I raced through the city with the police on my tail. Their sirens wailed as I weaved in and out of the oncoming traffic. I hoped to lose them. However, they were too skilled for this and didn’t slow down. They aggressively rammed into the back of my car. I lost control and skidded to a stop on the side of the road. There was no hope for me as I was surrounded.
If I had one complaint about Grand Theft Auto V, it would have to be the difficulty of the police pursuits. I only had a two star wanted level but the police were trying to kill me. They succeeded by blowing my head off as I exited the car. The “WASTED” text appeared on the screen as my character flailed like a ragdoll.
I was annoyed. I just wanted to have a little fun but now I’d have to pay $5000. As I sighed, the screen froze with Trevor leaving the hospital. This was accompanied by a beeping sound from the PlayStation 3. I couldn’t believe how bad my luck was today.
I restarted the PS3 hoping it would still work. A yellow light appeared instead of the green one.
I was driving home one day when something caught the corner of my eye. Taped to a lamppost was a garage sale sign. On the piece of cardboard was an address written with a black marker. 15 Chatham Court.
A week had passed since my PS3 broke down. I decided to check the place out. It didn’t matter if all they had was a PS2. All I knew was that I wouldn’t be able to buy a new PS3 until my next paycheck and I was too impatient. I wish now that I had waited another week.
I drove up the road. It seemed to stretch on for miles. Lots of the houses looked decades old. Paint was peeling off a few of the houses and anything metal had rust starting to grow on it. When I glanced over into one of the cracked windows of a house, I saw pigeons living in there. I couldn’t believe people lived in this area.
I continued on up the road. At the very end of the road I could see a house that definitely looked abandoned. The garden was overgrown with blades of grass that were knee high. In amongst the grass were plenty of weeds. A car with no wheels and brown with rust was parked on the front lawn. There were cement bricks lying around as well, for whatever reason. The driveway was dark from many years of never being washed and had many cracks in it.
The garage door was open. This was the place. I wondered if I should even try buying anything from here. Was this a joke? Do people just put up fake garage sale signs?
I was desperate to play a game though. I parked my car beside the curb and stepped out. As I walked up the driveway I felt the hairs on my neck prick up. Everything about this place unsettled me.
I could hear the echo of my footstep when I made my way into the garage. There was hardly anything in here except for a wooden table at the side of the room with antiques sitting on it.
I cautiously walked towards the table. When I stood in front of the table, a doll stared back at me with empty glass eyes. Above its eyes was a green sticker stuck to its forehead. “Negotiable” was written on it. Why didn’t they just give a price?
The doll sparked an interest in me. I picked it up to examine it when I noticed a dirty white object below it. I picked up the square object and noticed that I could flip it open. When I did I realized it was a Gameboy Advance SP.
There was a crack in the top right corner of the screen. This thing looked too old to work, but when I flipped the switch, sure enough, it turned on.
I jumped and instantly turned around. I saw an old man. His eyes look sunken into their sockets and his cheekbones were prominent. No wonder this place was in such bad shape. He could barely take care of himself at his age.
“I see that you’re interested in that there video game device,” he croaked.
I was still speechless from the surprise. I still had difficulty breathing steadily. I switched the device back off and tried to regain my composure.
“I-I just… wanted, to um, check it out,” I replied shakily.
“Well, if you want it you can have it,” he said.
I had a tough decision to make here. While something just didn’t feel right about this place, or the old man, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity. I had gone an entire week without video games. I was desperate for anything even if it was just a Gameboy, so I put my fear down to just being in a creepy neighborhood.
“How much is it?” I inquired.
“Oh, it’s free of course,” he answered.
A cold chill darted down my spine. This wasn’t right at all. Even old people knew something like this would be somewhat valuable. It was a piece of working technology.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to pay you?” I asked.
“Yes it’s fine. Take it,” he replied.
I stood there wondering if I should take it or not. This was my opportunity to get my fix without having to spend anything. So the skeptic in me put my anxiety to rest. Everything about this incident was unsettling, but any fears I had were just in my head.
I made my decision and thanked the old man for his business and so did he in return. I drove home with the Gameboy, not knowing the mess I had gotten myself into. I wish now that I had gone with my gut feeling.
At my lecture I struggled to stay awake. The professor was droning on about things I’d already studied myself. Before I yawned, I remembered that I’d brought the Gameboy to show my friends. I hadn’t played it yet though.
I walked out of the lecture and sat down in the hall, just next to the door. I opened my bag and pulled out the device.
When I flipped it open I examined it in closer detail than I did the first time. There were actually two cracks on the screen with the second, smaller one opposite to the first one I spotted. A brown ring of dirt circled both the buttons and the D-Pad was dirty. Some kid with grubby hands must have played this.
It suddenly hit me that I didn’t even check to see if there was a game cartridge inside the device. I was such an idiot, but I checked and thankfully there was one in there.
I started up the device. It turned on fine just like before. When I tried to play the game though, it wouldn’t load up.
The first thought that hit my mind was to take out the cartridge and give it a blow. I was surprised to find that the cartridge was jammed in though. It wouldn’t budge at all.
Suddenly, the game did load up and it loaded up right in the middle of a level. I could tell right away from the art style that it was Super Mario Bros 3. I expected a loading screen or menu instead of starting mid-level though. Mario just stood on the spot with the grass below his feet and floating bricks above his head. It was as though the game had been paused for years.
One thing I took note of at the time was that the colors looked very washed out. Normally any game by Nintendo looks vivid and full of color, but this game definitely looked a lot greyer.
I tried moving forward in the game. I consciously pressed the right directional button and I must have waited three seconds before Mario began moving. He must have been groggy from such a long slumber.
I pressed the A button to jump. There was yet another delayed reaction before Mario finally jumped and smashed the bricks with his head. When I moved forward again though, he did it instantly.
I thought that the game was fine now so I ran towards the ledge I had to leap across and pressed A. Mario just ran over the ledge to his death though. Stupid lag. The life indicator in the top right of the screen flashed a few times.
Before the number went down to two, the screen froze. I heard a low buzz emit from the speakers as well. I can’t say I didn’t expect the Gameboy to crash, but the buzzing sound worried me. It was so unusual.
Right when I switched the device off I heard a scream.
I jammed the Gameboy back into my bag and ran outside the building. I was on the top floor of the building so I ran outside onto a bridge, which linked the building I was in with another one.
“Oh my God!” a girl below me shouted. It must have been the same girl who’d screamed.
I gripped the cold metal railing and looked over the ledge. My stomach turned.
On the pavement below, I saw a puddle of blood pool around my friend’s head. He’d definitely landed headfirst. The rest of his body looked bent out of shape from the impact.
I couldn’t look anymore. All I could hear was the girl sobbing.
My friend couldn’t be saved. He was killed instantly. I was ordered to go home for the rest of the day and asked if I needed counseling. I said I’d consider it, couldn’t give a straight answer thanks to the shock I was suffering from. All day I trembled.
When I arrived home that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend’s death. It looked like a suicide but he wasn’t the type of guy to do anything like that. I’d met him earlier that day and he didn’t seem depressed or happy. He just seemed his usual self.
Obsessing over this wasn’t making me feel any better though. I needed a distraction, a game to play.
I started up my Gameboy. The glow from the screen was comforting. I waited for Super Mario Bros 3 to start. It took a lot longer than last time. I waited probably a couple of minutes before it finally started.
“What the hell?” I gasped.
The level started off in Bowser’s mansion. I was nowhere near this part last time.
The colors were worse this time as well. They weren’t washed out, but they looked overly saturated and intense. The lava was a glaring orange and embers were so bright they practically leaped off the screen.
I thought that I could fix the color in settings. My attempt was futile though. I could not access it at all.
I was annoyed with the handheld behaving this way. No wonder the old timer gave it to me for nothing.
To my delight though, there wasn’t any delay when I pressed the right directional button. Mario moved forward instantly. I jumped a few times and collected some coins. The gameplay was working well for a change.
Then something unusual happened. Instead of hearing a smash sound when Mario shattered a brick, the audio just went mute. At the very moment of impact, any sound that came out of the Gameboy was completely gone. It was replaced with a low hum.
I tapped the side of the warm device a few times in the hope it would fix the audio. Maybe there were a few loose wires.
When I did this however, green and purple pixels appeared on the screen. There weren’t many so I could still see everything fine. I wish I hadn’t tried solving the audio problem though.
I ignored the pixels and kept playing. I could actually play the game apart from the audio and visual problems.
My eyes widened. When I attempted a jump over a patch of lava, Mario didn’t jump. He dived. I’d never seen a diving animation in this game before.
I expected Mario to die on impact, but he cut into the lava as though it was water. The camera angle scrolled down to reveal a body of lava. It was exactly like one of the swimming levels, except the water had been replaced with lava.
Mario swam through the lava with ease. I made him swim through the lava, when suddenly he stopped. I kept holding down the right button, but he just floated there.
None of this felt normal. My hands began to sweat from nerves. The buttons became wet and then my thumb slipped off the right button. Mario started swimming forward again.
I placed my thumb back on the button and he stopped. The button must have gone faulty. I released my thumb and let Mario continue on swimming forward. He looked relaxed just swimming through the glowing lava.
I remember that letting Mario swim seemed to take forever. I thought at one point that I was stuck in a certain part of the map. It didn’t feel worth it to wait since the game seemed to be riddled with glitches. I decided to call it a day and switch the device off.
As soon as I reached for the power switch, Mario appeared on a platform next to a Thwomp. I was surprised by the instant change.
Attempting to move forward was futile. Mario stood there like a statue.
The Thwomp didn’t slam down onto the ground. He simply floated above Mario, looking down on him.
I can still vividly picture the Thwomp’s smile. Normally he gritted his teeth. He maintained the mean look in his eyes though. Witnessing that evil smile was unnerving. He was happy about something.
Nothing could prepare me for what he was planning. He quickly moved to the side right above Mario. Before I could react, he slammed down in what seemed like a fraction of a second.
At the instant he crushed Mario, a deafening slam roared out of the speakers. I could feel the vibrations from the device before I dropped it in shock. The sound echoed throughout the entire house. My hands were trembling.
Out of instinct, I quickly looked around the house. Was something going to emerge from another room and attack me? I was close to shitting my pants at this point.
When I saw that there were no monsters, I heard deep laughter and my heart jumped into my throat. The sound was coming from the Gameboy. I slowly returned my gaze to the floor where the device rested.
Thwomp’s face filled the entire screen and he stared at me while he laughed.
I wanted to turn off the Gameboy but I simply couldn’t. There was no way I was going near that thing.
I walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a snack. I ate until I couldn’t hear the laughter anymore.
When I returned to the spot with a half eaten bag of crisps in hand, the only thing that stared at me was a black screen. The handheld wasn’t on anymore. At least that’s what I thought.
“M X 1” flashed on the screen. I had one life remaining.
My heart skipped a beat and my body turned to jelly. I slumped into the couch and rested my head on the arm of it. I worried at the time that it meant I only had one life left. Did the Gameboy place a curse on my life? None of it felt real.
Then I remembered what happened to my friend earlier today. He died from a supposed suicide shortly after Mario died when I was playing the game. Suddenly, it clicked into place and I realized that my friend definitely didn’t kill himself; a force killed him.
I was responsible for his death. If I didn’t play the game none of this would have happened. I felt a rock in my throat.
At that moment of clarity, I picked the device up off the floor and threw it into the trashcan. I wouldn’t let any more people get killed.
However, dread washed over me when I received the phone call minutes later. It was from my other friend’s dad. My friend had been found dead on the side of a road.
I was speechless. When I regained my voice I asked if he knew how my friend died.
His voice shook when he told me. When I heard what he said I couldn’t believe what had happened to my friend.
An air conditioner fell on top of him.
The next morning my friend Jake visited me. I could tell he didn’t sleep since he had purple bags under his eyes.
The first thing he said when he entered the house was, “I can’t believe they’re gone, just like that…”
I was in more disbelief than him though. I couldn’t believe a Gameboy had caused all of this; that I had caused this.
It was nice of him to visit. When he was over we ate good food and had a talk about the recent turn of events. It provided some closure.
When he asked if we could have a quick gaming session I mentioned how the PS3 had broken down. He didn’t believe me though and turned it on anyway, only to see the flashing yellow light.
“That’s a real bummer,” he said.
“Yeah… I can’t fork out money for a new one at the moment,” I replied.
“Well, have you got anything we can play?”
I wondered if I should tell him about the Gameboy. No, I decided, it was dangerous to even bring it up.
In that moment of hesitation though, Jake knew I was hiding something.
“You do have something,” he laughed, “Why do you try to hide stuff from me?”
“I’m not hiding anything man,” I replied in an attempt to sway him.
It was no use though, he kept asking me and eventually I had to tell him about the Gameboy. He was too damn stubborn and curious for his own good.
I didn’t tell him where I got it from or the trouble it caused. I simply told him that it didn’t work and that I threw it out. There wasn’t any way he’d believe me if I told him the truth. He’d think I was crazy.
After our conversation, I checked the time. I should have left a few minutes ago. I asked him when he’d be leaving before I left myself. He told me that he didn’t have class today and that he thought he’d just crash at my place.
Normally I was fine with him living at my place for a bit. However, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy leaving him here. Even if the Gameboy was in the trashcan it was still technically in the house. I hoped he wouldn’t go looking for it. Who’d go to the trouble of searching for a broken Gameboy, right?
I had to leave for class, so I left and placed my trust in him.
When I returned home he greeted me at the front door. He then showed me the worst thing he could have shown with a shit-eating grin on his face.
“What was this doing in the bin? Huh?” he asked.
I clenched my fists as my blood boiled. He had no bloody idea what he was getting himself into.
“How could you do such a heartless thing to it?” he joked.
I tried to laugh, but all that came out was a forced chuckle. I was furious that he thought this was something that could be joked about. He didn’t know any better though and I couldn’t fault him for that. He must have seen the Gameboy when he went to throw food scraps in the bin or something. I wish I’d covered it.
“Listen,” I began, “it was thrown out for a reason.”
“Oh, because it’s broken? That’s funny because…” he said as he switched the device on, “It works.”
He held the glowing screen in front of me. I looked at it as my stomach filled up with butterflies.
“Please, you can’t play it,” I begged.
“I’m not playing it. You are,” he said as he handed me the device.
That struck me as odd. I thought that he was eager to play the Gameboy himself.
“Don’t you want to play it?” I asked.
“No man. I need you to show me what the game is and stuff,” he replied.
Jake was the weirdest one of my friends. At times he was funny and caring, but for the most part he was stubborn, nosey, loud, and well… weird for lack of a better word. I tried to cut my ties with him after high school but he found out where I lived from one of my friends. I’d be able to leave him for good after I got some money together.
I walked over to the couch and sat down with him. Then I got a sudden urge to tell him the truth. I didn’t want anyone else to die.
“Jake, you have to take what I’m saying seriously,” I said.
He looked at me with a neutral face and listened.
“Someone will die if I play this,” I said as I looked into his eyes, “The Gameboy is cursed. When I die in the game, someone dies in real life.”
He listened to what I said with a stern expression on his face. Did he believe me? There was a long pause before he burst out laughing.
“I tried to keep a straight face, but I just can’t. That’s classic man,” he chuckled.
My heart sank. There was no way I could escape this.
I flicked the cold, hard switch to on. When I tried to load up Super Mario Bros 3 it loaded instantly this time. Not only did it load instantly, but it also took me to the main menu. It actually worked how it should.
I selected “Continue” and waited for the level to load.
When it loaded, Mario was standing in front of Bowser. They were surrounded by lava. It was the final level where Mario rescued Princess Peach.
The first thing I noticed was once again, the colors. Everything was tinted red as though the red, green and blue values had been messed with in settings. Attempting to enter the settings was useless, as it didn’t allow me.
The only sound that came from the speakers was a low buzzing sound.
I just hoped the controls were responsive. I tried moving Mario and thankfully he moved instantly. I let out a sigh of relief.
I might be able to avoid dying this time.
I clung onto that hope and eagerly anticipated the first fireball Bowser would hurl. When he threw it I dodged flawlessly. I just needed to keep this up for a minute or so.
Another fireball was thrown in my direction and once again I dodged it.
After I dodged the third fireball, Bowser crouched down, ready to jump. Just when his feet left the ground, the game froze. I started to worry but then saw the advantage.
I was more than prepared to dodge when the game resumed and Bowser came crashing down. I moved to the side in plenty of time. I just needed to survive another couple of rounds.
Suddenly, the Gameboy was ripped out of my hands. Jake held it up in the air and laughed. What the hell was he doing?
“You’re so going to lose!” he laughed.
Before I could get the Gameboy back from him, before I could even say anything, he erupted into a human torch.
That night I couldn't sleep. To this day, I still have trouble sleeping. I will always be haunted by the blood curdling screams Jake managed before he died. Especially the screams that didn't sound like screams anymore because the flames had made their way inside him and damaged his vocal cords. The ones that were more like a squawk as he gargled and yelled at the same time.
When I open my eyes at night, I picture my bedroom lit up at night just like the room where he burned to death. I can sometimes visibly see the orange light cast on the walls and I feel like I might throw up, but then I remember that it's just a powerful illusion from deep within my subconscious.
Of course, it doesn't help that I still have the Gameboy locked in a safe under the bed. It's a constant reminder when I go to sleep, but I need to keep it close to me and locked away so that no one else will ever play it.
Even though the device had been touched by the very flames that killed Jake it was still in working condition. I know because “Game Over” was flashing on the screen as I pried it from his charred hands. His lifeless, burned and flaky hands. Game over alright.
I had another sleepless night tonight, so I thought it would help to write this entire thing down. I can see the sun rising right now as I finish this off. I still don't feel good...
Maybe playing a game will help take my mind off things.