Lifeless Winter's End
#1


The false start of Spring had awoken the Earth too early. Warm winds had strayed far across the plains, melting the snow as they blew. The grass, buried beneath the ground for months, felt the first kiss of sunlight, and for a moment, there was hope that Winter had left quietly without her last goodbye.

I sat alone on the porch, letting the sun warm my bones. The warmth seeped into my skin, soothing the aches of old age. With my eyes resting peacefully, I could feel every detail of the world around. The rough grain of the wooden chair I sat upon pricked against my jeans. The wind was just strong enough to weave through my thin tuft of hair, forming and reforming paths to expose my scalp. My lips were chapped and dry, but I creased them into a faint smile and rocked back and forth slowly. 

A lone Pidgey cooed in the distance. She too was pleasantly surprised by the change of weather, and she had taken her first leave from her nest in quite some time. Her chirps were quick and short as if she were calling out and expecting a response, though no other birds returned her call. The warm weather had moved faster north than the other birds who migrated with the seasons, so only she, who had endured the long and bitter winter by herself, remained. 

I heard the rusty screen door whine from behind me as it opened, followed by the sound of soft footsteps. The wooden planks of the porch creaked to a steady pattern as Dolores strolled out from the house to sit beside me. Her chair scraped across the deck before she sank into its seat. I kept my eyes closed, and no one spoke. For the first time in quite a while, the silence between us felt completely natural.

After a moment, I opened my eyes to a sliver, just large enough to peek out behind my eyelids. Dolores’ eyes were shut as well, but there was no smile in her cheeks. Not quite a frown, her thin lips were pressed flat. Though her skin had wrinkled and was now scattered with countless sunspots, her beauty had aged steadily alongside her. Her long hair, tinted in shades of white and gray, glistened in the afternoon glow. She draped her left wrist across the right, and the thin band of silver on her ring finger caught the sunlight and refracted it outwards. 

I slowly reached my hand out, letting my fingers graze across hers. Her hand tensed at my touch. I let my fingers rest between her knuckles, and my thumb idly traced the wrinkles in her palm. Dolores remained rigid. Without opening her eyes, she pulled her hand away from mine quietly. A feeble sigh came out from under her breath.

I could feel the peaceful silence between us turn sour in an instant. I pulled my hand back and sat it on the arm of my porch chair. 

“Beautiful weather today...” I said, trailing off.

Dolores sighed once more. “It’s nice to get outdoors,” she said, though it seemed less like a reply to me and more like a statement to herself. She folded her arms across her chest and buried her chin into the turtleneck of her sweater. “It’s been a long winter.”

I hesitated. Winter was always Dolores’ favorite season. The snow reminded Dolores of her childhood in Sinnoh. She missed the towering, frost-covered trees outside of Snowpoint City where her parents raised her. She missed playing with the free-roaming Snover, who brought flurries of snowflakes with them wherever they wandered. But the winters in the stretches of farmland north of Turffield were cold and relentless, with little beauty to be found. The countryside would fall into a deep, wakeless slumber for months. 

“A long winter indeed...” I trailed off again. “I wonder if the Pokemon will return soon.”

Dolores didn’t respond. I knew that the Pokemon migrating South was hard on Dolores too. She thrived off of their energy. During the summers, Dolores would sit on the porch for hours to watch the cornfields bustle with life. Entire flocks of Rookidee would flutter between the stalks, chirping as their blue bodies popped in and out of view from the tall grass. Wooloo and Stufful from the Wild Area would stray aimlessly through the fields, grazing on the vegetation until they grew tired and returned home. Warm gusts of wind carried Gossifleur and Cottonee delicately in the air. The stream of Pokemon through our humble farm filled Dolores’ life with purpose and variety.

The silence swelled for several more minutes. When the discomfort in the air had finally reached its peak, I opened my eyes, blinked blearily as they adjusted to the harsh light, and reached out for my glasses. My knees ached as they stretched outward. I pressed my feet into the wooden porch and shakily lifted myself out of the chair.

“I think I might go for a walk, Dolores,” I said as I gained confidence in my footing. The porch creaked under my weight, and it let out a high-pitched whine as I stepped towards the stairs leading to the fields. 

Dolores remained silent.

“Would... would you care to join me?” I asked, though the answer was already clear.

Still, not a word.

I nodded to myself with a grunt of understanding and started to walk down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, tucked beneath the porch and away from the weather, was my cedar walking cane, where it had resided since before winter began. I picked it up, brushed the dirt off of its curved handle, and held it firmly in my right hand before pressing onward. As I walked down the dusty path towards the cornfield, I was careful to avoid the small patches of mud, wet from where the snow had melted last. The tufts of dried grass, brown and asleep from the winter, crumpled beneath my leather boot. My right ankle pulsed with the dull, persistent pain of arthritis, and the slight drag in my foot kicked up clouds of dirt as I limped further away from our farmhouse. 

The path split in two directly in front of the large cornfield. To the left was the route to Turffield, roughly a twenty-minute, leisurely walk, and the right led towards the woods that connected our farm to the Wild Area. The path to town was much more defined, its dirt pressed hard into the earth, but the path to the woods was rugged, littered with rocks and strewn with patches of overgrown weeds. Dolores usually walked that trail by herself; even with the help of the walking stick, my ankle struggled with the rough terrain. 

The chirp of the lone Pidgey rang through the air once again, much louder than it sounded before. I shifted my gaze to the treeline, several hundred feet away and up a moderate incline. The forest was densely packed with tall pines, a wall of viridian that was almost too thick to see through. My glasses slid down the bridge of my nose, and I instinctively pushed them back up while I squinted at the trees. Branches were rustling, and a flash of cream and brown appeared at the edge of the woods. Even from this distance, I could tell that the Pidgey and I had locked eyes. The Pokemon tilted her head and ruffled her wings, but her piercing gaze and beady black pupils stayed fixed upon me. Another shrill bird call came out of her beak before she hopped away, retreating into the deep forest.

Against my better judgment, I followed the Pidgey and took the rugged path uphill. The earth beneath my feet was muddier than before, fully saturated with the water from melted snow. Glancing down, I noticed there were imprints of footsteps in the mud ahead of me. They were frozen in place like cement, and they must have been tracks from Dolores’ last walk late last fall. The imprints were evenly spaced apart with powerful strides between them, such that I had to hobble twice between each step to cover the same distance. 

I was out of breath by the time I reached the ridge, and I could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. How did Dolores climb this hill every day during the summer with such ease, but my body ached and struggled? I waited atop the hill for my breathing to settle. The farm was in breathtaking view, with the afternoon sun setting the cornfields ablaze in a vibrant amber. The red roof of our home stood in stark contrast to the rest of the vast open land. Dolores was still seated in her chair on the porch, and I waved to her with a wide grin. She saw me and waved back with a look of surprise on her face but did not smile in response. I looked beyond the house and saw the enormous dome of Turffield stadium looming in the distance. Behind that stood the rocky crags of the Galar Mine. Finally, in the furthest distance I could see, clouds shaded in a deep, ominous purple were accumulating on the horizon, and I felt my heart sink. Perhaps winter had not left peacefully as I had hoped. My walk would have to be shorter than I would have liked.

I turned to face the forest. While it had seemed impassable from the bottom of the hill, the path I was on continued, weaving between the pines. Piles of white snow welled at the base of the trees, shaded from the sun by the branches above. Even deeper into the woods, I could see that the snow on the path had barely melted at all, and I dreaded the added strain that treading through the snow would have on my ankle. Yet, as the path continued, I saw Dolores’ footprints imprinted in the snow at the same steady pace as before. Had she hiked up here recently, while I was in town or as I was sleeping? I grunted to myself and pressed forward into the forest, wincing with each step as my weak foot sank into the snowbanks.

I heard a commotion in the dark green branches above me and looked up. The Pidgey was directly overhead, her head cocked to the side and her eyes locked on to me, bright with curiosity. A moment later she squawked, looked away at the horizon, and nestled her body into her tawny wings, as if she was preparing for a frigid gust of wind. Sure enough, an icy breeze blew between the pines, a warning to both myself and the Pokemon that the winter storm was approaching fast. Though I knew it was unwise, I felt the need to follow the tracks that Dolores had left behind. I could see a clearing in the grove up ahead, and from a distance it appeared that the tracks stopped at the stump of a fallen tree.

After reaching the tree trunk, I slumped into the seat at its exposed base. A thin layer of ice covered the top of the trunk, untouched by the warm day’s sunlight. It melted beneath my weight, soaking through my denim pants, but I barely noticed. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling the wrinkles in my face tighten. My breathing was heavy from exhaustion, and the thought of hiking back was distressing. A minute or two passed before the muscles in my face eased, and I let my eyes open.

Yet again, I locked eyes with the Pidgey almost instantly. She sat now directly across the clearing upon a low branch, close to eye level with me. Her eyes were inquisitive and almost expectant. I wondered if Dolores would come up here and sit with the bird Pokemon during the winter, feeding her breadcrumbs or kernels of corn from our harvest, but the Pidgey didn’t recognize me and would be unsure if I carried with me the same treats. I reached into my pockets and fumbled around inside the denim, but there was nothing but a ball of pocket lint. I shrugged at the bird Pokemon and mouthed “sorry” as if she might understand, but her head only tilted to the other side and her curious gaze remained fixated.

I could see why Dolores would spend her time in this clearing — it was serene, entirely separate from the surrounding world. The trees were staggeringly tall, and the sound of rustling branches above was relaxing. The chilled winds weaved between the pine trees, with greater frequency as each minute passed. I rubbed my hands into my pants rapidly, trying to warm them up with friction. As I looked down, I noticed a hole in the base of the fallen tree, and tucked inside it was a leather-bound journal. It was small, not much larger than a notepad, and the edges of the cover were weathered and worn out by years of use. It didn’t look familiar, but there were three letters branded into the leather of the front cover: DJW. Dolores Jane Wesley, though that was a name she hadn’t gone by in years. Wesley was her maiden name, and she had been Dolores Keane since our marriage, nearly 50 years ago. This must have been a journal she had owned all this time, yet it was one I had never seen before.

I reached forward and pulled it out from within the tree. The journal was cold to the touch but in otherwise good shape, mostly sheltered from the elements in its hiding place. I peeled back the front cover and skimmed the first page. The page had poor handwriting scribbled across each line, and it was clear that this was Dolores’ diary from childhood. I smiled tenderly as I read her incomplete sentences. She described her life in grand, imaginative detail. Her parents, long since passed away, were the heroes of her stories. As I flipped through the pages, there were tales of marvelous adventures — treading through a blizzard to Lake Acuity, having snowball fights with wild Sneasel, and other fantasies that only the fanciful mind of a child could invent. I continued to skim through the book until I reached the last few pages, where the handwriting changed drastically. I recognized the intricate cursive in an instant. It matched the notes that Dolores used to leave me in the mornings before I went to tend the fields, and the lengthy grocery lists she would write at the table before heading into town.

I felt uneasy that I was invading Dolores’ privacy by reading her diary, but several words jumped out of the page before I could look away. Forgotten. Depressed. Stranded. Lifeless. Stuck. Teardrops had bled the ink and wrinkled the page in small circles. The last line was shakily written by trembling hands. It read, “That little girl I used to be is forgotten, and I do not know the person in the mirror who took her place.”

My heart ached, and a wave of despair rushed in through my chest. Dolores was always the more somber, emotionally reserved one, but I had no idea that she was struggling this way, and I couldn’t help but feel responsible. She moved away from her childhood home to be with me in Galar, a land foreign to her and on the opposite edge of the world, separated by a vast sea. She lived on this farm because it was my livelihood and passion, not hers, and though she found her own sense of joy in the simple pleasures, the days and nights of silence between us took on new meaning, now that I knew her pain.

There was no waiting — I had to make my way back to the house immediately. I tucked the journal into the folds of my jacket and leaned upon my walking cane to push myself up from the tree stump. I ignored the discomfort in my leg and stepped forward, walking as fast as my feet would let me. Though, only a few short steps later, my foot caught on something buried beneath the snow’s surface, and before I could recover my balance, I was falling fast to the ground. I landed hard on my hip and felt intense agony shoot outward, both up my spine and down my leg. I yelped out and felt a warm stream of tears roll down my cheek. The suffering didn’t cease, and the entire left side of my body pulsed with pain as I writhed in the snowbank.

I heard the noise of something squirming at my feet. I strained my neck to look down and spotted a mound of white just above the snow. Short spikey legs were kicking the air aimlessly, and the white belly of a small bug Pokemon faced upward. I must have kicked it in my haste, as the Pokemon had burrowed across my path while I was reading Dolores’ journal. The Pokemon, a full length larva known as Snom, was far outside its normal habitat to be in these woods. It must have wandered down from its snowy mountains during the brutal winter, and now it had lost itself in this unfamiliar land. Its body wriggled back and forth, trying relentlessly to flip itself back upright, but its range of motion was too limited.

The Pidgey from before had fluttered her way over towards me, intrigued by the commotion. Her talons pressed into the ground, crunching the snow beneath her with each hop closer. She tilted her head back and forth in rhythm with my rapid inhaling and exhaling. With the waves of pain radiating outward ceaselessly, there was no doubt that my hip had broken in the fall. 

“Pi—Pidgey,” I grunted between breaths. “Please. I need—I need you to fly down the—” I winced in pain once more. “Down the hill, to the farmhouse. Dolores, she’ll know what to do. P—Please.”

The Pidgey just continued to stare. It was a wild Pokemon that couldn’t possibly understand human speech, but I didn’t have any other options.

My fingers shook vigorously as I reached into my jacket. The journal was pinned to the ground underneath my body, but I fumbled around until I felt the tattered edges. I pulled it out from beneath me and held it out to the Pidgey. “Do you recognize this?” I asked. 

The Pidgey turned her head to the side once more. Her eyes focused on the journal, then darted back to me, then back to the journal again. She hopped a few steps closer, still fixated on the object in my hand. Suddenly, her beak snapped forward and clamped around the notebook. It happened so fast, and I didn’t have the energy to fight, but the Pidgey fluttered away into the trees with the journal in her beak.

I let out a cry of anguish and rolled my body to the side, easing the tension off of my waist. I looked up to the sky and felt more hot tears stream down my cheek. Between the pine branches overhead, I could see that the sun was a few minutes away from setting and the clouds from the horizon had rolled in. Puffs of purple and gray clouds blocked out what sunlight remained, and the temperature in the air had dropped rapidly. White flecks, almost too small to be seen by the naked eye, drifted down from the heavens, landing on my face and melting against my warm skin. Panic settled in. It could easily get below freezing during the nights, and I had hardly any protection from the elements.

The Snom had somehow squirmed its way back upright and was slowly inching up towards my head. The crystalline, jelly-like shell around its body had a deep imprint in it from my boot. It seemed disoriented but not in pain. Its black pinhole eyes to the side of its impressive mandibles were shifting back and forth, as if it was on the lookout for any other hikers that might kick it to its side. 

“You shouldn’t be here,” I grunted to the Pokemon. “You’re meant to live in the snow year round, not on a farm outside Turffield. You would’ve melted if it was really spring time. Why couldn’t you just stay where you belong?!” I screamed. Before I realized it, I was sobbing. My Dolores didn’t belong outside Turffield either. She belongs in the beautiful, wintry world of her childhood, not on this miserable and destitute farm. 

The Snom paused in its tracks and stared back blankly. 

“What’s the use?” I said between choked sobs. “How could I not realize she was so unhappy... She’s the love of my life, and I smothered who she is by making her move to Galar. This farm was my dream, and I should have known it wasn’t hers.”

The Snom blinked.

“It is my dream, Edward,” came a familiar, gentle voice from beyond the trees. The Snom was startled and scurried off aimlessly through the snow.

“Dolores?!” I cried out. “Dolores, are you there?” I was almost hysterical, and the thought that I might be hallucinating dashed through my mind.

“Yes, I’m here,” she replied calmly from somewhere beyond the trees. “This Pidgey who I’ve befriended came down to the house with my journal, and when I saw you hiking up here, I figured you—” she said before she cut herself off. “Edward!” she screamed. I looked up and saw Dolores’ face emerge from the woods. The Pidgey fluttered closely behind her, the notebook still clutched in its jaw. “Are you okay?” Dolores asked, rushing forward. 

“I think something’s broken,” I groaned as she dropped to her knees in the snow by my side. She grabbed my hand in hers and held it close to her chest. The last of the day’s sunlight outlined her head like a halo, and I could see tears welling in her bright blue eyes. The Pidgey perched on a branch behind Dolores and eyed the Snom, who remained frozen in its tracks, hoping to avoid another injury.

“We need to get you to the doctor,” she said hurriedly. “Are you able to sit up?”

“Dolores...” I said as if I didn’t hear her question. “Dolores, why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say you weren’t happy?”

The tears she had been holding back were let loose in an instant. “I... I don’t know,” she whispered. “This is your home, and this is where you’re happiest. We’ve lived together here for so long... your entire life is in Turffield, and I can’t ask you to give that up for me.”

More tears seeped out from my eyes, quickly chilling in the frigid air as they dropped. “I would do anything for you, Dolores. I would give up the farm and everything I had here if it meant your happiness. I only wish I would’ve known, before it got to this point...” I sighed.

Dolores smiled, though I could still see the pain in her eyes. She sat, ignoring the cold ice on the ground, and pulled my head into her lap. She ran her thin, nimble fingers through my hair before stroking my cheek gently. Her hands were icy too, but her loving touch helped soothe the pain in my hip.

“I know, I should have said something,” she replied, her smile still faint. “I haven’t felt like myself in a long time. But that isn’t your fault. People change.”

“Do you... do you still... want to be with me?” I asked tentatively.

“More than anything,” she smiled back. “This place might not feel like home, but if fifty years of marriage has taught me anything, home isn’t just where you live. Home can be a person. And that’s you.”

My lip quivered, and a shiver rippled across my body from the cold. “Thank you for saying that, my love. It still pains me to know you could be happier elsewhere.”

Dolores stroked my cheek again and stared deep into my eyes. “You can’t take that upon yourself, Edward. You already bring me so much happiness.”

I pressed my hand into the dirt and lifted my upper body up towards hers. My waist seared in pain, but I leaned further until my lips met hers. Our lips were purple with the chill in the air, but they gained a flush of pink as warm blood rushed in through our cheeks.

“Let’s move back to Sinnoh, back to your home in Snowpoint,” I said, pulling away from her embrace. “You are my home, more than this farm will ever be. And where you’ll be happy, I’ll be happy.”

I could see Dolores’ eyes widen with surprise. “Are... are you sure?” she asked. “We’ve lived on the farm for so long. Snowpoint might not even be how I remember it.”

“That doesn’t matter to me,” I replied. “If you aren’t happy there, we can find somewhere new. But I can’t ask you to stay, and I want to go on this adventure with you.”

Dolores beamed, a twinkle in her eyes that I hadn’t seen in years. “Okay, Edward. I would like that. But first, we need to get you down this hill.” Dolores slid underneath my arm and wedged her body against me, supporting my weight with hers. “Do you think you can stand up?”

I huffed and puffed as I shifted my weight forward, hinging at the waist to try and lift myself up. The pain was unbearable, but having Dolores by my side had given me a new wave of energy. Enduring this agony meant getting down from this hill and starting our new life together outside of Turffield.

“On three, let’s try to roll up to your feet,” Dolores said, positioning herself just in front of me so I could lean on her. “One... two... three!”

I gripped the wooden cane in my open hand firmly, and with all my might, I lurched upward, leaning heavily on my one good foot. I cried out in pain, feeling the grit of broken bone grind against the socket, but I was already half-way up. Dolores pushed with her body weight, and with my other hand I dug the walking stick deep into the soil. My good leg quivered and seemed as if it was about to give out, but Dolores pressed even harder, with more might than I thought her aged, tired body was capable of. Suddenly, my footing felt solid, and I shifted my momentum onto Dolores for support. Her body wobbled briefly, and for a moment I was afraid that I had leaned too heavily on her, but her knees pressed strongly upwards. She and I were both gasping to catch our breath, but at last I was upright.

“Come on,” Dolores sighed as she shifted her weight beneath me to help me walk. “We just need to get down the hill, and I’ll call for a doctor from the house.”

I nodded my head and looked around me. The clearing was almost completely dark now, with the sun’s last light receding below the horizon. What had been a light flurry of snow had picked up to a heavy downfall, and the cold tingling of melting snowflakes prickled against the back of my neck. I felt dizzy as my head pounded with pain, but I took a hesitant step forward, leaning on my cane and Dolores’ shoulder equally. Each step hurt more than the last, but we were slowly making progress out of the grove.

The sound of a lonely whimper came from several feet off of our trail. I glanced down and squinted, trying to make out the shape in the dark. It was the Snom from before, and its pitch black eyes were filled with sadness. It was staring at the two of us expectantly, half-afraid to be kicked again and half-afraid to be abandoned in these unfamiliar woods. The bug Pokemon inched forward towards us, gesturing that it wanted to follow.

“Dolores,” I mumbled weakly, “we should take that Pokemon to Snowpoint with us. It’s wandered too far down from its home, and when spring is here to stay after this storm, it won’t be able to survive the heat. I can’t bear to leave it here.”

Dolores was silent for a moment before nodding her head. “Snowpoint City is the best place in the world for that Pokemon then. Come,” she turned her attention to the Pokemon, “follow us back to our home. We’ll give you a place to stay, and a Pokeball to travel in if you want to join us.” Dolores waved her free hand for the Pokemon to come forward, and whether or not the Snom understood her words, it inched its soft, jelly-like body even closer.

The Pidgey let out an aggressive chirp from the branch behind us. Throughout all this time, she remained perched in the same branch and had yet to drop the journal from her beak. Her eyes looked sharp, as if she was offended to have been ignored this whole time. She ruffled her feathers and puffed out her chest, trying to make herself big.

“Maybe she wants to come too,” I said as a pained smile spread across my face. “We can start our new life with these Pokemon as a reminder of our time at the farm.”

Dolores nodded once more. She turned to face the Pidgey, shifting her weight gently so as to not throw off my balance, and waved her hand encouragingly to the bird. “There’s a Pokeball for you too, dear,” Dolores piped, sniffling her runny nose from the cold air. The Pidgey cooed and fluttered her wings before taking off from the branch. She soared overhead and flapped her wings in place just above us.

I turned to face Dolores once more. “I’m ready to start this new journey with you,” I professed. “Let’s see if we can find that little girl from Snowpoint again.”

Dolores beamed and nodded her head. We turned forward, and with our new companions following closely behind, we began our venture back downhill, where our new future together awaited.
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