- Pre-Epidemic : cw abuse, toxic family, addictions:
The Palmers were a simple family, known for contagious smiles and summer barbeque parties. Mr. Palmer was a small town police officer, while Mrs. Palmer sold cosmetics door-to-door in their cookie-cutter neighborhood. They had only one child together, but neighbors fawned over little Carrie Palmer like she belonged to each of them. Carrie was an honor student at Trainer's School, a talented hobbyist Coordinator, and excelled in her general education classes. She grew up seemingly in another era, one where people still borrowed sugar from next door and knew which family owned which restaurant down the road. The Palmers were the envy of peers and strangers alike, living a successful life too good to be true.
But it was too good to be true. The small town wasn't perfect and neither was Mr. Palmer's job; He coped with alcohol behind closed doors, going on binges and becoming both violent and predatory towards his family. The abuse from her husband, and the inability to protect her daughter from him, ate Mrs. Palmer from the inside-out. She developed illicit addictions that corroded her body and mind, further traumatizing Carrie with bouts of psychosis and disorientation. Shuppet lined the house in droves at night, feeding off the pain and suffering. Carrie discovered the hordes leader, a weasely feline of shadow and teeth, living in her closet by day and under her bed by night. No one believed her. But despite initial terror, Carrie developed a twisted comfort in the horde's presence; They were predictable, dependable, always waiting for her to come home. They never protected her, but they were always there to talk to, like her own living diary. Some even began leaving the house, shadowing Carrie throughout the neighborhood. She couldn't always see them, but she knew they were waiting for her around every corner.
By the time Carrie became a teenager, her own existence felt excruciating. Success followed her everywhere, but any flicker of joy was quickly snuffed out by her parents episodes. Apathy consumed her like a tapeworm, until all her thoughts and opinions were clouded and numb. The feline living in Carrie's room turned obsessive, never allowing her a moment alone. The power imbalance between them was toxic. The feline was temperamental, lashing out and terrorizing her at random, feeding off her fear like another Shuppet. Carrie wasn't herself for months, but no one noticed; People looked at her like a painting, projecting themselves onto her until she became what they wanted to see.
Still, Carrie did what she could to help out in her small town. She hand-delivered meals to the elderly and disabled, spent time working in soup kitchens and thrift shops, and tutored other Trainers free of charge. She hoped, perhaps, that being a good person might make her happier. But the harder Carrie tried to be a "good person", the less she understood what that meant. It seemed everyone she met had a hidden agenda to their kindness; Most people just wanted to feel important, like Carrie, whether they realized it or not. Others used their good deeds to mask the monster they were beneath, like her father. No one was truly good, and no one was truly happy; deep down, everyone rotted with sickness and impurity.
Carrie gave up on helping others. She gave up on helping herself. She stewed in cynicism and hate, until all her feelings turned painfully numb again. Carrie became desperate for an escape from life, desperate to be someone else. Soon enough, she was climbing out her bedroom window at night in search of strange house parties and seedy clubs. With a youthful face, nothing to lose, and stolen goods from her parents, Carrie fit in just fine. She called herself Cherry among the company of her night friends, some of whom were her father's age or older. But Cherry was still just a child playing at being an adult, dolling herself up in fishnets and black pumps; She knew nothing of the real costs of her actions. Those who did know looked the other way, enabling Cherry and taking advantage of her.
The blinding daylight caught up to Cherry quickly. She struggled to keep up her responsibilities and sunny facade, developing addictions to cope with the exhaustion and stress. Still, her double life began melting together in a puddle she couldn't contain. As her company and habits changed, so did Cherry, no longer valuing the same morals and behaviors she once held high. She became toxic without even realizing it, dragging others down to stay afloat in her misery. Cherry never intended to bring harm or ruin to others, but her bright eyes and crinkled smile were trustworthy; When people befriended her, she clawed into them and refused to let go. Every bad ending only made Cherry more miserable, more lonely, and the cycle of ruin continued.
Cherry knew she needed help. But whenever she fought to pull herself together, the fight only exhausted her more. Every time she sank back down into darkness, the light seemed farther and farther away. She partied for days on end away from home, only speaking to her parents to argue or beg for necessities. Her perfect persona finally shattered; The mask she wore for years was gone, but she hated the person underneath. She hated everyone.
Cherry learned from a young age that law enforcement wasn't concerned with "keeping the peace", only with keeping the quiet. For years, her father had abused his status to clean up personal matters at home, keeping his record and appearance squeaky-clean. Cherry hurt more than her own reputation when she ran from home, she hurt her father's reputation, something she knew he would never let go. Cherry didn't expect her father to show up with an entire squad, however, crashing the drug party of a house she'd been couch surfing in. But the police didn't arrive to make arrests; They had arrived to steal Pokemon, as a wild new law dictated all living Pokemon must be released by their Trainers or forcibly taken into custody.
Rumors and hoaxes of a new disease among Pokemon had been spreading for weeks, but Cherry hadn't ever taken it seriously; If there were a disease, it wouldn't affect her town. Nothing ever happened in her town. But the local police weren't only kidnapping Pokemon, they were taking lethal action against any deemed sick or ill. One partygoer released an elderly Snubbull from its ball; when the Pokemon took a wheezing stumble, a young officer splattered its head all over the wall in one shot. All hell broke loose.
Cherry ran for the door, shoving and trampling her way through the massacre as trap music muffled the battling all around. A fist grabbed her by the arm before she reached the exit, throwing her into the wall. Her father. Cherry tried to fight him, but she was too small. He searched her for Pokeball, loosening his grip when he found them; Cherry broke free of his weakened hold, the momentum flinging her into a nearby coffee table. Glass and debris pierced her skin. She struggled with shaky hands to release her Incineroar, but failed. Her father approached unfazed, a gun in his hand. Cherry's neck bristled in a chill; A black pool leaked out from under the couch beside her, shrieking and chittering as it grew. Shuppet. They washed over her father like a wave, his screaming drowned out by the music and surrounding carnage. Cherry's Incineroar released at last, scooping her up in his arms. He plowed through their enemies with ease, leading his trainer and others to the exit.
Getting out of the house was the easy part. Finding new housing, scavenging supplies, sneaking around, it all felt next to impossible. Cherry's privileged education and cunning nature gave her an edge that the others lacked; She silently gained leadership over the group, albeit unintentionally. Still, the ragtag group of partygoers dropped like flies, mostly due to their own mistakes or infighting over supplies. Cherry didn't want to lead them - she hated them, she loathed them with every bit of her being. They looked up to her like hungry children, but they were worse than hungry children; They were violent adults, pressuring Cherry to unrealistic standards just as her parents once had. They shoved their survival into her hands, but Cherry didn't care about them; She didn't know them, not even before the Epidemic. All she wanted to do was run away from them. She hated herself for the thought, but it was the truth; People depended on Cherry for survival, and she wanted nothing more than to abandon them.
It was a thought she acted impulsively on. Packing up all the supplies and sneaking out was mechanical, robotic, not something Cherry felt or thought anything about as it was being done. Only when she arrived at her own suitable shelter did she realize she had done it; She had actually fucking done it, she had stolen from and abandoned a group of people who relied on her. Every sip of water, every bite of food, Cherry thought about the others.
Days, weeks, even a month after Cherry condemned the other human beings to die, Cherry felt as numb as she did the day she left them. Sometimes, she tried to cry for them - curling in on herself, thinking about their possible fates, thinking about how it was her fault. But no tears ever came; She felt only a cold, detached sense of remorse. What upset Cherry the most was how she did not feel upset, could not feel upset. She just kept on living, selfishly alive, unfairly thriving with her Incineroar. Maybe it was just survival. Like before the Epidemic, survival was cold and relentlessly detached; Cherry had always been a natural at it. Being numb had always protected her before. Maybe it was better that she didn't know how to feel anything. There was nothing good left to feel in the world, anyway.
Cherry ended up lost in Clay Tunnel, all her supplies used up within a matter of weeks. It was poetic justice, she thought. Her own body even turned against her, vomiting up any food or water she had left and convulsing in excruciating withdrawals. She lied awake at night in the dirt, her own wheezes in the dark gradually mixing into the symphony of echoing undead within the tunnels. It was funny, she thought, how her story was ending; she deserved it, after all. Sometimes she laughed and cried at the same time, waiting for the undead to hear her and end the suffering.
Delirium set in, gripping Cherry by the mind and shaking her in its teeth. Hallucinations of all five senses warped reality itself. Nothing made sense, yet Cherry barely questioned it. She awoke from her nightmares on the cavern floor, lying in a pool of her own vomit. Two men crouched over her body, surely about to kill her, she hoped. No, they didn't look the part - the younger one, possibly in his 20s, stood with untied boots and the back inner tag of his t-shirt visible on his chest. He stared at Cherry like she had two heads, his own tilted to his shoulder. "She looks really sick," he noted, "we should be careful." The other man, burly and bearded, was already inspecting Cherry like a doctor. "She's a child," he told the other, "we have to help her."
The words struck her.
She had stopped being a child a long time ago. She wasn't sure when she lost that innocence, or perhaps it had never been there in the first place, but either way it was long gone. The men standing over her were absolute fools, Cherry reasoned.
The fat man introduced himself as Huck, and the skinny dipshit said his name was Charlie. The two men guided Cherry back to a makeshift fortress of sorts, what they claimed were the ruins of Driftveil city. It was the shittiest place Cherry had ever been, but there were sturdy-looking walls and barbed wire surrounding it for miles to keep out the undead. The men had been living in pitched tents while walling in what they could, allegedly, and had an entire plan to repair the remaining structures and make a safehaven for the uninfected. The most impressive part, Cherry thought, was how these jackasses hadn't died from making so much noise. What a stupid plan. The men even treated Cherry medically, helping to detox her body and repair the damages. Medicine. They had medicine.
It was sad how trusting Huck and Charlie were. Then again, Cherry knew no one was innocent - as nice as the men seemed, surely they deserved what was coming to them. Everyone did. Cherry was barely on her feet again before she began stuffing every drug she could into her bag. She laughed when they caught her attempting to sneak it out. What would they do, hug her to death for it? But their Pokemon were no laughing matter. Suddenly the construction made sense, as Huck boasted multiple bulky fighting-types even larger than himself. Even Charlie had an impressive team, though his grass-types were at a disadvantage. Cherry's Incineroar set fire to the fences and buildings rather than attacking directly, busying up her opponents with damage control while she made her escape. Still, they begged her to stop and never once attacked towards Cherry herself. It baffled her how even when she threatened to destroy everything, they refused to lay a finger on her. They could have killed her easily, their anger and fear was clear on their faces, yet they held back. Cherry had never seen someone fight to show mercy before.
The lights and sound attracted a multitude of undead in the night. Cherry recalled her Incineroar and headed back towards clay tunnel, the only safe way out, but the men and their Pokemon quickly became surrounded. Cherry felt a heavy pull in her chest and legs, like a magnet was drawing her back towards the danger. Guilt. It had been a long time since she had felt guilt - it had been a long time since she felt any emotion at all. She screamed, a horrible screeching that brought her to her knees, thinning the crowd of undead around Charlie and Huck as they scrambled to Cherry's direction instead. Incineroar set ablaze everything in his path. The battle was messy, chaotic, with fire and debris raining all around from thick clouds of smoke. At least if she died, Cherry thought, it would have been doing something right for once. The smoke had barely cleared out before Cherry heard the men calling out. For her. They were looking for her. They wanted to know if she had survived. She had, and for the first time in a long time, she felt alive.
Repairing the damages she caused was... difficult. Cherry had never done any physical labor before. She had never faced consequences for her actions, either. But something kept her there in Driftveil, some strange feeling of curiosity and wonder. Huck and Charlie never once raised their voices at Cherry, they never punished her for all the harm she had done. They only taught her, with unlimited patience, how to build back the fences and clean up the debris. She swung a hammer, patched drywall, laid bricks. Something about it felt cathartic; Cherry learned how to fix things rather than break them down. She felt stronger, healthier, and a lot less lonely. Slowly, Huck even helped Cherry kick her worst addictions. In a few years time, Driftveil became exactly the place Cherry had once mocked as impossible - it was a safehaven. Watch towers popped up along the tall fences, survivors filled the repaired homes, and Huck threw celebrations for everyone each week that went by safe together. It was almost like the Epidemic never happened, with some residents outright refusing to talk about the outside world. But if life has taught Cherry anything, it's that you can't escape reality forever.