I don’t go to Gamestop often, but when I do, I’m one of those guys who spends an hour in the store methodically studying each row of games. I try to collect as many high-quality games as I can without going over my budget.
That’s how I came across it. That’s why I’m looking at it right now, perplexed. It’s a black case—and not one of those used game cases, either. This thing isn’t plastic. It’s heavy and it’s cold. There’s no title, there’s nothing on the spine, no pricetag. I turn it over and look at the back, but it’s an empty, somehow glacial slate. For the first time ever, I long for misleading screenshots and promises of add-on content.
Without even looking at him, I hold up the black case and ask the cashier, “What is this?”
“Where’d y’get that?” she asks, a piece of gum still rolling in her mouth. The skinny white girl only puts down her smartphone when she takes the black case and realizes that it’s completely blank. She ducks behind a Dell computer monitor, and each of her slow keystrokes ushers in another impatient customer to the line that is rapidly forming behind me.
“Well,” she says as she puts the scanner down. “It ain’t ours.”
“What do you mean?”
The cashier begins to pry open the black case, and I’m only able to lift one hesitant finger in protest before it snaps open. I was expecting a cloud of dust from a neglected game to pop out, but the inside is just as immaculate and empty as the rest of the case—except for the disc nestled at its center. Well, I know it’s not a Gamecube game.
“Yeah, definitely ain’t one’a ours,” she repeats. She snaps it shut, smacks her gum, and hands the black case to me. “You can have it if y’want.”
“Yeah, someone must’a left it here.”
“Thanks,” I say with a hesitant smile. I push forward the rest of the games I’ve gathered.
The cashier’s intricately decorated fingernail lands on the Final Fantasy XIII case, where a pretty-looking female character is depicted. “She is gorgeous! Wish I looked like her,” she comments while bagging the games.
With an embarrassingly large bag of video games in hand, I turn around to apologize to the person behind me—
They’re gone. The entire line is gone. The whole store is empty except for me and the high-school airhead who wants to be Lightning Farron. I clutch my receipt tightly as I make my way to the store exit.
“Wait! Hold on!!” the cashier cries with notable panic in her voice. I stop in the doorway. My heartbeat quickens. I turn back to her and she shouts, “Make sure you scan that weird disc! It might give your Nintendo a virus!”
I nod, turn, and bite my lip to try to keep myself from smirking. It doesn’t work.
I hate video games. I hate them. We humans, we’re– We’re so fucking terrified of change that we just do the same thing over and over, even long after we’ve stopped enjoying them. That’s why, on the way home, past two fatal car accidents that I spied while waiting at red lights, the only “game” I’m excited about is the black case. I’m so excited—so intrigued, and for once, entertained—that I open it right here in the car. I grab the disc and slip it into the CD player on the off-chance that—
You know that feeling you get when you know someone else is in the room with you, and you look around, but no one’s there? That’s the sound that is coming out of my car speakers. My fingertip is resting against the CD player’s STOP button. I’m waiting for the “screamer” part of this really elaborate troll attempt. It doesn’t come. Instead, I hear a faint, warped gurgling noise—so faint that I’m convinced that my brain is just making up this sound to deal with the deafening silence of a video game disc that my car’s CD player just can’t read.
I leap off of the driver’s seat, against my seatbelt, and my hand collides with the STOP button when the car behind me beeps. I look up through the windshield at the green light, resume breathing, and then hit the gas.
By the time I arrive home, it’s night. I reach for my keys, then I reach for the doorknob. It’s not there. The doorknob is gone. I look down at the ground, which is littered with a few wooden splinters. I push the front door of my apartment with only two fingers and it swings open.
What I see next makes me want to cry out of frustration, but as I grab my forehead and my fingers slip into my hair, I realize that the situation isn’t as simple as it seems. As I descend into the apartment and my eyes adjust to the darkness, I realize that my apartment hasn’t just been ransacked—it’s been redecorated. Many pieces of furniture and electronics have been stolen, but they’ve been replaced with items that are not mine. I can only see their silhouettes, but I know that they do not belong in my home.
The kitchen light doesn’t work. Did they steal my lightbulbs too? I open my cell phone, about to call the police, but the phone’s blue light illuminates something in the kitchen that makes my body and my blood freeze. Elephant tusks now hang from the wall where my skillets used to be. Propelled by adrenaline, I stumble out of the kitchen and run into the parlor, determined to figure out what the fuck that spider web-looking silhouette crouched on the carpet is.
It’s so big that the light from the cell phone can’t reveal all of it at once. The hallway is so dark that I refuse to traverse it to get my heavy duty flashlight. The thing I am looking at is so impossible that I loom over it for a full minute, waiting to awaken from a nightmare. –But I don’t wake up. I am not dreaming.
It’s a black skeleton. The bones are so shiny that I am convinced they are covered in congealed blood. It’s not human, but it’s– It has to be some kind of ape or gorilla. I can see its hands.
I look around at the rest of the room. I’m not shocked by the row of wooden masks that are staring me from the other side of the room, resting against the wall where my couch used to be. My heart can’t beat any faster, and I’ve accepted the fact that some very inventive burglar decided to gift me the contents of a museum he broke into. Probably Nathan Drake, I think to myself with a nervous smile.
I leave the way I came, intent on knocking on a neighbor’s door to call the police and interrogate them as to how they managed to not notice the man who moved the African savannah into my apartment. I stop in the kitchen and stare at the Gamestop bag on the counter.
I collapse in the parlor on my hands and knees, in front of the television set, which is assaulting me with static. I didn’t– What is happening to me? How did I get here? –I woke up. The dream is over. It was a dream. I fall backwards onto my ass when I see and feel the black case under my right hand. The case gets knocked against the Playstation 3, which is on for some reason. I snivel when I see the mammoth skeleton still resting there in the corner of my eye. It’s terrifying. I’m scared. I’m terrified. This is so interesting. I’m not bored anymore. A single tear bursts from the corner of my eye and careens down my face—it’s shockingly hot compared to the intense cold that now permeates the room.
I laugh and clutch the black case with both hands. I stare at the black case as if it is my new god. The apartment shudders and groans when I pry the black case open. The disc isn’t there. A beautiful chime interrupts my moment of shock.
The Playstation 3, autoplay enabled, seeks the disc. The room is pale in the TV’s light. I wait. I know I won’t need the controller.
Its title screen appears. The moment I see Dragon Age II, my jaw breaks and my maw widens to make way for the screamless gurgle that I heard come out of the speakers of my car. Unable to look away from the screen, I drag myself to the kossith’s skeleton and break off one of its ribs. Aware that I will not bleed out fast enough, my thrashing hands take hold of one of the contorted masks. I don’t even feel the wooden splinters that sink into my fingers. I take the mask, hold it against my face so that it’s covering my eyes, and then drive the rib bone through the mask and into my head.
For a moment, I regret not puncturing my eardrums first. I can still hear the game. That moment passes quickly, however: Curtains of blood drape over my ears, muffling the music, and then I die. Fucking Gamestop.