I met him by chance, but that's how a lot of online friendships start, isn't it? We had been friends for years without ever meeting face to face, yet that didn't stop us from having a connection that went beyond a keyboard and text on a screen. Sometimes we bought things for one another, as we shared a lot of the same interests, including video games. When Animal Crossing: New Leaf was announced I had doubts about whether or not I could get in to it, but seeing so many of my friends enjoy it after it was released I decided that I would at least give it a try.
I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting to, and the two of us would spend time in our towns together in to the wee hours of the morning, long after our towns folk had gone to bed and the shops had closed. We would talk like we always did, over instant messenger and Skype while trading items, giving tips and generally enjoying each others company within this cutesy, innocent virtual environment.
One day, a good month after we had started playing together, he sent me a text message early in the morning.
Whenever you get a chance, get online
It was a bit weird to be woken up by him at such an hour. He was three hours ahead of me as it was, we had both gone to bed late, but there the message was - vaguely worded and confusing in my sleep deprived state.
It took me a good fifteen minutes just to wake myself up enough to boot up my laptop, but as soon as I was on my instant messenger dinged and a window came up.
Issiah T. : Remember how I said I was getting a new villager last night?
Claire D.: Yeah?
Issiah T.: She moved in this morning. Her name is Coco.
Clarie: D.: So?
This was weird to me. He was acting as if something was wrong, yet not saying it out right.
Issiah T.: She's weird. Her face... she looks like a gyroid.
Claire D.: ... seriously? With the holes and everything?
Issiah T.: Yeah. Let me open my gate, come see her.
Issiah T.: ... okay.
I started up my game as usual and waited for Issiah to open his gates, but while waiting I checked for Coco's wiki entry online. Her face really was like that - two blank holes for eyes, and one for her mouth. As creepy as she looked, though, the rest of her entry said she was a "normal" rabbit with a "normal" personality and there was nothing all that odd about her. I couldn't figure out what was getting to Issiah, so I decided to see her in person - as much as one can in a virtual world anyway.
I visited Issiah's town and went to find Coco with him, but when we spoke she used the same basic dialogue any villager used on a visiting mayor. There was nothing strange about it, so I finally decided I'd had enough and pinned Issiah down in IM to find out what was going on.
Claire D.: So what's the deal? Why'd you wake me up for this?
Issiah T.: You didn't feel anything weird talking to her?
Clarie D.: Feel... ? No. Her face is odd but she seemed like any other villager to me. What's wrong?
Issiah T.: ... nothing. Never mind. Maybe her face just freaked me out or something. Sorry for waking you up.
Claire D.: ... alright. It's fine.
I said that I had to run some errands anyway, so it wasn't that big of a deal that I'd been woken up. We said our goodbyes and I went out for the day, the conversation on my mind but no clearer than it had been in the earlier hours of the morning. I took a nap when I got home, and the rest of the evening went as it normally did, with one exception. Issiah insisted he visit my town instead of his, and never gave a reason. I wasn't used to him being so cagey, but I didn't want to push the subject when it seemed like he was on edge enough already.
Days passed in to a week and nothing of significance happened, and it wasn't until Issiah offhandedly mentioned that he had to reset his game a little while back in order to replace some hybrid flowers he had accidentally lost. We had a good laugh about Mr. Resseti popping up and giving him hell for it, and he mentioned how apparently Mr. Resseti had been "phased out" of the game so to speak due to reports of him making players cry whenever they would reset the game. The Reset Center could become a public works project if you so chose, but Issiah said he didn't feel the need to put it back in to place.
He also mentioned, casually, that the reset was the day before Coco showed up in his town. At the time I didn't think anything of it...
About two days after that we were on Skype when all at once he stopped speaking mid sentence. I thought he was focusing on something, either in the game online, but when a good twenty minutes passed and all I heard was the faint sound of his breathing I broke the silence worriedly.
"Issiah? You okay?"
"Yeah, I just thought I heard something."
"Maybe your sister woke up."
He didn't bring it up again.
Weeks passed again and I began to notice that Issiah was getting more difficult to talk to. On Skype, his voice sounded strained, tired. On IM, he would take upwards of a half an hour to reply to me, and I could go days without even seeing him in my town or with his gate open even if was online. I asked him if he was getting enough sleep, if he was alright, but he would brush my questions off quickly and drop the subject as fast as he could.
At some point, I don't remember how long after all this started, I received an email from him while I was in one of my computer classes at college.
Come to my town tonight at 10.
Just that short message, nothing else. Confused, I tried replying to the email, but he didn't respond. After class was over I sent a text, but as before it went unanswered. So I did the only thing I could do - wait until 10 to head to his town.
When I arrived it was dead silent and the sky was pitch black. No ambient noises or music played, no stars twinkled in the sky, and not a single villager was out and about, but none of their house lights were on either. Even Re-Tail was closed in spite of the fact that I knew he had the same Night Owl Ordinance I did. He was standing near the station, his avatar's expression looking sad for no reason. Silently he led me to where Coco's house was, and the strange hollow eyed rabbit was standing there as if waiting for us. For the first time Issiah spoke, but he did so within the game instead of through our usual means of communication.
shes been here since this morning and the town
has been like this too
talk to her
For the first time since this mess had started with Coco's appearance in his town and Issiah's strange behavior, I felt a knot of fear twist in my stomach. This was just a game, just a game, just a game I kept telling myself, yet it did nothing for the hairs standing up at the nape of my neck. Slowly I approached Coco and hit the command to speak to her. She turned towards me as silent as ever, and no sound played as the text box came up.
Would you like to reset?
The options that came up on my bottom screen were just "Yes" and "No".
I picked no.
. . .
Suddenly my computer dinged, and with it an IM window from Issiah, information that was apparently copied from another wiki article about Coco.
Issiah T.: "It is possible for her to have gotten the gyroid face because in New Leaf, when you talk to her, sometimes she'll tell you that she has a scary but true story to tell you. The story is that one day she fell asleep without saving, and when she woke up the next morning, she couldn't remember a thing from the day before."
She told me this story the day after she got here. Everything was fine for a while, but... I reset again. It was stupid but I sold an item I didn't mean to because I was tapping things too fast. After that... things got weird. Clarie D.: Weird how?
Even as I typed this, I could feel Coco's hollow eyes staring at me from my tiny 3DS screen. It gave me a chill in spite of the warm summer night.
Issiah T.: First she started asking me things when I would talk to her that weren't... normal dialogue. It was kind of ambiguous at first, like "wouldn't you like to be able to reset your life sometimes? Fix something that went wrong?". From there it just got worse. She got really aggressive with her questions, and I noticed the more she acted like this the weirder my town would get. It's been constantly cloudy for days, some of my townsfolk have either stopped coming out of their houses or vanished completely. Yesterday, Re-Tail wouldn't open at all. And today... she's just been asking the same question over and over again.
"Would you like to reset?"
Clarie D.: O... kay, that's really strange. Are you sure it's not a glitch? Some weird bug? Maybe you've unlocked an Easter egg? Y'know, "Animal Crossing: Creepy Side" or something?
Though I said it hopefully, I could feel my fingers shaking, that knot in my stomach getting worse and worse. This wasn't right. It was just a game, yet all this was pulling at every single nerve in my body, telling me that something was very, very wrong.
Issiah T.: I don't think so. Claire... I know this sounds insane, but I've been hearing things. A voice. A voice that asks me the same question. And it's been getting louder and louder. I don't want to reset but I feel like she's... forcing me to do it. I'm not sure how much longer I can hold out. Claire D.: Forcing you to do it? Issiah, you're talking crazy. It's just a game, it can't hurt you. It can't hurt us. Just... close the lid, go to sleep, this will be better in the morning.
There was no answer from him. I messaged him repeatedly for several minutes, "yelling" in all caps through the IM window as if it would do a damn thing. I'd hoped that the dinging on his end would bring him back to his screen, but there was no reply at all. I sent a message to his phone and when that did nothing I called him. It went to his voice mail, yet as his voice spoke the cheerful, dopey pre-recorded message I could swear I heard another voice behind it, quiet as a whisper, saying "reset... ?"
The volume on my 3DS was unnaturally high after all that silence, and I practically fell out of my chair when the cheesy, bubbly "message received" notice went off, sounding eerie in his desolate town. I lower my gaze down to look at the screen. Issiah was speaking to Coco, though none of the usual bouncy speech bubbles appeared over their heads, just the general motions of a mayor avatar and a villager speaking.
The only bubble there was from him.
im sorry claire
I felt my heart hit my feet and though I had tried so hard to assure him that it was just a game, just a game, a game couldn't hurt us I could barely repress the urge to actually scream aloud. I could only watch as his avatar simply... blipped out of existence. He vanished, leaving me standing there with the still-silent, ever staring Coco. His game never disconnected, his town remained, and though I should have been removed from it I remained.
I stood up with a start, nosily knocking my chair back, hands gripping the edge of my desk so hard my knuckles blanched white. I waited, holding my breath, trembling and mouth dry. Some part of me half expected this to turn in to some elaborate prank, that he would call, text or message with a "ha ha, but it was funny wasn't it?", but the messages never came. My heart in my throat I picked my chair back up and sat down slowly, taking out my stylus with trembling fingers to type a message through the game.
Instead of an answer in the way of text on the screen, something moved in the corner with jerky, almost uncoordinated motions. Slowly Issiah's avatar returned to the screen, but like Coco, his eyes and mouth were nothing more than hollow circles. He stopped moving and stared at me.
... haha issiah nice mod
how long did it take you
to make that thing?
stop messing around
im me ok?
No message came, not through IM, not through Skype, not through my phone, and he continued to stare until finally some words appeared.
do you want to go to
we'll have fun on
My mouth moved as I muttered "What... ?" aloud. This wasn't my friend. I don't know how I knew, I just did, and there were tears prickling in the corners of my eyes at the thought. This wasn't Issiah, but it was. This wasn't a joke, a prank, a silly mod to freak me out... something, something had happened to my friend. Hell if I knew what.
Before I could try saying anything either in the game or IM, Coco turned to me and the dialogue box appeared.
You know what to do.
->Yes, I do. ->What do you mean?
Whatever had happened to Issiah had left him empty, broken, removed from himself in such a way that I couldn't save him. It wasn't as if I could call the police, screaming about how a game had stolen my friend from me, especially when it was a friend I had never even met in person. They would have me locked up faster than I could say my name.
Coco was right. I knew what I had to do, even though knowing that was enough to bring those tears rolling down my cheeks.
I clicked the option for 'Yes, I do.' and turned to Issiah's hollow-eyed avatar. This time I typed nothing in to the chat box, my words coming up instead as villager-like dialogue.
Yes, Issiah. Let's visit the island.
I started to walk towards the nearest ramp and Issiah followed wordlessly, leaving Coco where she was standing. When we arrived at the dock Kapp'n was in his boat, but the only sound was the gentle splash of waves, the sky as black as it had been at the start. I spoke to Kaap'n, but his only words were in small font as if it pained him to even say as much.
From there my avatar moved on it's own, entering the boat with Issiah following. The boat pulled away from the dock but Kapp'n sang no songs while we drifted in to the ocean away from Issiah's town. Rather than reaching the island, though, it stopped in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but water and a starless sky. Kapp'n cut the power to the boat, leaving us adrift in the ocean. In my avatar's hands my silver shovel appeared without me accessing it from my inventory.
kappn this isn't the
way to the island
what are you doing
with that shovel
Tears rolling down my cheeks, hands still trembling and a sick twisting feeling in my stomach, I slowly typed one last thing on my touch screen.
I'm sorry, Issiah.
I pressed the action button, and the shovel swung with every intent to hit. This was not some accidental "bop" that one might give their villagers when standing to close. This was an actual hard swing that the game should never had animation for. It connected with the head of Issiah's hollow-eyed avatar hard enough for an actual sickening crack to resound through the tiny speakers. Issiah wobbled some, a touch of red dripping out from one hollow eye like a tear before he finally toppled overboard with a splash.
My screen went black then, save for what looked like bubbles drifting up from the abyss of some deep, dark water. With it, a new dialogue box.
Coco... I reset... I reset like you asked...
It's dark, and cold, and wet.
I am alone
Three more bubbles slowly drifted up before black took over the screen once more.
When things returned, it was just Kapp'n in me sitting silent in the boat. Stars had come back to the sky, though the only sound was still the splashing of the waves. I spoke again, though as before when I had answered Coco it was in a dialogue box.
Take us home, Kapp'n...
As before, no songs were sung by him.
When the boat docked Issiah's town had returned to normal and Coco was no where to be found no matter how much I looked. Her house stood empty, no notice came up when I attempted to knock on her door. If it weren't for the sign that still bore her name out front I could have convinced myself that she had never been there.
Issiah was gone as well. As with Coco all that remained was his house and the affects he still had inside. There was nothing I could do but leave via train. Leave the town now without a mayor. Leave the town without my friend's digital presence within it.
The train bell rang as I came back to my own town. My head felt unnaturally light and somewhat dizzy, the corners of my vision fading in and out. My face was oddly damp, and when I reached a hand up to touch my cheeks I found them to be wet with tears.
Confused and concerned I stared at my screen. What had I been doing before I came off the train? Had I been visiting Issiah, or maybe some one else? I honestly couldn't remember at all, it was all a mess of vague memories. Sighing tiredly, I hit the Home menu button and closed the game without any real thought to what I was doing. There wasn't anything important in my inventory, and I couldn't recall doing anything that would need saving so it wasn't like it would matter. Obviously I had just opened the game, gotten distracted and done nothing.
I yawned loudly and passed a glance at the IM screen on my computer. My vision blurred with exhaustion catching sight of the clock at last. It was nearly three am, no wonder I was so exhausted! Figuring whoever I had been speaking to was long since in bed, I shut my computer down and went that way myself.
It's been three days since I've heard from Issiah. I'm getting worried. No one has seen him online, he hasn't answered his phone in that time either. The last conversation we had over IM won't load on my computer, my texts seem to have been erased from my phone, though I have no idea how that could have happened.
There was an article online about a body of a young man about his age being found in the river near where he lives, but I didn't read the whole article. Something in it's contents freaked me out and I closed it almost immediately. That wouldn't have anything to do with him, right? Some one else would have mentioned it online if it had.
In any case, I really hope he comes back soon. I wanted to tell him, Coco moved in to my town yesterday...