Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tar Tales, Part I: Beware, Beware the Monster Fair

A year after I graduated from college—having both free time and disposable income for the first time in my life—I decided to get a new Pokémon. The income, part-time bookstore wages, wasn’t terribly high, so rather than hit up the fancy shops at Tysons Corner or pay the exorbitant fee to capture one from Shenandoah National Park (the nearest patch of public land where interesting ‘mons could be found), I turned to Craigslist first. Surely someone on there had a recently laid Egg they’d part with for a smile and the assurance of a good home.

Nope. Even those sellers knew their stuff—the pickings were either Pidgeys for a pittance or purebred Piplups for not much less than what the Tysons dealers were charging. With Pokémon, as with anything else, there’s no such thing as a free lunch—especially in Northern Virginia.

I did, however, find an advertisement for a breeder’s fair out in Manassas. Kind of a haul, but there might be some deals there. I’d at least come away with a better sense of the market, of how much those Piplups were really worth.

And so, one hot August afternoon, I found myself inching down I-66 among the weekend traffic, headed for that huge park beside Bull Run.

I had $500 in cash in my pocket and a vague plan to add a Rock- or Fighting-type to my party—something I could hike with. Neither of my current ‘mons were quite up to the task: the Typhlosion I’d had since my tenth birthday was a little too long in the tooth, and the Flygon I’d caught as a Trapinch in the Albuquerque desert just didn’t have the legs for it.

Note that this was just a couple of months after my first hike up Mt. Mitchell, the one where I met that highpointer who first turned me on to the concept. In the back of my mind I held the possibility of chasing down all those peaks myself—not as something I would necessarily do the next summer, but something it’d be cool to do someday. And something for which I’d need a pretty sturdy companion: a strong-legged, tough-skinned ‘mon, both heat- and cold-tolerant, that could hike all day and feed itself off the land.

So that’s what I was looking for as I strolled the aisles of the fair, past bright plastic pavilions and sellers hawking Blue-Ridge-Granite Geodudes and Massanutten Nosepasses. But none of those ‘mons caught my eye, nor did the Army’s recently decommissioned Porygon-Liberty or a lineup of Jersey Shore Machops. They all seemed too ordinary, too simple, good at one style of battle and nothing else. If I’m only going to add a Pokémon to my team once every five years, it had better be special.

My hopes rose as I turned the corner to the Exotic aisle, but crashed back down as I read the price tags on those ‘mons. Sure, it’d be cool to own a Sudowoodo from the Petrified Forest, a purebred Asian Meditite (bred domestically, their handler admitted, in a little operation down in Annandale), a Syrian Sandslash (some charity had shipped over a whole colony as ISIS encroached on their breeding grounds), or a Lunatone that had fallen on Siberia (with dash-cam videos to prove it), but not for $2000. Did they think bookselling paid a living wage?

As I headed back to the Local section, some dude behind me echoed my thoughts: “These deals suck.”

“And all the ‘mons are lame and tame,” replied another. “I told you, man, we shouldn’t have bothered with the day fair.”

“Word. How long till the night fair starts?”

Night fair? I hadn’t seen that in the ad. What did they sell there, Spinaraks and Ledybas? I turned around to ask those guys, but they’d disappeared into the crowd.

I took one final loop around the day fair—nothing looked any better in the light of new options—and then popped over to the local library to wait out the rest of the afternoon.

Around twilight, I returned. The banner above the park entrance was gone, and the parking lot—so full before that I’d nearly swapped paint with the skew-parked SUV that edged into the only space I could find—was nearly empty. I pulled straight through to the front of the lot, then hopped out and looked around. Up ahead, where the fair had been, was a small cluster of vehicles and tents, dark against the fading sky. Shadows slunk between them, flicking furtive flashlight-beams.

Okay, this was pretty sketchy. But I’d waited all afternoon for this—I might as well check it out. And so I fished out my headlamp and crept over for a look.

I should have known the thing would be illicit. On display was a dark angry jumble of ‘mons: fighting Torchics and mean-eyed Granbulls with scars up their muzzles were mixed in with contraband Croconaws and Sevipers. A tank of Carvanhas surged at me as I walked by, churning their water into a froth. The dealers were no better: tattoos, chains, and leather were the trend, and just about everyone but me seemed to be packing. I fingered my Pokéballs nervously—neither Qwill nor Sandser had battled in a while. Could they meet a challenge, or would we have no choice but to cut and run?

I was this close to turning around and bolting for the car when I saw it: a massive beast crammed into a square cage atop a pickup truck. Its scales looked gray in the twilight.

Was that a—no, it couldn’t be. I was just nearsighted. But I walked over nonetheless—and it was indeed.

“A genuine Rocky Mountain Tyranitar, ma’am,” drawled a man leaning against the truck.

“Caught ‘er ourselves just outside of Yellowstone,” added another from inside the cab.

Just outside of Yellowstone, sure. I came closer.

The monster was so curled up I could barely tell what it was, with its head bowed and its tail wrapped around itself. As I neared, it raised its head slowly, as much as the cage would allow, and fixed me with a sharp red eye.

Whoa. That thing was angry. What had they done to it? Tyranitars are aggressive under the best of conditions—there’s a reason you don’t see folks walking them in the park—but this one had clearly seen far worse.

“You gonna buy the dumb thing,” called the leaning man, “or you just gonna stand there looking?”

All at once, my heart went out to this poor, majestic Pokémon. It was a spirit of the hills, born to roam free above the treeline and rule the food chain with its terrible strength. Its teeth could crunch through solid stone; its footsteps shook the earth. One swipe of its claws would send these jokers running… and yet through the wonders of modern technology, they held it captive in a tiny metal cage. They didn’t even know how to care for it!

...then again, did I?

Nonetheless, I bit the bait. “How much is it?”

“Five grand,” said the leaning man.

Somewhat outside my budget. “You’re kidding, right?” I bluffed. “That one’s all scrawny and sick. It’s not worth half that much.”

“You know how long it took us to track ‘er down?” he snapped. “We were out there for weeks, braving blizzards and rockfalls and frostbite. And when we found ‘er, she could’ve ripped our heads off!”

“Two grand, at least,” said the man in the truck.

My eyes flicked to their license plates—Wyoming. Awful long way to come just to sell one ‘mon. This wasn’t their first fair, I realized, nor their first attempted deal.

“Five hundred,” I countered.

The leaning man glared. “That won’t even cover the trip home—”

His partner reached a hand out the window and clamped it over his mouth. “Five hundred’s fine, ma’am, cash or check.”

The other man ducked out from under his buddy’s arm and glared at him. “You happy now?” he snarled. “I told you we should’ve taken fifteen hundred from that guy in Kentucky.”

The other man said nothing, only plucked an Ultra Ball from the cupholder and swung it around to the bars of the cage. With a whoosh and a flash of red light, the Tyranitar disappeared. “The money, ma’am?”

I handed over the bills.

He counted them twice, then passed me the ball. “Pleasure doing business.”

Now scram, read the look on his partner’s face, so I did.

That’ll teach those two to poach, I thought as I walked back to my car, running my fingers along the ridges of the ball. Suspended in that capsule was my very own Tyranitar, the rarest ‘mon of the northern Rockies! I’d read so much about them in field guides and on Bulbapedia, but I’d never dreamed I’d see one in person, let alone train one.

The only problem was, this one seemed a little maladjusted… not the most tame… who am I kidding, it would be a thrashing ball of destruction once whatever those dudes had doped it up with wore off.

The ball twitched ever so slightly in my hand.

I might have bitten off a bit more than I could chew.

<--prev || next-->

No comments:

Post a Comment