A young man was in his bedroom, watching his television screen intently. The date was June 30th, 1999. He was due to go to college soon; it was his last summer where he could really goof off. His last summer as a child. The young man was left alone quite often by his parents, who usually had to do something boring to do like buy groceries or to take care of his younger siblings. June 30th, 1999, was just such a day.
The young man rarely watched the news. The last thing he remembered was that the world was supposed to end in a few months, and people were starting to grow delusional over it. A few people were already going crazy: stores robbed and cars vandalized were the stories most prevalent in the young man’s mind. The young man always had a lingering sense of paranoia in his mind: always being watched by someone, right? There was one thing he lacked to protect himself from vandals and thieves, however.
The screen he was staring at housed the first iteration of Super Mario Brothers. It was the video game that took his 20/20 eyesight’s virginity away, at the age of 3. He could remember having so much fun as he took delight in stomping on goombas and koopas. Fond memories of watching green shells skid across the brown, 8-bit ground looped in his mind.
His first and last whiff of childhood was flashing before his damaged eyes. Soon, he could never spend entire afternoons throwing fireballs at turtles with affinities for hammers. There would be classwork, peer pressure; the amount of things to list was innumerable.
That is, if the world didn’t end first. Every breath he exhaled while controlling a plumber with a red cap reeked of nostalgia. He considered himself very good at Super Mario Brothers, so whenever he lost a life in the game, it was always the game’s fault. The last time he had obtained a Game Over from the game was over a decade ago.
His paranoia started to kick in when he thought he heard a door open. Surely his parents had remembered to lock the door before they left the house? His attention wandered from his game and fixated itself on his bedroom door.
It was ajar. Blown by the wind, or not closed properly before.
He stood up from his television screen and slammed the door shut. That would teach it to creep up on him! Stupid door.
He sat back in front of his television screen. The screen depicted Mario falling down after a goomba had charged at him. The young man had forgotten to pause in his paranoid stupor, and cursed himself for it. The weakest enemy in the game had just taken a life from him.
And how many lives did the young man have left? When the screen flashed black to show Mario’s lives, it showed two. The young man was aghast at his poor performance. How did he lose so many lives beforehand? It was time to step his game up.
Unfortunately, there were no hidden 1-up mushrooms in the level, and the young man was far from obtaining 100 coins. So he had to play with two lives.
A midget Mario greeted the young man on the screen. The young man skillfully avoided all obstacles: holes, koopas, and goombas. Those accursed goombas. How he hated them most of all. Brown, useless creatures. At least the koopas had shells to use to defeat more of Bowser’s army: what good did the goomba do? It just shuffled around on that brown, 8-bit ground, just waiting for Mario to step on it or waiting for a fireball to be thrown in its face.
It was a helpless creature. It was a paraplegic, a welfare-collector, a disdain to society. If the goomba had a life out of Super Mario Brothers, it would be dependent on anyone it came in contact with. It would be a leech, a parasite. It would be the antithesis of the young man’s dreams. Dreams of independency, of finally being free from his parents once and for all. There were drawbacks to growing up, though. There would be no more summer afternoons, no more enjoying a sweet game of Mario.
Adulthood tasted bittersweet.
The young man was so lost in his thoughts that he had, again, taken his attention off of the game in front of him. Luckily, Mario was out of reach from any enemies. The young man was about to continue on, but he heard more noises.
This time, it was stairs creaking. At first, the young man thought they were just noises the house made; he remembered hearing creaking and unexplainable noises all the time growing up. Perhaps those creaks had fueled his paranoia.
After 30 seconds, he still heard creaking. Not sporadic creaking either, but a full, consecutive stream of stairs making noises. This was not a house noise. Someone was climbing the stairs, and treading on the floor that the young man was on. He knew it for a fact!
He pressed the Start button on his controller, pausing the game. He looked around his room for anything he could use as a weapon. He opened his bedroom closet and saw a metal hanger dangling from the top of the closet. It would have shimmered had sunlight beamed on it, but the young man had closed his window’s blinds. He preferred being in the dark; it was easier to see Mario that way.
The young man removed the metal hanger from its rightful place and gripped it as if it was a baseball bat. How was he going to use this as a blunt instrument? He had no idea; he would have to improvise.
The young man exited from his room, leaving the door open, and scanned the second floor of his house. There was nothing unusual. His parents made an effort to close all the doors before they left for any reason. Another paranoid trend. The young man contemplated if the irrational paranoid he had was genetic, but he dismissed the idea, at least for now. He had an invisible being to hunt for.
On to the ground floor. He searched the living room, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the foyer, everything! He was so sure an intruder would be in the house that he felt disappointed when there wasn’t a guest to strike with his hanger.
An error he noticed from his parents was that they did, in fact, forgot to lock the front door before leaving. The young man grew irritable at such an obvious error. Were they asking for people to enter the house? The error was fixed when the young man turned the lock affixed to the door. He felt reassured when the click of the lock reached his ears. Ahhh, sweet security!
When he returned to his stairs, the young man decided to test how creaky they actually were. He stomped on the golden-brown, rectangular steps, but heard nothing. An idea revealed itself in his mind after stomping; what if there was a certain part of the steps that were squeaky? He had to put this theory into action. He stomped everywhere: left part, center, right part. He made the loudest steps he possibly could; it sounded like an elephant was trampling in the house, but who was there to listen? When he reached the final step on the staircase, he grew tired of his stomps. There was no point to continue, so he took a very soft step on the last step.
If only the young man was an owl! His head did not turn 360 degrees, but he wildly looked in all directions. His pupils conveyed the message of a frightened animal. There was no intruder injected with the end-of-the-world drug through his veins though; nobody was in the house but him. The young man laughed at his irrational fear.
He tiptoed on the step again, and heard more noises. The conclusion drawn was that his stairs had a soft spot, and that they were afflicted with House Madness for half a minute. Unexplainable, as many things that go bump in the night, or in this case, afternoon, are.
There was nothing to fear. The young man walked directly into his room, and made sure to slam the door shut behind him. He may not have had vision in the sides of his eyes, but he had a sharp ear to hear all those noises. Door openings and stair creakings. The young man laughed at his childish silliness again. Before taking a view at Mario’s frozen escapades, he put the hanger back in its rightful place. Dangling.
When he was finally comfortable with the atmosphere of his room, the young man went to stare at his screen some more.
The game was unpaused.
The young man was taken aback by this. He was certain that he had paused the game before going on his witch hunt. Mario was in the same place he was in when the young man had left the game though.
There was no more fear in the young man’s mind. He probably had just thought he paused the game, or he goaded himself into thinking it. Whatever the case, the young man continued to play Super Mario Brothers.
He made a simple jumping error on the level. A bit too short. What awaited him was his worst nightmare:
A charging goomba.
Mario’s death tone played again, and the young man grew furious. Again to a goomba! How was he playing so badly?
The young man’s anger overtook his paranoia, and he stared directly at the screen. One life left. He was not, by any means, getting a Game Over. He studied the screen intently, dedicated to living throughout the level. Jump over this pit, grab this shell, destroy that accursed goomba.
Get this mushroom.
A door opened, but the young man dismissed it as more idiocy perpetuating from his mind. He was not, under any circumstances, turning around. He saw nothing after all. Granted, it was from his lack of peripheral vision, but still, nothing.
Nothing was there, back to the game.
Jump on this goomba… ARGH! Short again! At least he was a grown Mario this time, so he didn’t die.
Steps shuffled across the floor. More ghosts from the night, trying to haunt him. How scary. Screw this paranoia. He had a game to win.
The midget Mario faced yet another goomba. It was simple. Just jump. On. The. Damned. Goomba.
Just as the young man was going to press the A button on his controller, he felt a foreign object strike his chest.
He gasped for air. What the hell? What just… what just happened?
He looked at his chest and saw a… a knife sticking out of it. Blood was gushing out of his wound.
This wasn’t real, right? Somebody didn’t just… didn’t just… stab him?
He fell to the ground. He heard footsteps quietly walk away from him. The young man mustered enough strength to turn his neck around.
Just in time, he caught something walking away. Out of his room. The young man was not even granted the dignity of seeing his killer.
He felt more and more of a lull to go to sleep. The last thing he saw before closing his eyes were two words on the television screen he fell in love with over a decade and a half earlier:
Written by: Sater (Sater14523)
Special Thanks: Kai and SLAC for reading the pasta beforehand.
Please rate/criticize the pasta in the comments below! I hope you had fun reading it.