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A Dangerous Mind

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It was a dark and stormy night, and our heroes had been wandering for hours, searching for a town that just never seemed to arrive. As the thunder boomed louder in the distance and the lightning drew closer, they became more panicked to find shelter.

"There's gotta be something around here somewhere!" Ash yelped.

"All I see is that horrible-looking house over there!" Misty exclaimed.

"There's no telling what we might find in a place like that," Brock said.

"You mean it could be haunted or something?" Ash quavered.

"It's certainly possible," Brock said.

Thunder boomed again and the rain started to pelt down.

"But right now, it looks like our only hope!" Brock cried.

All three kids ran for the shelter of the rickety porch and dashed through the old and swinging door to what was left of the entryway.

"Well," Ash gasped as he bent over to catch his breath, "we're safe from the rain now."

Something creaked to the left and everyone jumped.

"Yeah, but what are we not safe from now?" Misty worried.

They paused to listen. A door slammed and now there were other voices gasping for breath.

"What kind of a place is this?!" whined an upper-class male.

"Oh, stop complaining," snapped a fiery female. "We're out of the rain. And anyway, it's your fault for leading us down this deserted road."

"Will both of you stop arguin' already?!" wailed an angry Brooklyn resident.

"Team Rocket!" Ash said in frustration.

"Oh great," Misty scowled. "It's not bad enough to be trapped in a possibly haunted house; we have to be trapped with them!"

The arguing stopped. Team Rocket peered around the kitchen doorway. "It's the twerps!" James exclaimed.

"Hmph," said Jessie. "Well, this is hardly a good time to grab Pikachu, kids, so you can stop worrying. We'll all just have to wait out this storm together."

"And then grab Pikachu," Ash retorted.

"Pikachu," said an annoyed Pikachu.

"Does anyone actually know what this house is?" Brock wondered.

No one did.

"Maybe we should look around for clues as to who lived here," Brock said. "That might let us know what kind of a house it is and how safe it is."

"Looking around could make the floor break through," Misty retorted. "We're safer just staying out here."

"Except for that draft coming through the front door," Brock pointed. "It's missing the doorknob; it can't be closed."

Misty shivered. "Okay. I guess you've got a point."

"So let's check it out!" Ash exclaimed. "Maybe we'll even find some cool ghost Pokemon!"

James didn't look pleased by that idea. "Ghost Pokemon always cause us trouble," he whimpered.

"All Pokemon seem to cause us trouble," Meowth grunted.

"Oh, come on, you two," Jessie insisted. "It's not like there's anything else to do."

Reluctantly, the two groups wandered down the old hall and into what seemed to be a sitting room. Once-proud furniture was now dusty and torn. Chairs were overturned---when they weren't covered in webs. A portrait of a stern man with a handlebar mustache looked out from over the mantle. An old urn stood under it.

"This place is creepy," Misty said. "I don't like it."

"You could always wait outside in the hall, Misty," Ash smirked.

Togepi trilled.

"No, thank you!" Misty scowled.

"This room hasn't been lived in for a long time," Brock mused.

"Tell us something we don't know," Jessie huffed, folding her arms.

Brock took down an old volume from a shelf, blew off the dust, and opened it. "This looks like a diary," he said. "It must have been written by someone who lived here."

"Maybe it was written by the man in the portrait," Misty suggested.

"What does it say, Brock?" Ash asked, trying to see over his friend's arm.

"Hmm." Brock's expression grew serious. "It says that the writer moved into the house knowing it was supposed to be haunted. He wasn't afraid of ghosts, and he hoped that it was really just ghost Pokemon he could catch."

"He sounds like Ash," Misty remarked.

Ash scowled. "I wouldn't wanna move into a haunted house."

Brock skipped ahead several entries. "This isn't good."

"What, he couldn't catch anything?" Jessie rolled her eyes.

"No. He's starting to believe the stories about the ghosts," Brock said. "He couldn't find any ghost Pokemon, but he says he knows something's here." He flipped through more pages. "Now his entries are starting to sound disjointed and nonsensical."

"How so?" Misty blinked.

"Sometimes he sounds terrified of the ghosts. Then he switches mid-sentence to a harsh, angry tone and talks about people meddling where they ought not." Brock frowned. "It almost sounds like two different people."

James backed up into the mantle. "I don't like this story," he moaned.

"Maybe he was losing it," Ash said.

"It sure sounds like it," Brock admitted. "He keeps rambling on about the voice in his head. The final entry has him talking about casting himself off the widow's walk on the roof to make it stop."

Everyone went stiff, even Jessie.

"He really killed himself?" she frowned.

"I guess we'll never know." Brock looked through the pages again.

"So then he started haunting the house too!" James cried. He stumbled, knocking the urn off the mantle. "Oh . . . !" He barely caught it before it would have smashed.

"Nice catch," Jessie said dryly.

James set the urn back on the mantle. "I'm not the only one who knocks things down," he said in frustration.

"I think we're all a little tense from the diary," Brock said. "I should put it back."

"Yes," James snapped. "It doesn't belong to you. You had no right to look in it."

All eyes turned to the blue-haired thief.

"What . . . did you say?" Jessie blinked.

James blinked too. "Did I say something?"

"You went ballistic on the twerp for lookin' in the diary that don't belong to him," Meowth said.

"Why would I care about that?" James looked honestly confused.

"That's what we'd like to . . . oh, nevermind," Jessie said in disgust.

Brock set the book back on the shelf. "I don't think we should spend the night in this room. Let's move on."

No one disagreed.

"What do you think could have happened to that man?" Misty worried as they started down the hall.

"It sounds like he just couldn't take a few ghosts in the house," Jessie said.

"They sure did something to him," Ash said. "I wonder if he really jumped. . . ." He shuddered.

"Pikachu," Pikachu said, sounding unsettled as well.

"Did he live here all alone?" Misty wondered.

"No," James grunted. "He didn't."

Again everyone stared at him.

"How do you know that, Jim?!" Meowth asked in bewilderment. "The twerp was the one readin' the diary!"

James stared ahead and spoke coldly and bitterly. "He had a loyal Pokemon, a Persian. And of course there were the ghosts. You can't forget the ghosts. Oh, he was the farthest thing from alone!"

"James, this is getting bizarre," Jessie frowned. "There's no reason why you should know any of this information!"

"Oh? And why is that, you old bat?" James sneered. "I'm not smart enough?"

Now everyone ground to a halt. Jessie stood stiff, her teeth clenched and her face starting to contort. James had hit on a sore spot, one that even Ash and company were aware of. "What did you call me?" she hissed as her eyebrow twitched.

Meowth scrambled to get between them. "He didn't mean it, Jessie! It's just this place gettin' to us, you know?!"

Jessie held up a furious fist. "I am not old!" she screamed. "Or a bat!"

James smirked at her and walked on, unafraid. "It doesn't feel so good, does it? Being insulted and treated like a fool?"

Ash and Misty both blinked.

"Wow," Ash said.

"I know James can be mean, but he doesn't act like that with Jessie," Misty said.

"He obviously does now," Brock said.

"Somethin's not right," Meowth insisted. "James sometimes shows he's not happy with the way Jessie treats him, but he never acts out like this! And don't forget that weird stuff about the diary too!"

"That really was weird," Ash said. "Nothing's making sense."

They wandered into what had once been a grand library. Now it was abandoned and left to the spiders. Huge cobwebs stretched from ceiling to floor and diagonally across bookshelves. A thick layer of dust covered everything.

"Jim's allergies will kick up if we stay in here," Meowth said.

"Honestly, right now I don't care," Jessie grumbled.

But oddly enough, James didn't seem bothered in the slightest---at least not in that way.

"This is a travesty!" he yelled, spreading his arms wide as he stared at the scene before them. "Look at this mess! These tomes were collected from all around the world, and now look at them!"

"You . . . like to read?" Ash said slowly, finding himself intimidated by the complete personality switch.

James stormed forward and started pulling the webs off the bookshelves. "Look! An original Russian edition of War and Peace! Crime and Punishment! Anna Karenina! All left here to rot!"

"You know," Meowth mused, "original editions go for an awful lot of dough. Even if they're not in the greatest shape."

For the first time that evening, Jessie's eyes gleamed. "You're right, Meowth! After the storm ends, we should gather up some of this stuff and take it with us. No one could even accuse us of stealing!"

"And if the guy who lived here loved his books as much as Jim does, he'd probably thank us for getting them out of here and giving them a second chance to be appreciated!" Meowth exclaimed.

"I have to admit, he might be right," Brock said. "If they want to take these books, there's nothing we could rightfully do to stop them." He frowned a bit. "And the writer of that diary definitely loved his books. . . . He talked all about his original editions of Russian novels and other books. . . ."

"Meaning what?" Jessie said in annoyance.

"It's just that he talked a lot like James is talking now," Brock said.

James was still clearing away the webs. "Oh yes," he said. "Feel free to take them out of this Hellhole."

"Well, thank you," Jessie said, raising an eyebrow. Her voice dripped with heavy sarcasm.

"You'll be doing me a favor." Finished with the web, James turned and headed out of the room.

"I don't think we should leave him alone," Meowth said with wide eyes.

"Pikachu," Pikachu frowned.

They headed out of the library, chasing James down the hall. "Wait up, James!" Jessie cried in frustration. "Don't leave us in the lurch!"

"Leave you in the lurch?" James mocked.

"Look, I'm sorry if your feelings were hurt earlier, but I was only speaking the truth." Jessie stopped walking and folded her arms. "It was your fault we ended up in here."

"And I can think of plenty of times when something was your fault and you never bothered to acknowledge it," James retorted, finally turning to face her. "Heaven forbid! You're too high and mighty and proud for that. But you're never too proud to blame someone else."

"Well, maybe so, but sometimes it really is your fault!" Jessie snapped.

"Here they go again," Ash groaned.

"Can't you guys cut it out for two minutes?!" Meowth yelled, flailing about. "Who cares whose fault it is?! We're stuck in here and that's all that really matters!"

"Maybe for you," James shot back. "I'm tired of being subservient to a witch!"

Now Jessie lost it. She lunged and punched James on the jaw, sending him flying backwards into the wall. "James, I've had just about enough of your attitude!" she shouted.

The younger kids stared, uncomfortable as well as surprised.

"Should we do something?" Ash wondered.

"If you're going to start brawling, you might knock the whole house down on our heads!" Misty screamed.

"Oh, it only takes one punch to knock him out," Jessie retorted.

But James wasn't knocked out. He wiped the blood away from his mouth and straightened. "Are you so sure?"

Jessie rocked back. "James . . ."

James laughed, a familiar sound to everyone present, but not when he was directing it at Jessie. "So, you've had enough, have you? It's the sort of thing I have to put up with every day. And you can't take it for one hour. I'm tired of being blamed for everything that goes wrong, Jessie. I'm tired of being punched and hit and being all-around submissive to you!" He jumped back and landed on the bottom step of the staircase. "Maybe you feel that because life always let you down, you have a right to fight back with anyone not brave enough to stand up to you. Well, it's not an excuse! I've let you do that to me all this time, but not anymore. You'll just have to learn that if you've only got one person to love you, you don't treat them in a way that will drive them away from you!"

Ash, Misty, and Brock tensed, as did Meowth and Pikachu. Jessie looked angry enough to pound James into the rotting floor. It was a surprise to all of them when she just stood there, fists clenched, and finally said, "James . . . what's gotten into you?"

James flipped his hair and jumped several steps up while facing the group. "What's gotten into me?" He laughed harder. The sound was cold and cruel as it echoed off the walls. "Let's just say this house has given me a makeover into a whole new person!" He reached the top of the steps and stood there, gripping the banister, as his harsh laughter rang through the room. Then he turned, disappearing down the dark corridor.

"James!" Jessie screamed after him, her fists waving above her head. "James, you get back here right now!"

Meowth swallowed hard. "I think he's made it pretty clear he don't wanna come back."

Jessie whirled on him. "And that's all my fault, is it?!"

Meowth shrank back against Ash. "I never said that. . . ."

"No . . . but James did." Jessie turned away. Instead of angry now, she sounded lost and broken.

The younger kids looked at each other.

"Something really doesn't seem right," Brock said. "James doesn't act like that."

"If you ask me, he's finally just gotten a little backbone," Misty said, sticking her nose in the air.

"Maybe he really is just fed-up," Ash said. "We've seen him snap at Jessie and Meowth every now and then. . . ."

"Yeah, but nothing like this," Brock said.

"Well, Jessie wasn't being too nice to him," Ash said. "It really did sound like she blamed him for all of us getting stuck here."

Jessie turned to face him, daggers in her eyes. "I say things like that all the time!" she burst out. "It doesn't mean I mean them! And he knows that!"

Ash shrank back. "Um . . . okay. . . ."

"Let's think about this," Brock said. "We're in a house reported to be haunted."

"Yeah, but we haven't seen any ghosts," Ash said. "Or ghost Pokemon."

"Pikachu," Pikachu nodded in agreement.

"That doesn't mean they're not here," Brock said. "Think about what happened to the writer of that diary, how he suddenly started seeming like two different people. Now James suddenly started acting strange after he tripped and crashed into that urn on the mantle." He paused for effect. "Some people keep their dead loved ones' ashes in urns around the house."

Ash cringed in horror. "Why would they want something like that in the house?!"

"For some people, it's the only way they can still feel close to their departed loved ones," Brock said.

Misty nodded. "Or they can't bear to let them go."

"Right." Brock looked back towards the sitting room. "And that looked an awful lot like a burial urn. It's possible that either the person whose ashes were in there or one of their loved ones was hanging around the urn. Maybe when James knocked it down, he disturbed their rest."

"So?!" Jessie snapped impatiently. "What does that have to do with why James suddenly turned on me?!"

"I'm thinking that the ghost may have been so angry to be disturbed that it possessed James," Brock said.

Jessie just stood and stared at him, dumbfounded. "Possessed?"

Meowth shrieked. "Possessed?! But then we need an exorcist or something to get him back to normal!" He darted about in a panic.

Jessie still seemed bowled over. She turned, facing the stairs. "So then it wouldn't really have been James saying all those things to me," she said softly.

"Probably not," Brock agreed. "But it is possible that the ghost learned James' thoughts and heart when it possessed him. The pain James was expressing might be genuine, even if it's something he wouldn't say in his right mind."

Jessie placed a hand on the banister railing. "I have to go up there and save him," she said, still sounding far-away.

"The ghost might want you to follow," Brock cautioned. "This is its domain. We don't know what's up there."

"That doesn't matter!" Jessie retorted. "James is up there and that's all I need to know! Let's go, Meowth!" She started up the stairs in determination.

"Wait!" Meowth yelped. "We don't have an exorcist!" He skittered up the stairs after Jessie, who didn't slow down one bit.

"Well . . ." Ash looked to Misty and Brock. "What do we do now?"

"I say we should just leave them to figure this out for themselves," Misty said. "They wouldn't want us around anyway."

"Yeah," Ash nodded.

"Only I've been looking back towards where the front door is and it's not there," Brock said.

"What?!" Ash and Misty yelped.

"Why didn't you tell us?!" Misty cried.

"I didn't want to worry you," Brock said. "I thought maybe I was seeing things. But maybe we have to defeat the ghosts haunting the house in order to find the exit."

Ash blinked. "You think so?"

"It's a possibility," Brock said. "And really think about what's going on up there if James actually is possessed. Having another spirit invade your body and take it over. Does James really deserve that fate?"

Ash and Misty frowned. Pikachu's ears drooped. "Pika-Pika. . . ."

"No," Misty sighed. "Not even Team Rocket deserves that."

"Okay then." Ash looked up in determination. "Let's go try to help him!"

****

James flew down the unknown corridors, his heart racing, thoughts flying through his head. Some were his, but some were completely foreign. He knew he didn't know what was in each room, yet as he ran past, whispers in his ear told him what each was.

Upstairs library. Bedroom. Bathroom.

And the things he had been saying . . . ! He could still hear those too, even though it had not been by his will that they had been spoken.

I never wanted to hurt Jessie. Or Meowth. Jessie especially has had such a hard life. I hate how she acts out with me sometimes, but I know she doesn't mean it. That's why I put up with it . . . with her. She's my friend. . . .

The foreign voice sneered and scoffed in his head.

"Friends don't treat each other like that, Boy. Don't you know that you're delivering some of the classic excuses abuse victims give for why they put up with their treatment?"

James stopped running and gripped at his head with both hands. "I don't have to be psychoanalyzed by the likes of you!"

"All of your frustrations at being abused by both the girl and the cat come out when you abuse the cat or other Pokemon. You have to lash out at something, so you lash out at things smaller than you. It's a familiar reaction from abuse victims, continuing the cycle instead of letting it stop with them."

Guilt swept over James. It was true. He hated that dark part of himself. He had never used to act like that, but the near-constant abuse had driven him to acting out as well. Still, he didn't want to be told his deepest thoughts by an intruder in his body.

"And you're also trying to prove you're tougher than the girl thinks you are. As if attacking Pokemon proves anything other than how weak you are."

"Alright, so I'm weak," James finally snapped. "I still don't want you in my body! Get out!" He trembled. "Get out. . . ."

"Oh, I'll get out," the voice purred. "But you'll have to help me. The only way to get me to go is to go up to the widow's walk on the roof."

"That doesn't sound right," James frowned.

"You don't have a choice."

Suddenly excruciating pain swept over James and he fell to his knees, shaking. An agonized scream tore from his lips.

"James!" That was Jessie, somewhere down the hall. "Where are you?! What's happening?!"

"Are you really possessed?!" Meowth cried.

"Don't let them come to you," the voice hissed. "If you do, I'll take control of you and kill them both."

"No," James choked out. "No! No!" He struggled to his feet in spite of the pain and started to run again. "Stay away from me, both of you! Stay away!"

"James, I'm sorry!" Jessie called. She was still running. "Even if it wasn't you saying those things, they're true. I blame you even when I shouldn't. And I hit you. I don't treat you very well. Or Meowth. I didn't used to be that way. I hate that part of myself!"

"Jessie, I know!" James called back in desperation. "You don't have to explain anything to me. I'm the one who needs to explain. But I can't! There's no time! Please, you have to stay away from me! I won't be able to control my body and I'll kill you!"

"That's nonsense!" Jessie snarled.

"I haven't been able to control what I've been saying," James said.

"But you'd be able to control whether you kill someone or not!" Jessie shot back.

"I don't know that I can!" James sobbed. "And I'm not willing to take the chance."

Ash and company ran up from the back stairway just then, intercepting James just as he was about to flee around another corner.

"Stop right there!" Misty exclaimed, pointing at him.

"I can't stop!" James snarled. He shoved her out of his way and kept running, barreling towards the stairs leading to the third floor.

Misty stumbled but righted herself. "If you really care about Jessie and Meowth, James, you'll have the strength to fight back against what's trying to control you!" she called. "You won't let it have the victory!"

"Where's he going?!" Ash frowned.

"He's trying to get away from us!" Jessie said as she and Meowth caught up. "He's afraid that thing will make him kill us!"

Brock frowned too. "I don't like this. He shouldn't be going to the third floor."

"Why not?" Misty looked to him in confusion.

"There's probably a ladder or a staircase to the widow's walk from the third floor," Brock explained.

Jessie went sheet-white. "You don't think James would . . ."

"Not under his own power, no," Brock assured her. "But the evil spirit possessing him might force him to jump."

Jessie tore past him. "Over my dead body!"

"Wait for Meowth!" Meowth yelped as he followed.

The younger kids were right behind him.

"I can't believe we're trying to stop James from committing suicide," Ash exclaimed.

"Team Rocket doesn't deserve that, either," Misty shuddered.

Brock stayed silent, praying they would all get there in time.

****

He was still running . . . running . . . up the third floor stairs . . . down the third floor hall . . . running towards a goal he didn't understand. His mind was clouded now, his body mostly operating under the power of the evil spirit. The only real clear thought in his head was that he had to keep going. He had to put as much space between him and the others as possible. He couldn't kill them. He couldn't!

Through the door that was to be their salvation . . . up another flight of stairs and bursting onto the balcony on the roof. . . . It wasn't raining at the moment, but the wind howled like the living dead, blowing his hair into his face as he stumbled to the railing.

Railing?

Wait . . . stop, he desperately ordered both his body and the spirit.

"Go through the railing," the spirit whispered. "They'll die if you don't."

James gripped the railing, his knuckles white inside the dark gloves. They'll die . . .

"James!" Jessie burst through the door onto the widow's walk and immediately lunged, desperate to pull him back from the edge. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and frantically pulled. "James, don't you dare!"

James stumbled again and reached behind him, his hands shaking as he grasped Jessie's arms. "Oh, I dare," he hissed. He wrenched her arms away and started to lift her into the air as she kicked and flailed, panic-stricken.

"James!" she screamed. "James, this isn't you. I should have recognized it from the start. You're not like this. You were always too good for Team Rocket. I've dragged you down. Please . . . don't let this thing drag you even further!"

Meowth ran up along with Ash and company and shrieked in horror. "Jim!" He froze. "What do I do?! If I scratch him, he might drop her over the rail!"

James screamed, quaking. He half-turned, throwing Jessie unceremoniously but safely to the roof. "I told you to get away!" he cried in anguish. "Why wouldn't you go?!"

Jessie grimaced as she hit, but immediately started to rise up. "Because that's not what friends do," she said. "I haven't always been a good friend, James, but deep down I've always loved you. Even when I said I didn't." She knelt on the roof, staring up at him. "Please believe me. And please . . . come back." Tears pricked her eyes.

James stared at her. "Jessie . . ." He had rarely ever seen her cry. Certainly never over him. And to lay her feelings this bare. . . .

She slammed her hand on the roof. "I'm not going to lose you like this!" she spat. "I don't care what that thing is telling you. You're stronger than it! Fight it, James! Fight it!"

"I . . ." James trembled. "I don't know how. . . ."

"Yes, you do," Jessie insisted. She got to her feet. "You proved it by running away to keep us safe. By not jumping! By not letting it throw me over the railing! Just keep doing what you did then until you've forced it out!"

"I . . . I'll try," James stammered. "I . . ."

His eyes blanked again as the spirit fought to regain control.

"James!" Jessie cried.

Meowth waved a paw in front of James' face. "He's gone again," he said in dismay.

"I've got an idea," Ash said, running forward now. "Maybe Pikachu could shock the evil spirit out of him!"

"And maybe he'd shock James' spirit out of him too!" Jessie snapped. "No!"

James brought up a hand to his forehead, his face twisting in pain as the spirit mentally struggled with him.

"Alright, Fool. So you won't turn against your friend. Maybe I should have expected that. But what about an enemy? What about the boy right there? The twerp, you call him. Pitch him over the railing. Do that and you'll be rid of me."

"What?" James gasped.

"You want his Pikachu, don't you? Kill him and take it. You should have done that months ago. It's so simple. You should have killed them all!"

"No," James whispered. "No, I'm not like that. None of us are like that!"

"What's he talking about?" Ash frowned.

"I think he's talking to the spirit," Brock said grimly.

"James?" Jessie stepped closer. "What's it saying?"

"You really are pathetic. If you won't do it, I'll do it for you!"

James' eyes went wild and hateful. He lunged, grabbing Ash by the front of his shirt and pulling him towards him. "You little twerp," he hissed. "If it wasn't for you, we would be successes at Team Rocket! You're the source of all our problems!"

"Ash!" Misty screamed.

"Pikachu!" Pikachu cried. Enraged, he jumped down from Ash's shoulder, his cheeks sparking with electricity.

"No, Pikachu!" Brock cried. "If you shock James now, you'll shock Ash too!"

Pikachu froze. "Pikachu . . ." He stared up at Brock, looking helpless.

James whipped Ash out over the railing even as the boy struggled against him. "Now it's all over," he said. "After I send you to your doom, I'll do the same to the other twerps. Then I'll take all of your Pokemon. They'll make a nice gift for the boss."

"James!" Jessie ran over to the railing. "If we were going to be like this, we would have done it ages ago. We're not murderers! Put him down . . . on the roof!" she added.

Ash gripped at James' arm with both hands. "James . . . listen to her," he begged. "Please . . ." He trembled. He had never thought his Pokemon journey would end like this, being suspended over the railing of a haunted mansion by a possessed James while Jessie pleaded with him to stop.

If he could just reach a Pokeball, maybe Bulbasaur could help him with Vine Whip. But on the other hand, if Bulbasaur just came out on his own to help right now, he would probably fall and have to use his Vine Whip to help himself. There was no easy way out of this.

Brock tightly gripped a Pokeball. "If James does drop Ash, maybe Onix can save him," he said to Misty.

"What if Onix crashes through the roof as soon as you bring him out?!" Misty exclaimed in alarm.

Togepi trilled. For once, he didn't sound happy. He stared at the scene before them, his small hands on Misty's arm. Then, slowly, he brought them up to start his Metronome attack.

"James," Jessie tried again. "Don't do it!"

James stared up at Ash for a long moment. At last he blinked and his expression changed to one of horror. He caught hold of Ash with his other hand too and pulled him back over the railing.

"I'm sorry," he choked out as he let go of Ash and stumbled back. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to. I . . ."

Pikachu leaped into Ash's arms and Ash held the little Pokemon close. "I know, James," he said. "It's okay. I'm just really glad you didn't go through with it!"

"Pikachu!" Pikachu exclaimed.

Misty and Brock ran over now in relief. Togepi chirped, stopping his Metronome before it was completed.

"You see, James?!" Jessie cried. "You're stronger than that spirit! Get rid of it!"

A fighting spark had fully come into James' eyes. "You're right, Jess."

"She's wrong, Boy," the spirit hissed.

"No, she's right," James snapped. "You're the one who's been making me feel weak. Jessie has fought for me at every turn. Meowth too. Even the twerps. They're all right. I thought I had to run away to protect them. I thought I wasn't strong enough for anything else. But I am! And I'm going to prove it now. Get out of my body."

"It's not going to be that easy," the spirit retorted.

"Oh, I don't expect this to be easy at all," James countered. "But I do expect to win in the end."

"You tell him, Jim!" Meowth exclaimed.

The next moments were long, agonizing. James was fighting with all his might, but so was the spirit. Whenever he thought he was getting the upper hand, the spirit interfered and tried to seize control again. Jessie and Meowth cheered James on. Even Ash and his friends called out their support. He could hear all of their voices in the back of his mind. Then, when it seemed as though the battle would never end, he felt the evil spirit being pushed out at last.

"It's over," James told him.

"Alright, you've vanquished me," the spirit retorted. "But I'm taking you down with me!"

As the unwelcome spirit left James' body, the boy collapsed to the roof.

"James!" Jessie ran over, desperately shaking him on the shoulder.

"You've gotta wake up and be okay!" Meowth exclaimed, shaking him on his other shoulder.

Ash clenched a fist. "Come on . . . !"

Misty hugged Togepi. "You're not really gone, are you, James?"

Brock narrowed his eyes and waited and watched.

"Pika-Pika!" Pikachu cried.

Jessie tightly gripped James' shoulder. "You didn't go through all of this just to keel over and drop dead!" she snapped. Tears gathered in her eyes again. "Please, James. . . . I'll try to be a better friend, if you'll only wake up. . . ."

"That goes for me too," Meowth said sadly. He rested on James' arm.

At last James stirred and groaned. "Is it over?" he mumbled.

The rooftop erupted into cheers. Jessie and Meowth both hugged James close.

"Yes," Jessie said softly. "It's over."

James clutched them both. "I'm so sorry for everything I did. . . ."

"It wasn't you," Jessie responded fiercely. "But this is."

"Yeah!" Meowth chirped.

"Thank you," James whispered. "Thank you so much. . . ."

"No," Jessie insisted. "Thank you . . . for fighting . . . and coming back."

"I couldn't have done it without you," James said.

Ash and company stepped back to allow the Team Rocket trio their moment. Misty smiled, brushing away a tear. "Aww, they're actually acting human tonight."

"And James actually saved your life, Ash," Brock said. "Jessie too."

"Hey, that's right," Ash blinked. "Weird. But it's kind of nice."

"Pi-Pikachu!" said Pikachu.

"Pikachu agrees," Brock said.

"I think we all do," said Misty.

Brock nodded with a smile. "We do."

Togepi trilled.

****

The group headed back downstairs, shaken but triumphant. The wind had quieted down and no one was in the mood to stay there overnight, so they were checking their maps to see if the nearest town was very near.

"I think we can be there in an hour," Brock reported. "If we can stand to walk that long after today."

"To get away from here, I'm sure we can," Misty said. "But what about the front door?"

"It's back," Brock smiled. "I guess defeating the spirit ended his power over the house. Maybe all the other ghosts had already moved on and he was the only one left."

"Alright!" Ash grinned.

"Pikachu!" Pikachu said in relief.

"I wonder what ghost it was," Misty said. "The one who wrote the diary or the ghost who possessed him?"

"We'll probably never know," Brock said. "And that's probably for the best. Although I'd be more inclined to say it was the ghost who possessed him."

"You're probably right," Misty shuddered.

Team Rocket was gathering the contents of the library into a large sack. Ash watched in disbelief. "You're really going through with that?!"

"Well, why not?!" Jessie retorted. "That man owes us something for all the grief he put us through! And if he wants his books to get out of here, he won't bother us for taking them."

"Besides, I can't bear the thought of so many beautiful first editions going to waste," James said.

"That's the spirit!" Meowth exclaimed. ". . . Ooops."

"Hmm. We'll forgive you," Jessie said.

"This time," James playfully added.

They laughed.

Ash decided to quietly back out. "Well, they're happy."

"Pi-Pikachu," said Pikachu.

"Hey, Ash!" Brock called. "Are you ready to go?"

"Am I ever!" Ash exclaimed.

"Then let's get out of here!" Misty said.

They quickly headed out the front door and into the cool autumn air. In a few minutes, Team Rocket followed with their loot.

"We're not traveling with you," Jessie said. "We're just all going to the same place."

"Well, we might as well go there together," Ash said. "Just as long as you don't try to take Pikachu."

"Tonight we just want to get somewhere safe to sleep," James said.

"You said it, Jim!" Meowth declared.

"I want to sleep until noon!" Misty said.

"That doesn't sound bad," Jessie admitted.

And so the two groups left the mansion of horrors behind . . . although they weren't likely to forget what had happened there any time soon.