Illustration by Shigeru1313.

New Directions

by Cori Falls


Chapter 6 -- Tricks and Treats


A smile made its way across my mouth as I studied my reflection in the mirror and adjusted my burgundy cape and dark blue cat-glasses one more time. I really loved my Black Arachnid costume -- Jessie had done an exquisite job when she'd made it for me last October, and she'd done another exquisite job patching it up this afternoon!

She'd also spent the last couple of days making some alterations to her Ninetales costume and James's Articuno costume so that they could wear them to tonight's Halloween party...which was going to be starting in another half hour!

I admired my reflection a moment longer before knocking on the bedroom door. "Hey! Are you almost ready?" I called.

"Almost!" I heard James reply.

"I just need to finish putting on my make-up!" said Jessie.

I opened the door and saw the two of them standing together at the dresser mirror. James was brushing his hair and putting on his headpiece of blue feathers, and Jessie was putting some gold body glitter on her chest and shoulders and dusting herself with gold powder. I had to admit, she'd done a pretty good job of toning down their outfits -- she'd sewn a pair of long sleeves onto her Ninetales costume, and even though James's chest was still bare, she'd made the bodysuit of his costume a little less form-fitting and padded it out in certain areas so that it would look more modest.

Jessie put on a bit of bronze lipstick and smiled at me. "You look great, Meowth!"

"So do youse guys," I told them.

"Thanks," James said.

Once Jessie finished brushing her hair and put on her fox-eared headband, she grabbed her purse and smiled again. "Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm ready to go!"

James nodded. "Me, too."

"Me-owth three!" I chimed in.

As we left the bedroom, Jessie and James looked at their pokemon, who were gathered around the TV and watching some old Halloween specials of South Park and The Simpsons on tape. I knew they wouldn't get bored while we were gone.

"Bye, guys! Enjoy your shows!" Jessie said to them.

"Don't do anything we wouldn't do!" James added.

Wobbuffet turned and waved at us. Bye! Have fun at the party! And tell Gary I said hi!

"Will do," I promised.

I smiled again as Jessie, James, and I started heading for Scarlet City. We'd talked to Gary on the phone this morning -- he'd left Pallet yesterday morning and spent the night at the pokemon center in Goldenrod City. He'd definitely be back on Red Rock Isle in time for the party. The four of us had made plans to meet at the pokemon center since Gary didn't know exactly when he'd be arriving and didn't want us to miss any of the party on his account. After talking to Gary, we'd gone to watch rounds five and six and the closing ceremonies of the Whirl Cup. (Misty had been eliminated in round three when a woman named Trinity defeated Poliwhirl and Corsola with her Gyarados and Chinchou.) Then, we'd returned to the cabin so that we could have lunch and so that Jessie could put the finishing touches on our costumes.

Halloween had always been my favorite holiday...and I had a feeling that this was going to be a good one!


When we arrived at the pokemon center, however, the party wasn't quite what we expected -- there were just a few kids and young teenagers, none of whom were wearing costumes, milling about while bubblegum pop played on a portable radio. The only way you could even tell it was a Halloween party was by a gold banner with the words "Happy Halloween" written in orange letters hanging on the wall.

Jessie raised an eyebrow. "This is a Halloween party?" she said incredulously.

James smirked. "Yeah. This is about as Halloweeny as that bike gang Christmas party was Christmasy."

"Ya mean dat Christmas party where ya got wasted and gave Jess a big ol' wet one on the mouth?" I asked.

He blushed. "Yeah. That one...."

Jessie cringed as a Britney Spears song came on the radio. "Ugh! If they're trying to scare me, they're doing a good job!"

I plugged my ears and cringed, too. "Jeez, dey should at least be playin' Halloween songs like Monster Mash, or somethin'...."

James winked at us. "Don't worry, guys -- I had a feeling the music at this party was going to suck, so I came prepared!" With that, he produced a portable CD player and a couple of rock mix CDs.

Jessie grinned and wrapped her arms around him. "I love you, sweetie!" she said, planting a kiss on his lips.

"Why don't we go out on the patio ta listen ta our tunes?" I suggested. "Dat way, we won't bug none of the teeny-boppers, and dey won't bug us."

"Good idea," James replied.

"And I'll get us some snacks," Jessie chimed in.

I followed her gaze and saw a table with a bowl of apple cider, a few plates of cookies, and a huge dish of candy corn on it. The sight made my mouth water. "And I'll give ya some help!" I offered.

After James went onto the patio to set up his CD player, I went with Jessie to the snack table and fixed three plates of cookies and candy while she poured three cups of cider. My mouth began to water more than ever as I looked at the selection of cookies -- there were sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins and decorated with orange glaze and yellow sprinkles, butter pecan cookies shaped like ghosts and covered with powdered sugar, chocolate peanut butter cookies shaped like bats, and there were even chocolate mint cookies shaped like black cats!

"Ya know, maybe dis party don't suck so much, after all!" I remarked as I put one of each cookie and a gigantic scoop of candy corn on each of our plates.

Jessie finished pouring the cider and licked her lips. "Yeah!"

When we joined James on the patio, he put on one of his CDs, and we listened to more Halloween-appropriate music. The three of us danced together to the high-energy songs like Disturbed's Voices and Monster Magnet's Spacelord, and Jessie and James danced by themselves to the slower songs like Black Sabbath's Planet Caravan and Danzig's Anything. Jessie even did a solo performance to Rob Zombie's Living Dead Girl -- she and Arbok had been practicing their pokemon dancing to that song since it had a part with an Indian snake charmer flute, and as she danced to it now, Jess really did have a sultry, cobra-like air about her, despite the fox costume she was wearing. I knew without even looking that James was just as captivated by the performance as I!

Once Jessie finished her dance solo, the three of us sat down and enjoyed our snacks. The sugar, butter pecan, and chocolate peanut butter cookies melted in my mouth, the chocolate mint cookies were crisp and refreshing, and the candy corn was so sweet that we had to wait awhile before drinking our cider to keep it from tasting sour.

"Mm-mmm! Now dat was deelicious!" I remarked as I leaned back in my seat and placed a paw to my stomach.

James nodded. "I don't think I've had candy corn since I was a tot!" he closed his eyes and smiled. "I used to have so much fun with my grandparents at Halloween. Grandpa Woodson used to carve the coolest jack o' lanterns -- he could make them look like any pokemon I wanted! Grandma Woodson always made caramel apples and cookies that put the ones we just had to shame! And grand-mama and grand-papa taught me that Halloween isn't really a scary or evil holiday -- it's simply the time of year when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is at its thinnest...a time to commune with the spirits of the departed and reap the harvest of all that was sown in the previous year. They also took me trick or treating!"

"I think your grandparents were right," Jessie told him. "We've been working especially hard this past year, and now we're finally reaping the benefits of all that hard work!"

James took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. "We're also continuing to sow the seeds of a bright future!" he reminded her.

Jessie smiled. "I guess that's one more reason to like Halloween!" she commented. "I remember, this was always my favorite holiday when I was a little girl. I guess because it's one holiday that being poor never stopped me from celebrating. Granted, I never got invited to any of the other kids' Halloween parties, and I never got to carve jack o' lanterns with momma since we couldn't afford to buy pumpkins, but momma always recycled thrift store clothes to make nice costumes for me, and I always got tons of candy when she took me trick or treating...." Her eyes grew moist with tears as she spoke.

"Are you okay, Jess?" James asked as he handed her a tissue.

Jessie dabbed her eyes. "I'm fine," she assured him. When she saw that some of her mascara and eye shadow had come off on the tissue, however, she frowned. And when she brought out her compact and saw that the sweat she'd worked up while dancing and the snacks she'd eaten had smudged the rest of her make-up, a look of complete mortification crossed her face. "I take that back...."

"Oh, come on -- it's not that big a deal," James chuckled. "It's just a bit of smeared make-up."

"Well, I don't want to be seen in public looking like such a mess!" she countered. She picked up her purse. "Now, if you boys will excuse me for a moment, I'm going to go get freshened up."

"Alright," James called after her as she took her leave. "I still don't think you look that bad, though."

"Yeah, but Jess is a perfectionist," I told him. "Especially where her looks are concerned!"

James laughed again. "No kidding! You should've seen how freaked out she got last week!"

"What happened?" I prompted.

"It was the day that you, Gary, and I had recovered from our colds," he explained. "Jess looked a little rough after taking care of us -- and I'll admit I looked like hell, too -- and she couldn't believe that I'd made love to her while her hair was all matted up, there was crust in her eyes, and her legs needed waxing and such...."

Now I was laughing, too. I could just picture the look Jessie must've had on her face that morning when she saw her reflection in the mirror!

James put his hands behind his head and smiled again. "It's alright -- she knows that I think she's beautiful no matter what. I am flattered that she always wants to look her best for me, though."

"Jessie is beautiful no matter what," I agreed. "Yer a lucky guy, Jimmy."

He nodded. "I know!"

For the next few minutes, the two of us sat together in silence, listening to the music on our CD player and reflecting on the day we'd had so far. Suddenly, however, the sound of the patio door opening stirred us from our reverie. But when we looked, we saw that it wasn't Jessie or even Gary -- it was Brock!

"Hey, James, Meowth. Mind if I join you for a couple minutes?" he asked as he took off the headpiece of the Onix costume he was wearing.

James gave him an incredulous look.

"Don't worry, I'm not here to hassle you," he said, taking note of the expression on James's face. "I just needed to get away from the party for a little while -- I can't stand the crap they're listening to in there!"

This made us laugh a little.

"Yeah, dat's why we're out here, too," I told him.

"Well, I guess you can hang out for a couple minutes if you're seeking refuge from the pop," James acquiesced. "Just don't tell the other twerps that we're here. We don't want any trouble."

"As long as you're not causing trouble, you won't get any trouble," Brock replied.

James frowned. "Oh, really? You mean like the time we were in that play with Jessie's uncle, and you three falsely accused us of trying to steal his Smoochum and attacked us?"

"That was an honest mistake -- we didn't know...." Brock said.

"Yeah, right!" I snorted. "We told ya we wasn't doin' anything wrong, but ya wouldn't listen to us! And I don't believe we ever got an apology for dat honest mistake!"

Brock shifted uncomfortably for a moment. "Well...for what it's worth, I am sorry about that. I didn't find out until later that you'd been telling the truth...and I heard that Ash and Misty said and did some really nasty things after I blacked out from Smoochum's Sweet Kiss."

"That's an understatement," James grumbled. "I do appreciate the apology, though."

After a long, uncomfortable silence, Brock spoke again. "As long as we're on the subject, can I ask you something?"

James and I looked up at him.

"What happened the other day?" he inquired. "After Ash got his Bayleef back from Professor Oak, he went off to be by himself for awhile...."

"Translation: he went off ta sulk about his defeat," I muttered under my breath.

James said nothing, just smirked, as if to agree.

"....When he got back to the pokemon center that evening, he was covered with cuts, bruises, scratches, and burns, and he smelled like he'd pissed his pants," Brock continued. "And when Misty and I asked him what happened, he told us that he'd caught you stealing pokemon, and that when he tried to stop you, you sicced all the stolen pokemon on him and beat him up. Care to tell me your side of the story?"

James's eyes went wide when he heard this. "What?! He's still saying that our pokemon are stolen?!"

I clenched my fists. "Why, dat lyin' sack a weasel shit! Just wait'll I get my claws on him!"

Brock buried his face in his hands for a moment. "Like I said, care to tell me your side of the story?"

"You mean the truth," James stated.

Brock's brow furrowed, as if he didn't really want to believe anything Team Rocket had to say.

"Well, you're going to hear the truth...probably more of it than you'd like, because I'm about to be brutally honest with you," James went on. "Do you remember my Growlithe, Growly? And Jessie's Lickitung?"

He nodded.

"Good. I'm glad you do, because Ash sure as hell doesn't," James said. "Jessie and I recently put those two back on the team. And we've also been catching a few new ones...legitimately. A Vulpix, a Sunflora, and an Articuno chick, to be precise -- Jessie rescued the Vulpix from a counterfeit breeding center that our boss sent us to shut down, some friends of ours gave us the Sunflora as a gift, and the Articuno imprinted on me because I was protecting his egg from poachers when he hatched.

"Jessie and I were spending some quality time at the beach with all of our pokemon when that little hooligan came along and accused us of stealing them!" James continued. "We told him several times that the pokemon belonged to us, but he wouldn't listen, and he tried to take them from us by force. When our pokemon wouldn't go with him, he accused us of brainwashing them and challenged us to a battle. We fought fairly and won, but Ash insisted on being a sore loser and commanded Pikachu to attack us -- I got electrocuted while trying to protect Jessie and my little Articuno. It was obvious that Ash wasn't going to leave us alone, admit defeat, or even listen to reason, so we had no choice but to give him that thrashing. And our pokemon attacked him because he attacked us first. We didn't command them to do it -- they chose to do it because he provoked them, and they wanted to defend us."

Brock's expression grew increasingly flabbergasted as he listened to James's account of our encounter with Ash. "Y-you're not lying, are you?" he stammered once he was able to find his voice.

James got to his feet and looked Brock straight in the eye. "No, I'm not. Ash Ketchum is a maniac -- he's a violent, confrontational, self-centered sociopath, and we want nothing to do with him or his psychotic pokemon. He won't listen to anything we have to say, so you'd better have a little talk with him. You tell him that we're not after his Pikachu or any of his other pokemon anymore, and you tell him to get off our case. We don't want any more trouble, but if he starts anything with us, then by god, we'll give him trouble!"

"You really are telling me the truth," Brock muttered. "You really have stopped trying to catch Pikachu. I wondered why we hadn't seen you around these past few weeks."

"Well, dat'd be why," I answered.

"Actually, we've given up on stealing altogether," James informed him. "So, if that twerp has a problem with us from here on out, it's his problem entirely."

Brock raised an eyebrow. "You've stopped stealing, too? What caused this change of heart?"

Now James was frowning again. "You didn't really think we wanted to be criminals, did you? We were thieves because we were forced into it by circumstance and didn't have a choice. We've been trying all along to do something good and worthwhile with our lives, and now that we've overcome a lot of our hardships, we finally can."

Brock smiled and extended his hand when James said this. "Well, I'm glad to hear it. If you guys are trying to turn your lives around, then you have my support."

James's expression softened, but he didn't shake Brock's hand. "We probably could've turned our lives around a lot sooner if you and your friends had been more understanding. If you'd ever bothered to look beyond our Team Rocket uniforms and see us for who we truly are, you'd have realized that we never had to be enemies."

"I know that now...and I know that we probably were too hard on you," Brock admitted. "But I really am sorry. And if what you're telling me is true, then I really do want to bury the hatchet and see you three move forward with your lives."

After another long pause, James slowly reached out and shook Brock's hand. "I'd like that."

When they finished shaking hands, Brock reached down and shook my paw. "I'd like dat, too," I echoed.

"I promise I'll talk to Ash," Brock told us. "I'll try and get him to lay off on you guys."

James nodded approvingly. "Good. I'm glad we could reach this understanding. I don't have any such hopes for Ash, though. I don't want to be in conflict with him, but we'll never be able to be friends with him or make peace with him -- he's committed an unforgiveable offense. So, I'd rather just avoid him altogether."

Now Brock was frowning again. "Unforgiveable offense? He's hurled insults and false accusations at you and attacked you before, but...."

"Dat ain't what James is talkin' about!" I interjected. "He's referrin' ta how Ash almost got Jessie killed!"

"What?!" Brock cried.

James then proceeded to tell him about what had happened to Jessie when she was swept away by Celebi's tornado and how Ash had left her to die after she'd saved his life. (Though he left out the part where we'd beaten Ash within an inch a his life dat night.)

Brock sat down and placed a hand to his temple when James finished relating the tale. "Oh, my god," he muttered. "I can't believe Ash would do something so terrible...."

"Well believe it, cuz he did!" I snapped. "Ya better take a good long look at dat twerp, kiddo -- I'd think twice about callin' somebody like him a friend if I was you!"

James nodded. "Indeed. Just take a look at how he's always treating us, even when he has no cause. People that are capable of such wanton brutality can't be trusted."

"Oh, my god," Brock repeated. "I am so sorry -- I didn't know that Jessie almost died because of Ash. No wonder you're so upset."

James turned away and clenched his fist. "Believe me, it goes way beyond that. No words can do justice to how upset I was...and still am. I almost lost Jessie. That's not the kind of thing I can forgive and forget...."

Brock stepped closer and placed a hand on James's shoulder. "You're in love with her, aren't you?"

James turned and looked at him again, his eyebrows raised in an expression of mild surprise. Then, he smiled. "Yes. I love Jessie more than anything...even life itself. And she feels the same way about me."

"I'm not surprised to hear that -- I actually figured it out a long time ago," Brock chuckled. "The way you two are always touching and flirting with each other, the way she saved your life on the St. Anne and protected you from the ghost at Maiden's Peak, the way you chose her over your inheritance...Misty even told me that she saw you dress up like a doll for Jessie to cheer her up after she lost the tournament at the Princess Festival -- it's so obvious that you love each other!" He smirked. "Why do you think I've never once tried to hit on Jessie? It's not because I don't think she's hot because she is -- I just knew that she was already taken, and I didn't want to barge in on another guy's territory!"

"Territory? Jessie doesn't belong to anybody but herself," James scoffed. "But you're right -- she and I are lovers, and neither one of us appreciates unwanted flirtations."

"Lovers?! Wow! You're a lucky guy, James...a very lucky guy!" Brock told him.

This made James smile again. "Tell me something I don't know!"

Brock smiled, too. "How about this? That time we all got separated in the Ursaring Forest and Jessie had to spend the night with me and Ash, I actually heard her crying herself to sleep and muttering that she missed you and Meowth, and that she was afraid she'd never see you again. I'd never seen that side of her before...."

"You mean the real Jessie? The sweet, sensitive woman that she truly is?" James offered. "She may be tough as nails, but she's very kind and gentle once you get to know her."

He nodded. "Like I said, you're a lucky guy."

"Yes, I am," James agreed.

Suddenly, the patio door swung open again, and Ash joined us. He was wearing a clown suit and had a Mr. Mime mask in one hand and a giant plate of cookies in the other. "Heeeey, Brocko! What are you doing out here?" he asked.

I sank down in my seat, hoping that Ash wouldn't see me. James clenched his fists again and started trembling with anger, and even Brock seemed to be cringing.

"I just wanted to get some fresh air, Ash," Brock replied. "I'll be back in a minute."

"Well, hurry up!" Ash whined. "Misty went to the bathroom, and she's been in there for ages -- I don't have anybody to talk to! It's booooooring!"

"Alright...." Brock said.

Once Ash went back inside, James and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"Thank goodness Ash didn't recognize you in those costumes," Brock remarked. "Otherwise, that coulda gotten ugly."

"You have no idea," I told him.

Brock looked through the glass door and frowned again. "Well, I guess I'd better get back inside," he said. He shuddered as he pushed the door open, and the Backstreet Boys song that was now playing became audible.

"Time ta face the music, huh?" I quipped.

Brock shook his head and laughed a little. "This reminds me of something that happened last spring. After we read the radio drama at that station in Goldenrod City, D.J. Mary and her producer thanked us by giving us tickets to an O-Town concert. Misty was over the moon since she loves all those boy bands and pop divas, but Ash spent the whole time whining that he'd rather have seen Baha Men and kept trying to sing Who Let the Dogs Out?...and she ended up spending most of the concert yelling at him to shut up. All I can say is, thank goodness I had my Walkman and a few Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blink 182 albums with me!"

James and I laughed, too.

"Well, thanks for letting me hang out here for awhile," Brock said as he opened the door again.

James nodded.

"And I will talk to Ash," he promised. "Hopefully he'll listen to me."

"I hope so, too," I sighed.

"As long as he leaves us alone, we'll be happy," said James.

Brock shook hands with us again before taking his leave. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks," we replied.

After Brock went back inside, James took his seat at the table once more.

"Well, dat was...unexpected," I remarked.

"Unexpected, but not unwelcome," he agreed. "Now that Brock understands our situation, maybe he can help keep Ash in check and prevent any future twerp encounters from becoming as explosive as the last few."

My heart sank as I listened to him. "Yeah, we had dose same hopes when Misty said she wanted ta be our friend, and things only got worse!"

"True," James admitted. "But Brock's always been the most reasonable of the three. And we didn't technically make friends with him -- we've simply put aside our differences and made peace. He doesn't really have anything to hide the way Misty did, so he has no reason to pretend to be nasty to us."

"Yer right -- he's just gonna try ta keep Ash under control, the way Misty shoulda done when she promised ta be our friend!" I concluded.

James smiled. "Exactly! Brock may not be on our side the way Gary is, but at least he's not our enemy anymore and wants to keep things copesetic as much as we do...and I'd say that's a step in the right direction."

"It sure is," I concurred.

The two of us exchanged smiles.

Suddenly, the door flew open again, and Jessie stormed onto the patio. Her make-up wasn't smudged anymore, but her face was as red as her hair, and she looked as if she were on the verge of tears. "Come on, guys! Let's get out of here!" she said, her voice cracking.

James placed his hands on her shoulders and made her sit down. "Jess, what's the matter? What happened, honey?"

Her lip quivered, and she placed a hand to her temple. "Look, I just want to go back to the cabin. I don't want to be here anymore...."

"We can't leave yet -- we gotta at least wait for Gary ta show up!" I protested. "What's he gonna do if he gets here, and we're gone?!"

James wrapped his arms around Jessie and rested her head on his shoulder. "Meowth, go get her another cup of cider," he told me as he began to rock her back and forth and gently rub her back.

Doing as I was instructed, I ran back inside and refilled Jessie's cup. (Thankfully, Ash still hadn't noticed me -- he was too busy braggin' to a buncha little kids dat nobody could beat him at bobbin' for apples and shovin' 'em aside as he dunked his head inta the barrel.) When I returned, Jessie had calmed down a little, but she still looked like she was ready to cry.

"Now, what's dis all about?" I asked as I pressed the cup of cider into her hands.

Jessie took a sip and exhaled in a ragged breath.

James patted her on the back again. "Please tell us, sweetheart."

Jessie sighed. And after a long pause, she told us what had happened while James and I were talking with Brock....

"When I went into the bathroom to fix my make-up, I noticed that somebody was in one of the stalls," she began. "I didn't pay any attention, though -- I just started freshening up. After a few minutes, I heard the toilet flush, and who should come out of the stall but Misty!"

James and I frowned. We both knew where this story was leading.

"She stared at me for a moment when she came to the sink to wash her hands, but she didn't seem to recognize me," Jessie continued. "I wanted to keep it that way, so I didn't say anything to her -- I just went back to reapplying my lipstick. And lucky me, she decided that she wanted to make small talk."

"Oh, boy," I groaned. Yeah, I definitely knew what this was leading up to.

"She complimented me on my Ninetales costume, so I thanked her and told her that the Tentacruel outfit she was wearing was nice, too. Then, she went off on this big thing about how Tentacruel is her pokemon sign and how appropriate it is since it's one of her favorite pokemon, how she's a water pokemon master. Yadda, yadda, yadda." Her brow furrowed. "Then, she started talking about how Ash and Brock's signs are Mr. Mime and Onix and how a couple of other people that she knows have Ninetales and Articuno for their signs...and that's when she finally figured out who I was...."

James rolled his eyes.

"Sheesh. Took her long enough, didn't it?" I muttered.

Jessie laughed bitterly. "I guess you know what happened next -- Misty started demanding to know what I was doing here, threatening that we'd better not be trying to steal pokemon or else, and calling me a bitch for what we did to Ash the other day. I couldn't take it anymore, so I told her that we'd only attacked Ash because he attacked us first, that we were just in town to see the Whirl Cup, that we'd only come to the party to have fun, that stealing pokemon wasn't even on our agenda, and to get off our case." She buried her face in her hands and sighed again. "For all the good it did -- Misty didn't believe a word of it...and then she got snotty with me again and started bragging about how she'd placed in the top eight at the Whirl Cup and how a loser like me could never even dream of accomplishing anything like that...."

James pounded his fist on the table. "Why that little...." he said through clenched teeth.

"Jeez! Whatta bitch!" I growled, finishing the thought for him.

"No kidding! Reasoning with her hadn't worked, and I couldn't take any more of her attitude, so I decided to bring her down a couple of notches," Jessie went on. "For one thing, I reminded her that she'd been eliminated in round three, which meant that she'd placed in the top sixteen, not the top eight! She didn't seem too happy that I'd corrected her fuzzy math...."

"I'll bet!" I laughed.

James nodded approvingly and smiled.

"Then, I told her that I don't give a good goddamn where she placed anyway...and I told her how my momma won a Whirl Cup championship and received the Water Pokemon Alpha Omega title back in 1980...."

James and I applauded.

"Yeah! Good for you, Jess!" James cheered.

"Was I right? Did Misty shit a golden brick when she heard dat Miyamoto is a real pokemon master?" I asked eagerly.

"Yeah, she did look like she was going to shit and fall back in it when I told her about my momma," Jessie replied. Her eyes filled with tears again, and she began to shake. "But you won't believe what she said to me after that. She said, and I quote, Yeah? Well, that championship your mom won doesn't mean anything now that she's DEAD!"

I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut when I heard those words -- I could only imagine how deeply that remark had hurt poor Jess!

James's eyes went wide. "!" he gasped.

Jessie was crying in earnest now. "I...I just didn't even know how to reply to that! I can't believe she said such a terrible thing about my momma...."

"Dat's so mean!" I cried. "Where does she get off?!"

James gave Jessie another hug and started rocking her back and forth once more. "Indeed," he growled. "How DARE she talk about Miyamoto like that?!"

"Once I recovered from the shock, I slapped her across the face so hard that I gave her a bloody nose," Jessie muttered. "I think that's when she finally realized that she'd crossed the line, and she gave me some half-assed apology, but I didn't want to hear anything else she had to say, so I just slapped her again and told her to eat shit and die...."

James smoothed back Jessie's hair and covered her face with gentle kisses. "Oh, angel. No wonder you're so upset. I'm sorry -- we won't stay here any longer if you don't want to. We can just leave a message for Gary with Nurse Joy, or something...."

She sniffled.

I hugged Jessie, too. "Don't listen ta anything dat rotten Misty said -- she's just jealous cuz you and yer momma are so much better den she is!" I told her.

"Meowth is right," James whispered as he brushed her tears away and gave her another kiss. "You have more beauty, brains, strength, and talent than Misty ever will. And your parents are always with you, Jess -- they love you, and they're so proud of you...and the things they accomplished during their lives will always mean something as long as their friends and family are here to honor their memory...."

Our words seemed to calm her, and she managed a weak smile. "Thanks, guys."

For the next couple of minutes, the three of us remained in our group hug, but then we were interrupted once again by the sound of somebody joining us on the patio.

"There you are," Misty said.

My blood boiled as I looked up at her. There was a red mark on her face from where Jessie had slapped her, and her eyes were dull and puffy, as if she'd been crying, but I felt no pity for her -- I just wanted to Fury Swipe the living daylights out of her!

James held Jessie closer. "What the fuck do you want, Misty?" he sneered. The fires of hell were burning in his green eyes, and he had the same look on his face that he did on the night he'd beaten Ash senseless for endangering Jessie's life.

"Yeah! We heard what ya said ta Jess, so give us one reason why we shouldn't kick yer bitch-ass seven ways ta Sunday!" I chimed in.

When Misty opened her mouth to speak, James got to his feet and stood menacingly over her. "We don't want to hear anything you have to say to us, you snot-nosed bitch...not unless it's a serious apology!" he warned her. "If you came here to make lame excuses, or gloat some more, or start another fight, or insult Jessie again, then I suggest you leave now...otherwise, you'll be carrying your teeth home in a paper bag!" As if to illustrate the point, he held one of his fists up to Misty's face.

As I listened to James, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that he'd make good on his threat if Misty made another insensitive remark. He'd become more protective of Jessie than ever since our encounter with Ayesha and our ordeal in the Arbor Forest -- he wasn't about to let anybody or anything get away with hurting her...and what Misty had said about Miyamoto was a major offense. She was in deep shit if she didn't have one hell of an apology for Jessie!

"I did come to apologize," she replied. "Jessie, as soon as I said that thing about your mom, I knew that I shouldn't have, and...."

"Then why did you say it?!" Jessie demanded.

"Yeah! Dat was a low blow!" I shouted. "And Jess wasn't even doin' anything ta you -- yer the one who picked the fight with her!"

Misty hung her head. "Well, I was mad at you for attacking Ash the other day, and I was afraid you might be trying to cause trouble again tonight, and then when Jessie told me that her mom won a Whirl Cup championship...."

"I see you believed Ash's bullshit story," James snorted.

Misty blinked. "You mean you weren't stealing pokemon? Then, why....?"

"Of course we weren't stealing pokemon...then or now! If you want to know what really happened, then talk to Brock -- we explained the whole thing to him a little while ago since he had the decency to ask us for our side of the story instead of rushing to judgement!" James snapped.

"And even if we was causin' trouble, dat still don't excuse what ya said about Jessie's mom!" I spat. "Miyamoto was a good woman! She was the best pokemon trainer and the best mother, and she spent her whole life workin' hard! A whiny spoiled brat like you don't even deserve ta say her name!"

"Damn right!" James agreed. "So, quit making excuses, Misty -- you still owe Jessie an apology, and my patience is wearing thin!"

I unsheathed my claws. "Yeah! Say yer sorry, or piss off!"

"Alright, I'm sorry!" she whined.

Jessie got back to her feet and slapped Misty across the face again. "Fuck you!" she shouted.

Misty took a step backwards and placed a hand to her cheek. "Hey, I said I'm sorry! I know I shouldn't have made that crack about your mom, and I'm taking it back! What's your damage?!" she said indignantly.

"I'll tell you what my damage is -- I'm sick and tired of you always saying and doing such spiteful things to us, and then maybe giving us a lame, insincere apology if we're lucky," Jessie replied cooly. "You may be saying you're sorry now, but I know you, Misty -- the next time you see us, you'll just start talking shit again!"

Misty looked away. "Yeah...about that...."

Jessie's sapphire eyes narrowed to slits.

"Look, after you ran out of the bathroom, I did some thinking," Misty muttered. "I thought about that night back in April when we made a truce and decided to be friends...and then, I thought about why we stopped being friends...and then, I thought about what I'd just done...."

"And?" James prompted.

"I really did like being friends with you three, and after you broke off the friendship, I was really hurt. So, I dealt with it by telling myself that it had all been a lie and that I couldn't trust you...and I took it out on you," Misty sighed. "But when I saw how upset Jessie was by what I'd said about her mom, I finally understood why our friendship hadn't worked. I took a good, long look in the mirror...and realized that I'd been the one to blame."

Jessie and James's expressions softened when she said this, and even I felt my anger subsiding a little.

"You were right -- after we made peace, I should've been nicer to you and tried to get Ash and Brock to make peace with you too, instead of pretending to hate you and egging Ash on," she continued. Her aqua eyes filled with tears. "I can only imagine how much it must've hurt, that I was calling myself your friend and being so mean to you. I'm so sorry about that. I mean it."

"So, where do we stand now?" Jessie asked quietly.

"I don't know," Misty whispered. She looked up at Jessie and James again. "I was hoping you could help me find out."

"Well, if you want to stop being enemies, then we're more than willing," James told her. "And like I said, Meowth and I spoke to Brock earlier and made peace with him. He knows what's going on, so you'll have nothing to hide this time."

Jessie and Misty both gave him a quizzical look.

"When Brock found out dat we was at the party, we explained the Ash situation to him," I informed them.

"And he promised to try and keep Ash under control," James added. "Now that we're not stealing pokemon or trying to catch Pikachu anymore, there's no more reason for us to fight."

Misty raised an eyebrow. "You've given up stealing?"

"Yes," Jessie replied. "Now that we're not victims of circumstance anymore, the three of us are moving forward with our lives." She smirked. "Maybe if you'd actually listened to me instead of giving me attitude, we could've worked things out before the situation got out of control."

"I'm sorry," Misty apologized again. "I had no idea."

"Well, now you do," said James. "So, please try to be civil in your dealings with us from now on."

"I will," she promised.

"And it shouldn't be that difficult," Jessie added. "After today, you probably won't be seeing much of us. We were only in town so that we could watch the Whirl Cup, and now that we've given up on catching Pikachu, we're not going to be following Ash anymore."

"Well, I know I was mean to you in the past, but I really will miss you three. Things just won't be the same without Team Rocket showing up to cause trouble," Misty chuckled. "How's Ash supposed to get anything done if you're not around to keep him on his toes and whip him into shape?"

"That's his problem, not ours," James countered.

"I guess you're right," she admitted. "So, does this mean we're friends again?"

"That may be pushing it a little, all things considered," Jessie told her. She extended her hand. "Why don't we just try not being enemies and see where it goes from there?"

"Sounds good to me," Misty replied, shaking her hand. Then, she shook James's hand and my paw.

"So, you'll be helping Brock keep Ash in check if he tries to start anything with us?" James ventured.

Misty nodded. "Definitely." Then, to Jessie. "I really am sorry for the way I acted earlier, and I take back what I said about your mom. I'm sorry about what happened at that Brad VanDarn show last month, too. We should've listened when you said you weren't doing anything wrong instead of jumping to conclusions and attacking you the way we did. And...I take back what I said about you and your grandmother."

Jessie's expression remained stern. "And what about that time you attacked James when that little flake, Temacu, was all over him? You got back the pokemon we'd been trying to steal, so you had no right to sic your pokemon on him the way you did! I think you owe him an apology as well."

Misty blushed. "I...I only did it because I was mad at him," she muttered.

Jessie arched an eyebrow. "Mad at him? What for?"

She blushed more brightly than ever. "Well...I knew that you guys were a couple, and then all of a sudden, Temacu said James was going to marry her. I thought he was cheating on you, Jessie."

Jessie, James, and I burst out laughing when she said this.

"What's so funny?!" Misty demanded.

"The very idea that Jessie and I would even consider being unfaithful to each other, that's what!" James replied once he was able to bring his laughter under control.

"Then, why....?"

Now Jessie was blushing, too. "For the record, Temacu was the one who went after James -- he kept spurning her affections and trying to tell her that he was already with me, but she wouldn't listen. I knew James would never leave me for another woman or fool around on the side, so I told him to play along with her for awhile so that we could get the pokemon in her dad's lab...and a little something to eat since we were starving."

"Yeah! Poor James was blameless -- it was all Jessie's fault!" I snickered.

Jessie gave my whiskers a sharp tug. "Quiet, you!" she grumbled. "You enjoyed that spaghetti dinner just as much as I did!"

James folded his arms across his chest and smirked. "At any rate, I'd wanted to stay out of that whole mess. I pretended to go along with Temacu under protest...and we all felt awful about it afterwards."

Jessie looped her arm in James's and rested her head on his shoulder. "But things turned out okay in the end -- that experience made us reaffirm our commitment to each other. James and I are completely devoted to one another...and we made the vows to prove it!"

Misty's eyes went wide. "Does that mean what I think it means?!"

Jessie held out her left hand and showed Misty the amberite promise ring that she was wearing. "What do you think?"

Misty became starry-eyed as she looked at the ring. "Oh, wow! Congratulations!" She blushed again. "And...I'm sorry for attacking James the way I did. I didn't know...."

The smile returned to Jessie's lips. "Apology accepted."

Misty smiled, too. "Come on. Why don't we go back inside and get some cookies and candy before Ash hogs them all?" she suggested.

At the mention of cookies and candy, my stomach started growling again. "Sounds like a plan ta Me-owth!" I said.

As the three of us followed Misty inside, however, we were met with yet another surprise -- Gary had finally arrived...and he and Ash didn't seem too happy to see each other!

"Augh! Leave me alone, you jerk!" Ash cried as Gary grabbed him by the collar of his Mr. Mime costume and started shaking him about.

"Shut the hell up, Ketchum!" Gary snapped. "Do you have any idea what that stupid Bayleef of yours did to my grandpa?!"

Ash fixed him with his usual clueless expression.

"You SAW the way she attacked him!" Gary shouted. "Grandpa could've been seriously hurt because of you! Because you can't be bothered to give your pokemon any decent training!"

"AUGH! You are SUCH a liar, Gary -- I'm a better trainer than you are!" Ash whined. "Maybe if you'd gotten top sixteen at Indigo League and won an Orange League championship, you'd know what it's like to be friends with your pokemon...."

Gary silenced Ash with a slap across the face. "News flash! I do know what it's like to be friends with my pokemon!" he shot back. "Sure, they miss me when I send them to the lab, but they don't go ballistic and attack people because of it! And do you know why? Because they know how to behave themselves!"

Unable to come up with a decent reply, Ash just made a nasty face at Gary.

"I suggest you train that damn thing and teach it some manners," Gary said gruffly as he released his hold on Ash. "Otherwise, you'll have to find somewhere else to send your extra pokemon -- I won't tolerate them hurting my grandpa! Consider yourself warned!"

Ash screwed up his face and made like he was going to take a swing at Gary. Before he could, however, Brock and Misty raced to his side and caught him by the arms.

"AUGH!!! What do you think you're doing?!" Ash demanded. "You saw the way Gary was acting!"

"And he has every right to be upset!" Brock told him. "It was really irresponsible of you to let Bayleef attack Professor Oak like that!"

"YEAH! You should've at least apologized to him!" Misty chimed in.

"I can't believe you're taking up for stupid Gary! This isn't faaaiiirrr!!!" he wailed.

As Ash continued to kick and scream and whine about what a jerk Gary was, Brock and Misty looked over at us. I could tell from the exasperated expressions on their faces that they were finally starting to get an inkling of why we detested the twerp so much and didn't want to have anything to do with him anymore.

I couldn't help but wonder how much longer it would be before they gave up on him, too.

When Ash finally wriggled free of Brock and Misty's grasp, he ran over to Gary, who was now helping himself to some cookies at the snack table. "I'm not through with you yet! I challenge you to a battle, Gary!" he shouted.

"Forget it," Gary replied. "I already told you to shape up or ship out -- I have nothing more to say to you, Ash."

Ash scowled again and grabbed his poke balls.

I looked up at Jessie and James. "I've got a feeling dis is about ta get even uglier den it already is," I remarked.

"Yeah. Ash is going to fight whether Gary wants to or not," James grumbled.

"And we're not going to let that happen!" said Jessie. She winked at us. "Come on, guys!"

James and I nodded. None of us relished the idea of revealing our presence to Ash, but it was the only way to take the heat off of Gary.

Jessie strode over to Ash and tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, twerp!"

Ash turned and frowned when he saw us. "Team Rocket?! You're here, too?! What do you losers want?!"

While Ash was yelling at Jessie and James, my eyes met Gary's. I looked towards the front door, then back at him. He nodded and began edging away."

"It's Halloween," James said to Ash. "So, we just wanted to say...trick!"

Ash blinked. "Uh...don't you mean trick or treat?"

"Nah! We ain't givin' you a choice!" I told him.

With that, Jessie and James grabbed Ash by his underpants and yanked upwards.

"Whoa! Nice atomic wedgie action!" I commented as they pulled his underwear over his head.

"Look! The twerp wears Pikachu underoos!" Jessie snickered.

James flashed us a wicked grin. "Underoos? I used to wear those...and then I turned three!"

All three of us had a good laugh at that. Even Brock and Misty were giggling. And Gary, who was now walking out the door, was laughing so hard that it was all he could do to keep from falling over!

Ash, however, was not amused. "Stupid Team Rocket! I'll show you!" he whined in a voice that was an octave higher than normal as he hopped about in a desperate attempt to dislodge his wedgie.

When Brock and Misty finally stopped laughing and tried once again to get Ash under control, we decided to make our escape.

"Well, our work here is done!" Jessie announced.

"And now, we have to run!" James chimed in.

I saluted the twerps as we walked out the door. "But it's been fun!"


When we got outside, we found Gary waiting for us. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Hey, guys! Thanks for giving Ash that atomic wedgie -- it really made my day!"

"It was our pleasure," Jessie replied.

I nodded. "Well, Ash is a total melvin -- it's only fittin' we should give him one!"

"Yeah!" James agreed. "We were still pissed about what he did to your grandpa, and picking a fight with you was just pushing it too far!"

"Well, I appreciate it," he said. "Sorry I was late, by the way -- I would've been here about half an hour ago, but when I finally got back to Red Rock Isle, I made a stop at the cabin to get changed into my Arcanine costume, and Wobbuffet and the other pokemon wanted me to watch an episode of The Simpsons with them. I kinda lost track of time...."

"That's okay," Jessie told him.

"So, did I miss out on anything good at the party?" he inquired.

"You have no idea, Gary!" I laughed. "You have no idea...."

James then told him about the conversations we'd had with Brock and Misty before he showed up.

"Well, I'm glad those two have decided to get off your case," Gary commented. "I just hope they have better luck reining Ash in than we do."

"We all do," James sighed.

"So, what're our plans now?" I asked, changing the subject. "We can't go back to the party now...not with Ash dere."

"No great loss -- that party was lame anyway. Just a bunch of little kids sitting around and listening to pop. I think the four of us and the twerps were the only ones who even bothered to wear costumes!" said Jessie. "I say we go back to the cabin and watch those South Park and The Simpsons Halloween specials with the pokemon -- it'd be more fun."

"I second the motion," James chimed in. "We can have our own Halloween party!"

"Yeah!" I cheered. "We can watch cartoons, we can listen to our own music as loud as we want, Jimmy can make some Halloween treats...."

"And I brought along my H.P. Lovecraft anthology, so we can read some scary stories, too," Gary added.

"Sounds good to me!" Jessie replied. "This'll definitely be fun!"

"Den, whadda we waitin' for? Let's party!" I cheered.

Once we made our plans, the four of us went to the grocery store to pick up a few necessities and party supplies. In the produce section, James got a bag of golden delicious apples, a tub of caramel dip, and a couple of pumpkins so that he could make caramel apples and carve jack o' lanterns the way his grandma and grandpa Woodson always used to. We also cruised the candy aisle, and we each got a bag of our favorite Halloween candy -- Gary picked miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in autumn-colored wrapping, I picked mini Kit-Kat bars, Jessie chose fun-sized Three Musketeers bars, and James chose Hershey Kisses in autumn-colored foil. And since we knew that Butterfingers were Wobbuffet's favorite, we picked up a bag of those, too.

Jessie licked her lips as she eyed the candy. "It all looks so delicious!"

Gary nodded. "Yeah! I'll share my peanut butter cups with you if I can have some of your candy, too."

"Of course!" James replied. "I figured we'd all share our candy with each other and the pokemon."

"Good thinkin', Jim," I told him.

"Is there anything else we want to get while we're here?" he asked.

Jessie thought for a moment. "Some candy corn would be nice," she said as we passed the candy corn display.

"Yeah. I didn't get any at the party," Gary remarked.

James smiled. "Meowth, you're the closest. Would you please get a tub?"

I nodded. "No problemo!"

"Get the kind that has the chocolate-flavored pieces and the sugar pumpkins and witches in it," he said.

"One Autumn Mix, comin' up!" I told him. As I grabbed a tub and placed it in the cart, I grinned up at my three friends.

"What is it, Meowth?" James asked.

"I've got a riddle for ya!" I replied. "What's six inches long, has two nuts, and makes girls fat if dey ain't careful?"

James's eyes went wide. "Oh, for godsake, Meowth!" he snapped.

Jessie reached down and gave my whiskers another tug. "Behave yourself!"

Gary covered his mouth with his hands and snickered.

"What?!" I said defensively. I wriggled free from Jessie's grasp and picked up a candy bar that was on the shelf next to the candy corn display. "The answer is Almond Joy! Jeez! Get yer minds outta the gutter!"

Jessie and James blushed. Then, they burst out laughing.

Gary laughed, too. "Did you want to get an Almond Joy, Meowth?"

"Nah, I just wanted ta mess with Jess and Jim," I snickered as I placed the candy bar back on the shelf. "I saw it sittin' dere, and I couldn't resist...."

James reached down and gave me a noogie. "Sometimes you feel like a nut, huh?"

"In Meowth's case, it's more like all the time!" Jessie chuckled.

"Dat's right!" I told them.


Once the shopping was done, we paid for our purchases and went back to the cabin. The pokemon were all pleasantly surprised that we'd left the party early and decided to spend the evening with them, and we all watched the last Simpsons and South Park Halloween specials together. Then, we all watched as James washed the apples, heated up the caramel, and dipped the apples into it. While the apples were cooling, James cut open the two pumpkins and scooped out their innards.

"What kinda jack o' lanterns ya gonna carve, James?" I queried.

"I thought I'd make some pokemon faces, the way my grandpa always used to," came his reply. "But first, I'm going to roast these pumpkin seeds...."

"I love roasted pumpkin seeds!" said Gary. "My mom makes them when we carve jack o' lanterns, too. They always make the house smell so good!"

"My grandma always used to roast pumpkin seeds, too. So did our chef, Dalila," James told us as he placed the seeds into a strainer and began to rinse them off. "I loved it when the kitchen was filled with their aroma -- it always meant that Halloween was on the way...and that pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas weren't far behind!"

"You guys were lucky," Jessie sighed. "I never had anything like that when I was little."

James winked at her. "Well, you will now, Jess! From now on, there's going to be more Halloween candy and holiday feasts than you'll know what to do with!"

Jessie wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her chin on his shoulder. "I love you, sweetie," she said.

"I love you too, angel," he replied.

Once James finished washing and drying the pumpkin seeds, he spread them out on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. Before long, the entire cabin was filled with their sweet, earthy aroma. While the seeds were roasting, James decided to carve one pumpkin to look like me and the other one to look like Wobbuffet. The two of us posed for him while he drew our faces on the pumpkins with a magic marker. Then, he carved out the faces with his knife. It took about an hour, but just like his grandpa Woodson, James did exquisite work -- the jack o' lanterns looked exactly like me and Wobbuffet!

"Wow! Those are awesome!" Gary remarked as James turned the jack o' lanterns around for us to see.

"Kick-ass!" Wobbuffet and I said in unison.

James blushed. "They're okay," he said softly as he placed two orange candles in the jack o' lanterns and lit them.

"You're being modest," Jessie told him. "They're masterpieces!"

This made James blush more brightly than ever. Jessie responded by giving him a kiss.

When the pumpkin seeds finished roasting, James brought them from the oven to cool. Then, by the light of the jack o' lanterns, we ate some of our candy and shared some of it with each other and the pokemon, and then, we each had a caramel apple and a handful of pumpkin seeds.

By the time we finished our treats, we were all thouroughly stuffed and thouroughly satisfied, so we decided to read scary stories for awhile and give our food a chance to digest before we did anything else. First, Jessie brought out her Edgar Allan Poe anthology and read The Masque of the Red Death aloud. I'd read a few of Poe's other works, like The Pit and the Pendulum, The Telltale Heart, and The Gold Bug before, but I'd never heard this particular story. I really enjoyed it, though -- the descriptions of the seven rooms where Prince Prospero's great party was being held took my breath away. And I loved the little twist of irony at the end, where the Red Death that all of the rich people were hiding from in the palace came to claim them, just as it had the commoners...and how everybody thought that he was just some smart-ass who'd come to crash the party. And after Jessie finished reading, Gary brought out his H.P. Lovecraft anthology and read The Call of Cthulhu to us. Unlike the Poe story, which was more like macabre humor, the Lovecraft story truly was frightening. The descriptions of the mysterious beast that had come from the stars and was now lying dormant in a city beneath the sea, the murderous cults that had been worshipping him for eons and would continue to do so until he awoke from his slumber, and the hapless sailors who stumbled upon Cthulhu's city and all met a grisly fate made my fur stand on edge and my blood run cold. The parts where Cthulhu called to people in their dreams and where the sailors (one of whom was named Parker) awoke Cthulhu were particularly terrifying...especially since they were so eerily similar to how Jessie, James, and I had awakened Ayesha's spirit when we were in Yew, and how Ayesha had called to Jessie in her dreams. And as I looked over at Jessie and James and saw how wide their eyes were as they hugged each other and trembled, I knew that they were thinking the exact same thing.

And Gary must've been thinking it, too. He shuddered as he finished reading. "Brrr! That story is a lot spookier than I remember!"

"Maybe cuz somethin' a lot like it happened ta us," I offered.

"Indeed. In light of our experience, it's harder for us to dismiss it as a work of fiction than it would be for the casual reader," James agreed.

Gary frowned. "Maybe I should've read something else, then. I'm sorry if the story scared you guys...."

"It's okay," Jessie assured him. "Our experience in Yew may have a lot of parallels with The Call of Cthulhu, but our story has a much happier ending. Unlike the sailors, we defeated Ayesha, and unlike Cthulhu, she's no longer a threat to anybody or anything. I'd be lying if I said that I could look back on our encounter with Ayesha without getting scared...but every time it does frighten me, I just remind myself of how our friendship saved me and how the ordeal made us all stronger."

James gave her another hug and planted a kiss on her forehead. "I'm glad to hear that, Jess," he told her.

She cuddled into him and smiled.

"Well, I guess that's enough scary stories for now," Gary said as he closed the book and returned it to his backpack.

"Yeah. Why don't we make some herbal tea, listen ta some music, and unwind for awhile?" I suggested.

"That sounds like an excellent idea, Meowth!" James replied.

As he and Jessie went into the kitchen to make the tea, I went through his backpack and selected another of his CDs, and Gary set up the CD player. When Jessie and James returned a few minutes later, I put the CD in the changer, and the sound of guitar riffs filled the room.

Suddenly, James's green eyes twinkled. "Oh, cool! I love this song!"

"What song is it?" I asked.

"It's called Godless, by Danzig," said Jessie, who was snapping her fingers and tapping her feet in time to the music.

"This song really spoke to me when I was a young lad -- it mirrored exactly how I felt about my parents dragging me to church every Sunday," James told us. "In fact, there's an interesting story about that...." Before he could tell us that story, however, his voice trailed off, and he closed his eyes so that he could listen to the lyrics....

Godless feeling in me,
Night after night.
Godless feeling in me,
Borne of their lies.

You gave me all of this and more, yeah that's for sure,
I can't believe in all your pain.
Under the draining of a Christian deity's blood,
You tell your children they're insane.

I couldn't love it anymore,
I had to listen to my heart,
I couldn't take it anymore,
So you leave me godless!

Just spread your tentacles of hate around my life,
I've taken more than you could ever give.
You can't believe that someone challenges your right,
I'm gonna send you back your pain.

I couldn't love it anymore,
I had to listen to my heart,
I couldn't take it anymore,
So you leave me godless!

I ask all who have gathered here to join me in this feast.
May we always be strong in body, spirit, and mind.
And all those who would try to harm us,
Let them be cast aside!

When the song ended, James opened his eyes again and gasped. "Wow! It's even more appropriate than I thought!"

Jessie arched an eyebrow. "James?"

He smiled at us. "Sorry for zoning out like that. I guess I should tell you that interesting story now, shouldn't I?"

"Yes, you should," she replied, giving his nose a gentle tweak.

"Well, this happened back in 1992. I was nine years old," James began, taking a sip of his tea. His expression soured. "That June, I'd been attacked by Jessiebelle's Oddish and gotten sick from breathing its Stun Spores. After grand-papa cured me with Salvea Weed tea, he and grand-mama tried to break off my engagement to Jessiebelle. My parents retaliated by forbidding them from seeing me again...."

Jessie placed a hand on his shoulder as his voice trailed off once more. "It's okay, sweetie. You don't have to tell us if it upsets you."

"I'm fine," James assured us. He took another sip of his tea and continued. "Anyway, I didn't let my parents stop me from seeing grand-mama and grand-papa -- I still snuck out to visit them every chance I got. On one such occasion -- a Saturday afternoon in September, about a month before grand-mama passed away -- we made a day-trip to Celadon City, and they took me shopping at the mall. While we were at the mall, I went to a music store and saw that Danzig had just released their third album, 'How the Gods Kill.' I'd seen a couple of their videos on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, and I thought they were cool, so I bought the CD. When I got it home and listened to it, the first track on the album was Godless. Like I said, I was blown away by how much that song spoke to me -- it was proof that I wasn't the only one who felt alienated by all that stuff they preach in church. Listening to that song made me resent my parents dragging me to church every week even more than I already did. So, the next day, I decided to stage a silent rebellion by taking my new CD with me to church and listening to that instead of the preacher."

"I see where dis is leadin'!" I snickered.

James smiled at me. "I didn't want my parents to know that I was listening to devil music, so I was really careful -- I hid my portable CD player in the inside pocket of my jacket and used those tiny headphones that you can hide in your ear, and I kept the volume way down. It worked, too -- throughout the whole sermon, I listened to my CD, and my parents were none the wiser. In fact, they actually commented on how well-behaved I was, since I sat still during the whole service and looked like I was paying attention to the preacher!"

"I remember somethin' like dat happenin' on an episode of The Simpsons!" I remarked. "Bart took his Walkman ta church, and den Homer confiscated it and listened to a football game durin' the sermon!"

"Oh, yeah! I remember that, too!" Jessie laughed. "I also like the episode where Bart switched the organist's sheet-music with Iron Butterfly's Inna Gadda Da Vida!"

Now, we were all laughing.

"I probably would've done something like that too, if I'd had the chance. Unfortunately, my luck ran out when the service ended, and my parents sent me to my Sunday school class," James said, getting back to the story. "I'd planned on listening to my CD during Sunday school just like I had during the sermon. But while the teacher was handing out our workbooks, she caught sight of the headphone cord sticking out of my jacket...."

Jessie placed a hand to her mouth. "Uh, oh!"

James smirked. "When the teacher demanded to know what I was hiding in my jacket, I had no choice but to show her my CD player. She decided to punish me by playing the CD for the whole class and embarrassing me, but it totally backfired -- when she heard the music, she nearly shit a golden brick, and most of the other kids thought I was cool for having the balls to listen to devil music in church! While the teacher was freaking out, she'd forgotten to turn off the stereo, so I cranked the volume, and we all started dancing to it. The noise attracted a couple of the teachers in the neighboring classrooms, and when they heard the music, they started freaking out, too! Then, a few more teachers and the minister showed up, and all hell broke loose!"

This made me, Jessie, and Gary burst out in peals of laughter again.

"Oh, my god! I can totally picture dis!" I gasped.

"It sounds like the kinda thing you'd see in an 80s rock video!" Gary commented. "That's so funny!"

"So, you caused a riot in Sunday school?" Jessie ventured.

James put his hands behind his head and smiled proudly. "Yep! I guess you could say that!"

I gave him a thumbs-up. "You rule, Jimmy!"

"Yeah!" Gary agreed.

"My parents looked like they wanted to crawl into a hole and die when they found out what I'd done!" James snickered. "Dad whipped my ass with a belt until I was black and blue when we got home, and he and mom grounded me for a year, but it was totally worth it! Besides, I ran away from home a little over two months later, so it didn't really matter how severely they punished me anyway."

Jessie frowned again when she heard this. "Poor James. Your parents were so mean to you," she said quietly as she placed a hand to his cheek.

James closed his hand over hers. "It's okay, honey," he told her. "My parents may have been awful, but they taught me a valuable lesson -- how not to raise children! We'll do a much better job with our kids, Jess!"

This made the smile return to her lips. "Yeah! We won't force any kind of religion on them -- we'll let them make up their own minds about that issue."

James nodded. "Exactly! And we'll let them listen to any kind of music they want...provided that it's real music -- no flaky pop crap allowed!"

Now we were all laughing again.

"Heh. Youse guys are gonna be such cool parents, the only way yer kids'll be able ta rebel against ya is by becomin' ultra-conservatives like James's parents or stupid twerps like Ash!" I remarked. "And I don't see anything like dat ever happenin'!"

"Me either," Gary agreed. "I know you two will do a great job raising your kids -- they won't even want to rebel!"

Jessie blushed. "Thanks, Gary."

James nodded. "That reminds me -- I still need to tell you the coolest part of my story!"

Jessie arched an eyebrow. "There's more?"

"And it gets cooler den the riot in Sunday school?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah!" he said. "While we were listening to the song just now, I realized that it's important to me for another reason, too! You know that final verse, where he's asking everybody to join him in the feast, asking for strength, and for his foes to be cast aside?"

Gary, Jessie, and I nodded.

"Well, I didn't know this when I was a kid, but those are actually lines from a Pagan Samhain ritual -- those are the wishes you make on Ancestor Night, when you commune with the spirits of the departed and ask for wisdom, guidance, and protection!" he explained. "I'd been reading about it in grand-mama's Book of Shadows since I'm going to do the ritual tomorrow night during the full moon, and I thought those lines sounded really familiar. Now, I know why!"

Gary's eyes went wide. "Wow! That is cool!"

"It's another sign that you were destined to follow your grandparents' ways, no doubt," Jessie told him. "It appealed to you and felt right, even before you fully understood it."

James cupped her chin in his hand. "There's still a lot I have to learn, but I know what you mean. This way has always felt right to me...just like being with you has always felt right."

She blushed again. "I love you, James."

"I love you too, Jessie," he replied.

As the two of them wrapped their arms around each other and rested their foreheads together, I got the feeling that they needed some time to themselves.

And Gary must have sensed it, too. "Well, it's been a long day -- I'd love to stay up later, but I really need to get to bed."

I nodded. "Me-owth, too."

Jessie and James smiled at us. "Good night, guys!" they said in unison.

"Good night," Gary and I echoed.

As we started heading for our room, I looked over my shoulder and saw Jessie running her fingers along James's chest. "Well, James, since it's still Halloween for another...." She paused for a moment and looked at the clock. "....Five minutes, I just wanted to say...treat!"

James smiled. "Don't you mean trick or treat?"

She grinned. "Nope! I'm not giving you a choice!" With that, she leaned into him and pressed her lips to his.

James responded by lifting her into his arms. "Mmm! I think I'm going to like this treat best of all!"

"I think you will, too!" she giggled as he carried her into their bedroom.

As James kicked the bedroom door shut behind him, I shook my head and smiled. Seeing how deeply those two loved each other always gave me a warm feeling on the inside.


When I got to the bedroom I was sharing with Gary, I found him digging a pair of pajamas and his toothbrush from his backpack.

"So, ya have a good Halloween?" I ventured.

He nodded. "Yeah! The trip to Scarlet City was long, but I had a lot of fun tonight. We had a really nice party."

"Dis is the first time Jess, Jim, and I have really celebrated Halloween in a long time," I told him. "It was a blast!"

Gary grinned. "Well, hopefully my parents will be home next year, and they'll be able to throw one of their Halloween parties -- it's always a big event at our place! If they do, then you're definitely invited."


"That reminds me -- mom and dad will be home in time for my birthday," Gary continued. "You're invited to my birthday party, too."

I winked at him. "We'll be dere with bells on!"

"Cool!" he said. He picked up his pajamas and toothbrush and headed for the door again. "I need to get a bath and brush my teeth before I go to bed."

"No prob. I should still be awake when ya get back," I replied. "Maybe we can read a couple more a dose Lovecraft stories before we go ta sleep."

"Sounds good."

Once Gary was gone, I climbed into my bed and looked out the window at the starry night sky. The waxing moon was at its zenith, and as I gazed up at it, I found myself reflecting on our day and everything that James had told us about the true meaning of Halloween. I liked that it was a time for communing with the spirits of the departed and reaping the harvest of the year's labors -- the fact that we were reaping an especially rich harvest this year...and the knowledge that Jim and Rose Morgan, Miyamoto, and Dorian were always with us made it a particularly comforting thought. And this, in turn, made me think about everything else that had been going on recently. Our lives had changed so much over the past couple of months...and they'd all been changes for the better.

I couldn't help but smile. Today truly had been a day to celebrate. We now had two fewer enemies...two more people who were able to cast aside their hostility and support the new direction our lives had taken. I had a warm bed and a full stomach and the prospect of many more comfortable nights and delicious meals to come. And more important than any of that, I was surrounded by friends and family that I loved with all my heart and soul and who loved me in return.

Everything was as it should be.

To be Continued....

Author's Notes

A very special thanks goes to my friends, Shigeru1313 and Hot Lips, for their help with this chapter. James's "riot in Sunday school" story was inspired by a hilarious RP that Hot Lips did...though the song in her version was Burn in Hell, by Twisted Sister. (And yes, the RP was inspired by James's infamous "riot in Sunday school" line from Double Trouble! hehe) The scene where Meowth tells the raunchy Almond Joy riddle was inspired by the bawdy riddles that Medieval Meowth told in Shigeru1313's story, Patterns in Time. And another special thanks goes to Shigeru1313 for the technical assistance (she chose Reese's Peanut Butter Cups as Gary's favorite candy) and for the cute illustration of everybody in their Halloween costumes! ^_^


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