My childhood was always filled with fun. When I was a young boy, boredom was a very rare occurrence. This was the case mainly because of how much time I spent being happily occupied with either my Nintendo 64 or my Gameboy. I was the master, the undisputed champion of every game I owned for those systems. Occasionally there would come a time where perhaps the 8-bit graphics and sounds of Kirby’s Dream Land or Super Mario Land would leave unwanted lasting impressions on me while I was trying to have pleasant dreams during the night… Sure, those games could contain some spooky qualities, but that was never a difficult obstacle to overcome. I thoroughly enjoyed myself with my collection of games, and life was relatively carefree and tranquil.
Eventually, I lost track of where I kept those consoles somewhere in my family’s new house when we moved out to a new part of the neighborhood. At first, it didn’t have much of an effect on me and I learned to occupy myself with other things…
But I encountered immense feelings of nostalgia years later. The very thought of not having those incredible systems any longer filled me with depression… and an insatiable desire to revive my younger years.
I was fifteen years of age. It was a nice summer weekend, and the sun was beckoning me out my front door to bask in the beautifully shining weather. So I decided to take a leisurely bike ride through my old neighborhood, which was thankfully not that far away from where I live currently.
Of course I had to stop by my old house to see how everything was fairing in my original cul-de-sac. It stood right where it had always been at the end of the circle, but for some reason, everything had an empty sense… A tumbleweed drifting across the asphalt would have complemented the set perfectly. The whole area emitted a ghastly, vacant aura.
I noticed something else. My former house’s garage was open, and even though no one was there, it appeared to be advertising a yard sale. I parked my bike and nonchalantly strode up the driveway to view the collection being displayed.
There were no price tags, no percentage labels, not even a box to hold profits… There was only a sign that read, “EVERYTHING NO CHARGE.”
That was also the thrilling moment in which I had located a small chest full of Gameboy cartridges sitting on the main table. Sure enough, right next to the chest, was the device itself.
I practically jumped for joy. I only had to wait for the vendors to return so I could ask for it! Then I could relive a small portion of my childhood! But… there was still no one there, even after I rode my bike around different streets and returned to the unusually eerie cul-de-sac after time had passed.
Unable to wait any longer and completely disregarding the ominous setting around me, I decided to take one of the cartridges and the Gameboy console itself. I barely felt any guilt because of the overwhelming feeling of excitement rushing over me as I pedaled as fast as I could back to my own house.
As I left… there was another feeling that left a shiver running down my spine. It was as if a pair of eyes was watching silently from the window of my old house. A witness to my theft…
That still wasn’t enough to faze me. When I got home, I immediately rushed to my room to examine what I had brought back. The Gameboy looked just like any other. It had the texture, the button arrangement, the classic green colorless screen, the cartridge slot… It was perfectly normal.
The cartridge, however, was slightly different. It was shaded a darker gray color than the others I had looked at inside the chest. It displayed the usual Gameboy engraving on the front, but the label was torn almost completely off.
The only words I could make out legibly near the top of the cartridge were “Super Mario Land.”
This is fantastic! I can’t believe I picked up one of my absolute favorite games out of all the others in the chest! Can this day get any better?
Little did I know how the next handful of events would unfold… And little did I know what series of heart wrenching, horrifying moments I would experience to leave me scarred and shaken to this day.
I loaded the cartridge into the Gameboy and turned the power on.
At first, I thought I would have to reinsert the game because of what appeared on the screen. It displayed the word “GAMEBOY” with the familiar 8-bit chime, but there was a black bar underneath the letters, which normally meant taking the cartridge out and blowing on it so that it would function normally. The word “Nintendo” would replace the black bar in order to let the player know the game was functional.
However, it continued to the title screen. I shrugged it off and smiled at the classic title artwork of Super Mario Land with the high score right underneath the text. I stopped myself right when my thumb was about to push the start button to notice the staggering high score statistic last left by the previous player.
It was 999,999, the maximum achievable score in the game.
I sat on my bed, blinking with a dumbfounded expression at the huge number for more than a few seconds and pondering. “How is that possible? Was the previous owner better than me as a kid? Nobody ever went farther than I could…”
I shook my head and dismissed it. The demo began playing, so I pressed the start button once to take me back to the title screen and another time to start a new game.
In the meantime, I was contemplating on whether or not this was safe, and reminded myself of how I was a thief… but then I also remembered how nobody ever appeared to assist me, and the sign clearly indicated that everything was free. “Besides, this game practically called on me. I have to answer it, and I won’t turn back now!”
I engaged my concentration and focus as I controlled the Mario sprite when I entered the beginning stage, expertly weaving in and out of every Goomba, Piranha Plant and Koopa that dared to stand in my path. Before I knew it, the first stage had already been cleared. “Yes! Still got it! That other player better watch out, I’m about to top his act!”
Once the second part of the first level was finished flawlessly, I entered the boss stage. To speed the process up towards arriving at the enemy’s lair, I punched through a block at the very top and walked above all other obstacles harmlessly on a long stretch of blocks. I still had an abundance of time and a relatively high score for someone who hadn’t picked the game up in years.
However, I noticed a few strange things. The soundtrack would either skip a beat or repeat a note in the melody in periodic thirty-second intervals, or fail to loop and follow with a short moment of silence before starting again. Then, I encountered what seemed to be a glitch right near the enemy when there were no more obstacles below me on the brick path, which oddly began to stretch onward as I kept scrolling, and an endless string of coins appeared where Mario was walking. It continued as if it would last forever… More than sixty seconds had passed before things finally returned to normal and no more coins were there.
“Weird… I don’t remember this. Oh, well. It’s probably because it’s been a while. Everything else is normal.”
I observed the number of coins I collected… There were a total of 200 accumulated, enough for two extra lives. I had felt satisfied at hearing the repeating jingle of collecting coins, and it had saddened me slightly when there were none left to collect on the long brick stretch.
But this still didn’t feel right… Something seemed suspicious.
These bugs were increasingly beginning to pop up more often… but I took a deep breath and exhaled, once again shrugging off an odd occurrence. The boss was one more scroll over, so I moved to the right and confronted him.
Sure enough, there he was… same as I remembered. I dodged fireballs shooting from the sphinx’s mouth, jumped onto the platform, and reached the other side of the bridge to bring the boss down to the ground.
Down to the ground… Wait, down to the ground?
That was what it had appeared to be. There was a pained expression on the sphinx’s face as he remained on the ground for a few seconds before he flashed a few times and faded out. There was no sound. “Was this supposed to happen? Normally he was supposed to disappear in an explosion-like animation.”
As Mario entered the next room, the text appeared across the screen as he stood in front of the counterfeit Princess Peach… but it was not the familiar expression of gratitude. The text read:
“THANK YOU, JACK.”
The capital letters slowly erased themselves as the Peach figure transformed into the insect, but instead of hopping out of the screen, the sprite seemed to shuffle along the ground at a sluggish pace until it finally inched out of the background…
My stomach had lurched and my blood became chilled. It displayed my name in the text instead of Mario. There was also no “OH! DAISY” at the end of the message, like there was supposed to be. Blinking shockingly at my Gameboy, I contemplated the game’s programming and wondered if there was legitimately something wrong with it…
Then again, perhaps it was simply a cartridge with a tendency to glitch often. I reluctantly decided to keep progressing.
During the next few stages, I proceeded cautiously. Regardless, the background textures became distorted at times, and my name would appear for a split second in the area where my score was supposed to show. The soundtrack continued to glitch in the same manner as the 1st boss stage, but the Mario sprite remained normal as well as the enemies. Those were the only faults I encountered until after the second boss stage. I had gotten fairly used to those, but it was beginning to make me nervous.
Once the next boss was defeated, a different message appeared on-screen…
“JACK… YOU HAVE FOUND ME.”
Once again, my stomach somersaulted. This wasn’t normal.
I was feeling tired from the long bike-ride, so I hastily decided to give the game a rest and get some shut-eye, hoping it would be normal the next time I gave it a try.
In my dream, the only thing I saw was the Mario sprite, standing motionless, giving me a fixed glare seemingly filled with fear and desperation, and repeating the same phrase…
“JACK… YOU HAVE FOUND ME. JACK… YOU HAVE FOUND ME. YOU FOUND ME. … FOUND ME.”
I awoke near midnight. My room was normal, but my eyes could still make out the silhouette of the haunting Mario sprite. My desire to relive my childhood was replaced with a desire to get the game over with as quickly as possible… be it a nightmare or not.
I pulled the Gameboy out and turned it on with the Super Mario Land cartridge inside of it. The start-up screen displayed the same black bar underneath the Nintendo text, but it seemed to hesitate before slowly fading into the Super Mario Land title art…
There was only the text “Super Mario Land.” Everything around its border was shaded completely black. The sight filled me with dread and caused a bead of sweat to trickle down my face… but I hesitantly started another game.
The normal game commenced, but there was no music. There were no obstacles, pipes, enemies, clouds, blocks, nor gaps in the ground to jump over… It displayed my name in all capital letters right next to my score, which was showing digits randomly every second. My coin count was 999, and there was no time left on the clock, yet the Mario sprite could still move.
Then… the sprite moved back into the title screen, right where everything froze. A horrid sound bit, one which resembled a car engine slowing down gradually, progressively grew louder. As the 8-bit buzzing ensued, everything on the screen melted and became shaded even darker until nothing was left but a black line at the bottom.
“What the hell is going on…?! What’s with this thing?!” My heart pounded rapidly like a timpani, and my pupils shrank in terror as they saw a new shape morph onto the Gameboy… it seemed to form a message similar to the text on the Super Mario Land title screen, but instead it read something quite frightening…
It flashed in different shades of white and gray, and then the “press start” text appeared directly underneath it. As my trembling thumb hit the start button, an extremely loud and high-pitched warble echoed from the Gameboy speakers. I flinched and covered one ear. In the next second, the game did something shocking.
The actual programming shifted over, and the game file select screen for Super Mario Land 2 was being displayed. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the screen again. Sure enough, there was the new Mario sprite, slowly sliding through the pipe at the top and onto the pipes at the bottom of the screen which represented which file number to choose and how much progress was made.
I tried pressing the D-pad, shaking violently and breaking out into more of a sweat, but the sprite would not move. Instead, it turned to look directly at me. A static noise was heard in the background, and it grew louder as the sprite kept staring me down intensely…
My heart almost stopped. In the next screen, a sinister bass-line was blasting through the speakers… The background was completely black. An image was very slowly fading into view. It was a detailed 8-bit picture of Mario’s head, severed from his body and bleeding from the eyes as he gave me a motionless gaze. The speakers seemed to form audible words from the immense static.
“GET TO THE HOUSE. OH! DAISY OH! DAISY YOU MUST HURRY.”
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into… I don’t know what ridiculous idea went through my mind to take a Gameboy along with a cartridge such as this one, which seemed as if it were trying to talk to me from the game itself, from such a spooky location. I cursed myself for not walking away from it all when I should have… The name which was used in the game, “Jack,” must have been the name of its previous owner. I shook my head violently and choked back a petrified sob, adamantly denying the fact that the game could have been a satanic lure out with a sole purpose to kill me…
But it was still possible. Fraught with emotions and with a thousand things flying through my brain at once, I still tenaciously clung to the idea that the previous owner of this hellish piece of plastic might have coincidently had the same name as me. And… I had found it? It reemphasized periodically that I had “found it!” Damn right I had, whatever it was, and I was also one step away from destroying it!
But… even though I felt I was on the verge of succumbing to a heart attack, I knew I had to get this over with as soon as I could. I wiped my face with a trembling arm, took a deep breath, and looked at the screen…
I once again pressed the start button.
Immediately, I was transferred out of the demonic image. The static stopped and was replaced with a new soundtrack… It took me a few moments to recognize it, but it was the graveyard theme to Super Mario Land 2 played in reverse. Mario’s sprite appeared in a dark cave, but it didn’t look like the same sprite at first sight… He had acquired old age, his suit and overalls were white, and his expression looked quite exhausted. When I pressed left and right on the D-pad, Mario had sort of an odd, awkward stride that did not look similar in any way to how he ran in either of the Super Mario Land games. His appearance was downright… sickening. The counters on the screen were also, as expected, very screwed up. I had no lives left, but the time began counting into negative seconds and continued doing so throughout the mysterious level. The coin counter was, to my horror, set at 666. There was no score counter, only my name spelled in all capital letters at the corner of the screen.
I was forced to disregard these statistics. I went to the right and progressed very deeply into the cave with the haunting reversed music accompanying my every step. There were no enemies… but there were numerous dead-ends and warp pipes, eventually causing me to realize it resembled a labyrinth.
I also noticed that every time I entered a warp pipe to enter into another screen, the same image of Mario’s severed 8-bit head would appear in the transition, making matters much harder for me to deal with.
“Please let this go faster… Please make this hell go away… I never wanted this…”
I wiped a tear of despair out of my eye and went further inside the cave level. At this time, I had made considerable progress… It was also at the same moment a dialogue box appeared, typing a message in all capital letters.
“JACK, YOU DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME.”
I looked at the clock, and it had just reached past -400. I hurried my pace, my heart beating at a furious rate as cold blooded adrenaline coursed through my veins. In the meantime, something else began appearing in my path: giant body bags. Apparently, they were collected in the same manner as coins in the normal game were collected… It had the same chime and positive flashing once Mario touched it. As difficult as it was for me to keep moving, the more body bags I collected, the more time was added to the counter, making things slightly less stressful for me as I journeyed through the depths of the hellhole.
Right before the clock reached -666, I had reached the goal… but Mario walked straight out through the exit without the game-clearing soundtrack playing. I had no time to register that as another terrifying glitch as I was thrown into the world map.
The same counters as the ones in the cave were shown on the screen, and the same reversed theme was playing. As I walked through each part of the map, the oceans were the same black shade. I passed by the locations of every zone as they were originally supposed to be there from the regular game, but they were nonexistent. The only two parts shown on the world map were the shattered remains of Wario’s castle and the Haunted House zone.
Seeing as the Haunted House zone was my only choice, I muttered a few prayers and entered the zone.
The Mario sprite went straight towards the boss panel inside the haunted house regardless of my D-pad commands. Once he was there, the familiar level selection jingle played and the screen faded out to white until the image of a house appeared with Mario looking at it from afar. The back of his head was turned towards the screen.
The music came to a stop. Silence ensued.
I was so appalled at the screen, it felt like my heart was being strangled as it almost leaped out of my chest, and I couldn’t breathe… I was stricken. A dialogue box appeared right below the house.
“YOU HAVE RETURNED, JACK.”
The house was a picture of my old home. And I also realized…
The cartridge’s previous owner… was me.
The sky turned into a pitch black blob as the dialogue box disappeared. A sinister laughing sound bit blasted through the Gameboy speakers as my old house burst into hellish flames, becoming completely engulfed as the surrounding area ignited violently into flames as well.
Mario very slowly turned his head around until his body disappeared and the same severed head image appeared on the screen again. A wicked, sharp-toothed grin spread from between both his cheeks as warbled static was belched out full-volume, pelting my eardrums with satanic music.
I turned the volume down and turned the power button off with a petrified, weakened scream, but Mario’s face still smiled demonically through the screen directly at me.
Unable to look at it any longer, I hunched over into my mattress as my body heaved with wailing, filled with remorse, anger, depression, fear, sadness, almost every negative emotion possible. Tears streamed down my face as I saw in my mind the never-ending image of my old house bursting into a gigantic firestorm. My heart still felt as if it was being strangled, my head aching miserably and being tormented with the static laughter of the damned console.
After a few more moments of violent mourning passed, I heard my mother and father yell my name from downstairs.
“Jack! Come down here, there’s something important we need you to see!”
I already knew what I had to do… I threw on a change of clothes as fast as physically possible, took the Gameboy with the cartridge still lodged inside to place in my pocket, and raced down the steps into the house living room. My parents were solemnly staring at the television screen as it was showing a breaking news image of a house fire close to our neighborhood. The fire was spreading rapidly, and the area looked dreadfully familiar. I didn’t need to watch any more.
I rushed full-speed out of my house to get my bicycle and book it with all the strength I had left to my old cul-de-sac. My muscles screamed with tiredness, but my heart was still pounding with adrenaline as fear-fueled energy rushed through me.
I finally arrived at my old house… It was just the same as it was before. Nothing had changed.
It wasn’t on fire, and none of its surrounding yard or neighboring houses showed any sign of combustion. I still shook with grief as I dismounted my bike and walked up to the yard sale table. Nothing was left… everything had disappeared except for the main table and a note on it. I picked the note up and read aloud, attempting to keep my voice from cracking…
“Never leave me behind again.”
The author was clearly anonymous, but I didn’t care anymore… I slammed the Gameboy with the Super Mario Land cartridge onto the table and biked away from the cul-de-sac quickly, still sobbing quietly as I pedaled tiredly into the distance.
But… from the house, I could still hear the satanic laughter coming from the Gameboy, as if it had turned its volume back up and was now blaring the sound at maximum loudness.
I made it back home. It was still around 2am. I parked the bike and observed the windows… Strangely enough, the lights were turned off. My parents were asleep in bed.
Disregarding that, I subconsciously snuck through the front door and went back into my own room… I had fortunately calmed down enough to stop sobbing, but my body was absolutely drained. I had no energy left to move after riding through the neighborhood at top speed for such a long time. Haunted with Mario’s last impressions, I reluctantly climbed back into bed and fell asleep…
I awoke the next morning and didn’t remember what I had dreamed about. I didn’t want to ponder upon the subject for that matter. Everything had returned to normal quite mysteriously. The morning routine went by smoothly, and my parents decided to take me to look at a yard sale advertised close to our neighborhood.
Of course, it was the one at our old house. Only this time, it was teeming with customers and had avbountiful collection of antiques and vintage items on sale. The faces I noticed were very positive.
But I could clearly remember the scars I endured the previous night… It was all I could see. I never forgot… and I never will.