1. forbidden or disapproved of; placed under a social prohibition or ban: taboo words
2. (in Polynesia and other islands of the South Pacific) marked off as simultaneously sacred and forbidden
To begin from the beginning...Edit
When I was younger, I always thought of my Uncle Sean as my favourite relative. He was the only one in my family I knew who had a computer at the time, and he even made games on it. Just text adventures, and they could be super hard, but at the time, I thought that they were the greatest things in the world. So, I always tried to hang out with him when he was around, and we got pretty close.
Uncle Sean always sent me the coolest presents too. My mom and dad might know I was into Legos, but Uncle Sean was the one who'd get me the set with the awesome glow-in-the-dark ghost. He was the one who got me a Nintendo (and convinced my mom to let me keep it). When I totally loved "The Hobbit", it was Uncle Sean that bought me a complete set of "The Lord of the Rings". That's not to say no one else in my family got me anything good, but it was his gifts I always looked forward to.
One year, though, I got something pretty odd from him. It was a box of old NES cartridges, with a card sitting on top. Now, by this time the SNES had been out for a while, and I'd really been hoping to get one myself and maybe try out the new Zelda game some of my friends at school were talking about. It was the first time that one of Uncle Sean's gifts had ever disappointed me. Even so, I looked through the games, hoping that some of them would be pretty cool, at least. There were copies of Super Mario Bros. and Zelda 2, which I already had (though my Mario was the one with Duck Hunt), Clash at Demonhead, which I found way too hard at the time, Joust, something called "Ironsword", and Taboo: The Sixth Sense. I shouldn't need to tell you that this was a less than exciting haul.
The card was really odd, though. In fact, I've kept it after all these years. The front is just a picture of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night". Not exactly the kind of thing Uncle Sean usually sent, but still pretty cool. The message inside was the real oddity, though. It read, "Hey there, David. Happy birthday. Sorry I couldn't be there in person, but we'll meet again some day. Until then, here's some of my old games, I won't be needing them anymore, but maybe you'll play better than I did. Cplwwj ufde hlye jzf ez awlj elmzz mfe ozye hspy jzfc alcpyed lcp lczfyo - Sean". I recognized the last bit as being in the code that Uncle Sean and I used to write to eachother in sometimes, back when I'd been really obsessed with secret messages. Decoded, it said, "Really just want you to play Taboo, but don't when your parents are around".
I was confused about the message. The first part didn't sound anything like Uncle Sean's usual energetic, rambling messages, and the code made even less sense. Why did he want me to play Taboo, and why only when my parents weren't there? The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like something was badly wrong, and I didn't know how or why. Still, Uncle Sean was my favourite relative, so I decided to do what the letter asked anyway. Waiting until my mom and dad were in bed, I turned on my T.V. with the volume down low, and started up Taboo. At least one of my questions was answered right away. It was some kind of fortune-telling program, with a virtual tarot deck to answer questions. Since mom and dad had some pretty strong Christian beliefs about "black magic", there was no chance they would ever have let me keep it if they knew what it was. "Score one point for Uncle Sean," I thought. He'd known my folks wouldn't try to decode the message, and that I wouldn't play any of the games that he'd sent until I had.
The cartridge was heavy, and it rattled a little. When I put it into the NES, though, it started up without any problems. Of course, since it gave you the place to put in your question before anything else, my first question ended up being Seymore Buttz asking "What the heck is this game?" and getting pretty much nonsense back. Once I figured out how it worked, though, I must have spent a good hour coming up with all sorts of silly questions to ask. How would the teacher like my creative writing assignment. Would our team take take the trophy this year? Did I have a shot at getting Christie to go to the dance with me? How could I have a shot at getting Christie to go to the dance with me? Eventually, though, I felt like I had a fair grasp of how the answers worked, and got around to asking a serious question.
Why did Uncle Sean send me this game?
I don't remember exactly what the reading was, but the tone was dark. Really dark. Like, looking into the shadows and swearing that you see a slightly darker shadow looking back at you dark. There are a few cards I remember.
The Present: The Fool, Inverted
The Past: The Hanged Man
Advice: Six of Swords (It had to do with unfortunate sacrifices.)
Actually, thinking back, I remember a lot of swords in that reading. Each one signified something bad. All the cards did. It was the single most negative reading I'd gotten. Not a single thing in it didn't add up to pain, suffering, or hardships on the way. I didn't wait to see my lucky numbers, just slammed the power button. I remember my parents hearing the noise and yelling to know what was going on, but I just dove under my covers and hid. That night, I had some of the worst nightmares I had ever had, dreams where my uncle was screaming behind a wall and I kept trying to get to him, but something chased me, and the longer I ran from it, the more other people in my life were getting grabbed instead, their voices added to the screams behind the wall. I woke up sweating, and feeling terrible. Mom thought I had come down with something, and made me stay home from school.
It wasn't a good day. I had to stay in my room, mostly, or the neighbours would tell my parents I was up and about, and I'd be in trouble for faking sick. Meanwhile, I felt like my television was just staring at me, waiting like some kind of jungle predator to lunge at me. The worst of it was that I had no idea why I was so shaken up. I mean, mom and dad might have been superstitious about that sort of thing, but I knew better, didn't I? Me and Uncle Sean were the sensible ones in the family...and that brought me to an even bigger sense of dread. What if it was true? Had something bad happened to Uncle Sean? There was no way for me to even find out.
Out of a sense of desperation, I ended up turning on Taboo again. It was stupid, but what other options did I really have? I remember the game having all my info entered already, even though you normally had to put that in yourself, and letting me go right to asking questions. It should have bothered me, but at the time I was too upset to even notice. Like the night before, I had a lot of questions to ask, but this time they were much more serious. What was I supposed to do with this game? Was it really a game? What was coming? How was I supposed to stop it? I don't even remember the cards. I know things like the Tower, Moon, and Judgement came up a lot...and Swords, lots and lots of swords. At some point, though, it was like the cards stopped being there. I was just soaking up the answers, sometimes asking the same question over and over, like I was in a trance. I guess that my dad found me like that, because the next thing I remember was him yelling at me.
He was pissed as hell when he saw the Taboo game on the screen, disgusted that I'd even play around with something like that, and furious that my uncle had sent it to me. He unplugged the system and pulled it out of the room while I clung to his leg, pleading with him. I remember screaming, certain that something terrible had happened to Uncle Sean and that I had to save him. I don't think I was totally myself at that point. I know that dad didn't think so. I heard him and mom talking about how they should take me to see our priest at the end of the week. By that point, I already knew I was grounded for a month, so I didn't even care. All I remember thinking is how being grounded totally explained the answers I'd gotten about the upcoming dance, which my best interpretation had been, "Yes, but you won't". As I curled into a ball and cried, I actually started to giggle a bit.
It was about the time I started to calm down that I heard my parents whispering nervously. Cupping my hands to the wall and pressing my ear into that, I tried to listen in, but I couldn't really make anything out. I needn't have bothered, though. A minute or two later, mom knocked on the door and let herself in. The look on her face was terrifying. It was the kind of look you only see before the worst possible news, the sort of face that tells you the person you're looking at has to tell you something terrible, and just can't think of a nice way to say it. Even before she opened her mouth to talk, I knew it had to be about Uncle Sean, and I was right. After they'd "dealt with" me, my parents called up Uncle Sean to give him a piece of their minds about sending me something like the Taboo game. Instead, they'd gotten his roommate, who told them that Uncle Sean was dead.
He'd gone missing the same day as he mailed my birthday present out to me. The exact. Same. Day. It took three days for them to find him. It took three days for the package he sent to arrive. On my birthday, they found him dead. His car was totalled in the woods, looking like it had been attacked by a bear. They found his body a few feet away. He'd tried to run, but hadn't made it far. There were claw marks on his body and his head looked like it had been crushed... I admit, I didn't find out all of this at the time, but I looked up the police reports later. It felt like I owed it to Uncle Sean to understand what he'd gone through. I still go to his grave every year to thank him for all the happy memories in my youth, and remind him of our promise to some day meet again.
None of that was going through my head at the time, though. Not much of anything was. I was just stunned...stunned and horrified. Taboo had been right. Something terrible had happened to Uncle Sean, and there was nothing I could do about it. At least, there was nothing I could do but prepare. Sometime in my trance-like state, I'd started to get an impression. There was something coming, something big. It would come for me, and for everyone I knew...but I could stop it. I just didn't know how. Since I was grounded, I started spending a lot of time at the library at school. I looked up other religions, superstitions, rituals. It was stupid. I had no idea what was coming, just that it wanted me, and it could kill. My uncle hadn't been able to stop it, and he was way smarter than me. What was I supposed to do?
As it turned out, the answer came sooner, rather than later. At the end of the week, on Saturday, my parents went to get the priest, as they'd threatened. There were dark clouds in the sky, and as I sat at home alone, waiting for mom and dad to get back, they only seemed to get thicker and darker. Soon they seemed impossibly heavy and dark, blotting out the sun from the sky. Thunder rolled, and beneath it I thought I could hear a roar of something else. I started to panic. Was it coming? Was it here now? Then I heard a dull thudding against the door. Not a knock, but something clawing, trying to get in, and choked on my own scream. The adrenaline hit me like a tidal wave, and I ran to my parents' room, desperately battering down the door. Somehow, I just knew I needed to get that cartridge. I didn't even know why, but I started to have an idea as memories of the cards came back to me.
The Moon, The Seven of Swords...illusions and dishonesty. Something hidden.
I remembered the rattle when I'd first picked up the Taboo cartridge. I remembered the added weight. Was there something inside it? It made sense. So I tore apart my parents' room until I found the game. When I shook it, there was the rattle again. The thudding on the door was getting louder, so loud I could hear it upstairs. The thunder kept booming and I could clearly hear snarling now. Outside the windows? Nothing but darkness, blacker than any storm could possibly have created. Flying through the halls I found a screwdriver in the cupboard and opened up the cartridge. Inside was a necklace, with a gold medallion that looked like the emblem on the game. What caught my eye, though, was the chain. Attached to it were body parts. I saw toes, fingers, something that might once have been a tongue, even a couple shrivelled ears. For a moment, between peals of thunder and the snarling of beasts, I just stared at it, studying the grisly tokens and starting to feel sick.
The Hanged man, a sacrifice.
I remembered the postcard, thought of Starry Night, Van Gogh... There ears on the chain! I remembered a story of how Van Gogh had cut off his own ear. I knew what I had to do. Breathless, hounded by the pounding and the snarling of the beasts outside, I went to the kitchen.
I found mom's big carving knife, the one I always used to pretend was knight's dagger until I got caught swinging it around and got in trouble for playing with knives. I took it out. I took out the cutting board. What I had to do terrified me, but I had to do it. The howling and snarling was closing in, and I could hear the door beginning to splinter. Placing just my pinky on the board, I raised up the knife, turned my head away, and swung. After that, I don't remember anything. Not washing the knife, or bandaging my hand, or even what I did with the Taboo game. It's all just a haze until my parents and the priest arrived, with some vague impression of something looming over me, and maybe nodding its head in satisfaction. All I know is that when they got home, my mom and dad found the front door broken open, with claw marks in the wood. Their screams woke me up, but mom almost fainted when she saw the bloody cloth wrapped around my mangled hand.
They didn't make me speak to the priest that day. Instead, we went to the hospital. Later, though, they did make me talk to him, and to a number of therapists and professionals. I could never explain to any of them what had happened that day, and I wasn't dumb enough to tell them the truth. Finally, when I realized I had to come up with something, I told them that I'd used my finger to distract some sort of wild dog, and eventually they even accepted it. After a while, when they couldn't find anything wrong with me, things returned to normal, and in later years I even used the wild dog story to impress girls. As for the Taboo cartridge...I never saw it again.
This is actually my fourth or fifth attempt to create this story. The first few times, I kept running into technical problems that forced me to re-create the page from the beginning. Pictures wouldn't upload. Formatting got messed up. Undo wouldn't work. Sometimes lines wouldn't even delete. I almost gave up on writing this at all and declared the game to be legitimately cursed. So, I hope you all enjoy.