Game Over

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Let me start by saying that I'm a casual gamer. I enjoy a round of Halo every now and then, or a nice RPG or adventure game. I'm not picky, and I'm not competitive. So when my friend Chelsea called me up to play some games at her house, I was all for it. I left to her place at around 7, opting to catch the bus rather than walk in the spring rain. During the bus ride, I remember thinking about the time I visited them on April 1st. Chelsea and her family had gotten me with a prank involving replacing the filling of Oreos with toothpaste. It was all in good fun, and we shared a good laugh. I briefly wondered if they had anything in store for me today, on Friday the 13th.

It wasn't until I heard the bus doors close behind me that I realized I was standing outside at the bus stop. At a brisk pace, I walked the remaining 3 blocks to Chelsea's house. I was greeted by the barking of their two dogs, Essie and Miller. The minute Chelsea opened the door, I was rushed by Miller, the energetic fluffball. Essie just lied on the floor lazily, as she often did. We went into the main room and made ourselves comfortable. I'd always liked the feel of her house; It felt warm and inviting. But on that night it was different. It seemed a little less comforting than it usually did. I passed it off as a side-effect of the gloomy weather. Tonight, the game of choice was the latest Call of Duty release, Black Ops. As I said before, I'm not the competitive type. Chelsea on the other hand, had guns blazing as soon as the game loaded. Good ol' Chelsea. We had fun for a couple hours; Killing other players online in a flurry of bullets and button-mashing. As the clock neared 10, Chelsea's brother Nathan came upstairs.

"Can I play?" he asked, behind a mischievous grin. He'd always been a little trickster, just 13 years old. I'm still convinced he was the one behind the Oreo prank. We let him join, alternating turns every round or so. Near midnight, Nathan made a suggestion.

"Let's play zombies!" Now, for those of you who aren't aware, "Zombies" is a mode in the game in which up to four players can work together to fend off hordes of the undead. It's not really scary, just mindless zombie killing. It sounded like fun, so we agreed. A few minutes in, an odd thought struck me. I had realized why the house felt different.

"Hey Chelsea? Where are your parents?" I had asked. Usually, they greeted me with a warm smile within five minutes of my arrival. She paused the game.

"They went out for the night. They'll be back in the morning." As she said this, I caught a grin cross Nathan's face. Something in the back of my head told me that they weren't gone, and my earlier suspicions may have been correct. I decided to stay wary, but for the time being, I would have fun. After several close calls with reanimated corpses, we made it to a part in the level with a "Random Box". For a certain amount of points, the Random Box will give you a completely random weapon; It's always fun to see what you'll get. Nathan used it first. As always, he got a very useful weapon, an automatic rifle. Chelsea followed suit, but was stuck with a near-useless handgun. Then it was my turn; And of all the things I expected to get, what came out of that box was certainly not one of them.

At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me (I had misplaced my glasses earlier that week). Instead of the regular weapon, what appeared to be some type of toy was suspended in mid-air over the box. We all sort of looked at it, trying to figure out what it was. We knew that sometimes, a toy clapper-monkey with cymbals would appear, as a joke to the player. While inconvenient, it wasn't ever a big deal. However, this wasn't a monkey. As we studied it, we realized it was a doll. But further inspection sent a shiver down my spine. It was burned. Badly. Its clothing was scarcely there, as well as its hair. It was missing an eye and was half-charred. Before either of us could say anything, it began to rise higher into the air. And that's when the giggling began. Not childish giggling, or a mirthful chuckle. It was unsettling, unnerving, and it just didn't belong. It honestly jarred me for a second, and I didn't know how to respond. The doll Chelsea higher into the air, until it was entirely off-screen. The only evidence it even appeared was the faint echos of a twisted child's laughter that followed it. As the last of the giggling subsided, the screen flashed red. Then silence.

I thought for a single moment that Nathan had somehow done this. But he looked confused, and I could see even a little fear in his eyes. Chelsea was stunned as well. For a long moment, no one said anything. That is, until Chelsea noticed something odd.

"Where are all of the zombies?" She asked, and she was right. It had been too quiet, and we realized why. There weren't any zombies. In fact, during the entire appearance of the doll, not a single zombie had made its presence known. For a full 30 seconds, we roamed the level with to no avail. Nathan opened his mouth to speak, but then we heard it again. The eerie, ghastly laughter that had accompanied the doll. This time, however, there was no doll to be found. That's when the screen flashed red again.

Before anyone could react, hundreds of charred dolls appeared in the game. Crawling, giggling, misshapen dolls. They covered the ground, climbing onto our characters and giggling gleefully as they somehow ripped open wounds, causing blood to spill everywhere. I looked away. I knew it was just a game, but I was just too creeped out. When I looked back, the screen had its customary Game Over screen. But there was something different. Our characters names appeared at the bottom of the screen, and Nathan's was highlighted for some reason. The house was quiet; We all just sat there, collecting ourselves. I was the first to speak.

"Good one Nathan. You actually freaked me out a little." I tried to keep the light quivering out of my voice. His quizzical look didn't help.

"What are you talking about?" was his reply. I was determined to expose him.

"The creepy doll thing in the game. I know you did that as a joke." He just slowly shook his head.

"Brian, I didn't. I've never seen that happen before." I don't know why, but I felt myself get angry. I decided to just let him have his fun. It was just a stupid joke, afterall.

"If you say so." I turned to Chelsea. "Did you want to get a snack from the kitchen?" She nodded, and we got up. Neither of us bothered to turn off the game. In the kitchen we rummaged through the cupboards to find some glasses and plates. We heard Nathan shout his need to pee from the other room, then his footsteps heading to the restroom. We browsed the kitchen for a few more minutes, returning to the living room with hot cider and cookies. We sat there for a bit, sipping our drinks and munching cookies until Chelsea spoke up.

"We should probably watch TV or something. There might be a movie on." I agreed, and picked up the controller to turn of the Xbox. I pressed the guide button on the controller, and waited for the menu to pop up so I could turn it off. It didn't. Sighing in both resignation and frustration, I got up to turn it off. I pressed the button, expecting the little green light to disappear, but it didn't. Some Xbox 360 models freeze up sometimes, but I don't recall them not being able to shut off. I tried again to no avail. I studied it for a few minutes, when Chelsea's voice caught my attention.

"Where's Nathan? He could probably fix it." She sounded concerned, and a thought struck me. Where was Nathan? He'd been gone for at least fifteen minutes. I was about to call his name, when I heard a sound that made my blood run cold. The giggling. Instantly, both of our eyes shot to the screen. It was the same "Game Over" screen, but Nathan's name was no longer highlighted. In fact, it appeared dull compared to ours. My heart was pounding almost as fast as my mind was racing.

"What the hell was that?" I asked. But Chelsea had already stood up, and was headed toward the restroom. I followed, and knocked on the door.

"Nate? You done in there?"

No response. I tried the knob, and it was unlocked. Something told me not to open it. I don't know what or why, but I wish to God that I had listened to it. I opened the door, and the first thing I saw was red. Blood was everywhere. Nathan was lying on the floor, a thick, dark red line from one side of his throat to the other. Another deep cut traced from his throat down to his abdomen. His short, brown hair was matted in blood, and his normally pale form was absolutely colorless. I tried to suppress the urge to vomit. A heard Chelsea move behind me, and realized I couldn't let her see this. But I was too late. I heard a gasp, followed by the most agonizing scream. I quickly shut the door, and turned to Chelsea. She had a look of terror, revulsion, pain, and agony etched onto her face. It broke my heart to see it, but I knew we had other things to worry about first.

"Chelsea, I'm so, so sorry. But you have to listen to me. We have to get the fuck out of here, now!" Sobbing, she made a sound that sounded like agreement, though I couldn't tell. I was nauseous, confused, terrified, and every imaginable type of sickened. We bolted to the door, but the handle wouldn't budge. It wasn't just stuck, it was fucking immovable. I felt the first waves of genuine panic setting in, and I could see Chelsea close to breaking down.

"Shit, shit, SHIT." I pulled out my phone, and dialed 911. Nothing but static. I didn't know what to do. We were trapped here, with no phone, and Chelsea's mutilated brother in a blood-soaked restroom. 'Oh my god, Chelsea!' My mind immediately assumed the worst, but I turned around to find Chelsea sitting on the floor, mute with shock, grief, and terror.

"Chelsea, get up! We have to GO!" I yelled. I wasn't mad at her, but I was so overwhelmed, that I didn't know what to do. She stood, and held onto my arm. I heard Essie and Miller barking outside, where we left them after I had arrived. I silently thanked God that they were safe. In the living room, I turned to her.

"Chelsea, we've got to find a way out, so we can-" I stopped short. Behind her, on the screen, was her characters name, highlighted. I must've showed my horror on my face, because she turned around to see what I was gaping at. A wave of terror showed on her face. She looked at me, as if I knew what to do. And suddenly, I did. We were getting the hell out of there.

"Chelsea, hold on to me!" I screamed. I didn't care that I was crying, or that I was shaking. I had to get us out of there before anything else happened. She did as I instructed, and I picked her up. Without another thought, I made a sprinting beeline for the window. As soon as she realized what I was doing, she gripped me tighter. Her hands were balled so tight that her knuckles had turned white. We crashed through the window and into the front yard. I was bleeding. The glass had bit into my legs, arms, chest, and face. But we were out. Chelsea was unscathed, and managed to stand up on her own.

The soft giggling from inside the house was all the motivation we needed to run.

A week later, it was all over the news. We couldn't tell them the whole story, or they'd think we were nuts. The media had taken every possible angle and ran with it. Everything from "Neighborhood Killers" to "Child Murderers" were on every paper in the city. At Nathan's funeral, I sat with Chelsea and her parents. It was heartbreaking. I really liked that kid. A few days after that, I was sitting in my living room. I looked at my stack of games. My eyes rested on one of them. Call of Duty: Black Ops. The memories of that night came rushing back, and I almost screamed. I realized to move on, I'd have to forget what happened and go on with my life. I popped the disk in, deciding to play the campaign mode. Assassinate Castro or something. While the disk loaded, I decided to call Chelsea and check up on her. No answer. 'Oh well' I thought. She probably didn't feel like talking. As I looked back to the TV, I froze.

Instead of the Title Screen, it had the same "Game Over" screen from that night.

Nathan and Chelsea's names were dulled.

Mine was highlighted.

I heard a giggle.

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