the Pokemon Center. The town was dead quiet. 


Thinking I had essentially gotten myself so stressed that I imagined a voice, I began to turn around to head back to my bed. “Alright, I need sleep otherwise there is no way I can move on tomorrow. I really don’t want to have to work for money here, I’d rather wait until Mauville,” I thought as I slowly began to trudge myself back over to get ready to sleep. 


Raaaaaaaaaaaaaa-


Confused, I rushed back over to the window convinced I wasn’t imagining the voice that echoed through my room. “What could possibly be outside? The whole town is asleep,” I whispered with slight exasperation as I once again scanned the town with my now bloodshot eyes. I started to become frustrated as I felt like something or someone was pulling some sort of elaborate prank. I was just about to turn back around in pure irritation, when I spotted a tiny figure moving towards one of the streetlights on the intersection by the hotel. 


The mysterious figure couldn’t have been more than a foot tall based on my estimation being a little distance away, and it seemed to be wearing a helmet with two spikes on the top. I could make out the pink coloration of the figure, and it seemed to be wearing a flowing skirt covering its legs. With a stumbling gait and arms outstretched, it was heading towards the direction of the library with no detour in its trajectory. I had seen Pokemon similar to it during my travels, and so I immediately identified it while I tracked it with my eyes. 


“That’s a Ralts… What is a little Pokemon like that doing in the middle of the night? More importantly, why am I able to hear its cries from way up here?” I pondered in a stupefying manner. Suddenly my mind flashed back to one of the earlier books I had read in the library mentioning rare Pokemon. I had stumbled upon a page featuring a picture of a Ralts, along with text beside it calling it the “Feeling Pokemon”. The research notes mentioned that Ralts would become attracted to people or objects with strong emotions. 


Snapping back into reality, I glanced back at the little Pokemon and saw it had almost reached the library. It stopped in front of the entryway, looking up at the marble statues with bewilderment. I could see it look back at the doorway, but then I saw it turn in the direction of the hotel. Call me crazy if you want, but at that moment I felt the little Pokemon draw its attention fully onto me. A sudden feeling of confusion and nervousness struck me as I thought, “There is no way it's able to see me. I must be delusional.” The Ralts kept its head turned in my direction and I heard it again.


Raaaaaaaaaaaaa-


Now I knew I wasn’t imagining things. That Ralts was definitely focusing itself on me and calling to me specifically. Thinking back to the notes I had earlier, I remembered that Ralts would focus their energies towards whatever person or object they wanted, making only that particular thing receptive to its powers. “Did Ralts sense my anger? Why is it calling to me and why is it in front of the library?” All of these thoughts rampaged through my head as I decided to head over to the little Pokemon’s location. I picked up my knapsack, and quietly exited the hotel. Checking around to make sure no one would be able to spot me, I stealthily made my way back to the library entrance.


In less than two minutes, I had made my way back to the library entrance to find the little Ralts had vanished. Standing in front of that library with the two Mightyena statues glaring, I had convinced myself I lost my marbles. Okay, I have gotten myself so beyond tired and stressed that I am now imagining Pokemon. That’s it, I’m done,” I said quietly but in complete disbelief. I let out a frustrated sigh and stomped my foot to try and let out some frustration. I started to turn and head back to the hotel, when the voice rang out again.


Raaaaaaaaaaaaaa-
It came from inside the library. Turning back to face the building which was much more intimidating in the dark, I contemplated my options “If I go in and get caught, I’m in alot of trouble. It will be exceptionally worse if it turns out I am imagining this whole thing and there is no Ralts in there.” My weary brain tried to properly calculate the likelihood of this being an awful mistake, but something in my heart superseded the thoughts. A feeling that I hadn’t felt in 15 years, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. “Alright heart, I’m trusting you this once. You’d better not blow this for me,” I musingly whispered to myself as I glanced to my chest and glanced back to the doorway. I took one strong breath and with a self-assuring nod, I walked into the empty library.


Compared to when I was in earlier, everything felt stale and dead. A few candles scattered across various tables gave off incredibly light, perhaps as a security measure for the librarian. My newly adjusted eyes scanned the darkness, searching for any sign of the Pokemon I was searching for. It didn’t take long for me to see the shifting of a tiny creature in the direction of the books I had been studying earlier in the day. “A-ha, found you!” I thought as a sly smirk came across my face. I started to quietly walk over in the direction, curious as to why Ralts had decided to make its way into the library in the first place. 


I reached the little Pokemon, and it looked back up at me. I could feel its large eyes underneath the helmet gaze into my soul, and I froze when I heard human words coming from inside my head.


I want to see the notebook-


There was no way the Pokemon could speak, let alone convey words telepathically into my mind. I just stood there for a moment, processing if I was truly making this all up in my head as some sort of crazy dream. The Ralts must have picked up on this drastic contemplation, as it waddled over to my leg and gave my jeans a brief tug followed by the words…


Please, let me see the notebook-


I aggressively shook my head to get my focus back into the present, and looked down at the Ralts. It had maintained its stalwart gaze up at me, so I knew it was for real. Thinking about the little Pokemon’s request, I remembered where I had placed the journal after finishing with it. Locating the dusty tome, I pulled it out from the rest of the books and placed it on the table next to one of the faintly glowing candles. 


The little pink Pokemon carefully hopped itself onto the chair nearby and then up onto the table and approached the tattered book. I could see it lower its head upon reaching the edge of the book, and heard an almost silent humming emanate from it. After a second or so, I saw both Ralts and the journal begin to glow with a translucent purple color. I stood in amazement as the journal opened up without any touch, and began flipping through the pages. “It’s controlling the book with its mind… This is awesome,” I thought as I kept silently watching the Pokemon flip through the pages. 


A couple seconds of page turning later, and the book stopped its mystical movement. Both Ralts and the book stopped glowing and the little Pokemon looked back up after finishing its task. It turned back over to me and pointed towards the journal. A gentleness was being sent in my direction from its little frame, and I turned my attention to the journal I had read earlier. When I glanced at the page the Pokemon had flipped to, my heart sank. 


If time is a vast sea and we are a small speck in this proverbial water, where are the islands that denote our destination?” 


The Ralts had flipped to the very page which held the passage that had wracked my brain all night. I looked back at the Ralts with a mix of confusion and bitterness. The little Pokemon gave me a small smile, and tilted its head to the side. I then heard the familiar voice invade my mind once again.


I felt your anger after reading this passage, and I was drawn to you immediately. There was such hatred and bitterness radiating from you, and I want you to know it's okay. I wanted to show you this passage as a reminder that you have a destination. Don’t be angry, everything will be great for you soon!


My eyes began to water again, as I felt the overwhelming compassion in the little Pokemon’s words soothe all the internal and emotional wounds I carried with me. That feeling that led me into this dark building burst forth with an incredible fervor. It encompassed me and I felt all the bitterness and hate I was experiencing just minutes before wash away. I knew what that feeling finally was, it was hope. Hope in finding that proverbial island which would serve as my destination. Hope that my initial dream of becoming a Pokemon Champion might never be realized, but that I could still become a Pokemon Trainer. Enjoy the feeling of having a companion to travel with me through thick and thin. The feeling of hope was just what I needed to erase much of the doubt I had left. 


I smiled at Ralts and said, “Thank you. You helped me realize I do have something to look forward to. But I have one question, why did you choose to help me?” The Ralts appeared to give a silent laugh at the end of my question and smiled, followed by its familiar voice entering my mind yet again.


I have wanted to travel the world, just like you do. I have been alone since my parents were captured by Pokemon Trainers and left me to fend for myself not too long after I hatched. When I felt your aura, I felt a kindred spirit and knew I wanted to help you. All I ask is that you take me with you. I don’t want to be stuck here anymore, I want freedom. I want a trainer who will make me happy, to give me experiences that will last a lifetime. Will you please accept my request?


Stunned, I gazed upon the Ralts and what it was asking of me. It was like my 15 years of traveling had built up a karma credit line which I had apparently cashed in for a reward. Not only did this Pokemon want to become my partner, but it also felt the same pain and experiences as I did. My eyes had not stopped tearing up during the course of this exchange, but a huge smile was on my face now. I nodded vigorously at Ralts and said,” Of course Ralts! You gave me a reason to hope, I’d be more than happy to travel the world with you!” 


The little pink Pokemon reciprocated a huge smile in response, and leapt up into the air. It then pointed at the knapsack I was carrying. Confused, I put the knapsack down and the little Pokemon went over to open the bag up. It dove halfway into the bag, and the sounds of rummaging quickly echoed through the library. A couple seconds later, the little Pokemon pulled out the Poke Ball that I had been clutching so aggressively in the hotel room. It then placed the capsule down on the table, and tapped the center button. The capsule grew in size and then burst open. Ralts was encapsulated in a crimson-red light and then disappeared into the orb. The Poke Ball wobbled back and forth several times, and then stopped with an audible “PONG!” 


I gingerly picked up the Poke Ball and smiled. “Thank you Ralts, you and I are going to have some amazing adventures together. I promise you that,” I said in a grateful voice to the capsule I held in my hand. I put it back into my knapsack, and then remembered I was in the middle of a library that I probably shouldn’t be caught in. I quickly picked up my knapsack and put the journal back into its place. I made it back to the entrance of the library and stopped. My mind went to the passage in the journal and I realized that Ralts was the island I was supposed to find in the vast sea of time. With an assured smile, I happily walked myself back to the hotel room, ready to tackle my adventures with that positive feeling of hope.



Character Count: 20,152
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#2
Diction / Presentation: Intermediate

You do a solid job at including detail when describing your story. From the get-go, we get a very clear description of your main character, including their physical appearance, their backstory, and their personality. While it’s a good idea to add these descriptive cues early on so that your audience has a more complete picture of your character before the story really gets going, I do think there’s a fine balance between over-describing, particularly at the beginning of the story. A common phrase to hear when writing descriptive language is “show, don’t tell,” and I do think your story might benefit from this a bit. Telling your audience that your character is a drifter with a closed-off psyche isn’t quite as powerful as demonstrating it to us. How might you show this to us instead? Maybe you could open your story with your main character leaving from a town when things started to get too emotional for him, or maybe we could even get hints of his past sprinkled into the dialogue with the librarian at the beginning. It’s clear that you have a solid picture of your character in your mind, which is great -- it means you’ve put thought into how your character should come across and how they might interact with the plot. My only recommendation would be to think about the ways you might incorporate these details into the story naturally/seamlessly.

You have a sentence mid-way through your story that reads, “Before the incident I care not to remember, I always read books[...]” which kind of aligns with what I’m trying to say here. Even without explicitly saying what the traumatic incident was, you tell us a lot about your character’s psyche here. They’ve undergone some kind of trauma that they have difficulty addressing, and it has influenced their ongoing behavior. I would encourage you to have sentences like this one instead of “Because of my closed-off psyche and emotional baggage,” which you had near the beginning. To me, this is a key example that highlights the difference between showing vs. telling descriptive elements in a story.

Hopefully this doesn’t come across as too critical. All in all, I do think your descriptive language and presentation were effective. This is just something more to consider when writing in the future.

Grammar / Style: Intermediate

Your grammar is really solid, as is to be expected from a fellow grader. There was a small handful of typos with misplaced punctuation (commas/periods outside quotation marks, for example), but I don’t think it’s useful to spend time talking about this, as I already know that you know the proper grammar for this. Though, there is something minor to note -- you have a tendency to attach commas in-between dependent and independent clauses when the comma shouldn’t actually be there. While when speaking aloud there is usually a natural pause in the middle of a sentence like that, it doesn’t actually belong there in a strict grammatical sense. Here’s an example from your story.

Quote:I hastily wiped away the tears that had been rolling down my face, and tossed the Poke Ball back into my knapsack. Standing up, I felt my knees crack from standing too quickly. I winced, but walked over to the window which had a view of the town, including the library not that far away from the hotel.

Because “tossed the Poke Ball back into my knapsack” isn’t an independent clause (ie. it can’t stand alone as a sentence), there shouldn’t actually be a comma preceding it. Similarly, “but walked over to the window which had a view of the town” isn’t independent either. You would instead want one of the following:

Quote:I hastily wiped away the tears that had been rolling down my face and tossed the Poke Ball back into my knapsack. Standing up, I felt my knees crack from standing too quickly. I winced but walked over to the window which had a view of the town, including the library not that far away from the hotel.

In the passage above, I removed the commas, and each sentence is grammatically correct because the comma isn’t joining a dependent clause. However, if you don’t like the flow of the sentence, you could instead make each dependent clause independent by adding a subject to the sentence, like below:

Quote:I hastily wiped away the tears that had been rolling down my face, and I tossed the Poke Ball back into my knapsack. Standing up, I felt my knees crack from standing too quickly. I winced, but I walked over to the window which had a view of the town, including the library not that far away from the hotel.

Again, I know you have a solid grasp on grammar and syntax, but this is an error I’ve noticed that will often slip through the cracks.

In terms of style, I think you do a nice job at conveying your narrator’s emotions through your word choice. There’s a general sense of frustration and a heightened emotional state as a response to the passage in the book, as well as the main character’s trauma. Something else I would be aware of when writing from a 1st person perspective is balancing out your sentences that start with “I” statements. It’s easy to slip into this habit since everything in the story ultimately does come through your narrator, but it can become a little repetitive to read. I think you did better than a lot of other authors would with this, but again, it’s just another thing to be aware of when you’re writing future stories.

Character / Plot Unity: Basic/Intermediate

Your narrator is central to the plot, as this is largely a story about coming to terms with feeling adrift in the world. I think keeping the number of characters limited to just your narrator and the Ralts was effective at keeping this sense of loneliness consistent. Your narrator is left with their thoughts throughout almost the entire story, which works well with the plot. I also thought it was really neat how Ralts’ appearance at the end is an island/destination itself along the narrator’s lonely voyage. They will head out into the world together, which helps turn the tone of isolation and hopelessness into something more positive at the end. One thing that might’ve made your conclusion a little more emotional would be addressing some of the narrator’s trauma a little more explicitly. Ralts gives the narrator a reason to continue exploring the world, but their happiness at the end seems a little surface-level because we know from the narrator’s backstory that they have more negative emotions to process than just loneliness. This might be asking too much for a story of this length, but it would’ve helped tie the elements of the story together if we had more of a conclusion for the narrator’s trauma, if this really is meant to represent a new chapter in the narrator’s life.

Pokemon Integration: Intermediate

Ralts’ inclusion in your story feels natural and consistent. Ralts being attracted to the narrator’s strong emotions makes sense in the context of the Pokemon world, as they are hyper-tuned to sadness, anger, fear, and excitement. Ralts is a force for good in your story, sensing the narrator’s loneliness and offering itself as a partner so they can travel the world together. I also appreciate that Ralts is the only other major character in this story. It makes it very clear which target Pokemon you’re going after, while also not bogging down this story about loneliness with other characters.

Setting: Intermediate

You do a nice job at establishing the city of Fallarbor Town and the various buildings/scenery that the narrator sees as they walk around town. I particularly liked your description of the library, both inside and out. Even though this building doesn’t exist in the games, the description you gave it made it seem entirely believable when I was visualizing how the town appears. Overall, I think this might be where your descriptive language shines brightest in your story.

Dialogue: Basic/Intermediate

This is a challenging section to grade because there isn’t too much back and forth dialogue in this story. Many lines are actually spoken out loud by the narrator to themselves, which is sometimes believable and sometimes not. It’s a tricky thing to balance, especially when there aren’t other major characters to bounce dialogue off of, but I wonder if this section could benefit from another “show don’t tell” kind of advice in this instance. Here’s an example:

Quote:“That’s a Ralts… What is a little Pokemon like that doing in the middle of the night? More importantly, why am I able to hear its cries from way up here?”

Is there a way you can demonstrate the appearance of the Pokemon, how it stumbles like it’s lost, tired, and distressed? How can you describe the sound to your audience that leaves that same question in our head, rather than asking it outright? Does the cry sound like it’s coming from just behind the narrator’s ears, or does it sound like it’s coming from within the narrator’s head? These are just suggestions of things to think about, but I think there are a number of inventive ways to convey this same information. The question out loud just doesn’t seem super realistic since not very many people talk to themselves in full-formed sentences like that.

As far as the rest of your dialogue goes once Ralts and the narrator come face to face, I think you do a nice job with the back-and-forth exchanges feeling pretty natural. You put focus on each character’s tone and inflection when they speak, which is important for the audience to understand which emotion they are trying to convey.

VERDICT: Hard

I hope this grade doesn’t come across as too critical, because at the end of the day you have a solid story which checks the boxes it needs to for this rank. Most of my suggestions aren’t “do this or else your stories won’t pass” since you already have a really strong grasp on writing -- they’re more things to consider as you’re trying to move your story from good to great. You can go ahead and claim your Ralts. Nicely done!
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