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This is the first pasta from IdealisticPrawn.

______________________________________________________________________________________________ This last April, my uncle Mike died in a car accident. From what I'd heard, his Volvo was broadsided by a large truck, and he was killed instantly. Needless to say, we had a proper little funeral for him and then sunk our teeth into his belongings.

We arrived at the house, which hadn't fallen into disrepair. Despite being something of a recluse, a man who obsessively hid his face, he did keep his place clean. 

Mike had a large basement that more resembled a second level below ground. It was accessible through a single trap door, a large metal thing with a circular handle that would seemed in its place on a bank vault. My Dad, who didn't have a particularly healthy relationship with his paranoid brother, handed me a flashlight and christening the ship, so to speak. I clambered down the white steel ladder into the abyss.

I waved the beam around, revealing ancient, crusty cardboard boxes stacked into miniature skyscrapers, like an abandoned downstairs city model. There were small winding pathways that tested my skills of not-crushing-anything-that-may-have-some-potential-value, but, after many minutes of searching, the light reflected against glass and bounced back.

It was an old arcade machine, caked in a thin layer of accumulated dust. It looked like it hadn't been used in decades, but, at the same time, the condition of just-starting decomposition suggested that it was bought within the timespace of a month and callously disregarded. Its colorful sideboards read Отважный Конан, something Russian which I couldn't understand.

"Dad! Come look at this!" I shouted. Slowly and almost painfully, Mr. Jon Lansdale made the alarmingly unstable descent into the thick darkness of the cellar. He carried a Coleman lantern he had fished out of its box in the garage. It had barely been used, and he lit the flame and decided that it was something he would keep.

He held up the lantern, revealing the machine like a rag of black being pulled from something. Despite the grandeur in which it appeared, he remained utterly stone-faced and unamused. He stared intently at it before turning to me.

"Well, you can take it if you want to.... I don't see the use, he preserved it nicely but I think it's probably been lying derelict for some time. It'll take up space, but it looks like it really interests you.... I don't know. Take it if you want." With that, he ascended again, leaving the door open as to let the light shine in.

Dad obviously seemed uninterested. He and Mike hadn't spoken since sometime the turn of the century, and I wasn't sure if he particularly approved of having something of Mike's in my house. To him, an aspiring painter, fresh out of art college, wouldn't need an old, broken-down casing full of unusable electrical parts sitting in one corner of his house.


A week later a U-Haul truck lurched to a stop at my door with the machine in the back. That day, I arranged to have a collector by the name of Ervin Windsor stop by and check it out.


An hour after the machine arrived, as I was basking in its glory over a cup of black coffee, Ervin knocked on the door. To him, I might've appeared to be one of those pretentious hipsters hoping that he would have his own little private part of history. However, I could sense Ervin, a man standing just below 6 and a half feet with greying hair in his 40s, was genuinely interested.

We made our introductions and he strode over towards the machine, eyeing it. He seemed awfully absorbed.

He turned to me.

"Doblestnyy Konan," he explained. "Stereotypical hack-and-slash dungeon crawler produced back in 1988, commonly found in the cafes of Moscow that hadn't been bombed during the Cold War. They only made 80 of these, and the last one was thought to have disappeared around the time that bin Laden died. How did you find this?"

"It was in my uncle's basement..." I blubbered. "He died, and we were fishing out some stuff. I found it, thought it was cool, and hauled it over here."

"This is the last known machine in the entire world..." he said. "If it still functions, this may be one of the rarest artifacts in video game history. I hope that it works, kid, because if it does....you're going to be a rich son of a b*tch."

We exchanged our thank-yous, and he left.


An hour later, I had plugged its wires into several sockets in the main room of my house. Finally, I pressed the button, and the machine whirred mechanically before making a shrill sound, like the sound of a multi-deck CD player jamming, before booting up.

On the screen was the title behind a pan of the map, with the words Нажмите Начало, which I assumed to mean 'Press Start'. I pressed a red button on the side of the machine, and I found myself at a scene selection screen, with only one option, the first level out of three. I selected it with my joystick, and the screen went to black before transitioning in with that pixel effect.

There my character was, a typical muscle-bound, sword-wielding hero. The background music, although with the Russian vibe of Tetris, carried the same sprawling militaristic tone that reminded me of Kid Icarus or the first Metroid, even a bit of the first The Legend of Zelda. I was in a dimly-lit cavern, and after passing the first stage in one go using the joystick and three buttons given, I was familiar with the enemies: zombies, large ogre-type beasts, demons which came in the form of conventional ones and dragon-like creatures, and one-eyed cyclopses that roamed around as though they were blind. I occasionally used the 'pause' button so I could have easy access to food and drink.

As I moved to the second level, the music changed slightly to closely resemble the first Star Fox, and the caves became a little more Hell-like in appearance; red, pixelated blood would ooze from the rock, nooses would spring from the ceiling, and the brightness increased and decreased drastically at random intervals. Finally, I died after a struggle with a demon, and I was set back to the start screen. I looked at the clock, and two hours had gone by. I was shocked, as it only seemed like twenty minutes.


Over the course of the next week, I kept trying to get to the third level, and I kept losing time. Soon enough, I stopped going out, instead reserving myself to that tiny corner of the house for 12 hours at a time.

Suddenly, I awoke. The past days had been a blur, and I was hunched over the machine, having fallen asleep from the fatigue. The room flowed around me like intangible liquid, and I could hear backwards voices that sounded as though they had been slowed down electronically, stuttering in some spots. Finally, I reached for my cellphone. Dad had tried calling me a record 32 times. I observed something else that terrified me.


I was missing a week.


A week - seven days - had gone by. I was astonished. Had the game really done this to me?

I looked on the screen. The game had paused, and it took me a minute to locate the white 'pause' button that I had landed on. I pressed it again, and I observed that I was in the second level again. For some reason, my mind argued that I finish the game, once and for all.

And there, I was back. The blood, the nooses, the changes in brightness. As I pushed further, my in-game health slowly depleting, I could see chalk marks on the ground and I could hear the sounds of a woman screaming. Finally, I could see Russian words flash on screen in large, white, harsh font. Minutes later, after barely surviving the onslaught, I was killed and set back to the start screen.

I turned off the machine and sat in my bed, putting my arms over my eyes in despair. A week! I was missing seven days of my life, and I could tell that there was obviously something awry with the game. It was the machine. I knew it.


The next day, a man in a beige trenchcoat was at my door with an envelope.

"I'm from Western Union. Are you Caine Lansdale?" he enquired.

"Yes, that would be me," I admitted. The man appeared to be deathly serious.

"I have an envelope addressed to you from a... Mike Lansdale, to be delivered to you today. Here you go."

I snatched the envelope from him wordlessly, watching him as he left. Uncle Mike left a letter to me? Why would he do that? I opened up the envelope and read, eyes bulging.


Dear nephew,

If you're reading this, there's a high chance that you have the machine in your possession.

How the f*ck would he know that?

I bought it twenty years ago at a yard sale they were holding. The guy was an ex-technician who immigrated from Russia after the fall of the Union. There's a lot more, most of which you've already found out by the time you receive this letter. The truth is, my death was no accident. I deliberately drove my car into the truck because it was beginning to exert its control. Whatever is in that machine, you can't let it take over you. Do whatever you can, just don't end up like me.

Sincerely,

Your uncle, Mike.


After an hour, I was back at the machine, determined to beat it. Slowly but surely, I progressed through both the first, and, surprisingly, into the third level.

The third level uncannily resembled Hell. The cave was now made of red rock, and fire shot up in places which I had to jump over. Faces flashed on the screen, faces of Jesus and men with Amish-looking hats and evil clowns with fire in their eyes. It was almost like having glimpses of humanity, which scared me even more. I was sweating down my back now, and the sweat was cold.

The screen was noticeably darker. I fought on, the landscape becoming increasingly more warped and disturbing. Before long, there were patches of metal embedded within the walls, as if giving way to some gargantuan structure.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, I reached the end. It was a dark doorway, and without hesitation I walked through it.

White text flashed on the screen, and the machine shut down, almost automatically.


A week after that, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted inexplicably off of my chest. There was sun and blue sky outside, a clear signal that the storm had been cast away from me, in another direction. I decided I would take a shower.

As I washed up with some shampoo, I could hear the distinct timbre of the window latch coming undone. Curious, I stood there for a minute before turning off the water, stepping out dripping. I tied a towel around my waist and opened the door slightly ajar, peering through the crack.

A man with pale skin smiled back.

The door swung, screaming on its hinges as the man jabbed a butcher knife at me. I jumped back, holding up the towel in defense. He cut through it, and I landed a kick in his stomach, sending him reeling backwards.

I pushed past him to my kitchen, where I grabbed one of my own knives. The rest of what happened is very shadowy to me; before I knew it, I sat naked on the kitchen floor with my cellphone to my ear as the man lay dead with two stab wounds in his left lung and three in his testicles.

Shortly after, I had the machine destroyed. When the Ervin guy called me one day and asked me as to why I would annihilate such a priceless piece of recent history, I told him it didn't work. We both agreed that it meant that it was trash, before he hung up.

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