A Gamer's Carol (Part One)
Eddie Scrudge's nostrils flared as he pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, the multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree reflecting in his lenses. A scowl had scrawled itself across his face as his eyes gazed at the dismal dance before him. His ugly, sweatered friends were laughing jovially as they followed the silly pantomime of Just Dance 2014, completely oblivious to the inaccuracies of the Kinect's motion-detection.
"C'mon, Eddie!" shouted Katrin, as Mark waved his hands before the electric eye, loading up the Ghostbusters theme. "You know the song, right?"
Eddie's lip curled and he shook his head. "No thanks," he objected. "I only play good games." Katrin's brow furrowed, confused and a bit insulted. Her fingers fidgeted, foot tapping as Mark sighed and shook his head.
"Well, what would you like to play?" she asked. "Mark has the new Call of Duty." She looked over her shoulder to the stack of games beside the entertainment center, all a testament to how far this generation of consoles had fallen. Oh, for the days of Baldur's Gate, to a time when Final Fantasy was actually good and Mario wasn't just for kids!
"If there's anything wrong with games today," Eddie snorted, "it's Call of Duty."
Katrin shrugged and looked at the stack of games, trying to pick one out of the pile. She wasn't really much of a gamer herself, only playing the latest craze of music and rhythm games. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, was a sucker for anything that could afford to grace the cover of Game Informer, marketing and pitching its way to a ten out of ten.
"Nah," Eddie said, shrugging. "I think I'll just head home." He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose once more, waving lazily as Katrin and Mark wished him off. The cold struck him like a flood as he left the warm, heated apartment. He trembled. His breath floated to the violet-toned sky as flakes gently drifted downward. Each step sunk into the crisp snow, crunching beneath his heel. It was the first Christmas in a long time that they'd had snow.
Mark and Katrin were good people, but they were just part of what was wrong with the gaming industry. They weren't real gamers, not like Eddie. They bore no fond memories of yesteryear, or didn't care to. At best, Mark could recall Mortal Kombat on the Genesis and how awesome the bloody fatalities were. No memory of more polished, artistic endeavors. He likely hadn't even heard of Squaresoft back then.
Eddie Scrudge stopped by the McDonald's on the way home, just to grab something cheap and quick to eat, before crashing in his studio apartment. He had trouble finding roommates he could get along with. Someone would always snap first, often about the most tedious of conflicts. Of course, Eddie had a hard enough time finding anyone he could get along with for more than a few hours. At some point, one of them would grow overweary of the other's presence.
Eddie aimed the remote towards his television, tapping upon the power button once, twice, and thrice before smacking the plastic device once, twice, and thrice more. Finally the TV flickered to life, casting a soft blue glow across the room and damaging Eddie's already imperfect vision. He unwrapped his chicken sandwich unceremoniously, biting into the spongey, "crispy" meat as an infomercial began to chime through the speakers.
"Eddie Scrudge?" said a sudden voice from the darkness.
Eddie leapt off the couch, chicken sandwich dropping onto the table as he spun about. He could see no one in the apartment, not a mouse nor a soul, aside from himself, his chattering television, and the sandwich.
Slowly he sat down, blinking and sinking back into the worn-out couch cushion, chewing the food in his mouth like cud.
"Eddie Scrudge, right?" it said again.
He stood up once more, spinning and whirling, stepping away from the coffee table.
"Who's there?" he cried, peaking into the bathroom. There wasn't really any other place to hide. It was a studio apartment, after all.
"Is your name Eddie Scrudge?" the voice said once more. Eddie looked towards the ceiling, as if the voice might be emanating from some speaker installed there, slowly moving towards the room's center.
"Who wants to know?" he cried out. He blinked, then slid his fingers over his eyes. "Dear God, I must be going crazy." Talking back to disembodied voices? He glanced back down at the coffee table, the unfinished sandwich now separated into bread, chicken and pickle. He enclosed it back within the wrapper, then back into the paper bag it came in. "Last time I get McDonald's that late."
Eddie turned to dispose of the no-doubt rotten sandwich and promptly shrieked like a child. Before him was the soft glow of flat, 8-bit ghosts. One red, one pink, one cyan, one orange. They floated side to side, a soft series of boops accompanying the rocking motion. He fell backward onto the dirty carpet of his apartment, backing towards the wall.
"What the Hell are you?!" he exclaimed, staring up at the ghosts.
"Oh, come now!" groaned the orange one. "You're gonna tell me that mister big-shot gamer can't even recognize us?" The cyan one shook his head.
"Figures," the pink one sighed. "All talk."
"Now, now," began the red, nodding towards his companions. "Give him a moment and I'm sure he'll recall." The ghosts then shifted their gaze back to Eddie as they continued hovering side to side, silently, waiting expectantly.
After a moment to catch his breath, Eddie started to stand, grasping at the wall for balance, his knees wobbling. It couldn't be. He had to be dreaming. He gave himself a smack in the face, knocking his glasses askew. After fixing them, he noticed he had not woken and the ghosts were still present. Perhaps that trick didn't really work after all?
"Blinky," he began, pointing to the red. "Pinky," he followed, pointing to the pink. "Inky," he noted, pointing at Cyan. He then pointed to the orange, eyes wide and leaning forward, almost as if it was anticipating. Eddie licked his lips and thought, trying to remember. The fourth ghost never rhymed with the rest of them. He was always different, named after a criminal of sorts. His mouth opened, stuttering, yet hung their. No name came to him.
"You gotta be kidding me!" the orange one exclaimed. Its 8-bit form started to bounce around in place, the glow of its pixels decorating the room in an orange tone befitting his frustration. "How come no one can remember me?"
"Calm down, Clyde," Blinky said.
"Yeah," Pinky piped up. "What do you expect? You don't fit the rhyming scheme." Inky nodded silently. This only caused Clyde to bounce around in further agitation.
"I'll fit you!" he shouted incoherently, and looked ready to charge into Pinky before Blinky stepped in.
"Anyway!" he broke in, turning back to Eddie. The red ghost cleared his throat, or whatever served as a throat, and straightened up. "So, Eddie," he began. "It's our understanding that you've been a bit of a douche lately." Inky nodded.
"What?" Eddie's brow furrowed. These figments of his imagination were going to invade his home and then insult him? He stepped forward and through them, looking for the most suitable booze atop his fridge. He was going to clear these guys out somehow, even if it meant passing out on his sofa. Or perhaps passing out in his dream. Whichever worked. "What do you mean a douche?"
"Y'know," Blinky continued, "an asshole."
"A dickhead," Pinky piped up most pleased.
"A righteously ruptured rectum!" Clyde growled with pent-up frustration.
Eddie finished taking a hefty drink of bourbon, waving his hand in the air for the ghosts to continue. He was curious to hear what his subconscious really thought.
"Look, chump," Clyde floated forward. "You remember tonight, right? How you treated your friend Katrin like crap?" Eddie straightened and puffed out his chest, raising his hand to the air.
"I didn't treat her like crap," he growled, tossing back another taste of liquor.
"You treated her like crap," Clyde repeated.
"Like dog crap," Pinky piped up. Inky nodded.
"Okay," Eddie retaliated, settling the bottle down. "Maybe I did. So what? I was just feeling grumpy."
"This isn't the first time, kid," Clyde noted.
Blinky floated forward. "He's right, Eddie. Ever since you were a senior in college, you've gotten more and more aggressive with your opinions on video games. You've said a lot of mean things and insulted a lot of people."
Eddie shrugged, leaning back against his refrigerator. A magnet clackled and clattered against the floor, but he ignored it. "Look, it's not my fault these people play bad games," he said. "I'm just trying to ..." He waved his hand in the air, looking into nothing in particular before him. His mouth hung open to finish the thought, but all that came was an exasperated sigh.
The ghosts all looked at each other, then back at Eddie.
"So listen up," Clyde said. "You're gonna be visited by three ghosts tonight." Inky nodded.
Eddie glanced between the four ghosts before him, counting each of them. "I think you got your numbers screwed up," he slurred before taking another drink.
"Not us, you dolt!" Pinky piped up, bobbing up and down in the air.
"We're just the messengers," Blinky noted. "Expect the first in about an hour."
Eddie waved his hands in the air, settling the bottle back down on the countertop, shakily. "Wait a minute," he said. "Time out. Why am I being visited by ghosts?"
"You need to learn to love games again, Eddie!" Pinky piped up.
"Indeed," Blinky concurred. "Or else your future will be a dreary one."
Eddie sighed again, taking the bottle with him to the couch. "Whatever," he sighed, sitting down upon the stained and flattened cushion.
"Alright," Clyde groaned. "Let's get outta here."
Blinky blinked at the grouchy Eddie, and soon faded from view. Clyde followed, and Pinky too. Inky remained, however, observing Eddie. When the young man finally looked back, the cyan ghost nodded, then faded away into nothingness.
Eddie was left alone in his apartment, accompanied by nothing more than the chattering of late-night television.
Eddie leapt forward, gasping as a high-pitched screech filled the room. He looked around, expecting a sudden apparition, a banshee of some sort, to lurch forward and drag him away. He saw nothing, however, except a blue screen on his television. Funny, that shouldn't happen.
He stood up, cringing at the continued shrill cry of the television, trying to find the problem. For a moment the TV seemed to blink, then the electronic tone filled the room again as the screen changed to gray. Then blinked to orange, and green, then blue again.
"Ya gotta blow on the cart, bro," said a gleefully childish voice. Eddie looked up and jumped, thrown off balance and onto his rump. For the second time that night he found himself on the floor, gazing up at a videogame character floating within his apartment. This time it was a Boo from the Super Mario games.
"What the Hell?" He could have sworn that was some sort of dream or hallucination he had with the Pac-Man ghosts. Or maybe he was just having another dream? A recurring one? Maybe more like a nightmare.
"Evenin', Eddie!" the rotund poltergeist giggled, the tone of the television slowly fading. "Can you guess what I am?" Eddie ran his fingers over his face, trying to clear his blurred vision. Sleep still tugged at his eyes and weighed down his mind.
"A drunken hallucination," he groaned, starting to stand once again. The Boo merely giggled, holding its … belly? Yeah, let's call it a belly.
"Close," he chuckled. "I'm the Ghost of Gaming Past!"
Eddie tried to contain his laughter, but his head swam and his eyes drooped. The notion of such a ghost, of such a spoof of A Christmas Carol, forced him back onto the couch, clutching at his gut. The Boo joined him, laughing wildly as it drifted down onto the cushion.
"Yeah," Eddie chortled, wiping a tear from his eye. "That's a good one. So what are you supposed to do, remind me of how games used to be good?"
"Something like that," the Boo bobbed. "You might wanna take your glasses off." Eddie arched his eyebrow.
"What fo–!" he started, but as he turned his head, he was smacked with the wet, slimy, thick tongue of the Boo. It was cold, and felt like being smacked with a steak coated in dog drool. Eddie groaned and tried to wipe at his face with his sleeve. He removed his glasses with a snarl, wiping them on his pants.
"What's the big idea?" he exclaimed, slipping them back onto his face. He opened his mouth to curse more, but instead it hung slack, and his eyes widened. The auburn color of the rug, the tempting scent of his mother cooking a turkey, the old plastic tree leaning a bit lopsided in the corner, and the cheesy Christmas tunes playing in the background all sent him spiraling back to a place he hadn't been in a long, long time.
"It's my home," he said silently. "Well, I mean, not my home now, but ..." He stopped short as he watched a familiar form step into the room, still wearing his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles footie pajamas. A bit chubbier, with glasses too big for his face, a younger Eddie trotted happily toward the Christmas tree.
"Now remember, honey," a woman said, peering from around the corner. "Don't open anything until your father is out of the shower." Eddie nearly leapt out of his skin. This young woman with flaming red hair, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, had a face as exuberant as an angel's.
"Heh, your mother is a total MILF, bro," the Boo chuckled. It raised its stub of an arm, presumably for a high five, but Eddie went to shove it instead. He fell forward, his face planting itself into the couch as he phased through the Boo instead.
"That's my mother, you jerk!" he exclaimed, sitting back up.
"Exactly, total MILF," the Boo chuckled again.
"But mom!" kid Eddie exclaimed. "Can't I open at least one?" Fully grown Eddie smiled, leaning forward.
"I remember this," he said quietly. Almost as if on cue, his mother opened her mouth to object, but the excited look on kid Eddie's face caused her to sigh.
"Okay, fine," she said with a grin. "But only one!" Eddie watched himself jump and holler, reaching for the first thing he could grab. A square present that rattled only a little bit. A GameBoy game, clearly. Eddie had learned to tell which gifts were games and which were clothes. A GameBoy game would be perfect to pass the time until his Dad was ready.
Kid Eddie tore right into the paper, tossing it aside as little by little he revealed the box inside. Eddie grinned at the familiar art.
"Mickey's Dangerous Chase," he said warmly, just as his child-self excitedly read the title on the box. "Man, I remember that game."
"Yeah," Boo said. "So do I, unfortunately." Eddie looked at the Boo incredulously, standing up and walking over to his younger self.
"What do you mean?" he asked, watching as kid Eddie plugged the game into the old gray brick of a GameBoy system. He couldn't help but chuckle as he heard that familiar chime as Nintendo's logo dropped. Y'know, back when that logo meant something.
"The game was pretty bad, bro," the Boo said, floating on over. "I mean, firstly, 'dem graphics ..."
"Graphics don't make a game!" Eddie found himself shouting. Why he was so insulted, he didn't know. He spent hours playing the game as a child, though. He had fond memories of it. Hell, it kept him entertained while he had to wait for his mom at all those parent-teacher conferences!
"No, but you gotta admit," the Boo continued, "it's a horribly balanced game. The levels are big but empty. The hit detection is horrible. These bonus stages are designed to eat up quarters at an arcade, only there's no coin slot on a GameBoy. Quite frankly, it's not a very good game."
Eddie gritted his teeth, but as he watched his younger self play through the game, he knew it was true. His memories of the game were certainly a lot better. "Alright, ghost, you win," he conceded. "That game wasn't that great after all. So what's your point?"
The Boo chuckled, floating around to Eddie's other shoulder.
"Point?" he asked. "Who said there's a point?" The ghost laughed loudly, and suddenly its ichor-dripping tongue was slipping along Eddie's face again.
Eddie fell over, cursing and thrashing. "Dammit, ghost!" he shouted, sitting up straight. "Warn me next time!"
He looked around, but the Boo had vanished. In fact, the scenery had changed once more. The room was dark now, save the glow of a single television. A young boy sat in front of it, roughly twelve or thirteen, a Playstation controller in his hand. The glasses fit better, but were still too big. It looked almost as if the child were wearing goggles.
Eddie settled himself down beside pre-teen Eddie, the original Sony Playstation resting upon the carpet. Above, he watched as the younger Eddie struggled to run through Raccoon City.
"Oh man," Eddie flinched. He wasn't ready for the low-resolution textures or the poor polygon count.
"I know, right?" the Boo chortled, causing Eddie to jump in surprise. "Talk about oo-gley."
"Dude!" Eddie pounded the floor with his fist. "Don't just creep up like that!"
"Sorry, it's what I do," The Boo shook its entire head of a body. "Man, this game was terrible."
"What do you mean?" Eddie exclaimed again, looking up at the screen. "Resident Evil 2 is a classic! Best in the series up until Resident Evil 4."
The Boo nodded. "You think so? I mean, looks like you're having some trouble there." On the television, young Eddie continued struggling to orient Claire Redfield. The character fought to keep her foot from being chewed on by zombies, but the controls seemed to fight back. Eddie shrugged and nodded.
"Yeah, the controls weren't the best," he objected. "Maybe that's true, but they worked for what Shinji Mikami was going for. Y'know, limit a player's vision and knowledge, keep him scared of what may come ahead."
Boo shook his head. "Good thing they changed that up in 4." Eddie nodded. Yeah, Resident Evil 4 did at least control a lot better, even if it did drop the scare.
"By the way kid," the Boo said. "What do you think about Quick-Time Events?" Eddie's face suddenly scrunched up in distaste.
"God, they're the worst," he began, turning towards the Boo as he once again he found himself looking face-first into the purple, blue and gray taste buds of the Boo. Eddie fell backward, kicking and sputtering once again.
"That's it!" he shouted, sitting up. When he looked around, however, he was in his apartment. No sign of the Boo anywhere. That didn't mean it wouldn't try and surprise him, though. He leaned back against the couch, sinking in, trying to get comfortable. He knew that's when the Boo would try and scare him, he just had to be ready.
Yet time continued to pass, and Eddie's eyes began to grow heavy. He refused to fall back asleep, though. Whether it was from fear or irritation, he did not want to fall back into a dream with one of those frustrating ghosts. So he stepped towards his stack of game systems, sorting cables, and deciphering a spaghetti plate of connections and wires. Finally he popped the Resident Evil 4 disc into the GameCube and shut the lid, leaning back onto the couch as it started up.
He had an unfinished save file on there, close to the end. It may be a bad idea to jump in during the middle of the game, but it was a New Game Plus. He'd have upgraded weapons and equipment already. So he started again, stepping forward with Leon onto a catwalk.
"Oh yeah," he said with a nod. "This is where Krauser ..."
Before he could finish, the game prompted him to mash the A button. His fingers fidgeted in surprise, but it was too late. He missed the prompt and watched Leon get stabbed by Krauser's knife.
"Son of a bitch." He sighed. Somewhere in the darkness, he could hear the Boo's insufferable giggling.
[size=10]Custom Mario Stocking Holder by KodyKoala[/size]