A Film by Vernor Hertzwig
In 2004 I was contacted by Digito of America to review some film footage they had acquired in litigation with the estate of a young Pokkypet Master named Hemlock Pyne. While I have occasionally played boardgames such as Parchesi, and various pen and paper role playing games involving dwarves and wizards, in vain hopes of escaping the nightmare ordeals that infest my soul, I was hardly the target audience for the global phenomenon of Pokkypets. I knew only the bare lineaments of the young man’s story—namely that he had been at one time considered the greatest captor of Pokkypets the world had ever known. Few of these rare yet paradoxically ubiquitous creatures had escaped being added to his collection. But he had turned against his fellow trainers, who now hurled at him the sort of venom and resentment usually reserved for race traitors. The childish, even cartoonish aspects of the story, were far from appealing to me, especially as spending time on a hundred or so hours of Pokkypet footage would mean delaying my then-unfunded cinematic paean to those dedicated paleoanthropologists who study human coprolites or fossil feces. But there was an element of treachery and tragedy that lured me to look more carefully at the life and last days of Hemlock Pyne, as well as the amount of money Digito was offering. I found the combination irresistible.
To be a Pokky Captor was for me the highest calling—the highest calling! I never dreamed of wanting anything else. All through my childhood, I trained for it. It was a kind of warrior celebration…a pokkybration, you might say, of the warrior spirit. I lived, ate, breathed, drank, even pooped the Pokky spirit. Yes, pooped. Because there is dignity in everything they do. When it comes to Pokkypets, there is no room for shame—not even in pooping. In a sense, I was no different from many, many other children who dream of being Pokky Captors. The only difference between me and you, children like you who might be watching this, is that I didn’t give up on my dream. Maybe it’s because I was such a loser in every other part of my life–yeah, imagine that, I know it’s difficult, right?–but I managed to pull myself free of all those other bonds and throw myself completely into the world of Pokkypets. And I don’t care who you are or where you are, but that is still possible today.
Hemlock Pyne’s natural enthusiasm connected him ineluctably with the childish world of Pokkypets—the world he never really escaped. The more I studied his footage, the more I saw a boy trapped inside a gawky man-child’s body. It was no wonder to me that he had such difficulty relating to the demands of the adult world. In cleaving to his prejuvenile addictions, it was clear that Pyne hoped to escape his own decay, and for this reason threw himself completely into a world that seems on its face eternal and unchanging. The irony is that in pursuing a childish wonderland, he penetrated the barrier that protects our fragile grasp on sanity by keeping us from seeing too much of the void that underlines the lurid cartoons of corporate consumer culture, as they caper in a crazed dumbshow above the abyss.
I think we knew, and assumed Hemlock knew, where was this was probably heading. And it’s hard to see a person you care for, a friend of many years, make the sorts of decisions he made that put him ever deeper into danger. It didn’t really help to know that it was all he cared for, that all this danger was justified in a way by passion, by love. And when you saw him light up from talking about it, it was hard to argue. He’d never had anything like that in his life. I mean, he’d been through a lot. Coming back to Pokkypets, sure it seemed childish at first, but he was so disconnected from everything anyway, we had to root for him, you know? But we still feared for him. He never did anything halfway, you know? Whenever he started anything, you always knew he was going to push it past any extreme you could imagine. So it was only sort of…sort of a shock, but more of a dreaded confirmation, when we heard the news. I remember I was in the kitchen nuking some popcorn for dinner, and the kids were watching Pokkypets on, you know, the Pokkypets network…and then our youngest said, “Look, it’s Uncle Hemlock!” Which seemed weird at first because why would he be on their cartoon? But then I saw it was the Pokkypets Evening News, and even though the sound was turned up full, I found I couldn’t hear what the anchorman was saying. I just stared at the picture of Hemlock they’d put up there…the most famous shot of him, crouched in the Pokkymaze, letting an injured Chickapork out of a Poachyball…and from the way the camera slowly zoomed back from the photo, I knew right then…he wouldn’t be coming back to us this time.
AUGUSTINE “GUST” MASTERS
I was friends with Hem for years and years, used to fly him out here to the Pokkymaze in midsummer, come and collect him before fall settled in; I’d check in from time to time to see how he was doing, and drop off the occasional supply. He was a special sort of guy, and there won’t never be another like him. For one thing, he was fearless, as you can imagine you’d have to be to try living right here like he did. From where we’re standing, you can watch the migratory routes of about 150 different types of Pokkypets; everything from the super common Pecksniffs, to the Gold-n-Silver Specials, to the uniques like Abyssoid, who comes up out of this here lake once a year for about thirty seconds at 8:37 a.m. on September 9, and only if the 9th happens to fall on a Tuesday. Really it’s a Captor’s dream, or would be if it wasn’t a preserve. Hem came out here every year, and never once tried to capture or collect a single one of the Pokkys…in fact they were more likely to collect him. He got adopted by Chickapork to the extent you couldn’t tell who belonged to who. Anyway…he made it a point of pride that he never carried a Poachyball, that he was here to protect the Pokkypets, to prevent them from being collected. When he was young he was a heck of a Captor, but once he put that aside, that was it. He didn’t try charming them with flutes or putting them to sleep; he didn’t freeze or paralyze them with any of Professor Sequoia’s Dust Infusion, or Thunderwhack a single one. He came out empty handed, and tried to make a Pokky out of himself, I guess. If I had to pick one thing, I guess I’d say that right there was his undoing. That and Surlymon.
What others saw as evidence of everything from low self image to schizophrenia, was to Hemlock Pyne nothing more than a kind of dramatic stage lighting, necessary to cast an imposing shadow over a world that considered him but a smalltime actor in a community theater production. It did not matter to the rest of the world that in this tawdry play, Hemlock Pyne had the leading role; but to Pyne himself, nothing else mattered. He had cast himself in the part of the renegade Captor who would give himself completely to his beloved Pets. That it was to be a tragic role, I suspect would not have stopped him. And while he seems to have had premonitions of his fate, he could have asked any number of those who spent their lives working in and around the Pokky Range, and have heard many predictions that would end up remarkably close to the eventual outcome.
AUGUSTINE “GUST” MASTERS
Right here is where I came in for my usual rendezvous, at the appointed time, ready to take him out of here. At first I thought maybe I had the day wrong, because usually I’d expect to see him with all his gear packed up and waiting here on the shore. It was later in the year than he’d ever stayed, not our usual date, so I thought it was my mistake, and I went hollering up the hillside trail here toward his camp, figuring maybe he could use a hand packing up his stuff. But halfway up the trail here I got a really funny feeling…not a nice feeling at all. I never travel here without a few extra Poachyballs, and some Coma Flakes—I mean, I’m no Hemlock, I come prepared for anything. And I was just freeing up a Poachyball in case I had to make an emergency capture, when I heard this grumbling in the brush off to the side of the trail, and very clearly I could hear a big old Pokkypet crawling around in there, just saying its name over and over again so there was no mistaking what I was up against. Going, “Surly…Surly…” Like that. Just a nasty old Pokky, saying its name like a warning…that one bad note over and over again.
Well, I don’t mind saying it scared me, and forgot about trying to catch it, since that’s a tough one to collect even if you’re fully prepared. I didn’t have any Pokkypets of my own to back me up. So I hightailed it back to the plane, and took off, just cold and sweatin, my guts full of icewater, you know. I tried to get Hemlock on his radio a couple times, but no answer there, and I was starting to believe we weren’t going to get anymore answers at all. I brought the plane in low over the maze, low as I could, and the way Hem would hide his tent in the trees I knew it would be hard to get a clear picture of what was going on there—but as I was flying over, the wind swept over pretty hard. Banked me a bit just as it was parting the trees around his campsite, and I got one clear look that I’ll never forget. Right below me, the tent had been flattened so that the poles were sticking up out of it. Gear was scattered everywhere—clothes, camera equipment, pots and pans. And Hemlock was scattered everywhere too, in and around the tent. I hardly knew what I was seeing. His head staring up at me, on the other side of the site from his chest; an arm here, a leg there. I couldn’t tell if his eyes were open, but I didn’t see how they could be. I figured he had to be sleeping after an attack like that. I knew I’d need help getting him out of there, so I banked into the wind and headed back to town.
10 DAYS BEFORE THE END
This is Surlymon. He’s a very old Pokkypet, and we’re just getting to know each other. I’m not usually here in the Pokkymaze this late in the year, but I had a little upset at the airport and decided I was not ready to leave my Pokky friends just yet to return to all the…all the bullpoop and the hassle of…of poopy humans back in the so-called real world. Just wasn’t ready. So here I am, and some of my old friends seem to have moved on, and some new Pokkys have moved in. It’s the migratory time, you see…all a completely natural part of the Pokkypet cycle, and pretty exciting to see it in action. Not to say that there isn’t danger here—there’s plenty of it. But that’s what keeps me going. Nobody else could do what I do…give themselves to the protection of the Pokkypets the way I do. And they respect me for it. They know that I have the best of intentions…that I’d be one of them if I could. But in the meantime, I’m getting to know Surlymon here…getting to earn his trust. Isn’t that right, Surlymon? We’re getting to know each other. Yes we are! Yes we are! Now…hey… HEY! Watch it! Back off! That is not cool, Surlymon. Not cool. Good, Pokky. Okay, good old Pokky. Yes, you’re a good old boy, I know, I know. I love you. I love you. I’m sorry I had to snap at you like that. I’m Hemlock, okay? Hemlock! Hemlock! Hemlock! I love you. Hemlock loves you. Hemlock. Hemlock. … Hemlock.
AUGUSTUS “JUSTICE” PEACE
I’ve known Gust for years, and through him I knew Hemlock Pyne, though we weren’t what you’d call close. That day he came back with news about Hemlock’s troubles, I could tell he’d seen something that nobody should see. Well we called the Pokky Park Service, which is basically every other person around here, and we got three Captors together and I took us out in the chopper. We landed on Baldymon Hill, which overlooks the Pokkymaze, and they went on down there while I kept an eye on the chopper, ready to light out at a moment’s notice. I could hear them when they caught up with the Surlymon. They had some pretty tough pets with em, but that sonofabitch was tough. It took all three Captors in full Pokkybattle, and each one of them used at least three Poachyballs, setting their own pets on the Surlymon. It took eight—eight!–Pokkypets to wear down that Surlymon. I think the final attack was a full-on Typhon-Crash-Mastery move, and then the Surlymon finally went into slumber. It was only then that the thing was vulnerable and they could poach it. I heard all this, mind, I didn’t see any of it…but I’ll tell you, every time I heard that thing giving out its call, my blood ran cold. “Surly! Surly!” Well, I can’t do it. It was a horrible sound though. When they finally came crashing through the underbrush dragging the Poachyball, with their own poor little pets limping along behind, the Captors looked like they’d been involved in the struggle themselves…and I don’t mean psychically.
But then it was over to me and Gust. He led me back down the hill and into the maze, to the campsite, and there was Hemlock Pyne in a dozen pieces. It was weird and awful. Gust called his name a few times, trying to wake him up, because we didn’t really realize the extent of it yet… It was a sleep like nothing we’d ever seen. I had some Sudden Stir powder with me and I sprinkled it in his eyes, but it didn’t do a thing. And I’ve never seen a Pokkypet or Captor yet who could sleep through that stuff. After a while we decided we’d best get him into town to the Pokky Clinic, so we gathered up the pieces. Filled four Poachyballs with the parts. That was all we had to carry him in.
What Hemlock wanted was a way to mutate into a Pokkypet himself. He was very, very uncomfortable being in his own skin, especially when it meant he was a Captor or Master of Pokkypets. He wanted to merge with the Pokkys…become one of them, share in their alchemic process. Hemlock sensed a transformative power in them, and he wanted this for himself. When he was studying with me, we went through the triadic life cycle of the typical healthy Pokkypet, following its course in many, many creatures. When he first went out into the Pokky Range with the idea of studying and protecting the pets, you know, he placed himself in the habitat of the Pigletta. It was a good fit for him, since they are such friendly creatures, but his ulterior motive was to bond so closely with one that it would allow him to stay with it through all its transformations. Of course everyone who adopts a Pigletta feels that theirs is special, and that they have a unique friendship…but in Hemlock’s case I think there is a real argument for this. After all, he had stopped collecting at that point; he never stunned his Pokkypet or trapped it even briefly in a Poachyball to subdue it. He made friends with it as if he were another of its kind, and in his second summer back there, he was witness to its first transition into Chickapork. I know how much Hemlock wanted to see the final change to Boarax…which, sadly, took place in the autumn immediately after Surlymon, so he missed it. This, as I say, was a spiritual quest for him, and he welcomed its transformative intensity from the first, even though in the eyes of other Pokkypet Captors he immediately went from role model to traitor. This was when people started saying he was crazy, sending nasty letters, even making threats. This is when the Missile Kids stepped up their attacks on his character. It got harder and harder for me to bear, but Hemlock said to pay it no mind. It didn’t bother him. The only thing that bothered him anymore was any sort of threat to his beloved Pokkypets.
At the same time that Hemlock Pyne was alienating his former worshippers, he was winning for himself a new audience that would one day be captivated by his insights and his breathtaking cinematic records of his life among the Pokkypets…a life that few have ever attempted, let alone accomplished. Going through his films, I found him to have possessed an innate genius—not only for capturing Pokkypets, but for capturing moments of pure cinema. Here, we see Pyne in his early summer campsite, a spot he pitched between the dens of burrowing Chickaporks, so that he could live among the frolicking Piglettas.
This is Chickapork. My Chickapork. We’re long time buddies, aren’t we, yes we are. Chickapork is my most beloved Pokkypet, and it’s really important to understand that we are mutual friends. I do not own him. I did not capture him. I have never imprisoned him in a Poachyball. So you see, it is possible for us to have a harmonious relationship with these beautiful creatures without have to…Hey! This…this is Pigletta…this is one of Chickapork’s offspring or little sibs, I’m not sure exactly—hey, where are you going with my cap? Come back with that cap, Pigletta! That is a very important cap! That was a gift from Professor Manzanita! Oh…oh god, oh no… A lot depends on that cap, Pigletta! Get…give me back my cap! WHERE’S MY FUCKING POKKYMASTER CAP?
In the field, it was obvious that he wanted nothing more than to be a Pokkypet. He would act just like them. The simple continual act of stating his identity with such clarity, this thing the Pokkypets do incessantly, Hemlock adopted this behavior. If you want out to visit him in the field, or if you were an unsuspecting Captor who came across him, Hem would act as if human language and human behavior were completely unknown to him. He would just say his name at you, over and over, like a Pokkypet. His mantra, his act of affirmation: Hemlock. Hemlock. Hemlock. He saw the Pokky world as a rare and simplified place, everything streamlined and stripped down to this one act of self-naming. That world had a siren’s allure for him. But that world…simply did not exist. The truth was far more complex.
CURATOR, POKKY NATIONAL WILDERNESS MUSEUM
Well, I’m afraid although Hemlock Pyne might be a hero to some people, to us he seems simply deluded. Our relationship with the Pokkypets goes back tens of thousands of years, to when we believe the Pokkys and people shared this land. We treated each other with respect, and we have done so throughout our history. We created the original Poachyballs, and we captured and collected the first Pokkypets to be captured and collected. We held the first Pokky battles; those rituals are very ancient, the result of the relationship between man and Pokkypet. So there is a very long tradition of understanding between our people and the Pokky people. I would say that what Hemlock did, was the ultimate disrespect. In living among the Pokky, in treating them as cute cartoon characters, he crossed a boundary and paid the price. The ultimate price. There is a reason he will not wake up, and honestly, we don’t expect him to. I think a lot of people are in denial about the sort of trouble he caused for himself…and really for all of us, because I don’t know if it will stop with Hemlock. There has always been this barrier from time long past…and he damaged it. Irretrievably. It’s plain to see if you’ll just look at him. Truly look at him for once.
We are here, in cold storage, at the Pokky Clinic, because quite simply this is the only place we have been able to arrest the very strange and terrible processes that have Hemlock Pyne in their grip. In those steel drawers behind me, if I were to open them, you would see Hemlock Pyne much as he was when they brought him in to me for revival. As you already know, I was unable to wake him, even with the finest waking compounds at my disposal. I say “much as he was” because Hemlock did not stay as he was in those first hours. The separate parts of him lost their normal color…some began to swell, others to wither…and there was a terrible odor associated with him, which I would rather not go into. Whatever this process is, some sort of Pokky contagion he caught from Surlymon or elsewhere in the Pokkymaze, I had a sort of hunch that extreme cold might arrest it; and so we arranged for some cold storage, which has indeed seemed to do the trick. We will of course keep trying to wake him as time permits; and if we can devise some other approach to his condition. We also have that Surlymon captive and under observation, in hopes of understanding better what happened…but for all we can tell, it is simply a Surlymon like every other Surlymon. There is nothing special about it. Which makes us think that whatever strange thing happened to Hemlock Pyne, it was purely a result of his peculiar make-up, his particular situation. It behooves us therefore to try and understand Hemlock himself a little better. Really, what else can we do?
Would I say I was his girlfriend? Why yes, yes I would. I mean, not always, but…but we were always friends. We founded Pokky People together. We were inseparable. We met when we were both working at Mistress Masham’s in the Mall, and Hem was in charge of the Pokky performance. They had a little routine they did where the Pokkys would come out and dance on your table—I mean, various small Pokkys. Nothing large or unhygienic. All the food at Mistress Mashams was served under silver covers, and the Pokkpets would whisk these away with a big flourish. Hem would come out with a half dozen Poachyballs, open them up, and set the Pokkys going. I thought it was pathetic, and I told him so…and he confided in me that he was only in there as a saboteur. I thought he was kidding, trying to impress me, but no…one night right after we really got to talking, he went into his usual routine, but everything was different this time. He’d packed a bunch of wild Pokkys into the balls, and he let them loose in the middle of a little kid’s birthday party. The Pokkys went crazy—eating up the food, tearing into presents, getting underfoot. And out of nowhere Hem kept producing more and more Poachyballs, opening them up, setting them free. He was laughing, we were both howling, and the more freaked out everybody got, the more delighted Hem was. It seemed to feed the Pokkys’ frenzy. They were swinging from the light fixtures, smashing windows, breaking out into the streets…oh, it was on the news that night and for days, and it was really the beginning of Hem’s mystery…because right after that he disappeared. I didn’t see him myself for months and months. It turned out he had made his first visit to the Pokky Range.
Alone in the wild, Hemlock began to craft his own legend—fashioning himself into a creature as strange and colorful as the Pokkypets he adored. Against a backdrop of untouched wilderness, he portrayed himself an uncivilized man, fearless and ferocious yet as sweet as the creatures he refused to capture. It was as if in liberating the Pokkypets wherever he found them, he was setting free some caged part of himself.
I used to just dabble in Pokkypets. I captured and trained them like everyone else. I saw nothing but what was right in front of me. I never looked any deeper. And I was troubled. Our world, the world of people, is so shallow…it’s just a thin coat of paint, right on the surface, and that’s enough for most people. The Pokkys are colorful and cute and uncomplicated, and that’s all they need to know. But this wasn’t the truth, and without truth I just…I wasn’t making it. I needed the truth that was under all that. I did drugs. I drank. I lived a crazy, crazy life. Nobody knew me. I didn’t know myself. I was drinking so much, doing so many drugs, it was destroying my mind. All the colors started to blur together. I couldn’t tell Chickapork from Leomonk from Swirlet. It was like when you mix all the colors of paint together and you just get a greyish brownish gunk. And then one day a Flutterflute, I was drinking on the beach, out of my skull, and a Flutterflute landed on the bottle just as I was about to take a swallow. Who knows…it might have been my last swallow. I might have drainked that bottle and thrown it aside and walked out into the waves and that would have been the end. But I watched that Flutterflute there, getting in the way of my drink, and it looked at me and said, “Flutterflute!” That’s all, that’s what they do. So simple. Just that beautiful simple statement: “Flutterflute.” And something in me…I felt something emerge, as if from a chrysalis, bright and clear and strong, and I said, “Hemlock Pyne.” Everything in my life was as simple as that. “Hemlock Pyne.” That is what I was, and it was enough. It was deep. And what that meant was everything else was deep. Bottomless. And everything changed for me right then, right that very moment, saying myself back to that Flutterflute. I say it a lot now. It saves me every day: “Hemlock Pyne.”
VERNOR HERTZWIG WITH CRYSTAL BURL
VH: Now please explain to the viewers, Crystal, what it is you have here.
CB: What I have here, Vernor, is Hemlock’s last recording…recovered from his campsite…the recording of the Surlymon.
VH: Now I understand there is some uncertainty whether the recorder was running already or whether it was turned on during the Surlymon’s attack, and if so whether it was Hemlock himself or the Surlymon that switched it on. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is the contents of the tape, which you I believe have never listened to is that correct?
CB: That is correct. Dr. Chrysolite said I had probably better not.
VH: Dr. Chrysolite is a wise man and you do well to listen to him, but his prohibition does not apply to me, so I am going to listen to the recording now, the lens cap was never removed during the battle, I am just going to listen to the recording if I have your permission to do so.
CB: I give it, yes.
VH: If you will please to start the…there now, I hear wind, very loud, and something like a ripping sound…perhaps the tent’s zipper. Actually, yes, it sounds as if the Surlymon is coming in range. I can hear it quite clearly saying its name over and over again: Surlymon…Surlymon… And now clearly I hear Hemlock, much closer. Of course we know he had no Poachyballs, and no other Pokkys with him at the time. He is really alone against this creature. The Surlymon is saying again, “Surlymon. Surlymon.” And occasionally just “Surly,” as if it is too excited to say its full name.
CB: They do that sometimes when they’re excited…even add extra syllables…
VH: And now Pyne is…he seems to have hit on a desperate strategy…he is saying his own name several times to the creature. It is almost as if they are having a conversation, like so: Surly…Surlymon…and Hemlock says Hemlock. Hemlock Pyne. Hemlock. He’s saying it again. And the Surlymon seems to be having none of it. Surlymon. Hemock Pyne. Surlymon. Surlymon. Hemlock Pyne. Hemlock Pyne. Hemlock. Surlymon. And now a terrible, terrible sound. You…you must never listen to this recording Crystal.
CB: That’s what Dr. Chrysolite recommended as well, Vernor.
VH: Hemlock Pyne. Hemlock Pyne. Hemlock… Surlymon. And now I hear nothing but Surlymon. You must destroy this tape, Crystal. I think that is the only course of action.
CB: I will, Vernor. I will.
VH: Surly. Surlymon. Surlymon. Surly.
We are here at the edge of the Pokkypet Arena, deep in the Pokkymaze. The Pokkys have never allowed me this close before, but I think it is a sign of their acceptance—a sign of how far I’ve come–that they are allowing me to set up my camera here overlooking the arena and film their battles in progress. Remember, these are entirely natural and unstaged…these are not like the Coliseum battles that human captors arrange, which go against the will and the inherent nature of the Pokkypets. What you are seeing here is the source of humanity’s watered-down commercially driven arena battles. This my friends is the real shit.
Now it looks like a Scanary is going into the arena, setting the first challenge… Scanaries have three attacks: Wing Blast, Chirplosion, and Tauntalon. This is a fairly good combination unless your Pokkynemesis happens to have natural resistance to more than one of these. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. And now…it looks like…yes, it’s a Pyrovulp. Oh, this is going to be intense! Pyrovulps are extremely vulnerable to Tauntalon—extremely. But if the little guy can get past the Scanary’s first attack, then things could get interesting. And it looks like…Scanary is rearing back, puffing up a little bit…just look at those gorgeous chest feathers…could be Tauntalon coming in first… But no! Wings going out, we’ve got a blast coming in, and Pyrovulp has got its head flame forward. This was a very bad move on Scanary’s part, and I think it’s going to regret…Would you look at that! Wing Blast has fed Pyrovulp’s headflame. The whole Pokky is on fire, just burning up…this lets Pyrovulp bypass an entire part of its normal attack and go straight to Auraflame! The only risk, and I’m not sure he knows it, is that Auraflame can easily feed into Scanary’s own…oh my god oh my god… Auraflame, incredibly powerful and hot, has triggered Scanary’s innate Chirplosion. I am moving away from the Arena, friends, because when this happens, the blast can spread far outside the –WHOA!
In his records, Hemlock speaks less and less of the human world; civilization and its pleasures recede into the distant past, remembered only for its discontents. At the same time, the brilliant, colorful struggles of the Pokkypets, seeming so much simpler, become more and more a symbol for the conflict of his soul. Deeply torn, it is as if he battled himself in an arena of his own devising. But no longer a Captor or a Trainer, without Pokkypets to do his fighting for him, every injury cut deep into his psyche.
LARCHMONT AND GLADIOLUS PYNE
LP: This is Hem’s Pokkypet collection, much as he left it when he moved away from home. I’m afraid we encouraged him more than we should have, since he was a somewhat lonely boy, and he got such pleasure from them. His first Pokkypet was a gift from my mother, who had an affinity herself with the little things—
GP: I thought he won it at a state fair, throwing dimes in Collymoddle bowls; or a prize he won at school
LP: —no, it was from my mother, I think he’s still got the card in his room somewhere pinned up on a bulletin board. We knew there wasn’t much of a future in it, but that’s not the sort of thing you can worry about when you just want your boy to be happy…but as he got older and we saw he wasn’t moving on to other things, wasn’t progressing if you will, then we started to get a bit worried. But somehow Hemlock found a way to make a living at it early on, doing his shows and trainings and whatnot; and although we were disappointed that he felt he had to move all the way to the other side of the country to pursue his interests, we did support him in it. It seemed like his Pokky career was really taking him somewhere. Then, well, I don’t know how much truth there is in this, but he tried out for the part of Burny, the Pokky trainer in Chirrs, and according to him he was first in line for the part, but then Woody Harrelson tried out for the role and they gave it to him. Well, really, that was the beginning of the end for our boy.
GP: He just sort of spiralled out of control.
LP: I held it against Woody for a long time, but…well…
GP: It’s hard to keep a grudge against Woody Harrelson. He’s a fine young man.
We used to go to the Pokkypet stores in the mall, and Hem would get really upset looking at them in captivity, and he always talked about starting a Pokkypet Liberation Front—but that’s not what Pokky People is about or ever was about. Pokky People allowed him to channel his frustration into something positive. You have to understand, the frustration turned so easily into anger. He could be the happiest most joyful person you’d ever met, but the flipside of that was…was also there. He could be very dark at times. I know he felt that if he didn’t have Pokkys, he’d have gone to some very bad places with some very bad people. The Missile Kids, for instance—they tried to recruit him for a while, and I think he was attracted. They could be very seductive. You know, Minny was a real minx, and Sal was sarcastic and cutting but I know Hem respected them as trainers…and then that weird Pokky they had with them all the time, Feelion. In the way that Hem could almost convince the Pokkys that he was one of them, Feelion had a bunch of us convinced that he was one of us. But though Hem flirted with the Missile Kids, he eventually came to believe they were on a bad path—I mean, certainly in terms of drugs they were doing crazy things…I think even their Pokky was on amphetamines.
If people knew, truly knew what wonderful creatures these Pokkypets are…they would consider, as I do, that to capture them, to try and train them, to force them through their tri-stage transformations at an accelerated pace—that all this goes against nature. Look at little Chickapork here…just look at her. She is my hero. So sweet, so loving, so intelligent…truly a hero. And to think that people want to put her in a ball and give her performance drugs and and and just dump her out in the coliseum to battle against other Pokkys that humans—fucking humans!–have declared her enemies…it’s just sick! And it makes me so angry. Because she’s perfect. The lifestyle they live out here in the wild, it’s perfect. I have learned so much from these creatures, but it’s hardly the beginning of what we could all be learning from them. Our lives…there’s something missing from them that these Pokkys have mastered effortlessly. We need that thing. We don’t even know what we’re missing…but I’ll tell you..it’s something fucking huge. And without it, we’re so far short of perfection it’s not funny. That’s why nobody’s laughing, isn’t that right, little Chickapork?
As his differences with reality widened into a schism, Hemlock Pyne fought reality with tooth and claw. If it did not fit his idealized view of nature, it was reality that must be bent and even broken to fit. His insistence that Pokkypets held a deeper meaning does not stand up to scrutiny. Where Hemlock looked at the colorful characters and saw inscrutable depths, I see only crisp lines, primary colors, two-dimensional expressions. Even in this Rhinophantom, which Pyne in his writings calls a juggernaut of disaster, evokes in me no such premonition. It is just a cute, cuddly pet, that has undergone completely ordinary metamorphoses into a brute that is dumb and awkward, yes, but completely without malice.
…What I found in the bushes here, by the side of the river, is something new to the Pokkymaze. I would like you to study it with me. This is something we have to understand, but I’m not convinced we can. We are so good at missing the point! I discovered this earlier today, just after dawn, and I haven’t touched the scene…I’ve just been waiting for it to get light enough to record. Now in the night there was the sound of a Pokkybattle. This is rare enough, but not unheard of in midsummer. What is unusual is that it took place far from the Arena, and quite near my tent. Just a very weird sound of two Pokkys calling back and forth to one another in solitary combat. I couldn’t hear them clearly, but you can see now that they both cast exhausting spells on one another, and, well, here they are. They show no signs of waking or getting along with their day. You can see the Porphyrops has been trampled down into the mud, and the Glumster is just lying with its eyes open, which is a strange position for an incapacitated Pokky. I don’t want to intrude in their natural cycle, but I’ve made some very gentle sounds and I’ve been getting progressively louder, trying to see if I can wake them gradually. But so far no luck. I have to say, I feel very privileged to see this. To my knowledge no Pokky Captor or trainer has ever observed this sort of behavior. I am the first. These are the sort of secret revelations the Pokkys have granted me now that I have become such a part of their pattern of life. And these are exactly the things that I need to protect from the rest of the world.
AUGUSTUS “JUSTICE” PEACE
There were really no poachers in this area. The one exception might be the Missile Kids, Sal and Minny, and their Pokky mascot Feelion. But I don’t believe they went up there to poach anyhow. The couple times we were concerned and apprehended them, there was no sign they’d been up to any actual Pokkypoaching. What they did do, I’m pretty certain, was show up to bother Hemlock Pyne. Tease him. They made a lot out of being his rivals, you know. And I’m sure it drove him nuts.
I’m here at the shore, this is so upsetting, here at the shore watching those fuckers…those goddamn poachers…Sal and Minny. I know what they’re up to. They’re rubbing my nose in it, that’s what they’re doing. They’ve come in to poach—look at that boat full of Poachyballs! There’s just no question…they know I’m watching even though I’m well hidden here. What kills me, fucking KILLS me, is that they have the full support of the Pokky Park Service. It’s criminal. It’s so corrupt! You just…the lesson here is that you just pay off the right people and you can come in and capture all the Pokkypets you want. Well, I’m not letting them get away with it. They think they can…what’s that?
Do you you hear that? They’ve turned their Feelion loose.
This is just sick, it’s perverted. They’ve trained their Pokkypet to turn against its kind. This poor Feelion doesn’t realize they’re using it to lure in unsuspecting Pokkypets…to pull them in where the Missile Kids can capture them. Well, we’re not going to let them get away with that. No fucking way.
“Can you Feeeeel me, Pyne? Can you Feeeeeeeelion me?”
Did you hear that? So much for them calling me paranoid. There’s no mistaking that for…for a threat!
The cruel thing is, I can’t even report them. Because I know they are here with the full knowledge of the Park Service. I can’t believe I get grief for coming out here to protect these poor creatures, while Minny and Sal just waltz in, pack their Poachyballs full of innocent, defenseless Pokkys… To think the rangers would actually try to stop me from getting close to the pets, while these guys…I’m sorry, I can’t talk. This is making me too upset. I’m in tears over this!
Pyne’s disgruntlement became so great that he finally turned against the people who had given him the opportunity to work in the Pokkymaze in the first place. His associates became, in his mind, implacable enemies. There is a sense in his final days of rage that he no longer saw anything beyond the picket of Pokkys, among whom he counted himself, except an homogenous foe.
Oh I know who they are, all right…I know they set me up for this those…those goddamn fucking motherfuckers. You know who you are, you fucking shithead mothercockingfucksuckfuckers! I’m out here trying to help these beautiful creatures, while you’re just swimming in corruption…you don’t care a thing about preserving their environment. You people who have sworn to protect it, you’ve become the thing we have to protect it against! Motherfuck! This…it’s just not right. It’s fucked. So very, very, very, very fucked.
CRYSTAL BURL, GUST MASTERS, PITER YALP
We’ve come here today to honor Hem, and to pray for him to wake up real soon. We don’t understand what happened to him—what was different this time that he refuses to wake up. We were thinking that maybe if we came out here, to a place that was dear to him, we’d have some insight…we’d get a glimpse of Hem’s thinking.
This right here is his favorite camping spot, where he’d come and spend the first part of the summer at the foot of the Pokky Range before heading north into the Maze. He chose this spot because it was right between two Chickapork dens. There’s footage of him playing with the Piglettas, and then of course when one of them made its second stage transformation into Chickapork, Hem and that Pokky bonded real hard. It’s been a year now, and those original Pokkys have gone on and become Peccanaries and Boaraxes; the ones grazing out there in the meadow, one of them might have been Hem’s own Chickapork.
I wonder if they miss him. I sure do.
The irony of Hemlock’s last trip is not lost on anyone who looked at his life. As the days of fall grew shorter, he left the maze as he always did, with no desire to return to civilization, but knowing he could not make himself comfortable among the hibernating and overwintering Pokkys. However, an encounter with an airport Pokkypet vending machine, in which Hemlock tried to buy the freedom of every captive Pokkypet but soon ran out of quarters, sent him rebounding from the crass commercial exploitation of his beloved Pokkys, straight back into the wilderness. Returning to the maze later than ever before, he found his familiar environment had been altered by advancing chill; and his familiar Pokky friends had moved on their migratory routes, while new creatures moved into the maze to overwinter there. Creatures such as the Surlymon.
I am back, friends. I didn’t know I would be doing this, obviously, and I would not recommend it to anyone else…but frankly, I find it exhilarating. I am overjoyed to be back here. The longer I can put off dealing with the fucking human world, the happier I’ll be. And you know what? This is a part of the Pokky life cycle I have never seen. This is a learning moment! I have never been here in the winter…and though I won’t be staying for the whole season, I will certainly see more of it than any person ever has. Because no other person, trainer, captor or civilian, has stayed even this long. Who knows what I’ll learn, what wonders await?
Toward the end of the process of compiling this account, we received access to Pyne’s final recordings. Here we see him with a large grouchy Pokkypet that almost certainly is the Surlymon that finished him off. Of most interest in these studies is that this Pokky appears to have changed radically sometime between the date this footage was taken, and the time of its capture by the Pokky Rangers. Experience gained in a battle is the usual mode by which Pokkys gain sufficient energy to transform into their morpheme. And it is hard not to conclude that it was the battle with Hemlock Pyne that caused this Surlymon to undergo its third transformation. Most confusing to Pokkyologists is that while its form changed dramatically, its name and its song remained the same: Surlymon….
Here, Hemlock records the untransformed Surlymon stalking the maze in an endless search for amusement. He seems to be searching this simple creature for a deeper meaning; but whatever it is eludes him, as it eludes us.
I don’t know what this Pokky wants. Superficially, it seems to be looking for food and interested in nothing else. But there is something the Pokkys have, something innate in them, which draws me. I feel sometimes so close to them, I almost have a name for it—one I could express to myself, but which might be impossible to communicate to others. There is something…something there.
But here I must disagree with Hemlock Pyne. The cute cartoon features, so simplistic and round and bright, need evoke nothing beyond the simplest emotional connotations associated with their coloration. He looks for depth where none exists. The Pokkys have no secrets, and nothing to teach us. If anything, this is their entire lesson: They mean nothing, and nothing about their relationship with us is real.
If I open this door and pull out the tray, you can see the desperate effort we have undertaken to keep Hemlock comfortable in spite of the bizarre process that seems to be having its way with him. Here you see his head, the eyes still closed in an attitude of sleep that for all intents and purposes seems permanent; Here, his hand, somewhat distressed after its short stay in Surlymon’s mouth. The torso, on which the head hardly fits at this point. Part of a leg. The other parts, all gathered from the maze, do not quite add up completely. But this still seems the sort of risk Hemlock stated repeatedly he was willing to take to be one with these creatures, to learn the lessons they carried with them. Lessons, perhaps, that may one day apply to us, as we share their natural world?
I know I have felt something like this before, but the shortness of the season sharpens this sense of giving. I have the words now. They have given them to me. I owe the Pokkypets everything I have. Everything. And I owe them completely. I would die for these creatures. I would die for these creatures. I would die for these creatures.
We still have no idea what he means.
Property of Digito of America
“Pokky Man” by Marc Laidlaw. Copyright 2010 by Marc Laidlaw. First appeared in Classics Mutilated, edited by Jeff Connor, IDW Publishing (2010).