by Michael Carter
I miss the warm, leathered texture of your face. Your rounded chin. Your darting, unpixelated blue eyes.
Sure, I felt prickly stubble when I palmed your cheeks with my hands. But it was delicate compared to your sharp edges now.
I know it’s still you, but your face is static and flat, like a tile. You’re smiling . . . all the time, even when you shouldn’t be.
Who knew the affliction would start around your lips, those lips I miss, now cold and flush with the rest of your features? They cubed you—at least your head—to halt transmission to the rest of your body.
I’m forever grateful they saved you, but I wish things were different. I wish we could walk together again, without people staring and whispering. I wish your head were round, not boxy, so it would fit in the old Stetson hat I bought you, so you could roll over on the pillow and look at me, naturally, peacefully, like you used to. I wish we could sleep through the night without wondering whether the cubing contained the spread.
If this had to happen, if the world had to change, I wish they had cubed your hand. Then, on our walks, we’d smile and swing our arms back and forth together. And your hand would, once again, clasp perfectly with mine.
by Jack Koebnig
Shouldn’t it be 8-bits? Jimmy thought, but he kept it to himself.
He was always keeping stuff like that to himself. It was one of the reasons, according to his Aunt Martha; a huge woman with a thin, pointy tongue, that he would die alone. ‘… mark my words, Liz, the boy doesn’t have any friends and if you ask me he never will.’
Aunt Martha is dead now. A heart-attack or something. Whatever it was, it was quick. Unfortunately.
Jimmy wiped the growing smile from his lips and focussed once again on Elton.
‘It’s an 8-bit puzzle,’ Elton said, storming across the front of the stage, the ragged hem of his ancient cloak disturbing the dusty surface. He glowered at the faces of the ten boys, sitting in a single row before him. Each one terrified of making eye contact but unable to look away. ‘And winner takes all.’
But we don’t know what we’ll win, Jimmy thought, glancing down the line of eager, accepting faces.
Elton stopped, the thick tread of his black boots were on a level with the top of Jimmy’s head. ‘For those of you wishing to know what the winner will receive,’ Elton said, his eyes borrowing into Jimmy’s, ‘you need look no further than to the winner of last year’s challenge.’
Drake Williams, Jimmy thought, sighing. He opened the rucksack by his feet. Drake really did take it all. He accepted a gun with nine bullets … willingly accepted, Jimmy added. At least he got them to turn round first.
I’m not going to be as charitable.
‘What are you doing, boy?’ Elton said, staring down the barrel of the revolver clutched in Jimmy’s right hand.
Jimmy shrugged. ‘I thought that was obvious.’
And pulled the trigger.
Requiem for a Mushroom
by Kris McGinnis
Ascending the stairs to the perpetual melody that was life’s soundtrack, howls of gnawing hunger appeared in a text box. Bracing himself, Mario unbolted the rectangular door to the square bedroom.
Looking pitifully upon his bedridden brother, a fetid odor began marinading in his nostrils. Chunks of vomit covered the moustache on Luigi’s sallow, pockmarked face, sweat drenched his forehead and urine sodden patches stained the mattress. The outer appearance masked the inner turmoil from a craving that itched through burning veins causing aches, fevers; hallucinations.
“ONE MORE!!!” frenzied eyes screamed.
Witnessing the grip of addiction as he wiped the saturated forehead filled Mario with anguish.
“I NEED IT!!!” Luigi roared, phlegm spraying from his mouth.
Mushrooms from the Mushroom Kingdom allowed for Supersizing, but their darker side was hidden by the illusions of grandeur that they provided; of defeating Bowser and rescuing Princess Toadstool. Mario had learned the hard way.
“Fight it. Get the junk out your veins.”
“Please,” came a whimpered response. “No more curves… No more silence.”
Mario’s own withdrawal battle flashed back. The nightmarish reality of melting square walls and arched lines atop wavering block foundations. In a world of right angles, these hybrid visions brought despair, fear; insanity. Then came the silence.
When life is cocooned from birth with the nurture of continuous melody, entrapment within a silent vacuum shreds it’s sustenance, magnifying every strand of existential crisis. The visions are frightening, the silence deceptively so. Like the swell of a tsunami; it’s terrifyingly beautiful.
Kissing Luigi’s forehead, linear tears travelled down Mario’s cheeks as he left the bedside. Turning to give last words of encouragement, a manic grin now spread across Luigi’s face as he clawed at his ears. Knowing they wouldn’t be heard, Mario closed the door over.
Existence 101: Final Examination
by Terry Yearly
Essay question: Do we exist in a simulation? Explain your opinion with reasons and details.
Time allowed: 30 minutes
We do not know if we exist in a simulation, and I believe the question is not important. For the purpose of displaying knowledge however, here are some problems which prevent us from understanding the nature of reality.
Firstly, a computer simulation of reality would require both an intimate understanding of the nature of consciousness, and the construction of a system that could simulate all the conscious beings in a reality. Not only are we unable to explain consciousness, but also we have no computer that could simulate the operations in billions of human brains.
Secondly, if advanced civilizations do not destroy themselves, we are probably experiencing reality. However, since we have no evidence, such as radio signals, of intelligent life outside planet earth, we cannot confirm this. In fact, we seem to be heading for extinction through internal causes.
Finally, if simulations do exist, the chances are that we are in one. A civilization that is capable of, and desirous of, creating a simulated reality, would likely create multiple, perhaps billions of such realities, rather than just one. These are not good odds.
In conclusion, we cannot ascertain whether we are living in a simulated reality. If there is no limit to technological progress, it is theoretically possible that simulations exist, but such simulations would have to be considerably more advanced than anything our current jumped-up 8-bit capability could provide. So, although it may be true that I am not real, and do not even know it,
by Nathan Blixt
Is hoping to die the same as suicide?
I’m disappointed every time I wake up. It all starts the same. Awaken in an electric world that I have grown to hate. Driven towards a goal that I never reach. Driven by a force that I never see. I do try though, sometimes, to inject my own will hoping for a final demise. I misstep over a chasm and fall to my fake death. I don’t jump when I’m supposed to and the alligators gnaw me to bits. It doesn’t matter because I’m only flashed back to try again. Eventually I succumb to the idiot force that compels me and become limp within my own body.
I try to sleep after the electric buzzing stops. Are the monsters still out there in the black obsidian? Why don’t they kill me? They can never kill me. I’ll just start again. Over and over and over…
The idiot force returns every day and sometimes stays with me through the night. We never get past the haunted castle. The vampire sinks his teeth into my jugular and I collapse to the ground right before I blip back to the entrance. The ghosts seep through the walls and vanquish my lifeforce. Only to be replenished back at the entrance.
Little did I know that those would be the best days of my life. I sit in the silent dark and yearn for the chance to try again. Cold death and the violent explosions becoming distant memories.
My world has been quiet now for much longer than it was ever alive. I am soulless and eternal. I am alone.
by Carl Jennings
A voice responded through the ship-to-ship communicator grill. It sounded remarkably like it came from a mouth hindered by poorly designed tusks. It was accurate assumption, because that was the case.
“We’re not open today,” the voice hurriedly slurred.
“Listen,” the pilot said, teetering on the edge of panic. “I’ve got two player characters in my hold. It’s serious, too – Saturday night with a friend over and the pizza has already been eaten serious.”
“These two need a ship full of monsters to shoot at or I’m going to end up in the secondhand sale bin,” Tiny cubes of sweat from the pilot’s forehead dripped on the control console.
“You’ll have to find someone else.”
“You’re the last board on my list,” the pilot wailed. “There is no one else I can turn to.”
“Wish I could help,” the monster said, infuriatingly unapologetic. The pilot glared through the view screen at the blocky, chitinous husk of a space ship floating nearby.
“Is this some kind of union thing?”
“Look, it’s Ella’s birthday, okay?” the monster explained. “We’re throwing her a party soon. Would you want to get shot at on your birthday? I don’t think so.”
The pilot plummeted over the edge of desperation. “I’m about to be shot into the trash can!”
There was silence filled by the contemplative tapping of an enormous claw.
“Okay,” the monster finally said. “We can give you a boards, but your players won’t clear any of them. Everyone’s going to be set on secret hard mode so we can get to the party. And you’ll owe us one.”
It wasn’t great, but better than nothing.
“Thank you,” the pilot said, wiping their forehead. They pressed a button on the control console that was labeled “Extend Player Umbilical”.
NEW COLOURS, NEW ERA
by Irene Montaner
Hector saw the light advancing from the margins of his realm. Only when the light stood in front of him, did he realise that it was a man on horseback. The stranger dismounted and bowed to Hector.
Hector found it difficult to stare at the stranger. Streaks of red and black coloured his garments and a few yellow locks crowned his head. His eyes had a bit of the piercing blue that made up the sky in Hector’s realm. But the rest of him remained a glowing mystery.
“Morning, Prince Hector,” said the stranger.
Hector was dumbstruck. In spite of how little he could see of the stranger, he was instantly attracted to him, to his warmth, to his shine. The more Hector looked at the stranger, the more beautiful he thought him. Finally, Hector managed to utter some words and asked him his name.
“I am Valiant, the new prince of the new realm.”
New prince? New realm? Those words made Hector’s head spin. Or perhaps it was the stranger’s delicate features and his toned body, which Hector could only guess through the blinding light he emitted. Hector would have blushed, had his pixelated cheeks allowed it.
“Would you like to ride with me and see the new realm?” he asked.
Hector hesitated. His straight matchstick legs wouldn’t feel right on the smooth flanks of the stranger’s horse. It’d be uncomfortable. Valiant noticed him doubting. “It won’t be long. The new realm starts at the end of this outdated 8-bit map.”
Hector surrendered. He craved nothing more than feeling the embrace of this stranger.
The new realm was made of light, like the stranger and his horse. “Marvellous,” Hector whispered into the stranger’s ear and melted into nothing as they entered this brand-new 64-bit map.
Amongst Jagged Roses
by Rory Malek
Humanity always finds a way to escape its deepest troubles. It encounters an obstacle and jumps over it with grace, but it never looks at where it’s landing.
3 years ago, the world was on the brink of war. A group of researcher scientists decided the world could no longer continue on with its cycle of war and anguish, and it decided on the behalf of 9 billion humans that we all can only survive in a new reality. They unleashed a weapon that warped the world into a 2-dimensional rendering that looked like an antiquated video game.
Masking reality comes at a massive cost. An explosion as bright as thousands of nuclear bombs annihilated half of the world and sent a cloud of radiation into the atmosphere that snuck its fingers into the lungs of everyone still left.
Though this new universe seems like a video game, reality is still as what it once was. All of Pandora’s evils are still here. Murder, violence, crime, sickness, hatred, and grief. The blood here runs blocky, but it runs just the same, and, as long as death still exists, most of us have a reason to fight like rabid dogs over what life we have left.
Most of us.
Two days ago, I lost my wife to cancer, and I lost a son 2 weeks ago during a burglary. I buried them in a field under a setting square sun amongst beautiful blood-colored rose bushes. The roses no longer had their thorns, but their new shape was jagged enough to scar my legs as I walked through them. In a world without thorns, plants still cut you nonetheless.
If you’re reading this, bury me with my family. I wish you luck in this disgusting new world.
Your Bride Is in Another Chapel
by Chloe Gilholy
Undertale…such a refreshing game with a nostalgic twist. I thought to myself, what a wonderful world to live in. Never thought that a week later, that wish would come true. Today is my 7th day here. I’ve only just mastered the art of eating with no fingers with two-dimensional vision.
I’ve just received a letter: You are cordially invited to the wedding of Sans & Toriel
Why I’ve been invited is a mystery. But who am I to deny free powerups and food. Getting down to the chapel was a challenge. I had to jump over poisonous spiders and dodge the street fighters. I ended up having to take the short-cut down the sewers and I got hit on by a frog.
I made it to the reception where I was welcomed by a big sunflower. We take our seats and as the groom waits patiently for his bride, I can tell by his pale face that something had gone wrong.
A monster strolls into the chapel with his armour as if he owns the place. Everyone fears him, but not me. He looks like someone with a bad tan and oversized armour. He reminds me of the troll dolls we have as a kid. At least this one has clothes on.
“Ha!” The monster mocks the groom. “Your bride is in another chapel.”
All eyes were on me as a fairy tumbles down from the chapel’s chandelier. It looks like I’ll be saving another princess again.
Mrs Peach sat in the doctor’s surgery and squeezed her daughter Peggy’s hand, trying to ignore the stares they were getting. Please don’t let anyone drop the P-bomb, she thought to herself, fingers crossed. A small boy pushed open the door, pulling his mother behind him. Spotting Peggy, he stopped abruptly. Hand outstretched, finger pointing, he uttered the word that Mrs Peach had been dreading.
“Mum, that girl’s all pixelated!”
Two red squares burned in Peggy’s low-res cheeks.
“We don’t use that word, Robert, we say ‘underdefined’,” said the boy’s mum, ushering him away. She turned to Mrs Peach, “Sorry, he doesn’t know any better.”
Yesterday was Peggy’s tenth birthday. The whole class was invited, although only a handful came, a pitfall of being the only underdefined child at a high res school. Mrs Peach had laid on all of Peggy’s favourites: Battenberg cake, Turkish delight, Kola Kubes and cartons of juice. Then Grandma ruined the day, calling Peggy “too jagged for cuddles”. Grandma’s was a different generation, but that was no excuse. Peggy ran outside. Mrs Peach found her hiding in the garage trying to rub off her edges with sandpaper.
Still, things were looking up. Dr Trenneman had had some success with cases like Peggy’s. When the doctor appeared Mrs Peach squeezed her daughter’s angular hand once more and allowed her to be led away.
Ten long minutes later
Dr Trenneman reappeared … Mrs Peach couldn’t believe her eyes … Peggy was fixed! She had curves, individual strands of hair, even teeth! And look! Eyelashes! She hugged, and hugged Peggy’s warm, soft body.
“Thank you! Thank you!” she said. “How did you do it?”
“Oh, it was simple really,” said the doctor, smiling. “I just switched her off, waited five minutes and then switched her back on again.”
by Portia Summers
I didn’t notice it at first. Seated next to me on the train remained a rather unassuming Atari game cartridge. It was black – no inscription of a title. The only reason I could even identify it was due to the hours I spent in my childhood watching my brother load up and play Adventure for seemingly days.
I picked it up and pocketed it. Being the only one left on the train, I surmised it would not be missed.
I forgot about it until I emptied my pockets when I returned home. I rediscovered my old Atari, wiped off some dust, booted it all up, and became pleasantly surprised at how smooth it still ran. Bewildered, I loaded the mystery cartridge in and was met with what I assumed was the game’s title screen.
By that, I mean a black screen coupled only with bolded text saying “PETER” and a blinking start button. Unnerved by seeing my name in such an imposing typeface, I ultimately rationalized it was a common enough name to disguise any fears.
Hesitantly, I pressed start.
What I saw next made me nauseous.
In pixelated, 8-bit graphics existed the layout of my entire living room. My exact sofa, coffee table, and TV appeared to have found a new home.
And there I was, too, on the floor in front of the TV. The very same position I was seated.
Then, the nostalgia-inducing green dragon from Adventure graced the screen. He flew over to my pixel, and I witnessed once more his simple animation of attack. I fell over, and grotesquely-detailed pixels of blood leaked out from me.
The screen cut to black.
I was freaked out, to say the least.
But not as freaked out as when the banging on my front door started.
by Emily K. Martin
The house I’m standing beside is mine, but I never go in it. It’s boring anyway. Tan. Red roof. Brown rectangle for the bullshit door. Wearing my yellow dress, I start each day here, ready to run. I don’t know how to walk, I run. I also know how to run backward, jump up to three times my height, balance on moving platforms, flip in the air, and pick up any object and know how to use it as a weapon.
I run to the marketplace in the city, ignoring people, collecting coins hovering at chest level. The coins jingle and disappear when I run through them. I need lots of money or I’m screwed.
See, I found the transport key to level four in the jungle, but now I have to find the armor so I can properly defeat the Cyclops guarding the key.
Because the armor is invisible, I have to find the Ancient Spectacles that will magically let me see the armor.
The Spectacles were last seen a thousand years ago on White Mountain, which I can’t get to unless I purchase a Glide Launcher from the bearded dude in CasinoLand. I also need money for a boat ticket to get to CasinoLand, unless I commandeer a ferry.
Life can get rough. Yesterday, I lost all my cash and died three times trying to resist arrest.
But, today is another day.
A six-winged Invader lands in front of me, four times my height. Darn, I only have a dagger to fight him off, although it’s as big as me, so it might as well be a sword.
The Invader moves up and down slightly, as if breathing. Its black eyes stare straight ahead.
In ten seconds, one of us will die.
by Michael Prihoda
The monsters sit around a table, eating food, chatting about their recent business. Yeti is there and Bigfoot and they sent a card to Nessie saying how bummed they were she couldn’t be involved. Nobody invited the Chupacabra, for good reason. They eat a lot of hummus with chips and carrots, and more than one of them says how nice the egg rolls were. One of them pulls out a phone and shows around the latest viral video, which achieves the requisite hearty chuckles. Did you hear something? Yeti asks. Bigfoot turns around, staring into the darkness of their host’s living room. The edges of the darkness look tattered. He thinks something moves, then Frankenstein chimes in with his standard quip and the room devolves into tentacles of laughter.
A few humans gather around a screen. After lots of disbelief and nudging elbows, they settle down to take notes. They are absurdly pleased at the turn of events, at how the monsters all came together in one place for observation. The scientists’ pleasure is only betrayed by a light film of sweat on their collective upper lips. One of them, scribbling a note, pauses, having felt an atmospheric alteration. So slight. Probably misperception. A tingle along his forearms. There again. Are they being watched?
They make sure to follow exact observation protocol. Many miles separate them from the humans they are watching just like many miles separate the humans from the monsters they are watching just like many miles separate the monsters from whatever they were watching on the passed-around smartphone. One of them thinks she can make out the pockmarks of sweat on the humans’ upper lips. She almost turns around, doesn’t, already knows. Someone is always watching.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
by Ryan Yarber
I was certain it was a dream. Everything was blocky, monochromatic, and nothing seemed in focus. I entered a cave to find carefully stacked pixels forming the vague image of an old man. He gifted me a sword and offered no instruction, but I knew what I had to do. I scoured the world, defeated monsters, and eventually achieved my fate. She was safe, which meant I could rest.
I believed I would wake to familiar surroundings, but I was wrong. Instead I woke to a woman’s voice calling for help. My body was slightly recognizable, the landscapes more defined, but again I was tasked with a heavy burden. Weeks passed without rest until I completed my task. I had saved a kingdom, and my reward was another nightmare.
My eyes opened to the insistent nagging of a fairy who had found her way into my home. She bid me to follow her where I learned once again I was fated to save a world in danger. Something in me wanted to forego this responsibility, but my nature prevailed.
My travels revealed my fate to be the eternal struggle between three forces. The evil strength of a monster, the wisdom of a goddess, and myself. Each part woven together into the fabric of destiny. My eyes opened time and time again to complete a task that tested the limits of my strength. I would never know peace.
Through each resurrection I realized I was not alone. She was always with me. The goddess who took up arms beside me to battle the demon. I do not know how many lives I have lived, nor which memories are real, but knowing I will always find her when I wake up is enough. For her, I will never stop fighting.
Love Sustainability in a Flawed World
On the pleasant side of life , we crawled in darkness, like lovers do. Embraced like amoebas osmotically invading one another. He soon became the voice in my head. We were happy enough in darkness, yet under the light of day, things were different. Our world was limited to a few flashing pixels, the sound of “Unbelievable” playing by EMF.
“What do those initials stand for?”
“Extroverted Monetary Fund?”
He was eager to live in the improved version of our story, instead of compromising with the 8-bit world we were born into. We were enough, yet the world was flawed, containing bills, debt sustainability and the introverted version of our favorite band.
Amoebas know one dimension, moving only linearly, I said. They think they move straight even when they move in circles. Ants may move in a two-dimensional reality, unable to understand ups and downs, unlike humans who realize their place in space and change it at will. People are aware of time, yet they’re still not capable of moving back and forth. I wish I could take us directly to that bright, rich picture of the future he dreamed of.
Five kisses later, I died. One life lost in his arms, yet I didn’t mind. I still had many lives to spare in this flawed world.
I struggled to keep this love alive. To not get distracted by details that spoil the big picture.
We have to win, he said. It’s not only about us.
The world will evolve someday, I claimed, with or without us.
While our choppy, 8-bit paradise was collapsing, all started to make sense; we weren’t meant for each other.
You crave for life to make sense, only to realize that stories only make sense when the end approaches.
LIGHT BLUE SINGLE PIXEL TEARS
by Charlotte O’Farrell
From the moment we were born, he lived for me, and I for him.
In the times when the Outer World took control of our bodies, he would tackle evil baddies and navigate perilous landscapes, all to find me in whichever castle served as my prison that day. When the Outer World receded and we once again controlled ourselves, we would enjoy each other’s company with no other distractions. We would dance, talk long into the night, exchange pixels.
There was barely any contact with the Outer World for twenty years. Our cartridge, our world, was somewhere quiet, undisturbed – and that suited us. I was never imprisoned in a castle anymore. No-one could enter our blissful bubble.
That wasn’t to say things were perfect. Both of us noticed things degrading around us as the happy years went on. Sometimes glitches would scar the sky above us, making the colour flash on and off like a storm. Once we both glitched together and found ourselves, instead of facing each other, on opposite ends of the entire level, facing outwards into nothing.
Like the baddies he had once fought so valiantly to save me from, we knew we were mortal.
Today the Outer World burst in on us again. Our cartridge moved. The sounds were loud again, the voices clear and booming. I clung to him, soaking up every second of him as if it was our last together.
A loud crash. A crushing, metallic sound, gradually getting closer. We held tight to one another. Our pixels merged into one as the world dissolved around us. My last vision was of him, his handsome face descending into static, floating away pixel by pixel.