I spent another day back in the hospital room while everything else got cleared up. I don’t know who the dead cape was, nor did I care enough to find out while trying not to die. Burns, bruises, and blood loss: a trifecta of bad but survivable medical news. And they probably didn’t want me involved in it anyway. Generally speaking, I’m more likely to cause any given funeral than attend it. And if I did go, I figure it’d be more respectful to go because I actually knew the person rather than going just because it’s the cool thing to do.
I did check on the condition of the dead strix, just in case she played dead or something. I just wouldn’t put it past her, under recent circumstances, to be playing dead. Then, at the last minute, she’d suddenly jump out at us for one last scare. I asked after her when someone dropped off my food, and that guy didn’t know. I didn’t find out until they cleared me to get up and about on Halloween, when Leah came to fetch me and revealed that Old Man Johnson’s wife was, in fact, dead. Something about a metal World War I-era helmet being knocked into her chest cavity by the force from a fall.
“But enough about that. It’s Halloween! Truce night. Want to hang out?” Leah asked.
I raised an eyebrow. “A teenage girl hanging out with me? People will talk. Is there even anything to do? This town’s pretty fucked up. Heeeeey, fuck yeah. I can fucking cuss, dammit.”
“Happy Halloween,” Leah said to explain that little thing.
Y’all don’t need all the details, though. I got to see Rocky Horror Picture Show and enjoy people talking during the movie. Stopped by a haunted house these people set up, that sort of thing. There were others with us, too. Chloe, Quincy, and Cam, aka Camera Guy. It was shorter, but then I figured there’d be no harm in asking. I stopped right in the middle of the haunted house to ask him that. With lightning effects going off all around me, I turned back to him. “Hey, what’s your name anyway? I don’t remember if I was told it.”
He looked up. “Me?” Then he jumped back as someone reached through the ceiling above me and stabbed in my direction with a knife, loud slashing sound effects playing in this hallway.
“Well I already know his name,” I said, pointing to the masked figure above us who stabbed away at me, desperate for a reaction. I looked up at him and waved. “Hey there Mike.”
The man stopped to just look at me. These guys don’t really like not getting a reaction. I mean, some of them make me smile, but usually the fun of these haunted houses is laughing at the people who jump because they aren’t paying attention.
I looked back down at Camera Guy and put my hand on his shoulder to hide the finger I raised toward someone peeking out of a curtain behind him and to his right. “Seriously, I didn’t catch your name. What do I call you?”
“Uh, my parents named me Cameron. People call me Cam sometimes. “
I nodded. “Good, glad we got that out of the way. Nice to meet you, Cam. I’m Puss, though sometimes people call me Adenoid when I need a civilian name.”
“What kind of a name is Adenoid?”he asked, puzzled.
I shrugged. “It’s as good a name as any. Better. I bet there are lots of Camerons out there, but how many Adenoids do you know?” I lowered the finger and gave a slight nod. I turned away to walk on past the Mike Myers impersonator, who gave a half-hearted stab at me that didn’t at all match the sound effects. I stopped and turned back to Cam, stopping him in his tracks just in time for the Leatherface impersonator to fling open the curtain. He revved a fake chainsaw and took a couple steps in Cam’s direction. The teen jumped and spun around. I had a nice laugh as he turned and ran by me, then followed.
I got nasty looks from the rest of the group as we walked out. “You didn’t have to start helping them, G- Puss,” said Leah.
The skinny, bespectacled Quincy responded, “Helping them? I thought you were going to get into a fight with that one.”
I rolled my eyes. “Some of them take it as a challenge when you aren’t scared is all. I mean, come on. Horror movies, podcasts, creepypasta, and so on. Video games, even. You guys just got done fighting vampires. These guys weren’t even allowed to hurt you. I’m not saying the houses are stupid. I like a good scare, but it takes a bit more to pull it off. Y’all were funny, though. I thought you were about to hit that guy.”
“I am the pinnacle of self control,” I responded. “I don’t know where someone might get the idea that I can’t control myself.”
Leah elbowed me. I winced. “Ow. Still tinder. I think I popped a thoracic coupling when I helped you out back at the manor.”
“That’s not a thing,” answered Chloe, her pigtails swinging as we walked. “Where are we going next? I’m hungry.”
Quincy seconded it.
“Didn’t we pass a pizza place with something Halloweeny going on?” he asked.
“I thought we’d go back and watch some scary movies,” Cam said.
“Could get some food and then go watch them,” I suggested. “Maybe one of the oldies with a horror host like Gore De Vol, Penny Dreadfull XIII, or Deadgar. I keep meaning to watch Deadgar. Met him once. Nice fellow. Had some great salsa. It was green, and citrus-y, and a little hot.”
“We have time for both,” said Leah.
Just because Halloween’s a time of truce between the crowd that goes around costumed on a normal day doesn’t mean everyone does. Businesses tend to work their legal brand of theft as well, like a store that set up on the sidewalk selling glowy headbands and hats and all that jazz.
“Go ahead and try on a jacket!” said a white guy with a top hat and skull facepaint on.
I checked over the jackets. Cheap black leather with some really minor Halloween references. One had the word “Monster” on the back in a way that resembled sharp teeth in a mouth. I wound up trying on one that simply had the word “Behemoth” on the back.
“You don’t look like a Behemoth guy.” Leah looked it over. “You going to get it?”
“It’s a private joke, kinda. And it goes well with my bell and ears.” I ran my hands over the ears on the headband that doubles as part of Master Academy’s tracking system on me, then added, “Nyaaan!”
The guy charged $50 for a $20 jacket, but I didn’t care. One of the guys back in the haunted house might care about the time he realizes his wallet is missing, but I didn’t.
The pizza place was lit up with blue, green, and orange lights. “Quick check,” I said, stopping in front of everyone before we went in. “I’m not glowing anywhere, am I?”
The group answered with a chorus of “No”s.
“Y’all sure? Because this is one of those times when I really need to know if there’s any bodily fluids showing up on me. By the way, Cam, nice mustache.”
He blinked. “I don’t have a mustache.” Everyone turned to look at him as he wiped at his mouth.
“He’s just kidding,” Leah said. She grabbed my arm and turned me back toward the entrance. Taking a cue, I led us in.
Loud music, colorful lights, TV screens with horror movies playing. I spotted Night of the Living Dead and House on Haunted Hill. A dummy of Count Orlock stood guard over arcade games. It was old-school, with everything from lightgun games to side scrolling fighters. Some of them sat there, sporadically unplugged. I didn’t recognize any of them.
“They still make places like this?” I asked.
Leah tugged me along by the arm. “You don’t like it?”
“It feels far too good for this sinful Earth is all.”
A hostess dressed as a robot showed us to a large booth. Only dressed as a giant robot. I checked, though I probably looked like I was interested in her organic parts. Not that I have anything against robots. There aren’t exactly a lot of them on this planet with the parts for it, but I’m not robophobic.
“You don’t look much like a cat person,” the hostess said as smalltalk after we all got seated, Chloe, Quincy, and Cam leaving a small gap for Leah and I to be somewhat separate. Wonderful. I’ve got shippers. I wonder what it’s like to be that young and stupid sometimes? I was too busy learning how to perform surgery with my bare hands and teeth at that age. The low survival rate was a feature of that training, not a bug, but I do know the proper method of rectal appendectomy.
“He dresses like that any day,” said Quincy. “Leah’s the cat person, eh?”
Chloe’s leg shifted and Quincy’s mouth shut, then bulged as if holding in a desire to make a noise. Leah shifted away from me slightly.
Not aware of the group dynamics, the hostess went on friendly. “Oh? Are you a super or something?”
I opened my mouth to answer, then thought about the question. Damn. I just kinda waved my hand, though the answer’s “No.” I just didn’t admit that I’m not superpowered anymore. It just reminded me even more that I need to get ahold of Moai, find some parts, and build a new set of armor. Under the table, Leah patted my arm.
Our hostess winked at me. “You know, we have a new VR game further in the arcade area you could pay while you wait for your food. Speaking of which, what can I get you to drink?”
She took drink orders, then we ordered an extra large supreme pizza. A few more items than I’d prefer, but I’ve survived worse. If you can survive a fast food chicken sandwich, you can handle any pizza outside Japan. Why squid ink? You might as well put bat guano or skunk spray on the damn thing. But enough giving Japanese people new recipe ideas. I figured I’d go try that game.
“I think I’ll go see that game now,” I told her.
She smiled. “I’ll show you to it.”
They didn’t keep it out in the main arcade section, but instead lead me into a darker alcove I didn’t even notice was there the first time around, due to a combination of darkness and paint. My spider sense tingled. Looking for further confirmation, I checked further. Surprisingly, the gaydar pinged Cam. Go figure. But it didn’t find any gay enemies waiting for me.
I just tried to stay on my guard, because this was starting to sound like a narrative like you’d find in an urban legend about a murderous arcade owner and a kid.
Except they really did have a fancy VR thing. The hostess moved back a curtain to reveal a large sphere, big enough for a person to stand up in. It was a marvel of video game technology, the likes of which I’d never seen available in arcades. Then again, I don’t do arcades that much. I don’t think anyone does these days. “By the power of Grey Skull. This baby doesn’t take mere quarters, does it?”
“It’s a special prototype built by the owner, meant for more customers with enough maturity not to break it,” the hostess said. She walked over to a break in the smooth outer shell of the machine. She pushed on the lower portion and it popped out, swinging back down to the floor with steps on the inside of the shell. The upper portion gave me enough headroom to get in.
“After you,” I said, waving her on. “Ladies first.” Hell, she had enough boob to survive a surprise knifing in the right spot.
She led the way in. I found the inside to be less well coordinated, color-wise. A grid ran along most of the inside of the shell except where the door opened, padded in blue plastic to protect while giving someone something to grip. One except was a shelf formed out of a depression in the grid. The hostess pulled out a headset, little bigger than goggles, that connected to the ceiling by a cable. She held it in one hand and tossed me a pair of white gloves from the depression with the other. “Here. These will work for your hands and eyes. The floor will track how you walk, like a mouse trackball, but only when the game is active.
Well, nothing tried to stab me yet, so I joined her. The gloves were no problem, but I had to maneuver a bit to get the goggles on and keep the ears there. I did not want to be stuck in a tiny metal box while that alarm went off, that’s for sure.
The hostess left me alone, closed the box, and the whole thing powered itself up with a deep thrum. Then everything flashed light.
When I next realized I could see something, I tried to hit anything around me. Problem was, I couldn’t feel my arms. I didn’t feel my legs either, nor any other bit. Trying the low light settings on my eyes did nothing. I tried punching far enough out to hit the safety grid and still felt nothing.
I tried my little implants that send out the signal across the universe divide, aka the reason y’all can read this. It apparently worked just fine. Everything on me worked like normal, I just didn’t seem to be in the normal world. Nothing but darkness covered the void.
Then came the words that appeared in the darkness, scrolling out sentence by sentence to hang in what I thought of as the air, or maybe my extreme left.
“In the year 200X, one corporation is poised to take over the world. With an army of gangs, barbarians, demons, and mutant freaks, they are prepared to cause enough devastation to destroy the world’s governments and perform a hostile corporate buyout of the planet. Earth needs a hero to fight back against the devastation… the decimation… the Annihilation Corporation.”
Then the words disappeared and the title “Annihilation Corporation™ ” slid across to hang in the air where the exposition had been before and I heard simplistic MIDI rock music start up.
And I was there all of a sudden. Well, kinda. I could look down and see that everything on my right side looked pixelated. Black jacket, black pants, boots. I tried to take off the black cat ears to check them, but pulling on the fur and ear hurt, even though they were the same cheap material and head band. Hitting them was as bad as hitting my own ears, which were still there but apparently had nothing to hear except for a weird noise when I hit myself like a punching sound effect from a movie.. My left side was transparent, which freaked me out a bit until I spun around while checking myself and that all swapped. When I faced the opposite direction, my sides swapped from pixelated to transparent and vice versa.
My subsequent string of curses caused a speech bubble full of stuff like “$#&*!” to appear in it and I stomped off to the side, rather pissed at having been taken in by some sort of trap or something. I noticed that my transparent arm and leg would suddenly become pixelated if they stretched out too far ahead or behind me, too. Bubbles of censored cuss words trailed me with every step until suddenly I found myself in a cityscape, facing the opposite direction from how I walked.
The street wasn’t flat, but ramped up diagonally toward my transparent side. Experimentally, I tried climbing it and found it took no effort. Gravity didn’t seem to work on it. I kept standing straight up and down no matter how far up or down I went.
Then I saw the punks. They looked the same was as me; half pixel, half transparent. They shook little old ladies, hit cars with bats, and and a big one even picked up a mailbox and threw it. Like, 80s punks. Spiky jackets, mohawks every color but natural, glasses that looked like visors, chains wrapped around fists. The big guy wore a sleeveless black leather jacket, a pair of football shoulder pads, and a gas mask.
Now, I’m not really a coward unless it’d save my life, but I also have to recognize when I’m in a world where physics just said, “Fuck it, I give up. Do whatever you like, you sons of camel-molesters,” so I took time to figure shit out. I hopped on a dumpster, grabbed a window, and crawled up to the top of a building.
All became clear when, in the course of surveying my new environment, I looked straight to my right, the direction where everything became pixelated and the direction at the bottom of the floor-ramp. I saw out what looked like a giant window to the front of the restaurant. Leah, Cam, Quincy, and Chloe all appeared running from different directions, Quincy on the phone with someone. They looked panicked. Before I could find something to throw at them, they ran out the door and split up into pairs that headed off in opposite directions.
The words “Annihilation Corporation™ ” appeared in the air between myself and the window. Underneath that, more words flashed off and on: “ 4 Coin = 1 Credit, Insert Coin To Play.”
A motherfucking arcade game. Someone stuck me in an arcade game.
I didn’t know whether to be pissed off or filled with glee. Pee? No, that portmanteu’s been done. Furee? How about anger and joy: Angjoy? Ok, last try… Rage and happy. Rapy. I felt very rapy toward whoever did this to me.
So far, I’ve been subsisting off giant turkey legs, pizzas, burgers, and sodas that drop off enemies and out of some of the trash cans in the demo screens. And I don’t know how I’m going to get out of here yet, but when I do, that hostess is going to receive a 1UP. 1 fist straight UP her ass.
Until then, I’m piggybacking a signal to bounce back to this dimension via yours alerting Master Academy what happened to me and where to find me. Much as I hate to say it, I think I need their help. Even if there’s some release in beating the game, it’s nothing but demo screens and title screens without a player. I shall conquer this world and unleash myself once more upon the real one! I just need rescue first before they move me to another castle. And while whoever comes for me might spend a lot on credits, I’ll show whoever did this to me no quarter.