Brian Dandridge had just about given up searching for his cat when he found the console. He’d searched the marshy border of the stream for hours. The streetlights above the valley winked on, the pink of the warming bulbs contrasting with the dusk sky. He carried a stick, half for poking around with, half in case he met the Cruickshank twins.
Something white bobbing in the shallows caught his eye. He climbed down to investigate. At first, he thought the object was a Gametoy — the hand-held gaming console of choice for kids his age. Although similar, the device was not the real thing, maybe a cheap copy. It felt disappointingly light-weight as he rubbed it dry on his jumper. When he pressed the power button the screen flashed then went blank.
Brian climbed back up the bank then pocketed the console, thinking no more of it until later. At home, he examined the gadget more closely and noted that it had what looked like a USB port. When he connected it to his Mum’s PC, a light blinked on the side. This time when he pressed the power button a tiny fanfare played, the screen lit and a game loaded. The game was called Fodder.
Fodder was a fun game. Brian tapped away on the buttons as he fought hordes of monsters, looting food and power-ups. He became so engrossed that he barely noticed that another character, a small blue demon thing, was tailing him. He pummelled the room clear of monsters then turned around to face the intruder. A speech bubble appeared over the demon’s head.
OPEN THE CHEST OVER THERE,
YOU WILL FIND A BETTER SWORD.
Brian opened the chest and found the sword. The demon introduced himself as Gameguide.
It must be some kind of beginner mode, thought Brian.
He pressed on with the level, his new friend in tow. With the demon’s regular interjections, the game was becoming a little too easy. Brian checked the time, ten o’clock.
“Where’s Mum? She should be back by now,” he said to himself. The console beeped and he checked the screen.
MUM WILL WALK IN NOW.
The next thing, his Mum unlocked the front door. Brian froze; he glanced at the console and switched it off, hard.
“Did you find Ginger?” Mum asked.
“No… I think the Cruickshanks got him,” said Brian.
“He‘ll turn up,” she yawned, tired from long shifts.
The morning after, Brian itched to play some more Fodder. Once he’d had breakfast and before it was time to leave for school, he unplugged the console from the PC. The side-light was a steady green, charged. He pressed the power button. The strange little Gameguide was waiting for him. A speech bubble appeared over the blue demon.
“This is crazy,” said Brian.
“How can you hear me?”
I HAVE EARS.
The demon’s head turned side to side, displaying its oversized ears. Brian laughed.
THE BUS IS GOING TO BE,
TEN MINUTES EARLY TODAY,
YOU SHOULD LEAVE.
Maybe Gameguide is right. He grabbed his packed lunch from the kitchen table, slammed the front door then bounded down the communal stair. The bus was early and near empty. He found a seat at the back and loaded Fodder.
Later, in Maths — a loathsome subject for many reasons, the main one being that the Cruickshank brothers attended the same class — he slipped out the console and turned down the volume wheel. Mrs Toner was delivering a lengthy lecture on E to the axis of log or sin, Brian wasn’t sure. Gameguide popped up.
THE ANSWER IS 4X.
“And when we differentiate two X squared we get… Brian Dandridge fiddling with something and not paying attention?” said Mrs Toner.
Brian looked up.
“Er, four X?” he ventured.
Kevin Cruickshank snorted.
Mrs Toner raised her eyebrows, “You’re on form today, Brian,” she said.
Brian tried to ignore Kevin’s incredulous stare.
Finally, the lunch bell rang and in the corridor’s rush he barely heard the console bleeping.
THE CRUICKSHANKS ARE WAITING,
IN THE LUNCH HALL.
THEY WILL HURT YOU.
So Brian had lunch in the woods. He was eating the last bite of his sandwich when the idea came to him.
“Where’s Ginger?” he asked Gameguide.
GINGER IS STUCK,
IN THE TUNNEL,
WHERE THE STREAM ENTERS THE VALLEY.
Brian was up and running. The stream was five minutes away, at the bottom of the valley with grass down one side and trees the other. The brown water issued from a deep culvert under the road. If I find Ginger I’m not going back to school today anyway. The water was knee-deep.
Though a small stream, it ran fast in the concrete channel and Brian had to hold onto the wall. A few steps against the current took him into the tunnel, a few more and the darkness was near total. He held the console aloft but it wasn’t bright enough. The changing noise of the water told him that he was entering a larger chamber. He gasped as he fell another foot — up to his waist. There was no sound of any cat.
“So where the hell is Ginger?” he held the screen to his face, as he half-swam further. Gameguide stared back.
MY HEALTH IS LOW,
I MUST EAT,
The screen pulsed like a camera flash. Brian blinked, the scene around him fading on his retina. The blue beast squatted in the corner of the underground chamber, drooling, atop a pile of greasy bones. The last thing Brian ever saw as he screamed and lurched through the deep water was the console, the demon’s lure, bobbing toward the light, in search of more fodder.
Paul Graham is an amateur writer from Scotland and has never been published. He writes a little between large periods of apathy.