This Isn't A Game draws inspriation from a few sources. The Ceej wanted it published on Halloween of 2012, but it took a bit longer than that to write. His creepiest story to date, this is sure to be a story during which you'll want to leave the lights on, but that won't help.
There’s this video game. You’ve probably never heard of it. There’s a good reason for that. It doesn’t officially exist. The company that made it never existed. There’s no trace of evidence for it at all. Except that I own a copy. Possibly the only copy. If I get close enough to you, I may trust you enough to show it to you, but I will never tell you how I got it. If I did, you’d have me committed.
I wasn’t setting out to find a game. I just wanted to have a good time. It was a Friday night, and I had nothing better to do, so I decided to go to the opening weekend at the Phantasy Phortress. It was the most amazing piece of architecture I’d ever seen. The first story of this casino filled an entire city block, or it would have if it weren’t on a hill quite a distance out of town. Towers of varying heights pierced the night sky, while bridges between some of these towers allowed some transportation access without returning to the first story. I’d never seen anything like it. Just witnessing this beautiful casino was enough to make it a great Friday night.
The casino was just as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. Usually, on the inside, all casinos look more or less the same, but this one was beautiful. The entire first story was on a clear glass floor suspended over sea life in a crystal clear aquarium. The towers all had their own themes, each as beautiful as the last. I decided to stop and play a little roulette in the Dreamland Tower, where all the scenery was surreal but astounding nonetheless. I dropped a couple of chips on 0 in passing. Imagine my excitement when the wheel landed on 0. No need to sit. The beginner’s luck paid me enough. I know when to fold ’em, to put it in the words of the classic song.
I decided to take my winnings over to one of the tower’s balconies. I set my pile of chips on the table, meaning to count them in a minute, and looked over the railing. I had to be 1000 feet or more above the ground. Looking down into the casino from up here was an amazing sight. I was wishing I had brought my camera when I noticed something off in the distance. In the sky, it was glowing pink. It was... like a ribbon... but made of pure energy... and it was coming this way.
I couldn’t help but stand there and watch as the ribbon began hitting the towers of the casino, explosions everywhere. I wanted to escape, but my feet wouldn’t move. When the ribbon made it to the tower where I was standing, I could feel it ripping through my chest, melting my flesh. I knew I was dying. I knew this was the end. And, then it all went black.
I decided to go to opening weekend at the Phantasy Phortress. It was the most amazing piece of architecture I’d ever seen. The first story of this casino filled an entire city block— But I had done this before. This wasn’t new. I remembered the entire first time. I knew where I had to go, and I had to get some black chips first. I turned all my money into black chips and went to the Dreamland Tower to put them all on 0 when the spin came around again.
Before I played my stack, I had a horrible thought. What if that wasn’t a premonition? What if it was just a dream? What if 0 doesn’t hit? Then I’ll have no money. I decided to hold back a couple hundred pounds just in case. At least that way, I could tough it through the rest of the month in the event I was wrong. Immediately after the call was made I had regrets. I was regretting second guessing myself. Here I was, winning well over £20,000, and regretting I hadn’t put more on the line. How greedy could I be? I collected, and walked over to the balcony to relax.
As I started hearing explosions, I looked out and saw the ribbon was coming. But that’s impossible, I thought, that part couldn’t have been real! If it were, I’d be dead now! But, it was real enough as it melted through my flesh once more, and I could feel myself being decapitated.
It was the most amazing piece of architecture I’d ever seen. The first story of this casino— “What the hell is going on?” I asked myself. Was I the only one who knew I had died twice? The only one whose pockets were now empty of chips in spite of the fact I had won thousands? I told myself I’d seen enough of this shit and decided I was going home.
It was the most amazing piece of architecture I’d ever seen. What the hell? I didn’t even die this time. I was starting to get a feeling like I was the only one who knew what the hell was even happening, and I’d be stuck in this forever unless I could figure out why. Then, there was a voice behind me, “You see it too?”
I knew what he was on about, but I didn’t know how to say it, “You mean... The... pink...”
He was a bit more articulate, “Ribbon?”
“It keeps throwing us back here,” I told him.
“Don’t try leaving. It doesn’t help.”
“Does anyone else see it?”
“I don’t know. They’re all seeming to be getting a little restless. We may be waking up to it a few at a time.”
I had to know, “How many times have you seen it?”
“About a dozen times,” he told me, “and I still don’t know where it comes from.”
“I’m Blake,” I extended my hand, “Blake Birling. Meet me here every time, and we’ll get to the bottom of this sooner or later.”
“Will do,” he shook my hand, “I’m Rusty.”
After we were once again killed by the ribbon, we decided to start investigating.
* * *
We didn’t have a lot of time, so we decided to just go. We didn’t know exactly where we needed to go, but we thought the owner’s office was a good place to start. The problem was, we didn’t know where that was. After dying a few times, we found that it wasn’t on the ground floor. It had to be in one of the towers.
Dying doesn’t get easier over time. No matter how many times you’ve died, no matter how much you see it coming, no matter how much you prepare, it’s just as terrifying and painful as it was the first time. Besides, for all we knew, every time could be the last time. This was impossible. It was impossible, but it was happening. We kept coming back. No matter how many times we failed, no matter how many times we died, we kept coming back. But, we still knew it was impossible. We still feared, every time, that we were dead forever. Sometimes I wonder if things wouldn’t be better if we were.
I don’t know how many times we died, but we eventually found the office. It was behind a plain-looking door on the edge of Knights Of The Round Tower. It a was large, but conservative looking office. There were two levels of this nice office, but the second seemed to be for file storage. Or that’s the way it appeared looking up at the balcony. A nice mahogany desk sat in the middle of the floor. Looking at the computer screen, we saw what the game was. When the ribbon hit the building, everything started over. Everything but the casino’s profits. Somehow, the casino got to keep the money that was destroyed in the explosion. It didn’t make sense! It was impossible! But... But... It was by design.
Coming to this revelation, we looked behind us out the window. It was time. We were dead. Again.
It was the most amazing piece of architecture I’d ever seen. Except for the people running around wildly in a panic, the casino was beautiful. Was everyone awake now? Was it something we did? Did we hit something on the computer that allowed people to wake up? Was it a bug in the system that allowed us to wake up? We’d have plenty of time to speculate later. First things first, it was important that we returned to the office to figure this out.
The police were here now, trying futilely to evacuate the casino. We knew it wouldn’t work. We couldn’t allow them to find us too. That made things harder. After a few attempts, we got back into the office without being caught by the police. There had to be something here. There had to be, but we didn’t have the time to search the shelves on the upper level. There had to be something at the desk.
Opening the drawer, I felt a sense of epiphany. I don’t know why. It was only a silly Super Nintendo cartridge. But, somehow, picking that game up, I felt like things were different now. It didn’t make sense. None of this made sense. I stuck the game in my pocket, grabbed Rusty, and vaulted through the window. Well, I did throw a paperweight through it first. I wasn’t going to cut us. As we fell toward the ground, I saw the ribbon hitting the casino. There was a massive explosion. People were dying. They were being ripped apart. It was amazing how something could be so horrifying and yet so beautiful. It didn’t matter anyway. We were going to die soon. We had been falling for what seemed like ten minutes. Maybe the adrenalin rush made it seem like longer, but nothing else made sense, so maybe we were flying. Even though the tower we jumped from was almost in the middle of the building, we still managed to land in the grass. We landed and rolled, but it felt more like we jumped from a tree house than a tower.
When we looked up, the building was gone. Not reduced to rubble. Not charred with flames. Gone. As if it had never been there before. Maybe this is why we landed in the grass. There were a few trees around. I had to look around myself just to make sure I was still in the same place I was before. I had to ask Rusty to make sure we shared this experience. Nobody was dead. Nobody had even come to the casino. The casino had never existed.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a Super Nintendo cartridge. But, if the casino had never existed, where did I get this game? Why didn’t the game vanish with the casino? I looked at the sticker on the cartridge to see what game I has scored in this whole creepy dreamland, and my spine felt a chill that could frost a beer mug. The game was called, “Phantasy Phortress.”
Rusty and I became friends after the incident. That’s how we refered to it. “The incident.” What else were we supposed to call it? We can’t talk about it to anyone else. No one else can know. Sometimes I found myself wondering if the casino ever really existed. It was too fantastical to have been a real building. It was like something out of a dream. It was something out of a dream. But, even if I can discount Rusty’s memories too, there’s that damn game I took with me.
The label makes it look like a real Super Nintendo game. Behind the title, there’s a little cartoon version of the casino hauntingly staring back at me. Even creepier is that Nintendo’s official seal of approval is on it. I don’t understand how they could approve a game that never existed. Believe me, I looked it up. I searched all over the internet, searched hardcore gaming forums, pretty much exhausted every outlet I was able to think of for finding obscure games. It doesn’t exist. It never did. Neither did the casino it’s named after. Nintendo’s hotline also denies its existence and insists, if I do have that game in my possession, their seal is being used fraudulently.
When I came home that night, I put the game on my dresser. That’s where it sat for six months. I didn’t have a Super Nintendo, and I’d be afraid to play it if I did. I never really planned to play it. The only reason I kept it is I was afraid to start that creepy time loop over again. I know it stopped when I stole the game. How did I know it wouldn’t start up again if I got rid of it? But, there was one Friday night that made me forget about how creepy that casino was. It all started when Rusty and I went out for a few drinks.
Rusty and I had been out for drinks a few times. It wasn’t the way we usually spent our Friday nights, but it wasn’t unusual. Except, this time, it was.
It wasn’t much different at first. We drank, talked, did some karaoke. You know? Stuff people think is fun when they’re drunk. But I was really drunk. I probably shouldn’t have had so much. I can’t remember ever drinking this much. I was feeling really sick. I didn’t even have time to excuse myself when I ran to the toilet.
I’d been sick before, but never for this reason. This was worse than having the flu. I grabbed some toilet paper to wipe off my mouth. Then some more to wipe off my tongue. This was disgusting. Throwing all the paper into the toilet, I noticed something. A grocery bag was just sitting behind the toilet. I picked it up and looked in it. This was a Super Nintendo. Everything I needed to hook it up, and even a few games. I didn’t know why it was back there, but things were starting to make more sense now. But, at the same time, they were making less sense.
* * *
This wasn’t the first time I could have had a Super Nintendo. They used to be hard to come by. They used to be expensive when you did find them. But, somehow, about six months earlier, I had started seeing them everywhere. Pawn shops, thrift stores, even retail gaming stores. Always used. Always cheap. I didn’t really think of this until just then, and maybe it was just coincidence. But maybe, just maybe, I was supposed to have the system.
I checked around, and no one knew where it came from, so I just took it with me when Rusty and I caught a ride back to my place. I should have been a bit wary about hooking it up, but I was too plastered to be afraid. We played some of the games that were in the bag for a while, until Rusty suggested I go get the game I stole from the casino. I knew I shouldn’t have. It was probably my biggest mistake.
So, I popped in the game and turned on the system. It all seemed okay at first. It was a bit creepy seeing a 16-bit representation of a place we had both been to, but never really existed. Otherwise, the title screen was colourful and had lively music. Unfortunately, it only allowed for one player, but that was to be expected. Rusty didn’t even have a controller in his hands.
The casino floor was so uncannily familiar. I was wondering if we were never really there, but perhaps had just dreamt that this game was real. It was a stretch, but it made more sense than what our memories suggested. Then, I saw the roulette table. The sprite for the dealer looked like someone had tried to duplicate the actual dealer’s face with 16-bit graphics. It was starting to get a little weird, but we were still a little drunk. Just for laughs, I put all my virtual money on 0.
It was a little exciting if not disconcerting that the wheel actually landed on 0, and my character was a millionaire. But, only for a few minutes. The screen glitched, and I was right back at the entrance again.
This may not sound like much to you, but to me this was like experiencing that creepy Friday night on a video game. This was worse. I tried to continue playing but, as I turned my character’s sprite to a direction facing the screen, my hands shook so hard I dropped the controller. Rusty got up and asked me what was wrong, and I could only point. Rusty followed my shaky finger to the screen and looked back at my face and saw what I saw. The sprite was me!
In the time it took us to compose ourselves, the screen glitched again, starting me back at the beginning of the game. We felt it best to just shut off the game and never play again. For some reason, the game wasn’t turning off! The switch must have been broken! As we fumbled to get to the power cord, we could hear the screams that we heard that night. People dying. Their flesh being ripped apart. Did people really die? Did all that really happen? Were we in reality? Were we already dead? As I panicked to pull the cord, it did no good. The game stayed on.
As the screaming grew louder, we were beginning to feel horror. We were feeling like we were right back where we were before. Do you realise how hard it is to pull an RF switch out of the back of a game system when you know you’re dying? When you can feel your body being ripped apart? We may have been seeing my living room, but we knew where we really were.
The panic, the terror, the dying, and the screaming... They all continued until we took a hammer to that gaming system and just kept striking it until we were able to force the game out of it. Only then did the screaming stop. But, don’t think for a second that that means things went back to normal. Things will never go back to normal.
Now, I keep that game locked up. I’m afraid to get rid of it. I’m afraid of it falling into the wrong hands. I’m afraid of it ending up in a system. But, I’m even afraid to look at it. Rusty and I had a big fight not long after that night. I suspected the only reason he also knew what was going on the night the we met was that he was one of them. He said the same of me, and now I don’t know where he is. I never saw him again.
I still don’t know that I’m even alive. I still don’t know that I’m not trapped in some dreamland. I don’t know that the casino isn’t really there in the real world. I don’t know that I’m not being punished by the casino for stealing the game. I don’t know what’s real anymore. I don’t know that I haven’t gone mad. And that’s really what scares me the most.
I keep that game where they keep me: Locked up.
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The Ceej would like to thank the following people for their input throughout this story's editing process: Alexander Eats, Jeremie Mikel, Joe O'Ryan, Kris Swart, Neuman Florian, and Stephen Colgan. You guys may not think you did much, but the feedback you provided The Ceej has been valuable and deserves credit. The Ceej would also like to thank The Valley Planet for publishing this story in the Halloween, 2013 issue. Thanks to all seven of you.
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