Monday, July 17, 2017

Tekken 7 and the "Death" of Geese Howard

Evolution 2017, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, brought with it a lot of surprises - but not all of them involved major players getting sent home early, untimely technical issues, or come from behind victories on the main stage.

It was announced that Fatal Fury antagonist Geese Howard, famously kicked out of the top floor of a high-rise by all American pugilist Terry Bogard (twice), will be making his return to the ring by way of Tekken 7, Namco's newest entry in the long-running fighting franchise. Howard joins Street Fighter's Akuma as the second guest character to appear in the game since its release several months ago.

While most people are speculating on how dear ol' Geese is going to make the transition to the fake 3D world, all I can think about is this:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Someplace like ‘Home’ – ‘Atom Universe’ the successor to Sony’s defunct social hub?

Today marks the second anniversary of the day Sony shutdown PlayStation Home, a virtual world experiment that all PlayStation 3 owners could enjoy for free. The sting of Home’s closure has long since subsided, but that doesn’t mean dedicated Homesters haven’t been on the lookout for a spiritual successor to everyone’s favorite social hub/LSD simulator.

Some have pointed to Atom Universe, available now for free on PS4, as that game. But I doubt it. Atom Universe embraces all the worst aspects of PlayStation Home in one appalling package.

Nothing I can come up with is funner than the fact that this guy's name is "SpackerJacker."

To be fair, Atom Universe is in open beta. Also to be fair, if PlayStation Home was some nerd’s awkward but charming party where someone spiked the punch, Atom Universe is a handful of sweaty townies masturbating in a dumpster behind a Long John Silvers, and someone pissed in the punch. And that person was a gas pump.

There’s not a whole lot of clothing options for the new Atom Universe player. Male avatars can wear leftover bodysuits from the first X-Men film in charming colors like black, dark black, midnight, and neon green. Female avatars default to some kind of space robot dominatrix, which looks like it would be a real turn-on for terminators and replicants alike.  

Players can enjoy one of two equally depressing game spaces: The Hub, wherein users ignore nearly unplayable, carnival-themed minigames as well as each other; and The Arcade, wherein players chose a single dance move, then walk away from their PS4 seemingly forever, their freakishly dressed avatars doomed to do the Hustle until the end of time.

In this photo, my overgrown leprechaun stares creepily at the rabbit woman's behind.

Atom Universe doesn’t have many players, so a lot of my favorite PlayStation Home pranks don’t apply. Running past crowds of people exclaiming “I slapped a baby” doesn’t work without the crowds, and sadly, the word “anus” is censored. What if I’m a doctor trying to discuss the latest in proctological advancements, the neon drenched world of Atom Universe as my backdrop? We’d be forced to say “anu5,” and that’s just disrespectful.

Atom Universe tries to tap into the same zany charm that was one of PlayStation Home’s biggest draws, but with so few players, clothing options, and locations, it falls flat on its face. It isn’t a total wash, but Atom Universe’s value lies almost entirely in its comparison to its predecessor. In this case, lightning simply cannot strike twice. PlayStation Home was a shared experience among PS3 players, a unique solution to the question of how to bring players together in a social gaming setting. It was special. But Atom Universe aspires to be nothing more than a PS Home clone.

It's hard to read, but someone ran by and said "I gotta find hoes." 

Sometimes a clone can be just as good as the game that inspired it. Saint’s Row is every bit as fun as Grand Theft Auto, Streets of Rage stands tall with Final Fight, and Silent Hill 1 scares up some Resident Evil inspired greatness.

But there’s only one PlayStation Home. And that’s okay. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Case of the phantom victory: A Tekken Revolution epilogue

It's always the Tekken with you! Enough with the Tekken already! Oy vey!

Yeah, I thought I was done with Tekken Revolution too. That is, until I opened the media gallery on my cellphone yesterday and found this:

That’s a screenshot from a video I took at about 4:12 a.m. on March 21, 2017. When TR kept running after the advertised 3 a.m. shutdown time, I was left recording aimlessly, trying to capture the exact moment the game went offline for good. Since I’ve only got a few gigs to work with on my old-ass phone, I deleted most of the dud footage as needed.

Anyway, I opened my gallery and there that video was, like the cat that came back the very next day or the stolen clown nose from that episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark.

I know what you’re thinking. “So what’s the big deal? You forgot to delete a video. This is the worst creepypasta I’ve ever inexplicably copied and emailed to my former rabbi.” Not so fast, dear reader. Take a look at the WINS counter. What do you see?

That’s right, 401.

If you read my last article, you know that I spent the entire final day of Tekken Revolution fighting my way to exactly 400 wins. A little secret: I tried a few times to get to 401, but got ripped in half by better, more awake players.

So where did the last victory come from?

After 3 a.m., I joined random battle lobbies trying to catch interesting footage while I fell asleep on the couch. Maybe in my bleary eyed, up-all-night state, I entered a fight somehow. You could be getting your ass handed to you in Tekken Revolution, but if you lost the connection to you opponent, you'd win!

It's a pretty solid, if unspectacular, explanation. But none of the surviving footage backs that theory up. I have a video that ended at 3:44 a.m. and this one, as I mentioned, which began at 4:12 a.m. So at some point in-between, I acquired this phantom win.

What happened in those 28 minutes, I’ll never know. But I think there’s a reasonable explanation: You ever hear of missing time? It’s a common experience among those who have been abducted by extraterrestrials… 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

PART 2: The (Tekken) Revolution will no longer be televised

Tekken Revolution, Namco’s free to play fighting game based on the popular Tekken Tag Tournament 2, hit the PlayStation 3 in June of 2013. Close to four years later, on March 21, 2017,  the servers were finally shut down.

These are the final moments of Tekken Revolution.

Welcome to the second part of my Tekken Revolution retrospective. In Part 1, an earlier version of myself faced the perils of young adulthood in a spectacularly ineffective manner, substituting common sense for a bottle of vodka and hours upon hours of Tekken Revolution. Fast forward to now, the final day that TR’s servers are up and running.

I’d make a comment about how much better I am at being an adult, but I’m currently staying up until 3 a.m. on a work night to play a video game.

The Road to 400

Nobody likes coins, not even Abe Lincoln. You want a dollar, not a jangly pocket full of copper. I’d rather not remember my Tekken Revolution career as a sack of change bound for a lonely Coinstar machine in some Midwestern Walmart, so I’d like to accumulate 400 wins. My starting point was 339 on March 17. Now that I'm at 380 with a day left and precious few premium tickets, can I do it? Let’s find out.

March 20, 2017 – 8 a.m. (19 hours left) WINS: 380

I get three premium tickets for signing in today, courtesy of the good people at Namco. It’s nice to see a developer still supporting players of a game that hasn’t made them a dime since January 19, when all paid content was yanked from the PlayStation Store.

Two out of the five matches end with me losing the connection to the other player, something that’s been plaguing the game since I picked it back up last week. There’s no shortage of opponents at least.

March 20, 2017 – 7 p.m. (8 hours left) WINS: 383

Most people still playing at this point are pros, with hundreds of wins to their name and the skills to match. But also there’s this inexplicable trickle of n00bs. Can you imagine having downloaded Tekken Revolution years ago, and you just happen to sign in again on the last day?

Some uneventful fights are punctuated by a crazy, random occurrence. This is the third time it’s happened since Saturday. (See “Creature of the Night” heading below.)

March 20, 2017 – 8:30 p.m. (6.5 hours left) WINS 386

At 8 p.m., the “final campaign” ends – which means no more crazy experience and money boosts for the remaining few hours of the game’s life. Players had been enjoying 10x to 30x bonuses since January 31. I think it’s fitting that Revolution’s last gasps will be taken in the same pure, grindy fashion as its first breaths.

I get my last ever sign-in bonus. The game says I’m up to Day 81.

I decide to go for some arcade mode action and give my PvP tokens a chance to re-up. As I play, I’m reminded of the early days. Something I really liked about Tekken Revolution in the beginning was that feeling of “we’re all learning this together.” Now in the game’s twilight, I’m sensing something similar: We’re all going out together, on a high note, showing off the skills we’ve accumulated over these last four years.

Or maybe I’m a sentimental old man who likes reading into trivial things. Either way.

March 20, 2017 – 9:30 p.m. (5.5 hours left) WINS 386

I’m trying to make those premium tickets last for the next few hours, so I’ve switched to player matches. In the tradition of the olden days, I’ve named my lobby “BABY STABBIN’ DUDEZ.” I always wondered what kind of people would join a room with that name.

The answer is this guy.

It's tough to read, but it says "BABY STABBIN' DUDEZ" and that guy (top) wants in!

But after that, I drift from session to session. None of them really feels right. There are a few open ones, but it’s a far cry from the packed lobbies I remember.

I haven’t been able to win any of my last six matches. The big boys are here, they’re pissed, and they’re out for blood. Time to take a break and let my coins re-up.

March 20, 11:45 p.m. – (3.25 hours left) WINS: 392

I just won six matches in a row. I was using the same premium ticket and winning it back for what felt like forever. I’m still worried that I won’t be able to make it to 400 wins by 3 a.m., but I feel a lot less frustrated now.

March 21, 2017 – 12:45 a.m. (2.25 hours left) WINS: 395

I pick up two wins against a careless Bob player. But I’ve only got three tickets left, and only enough time to regenerate four PvP tokens. That’s seven chances for five wins. I’m not in love with those odds, but let’s see what we can do.

I guess we could, uh, always bet on Duke?

March 21, 2017 – 12:46 a.m. (2.245 hours left) WINS: 395


March 21, 2017 – 1:45 a.m. (1.25 hours left) WINS: 398

I get three more wins, but I’m out of premium tickets. I’ll have enough coins for three more matches, maxing out an hour from now. Two more wins and three chances. I guess I’ll play arcade mode to clear my head.

March 21, 2017 – 2 a.m. (1 hour left) WINS: 399

A pathetic Kazuya player gives up a win, putting me one away from my goal. There’s just enough time for me to regenerate two coins. Right now, I’m parked in a lounge, watching other players far better than me beat the hell out of each other. Not much else I can do. Sure wish I had bought some premium coins when I had the chance, but I suppose this way is more exciting.

March 21, 2017 – 2:24 a.m. (35 minutes left) WINS: 400

No more goals. There’s only me and the battle for the next half hour. I'm glad it went down like this.

March 21, 2017 – 2:59 a.m. (The end) WINS: 400

The end is nigh! Any minute now...

March 21, 2017 –  4:30 a.m. (1.5 hours after the game was supposed to shut down)

It's nice that dedicated Tekken players got a bit of a reprieve, but I have to go to bed.
The mind is willing, but the body is weak. This is as far as I can go. I'll check on this in the morning. I wanted to be there for the end, but I feel I've done my due diligence.

March 21, 2017 – 6 a.m. (3 hours after the game was supposed to shut down)


March 21, 2017 –  sometime between 6 and 7:30 a.m. 

I love you Tekken Revolution, but it's about damn time.

Creature of the Night

Remember how I had about a quarter of the “blood seals” necessary to earn the one character exclusive to Tekken Revolution, the narcoleptic sexpot vampire Eliza?

Yeah, THIS narcoleptic sexpot vampire

There simply wasn’t enough time to unlock her legitimately. And yet, like a bolt of lightning from on high, the Tekken gods saw it fit to bestow Eliza upon me. Randomly, after losing a fight, a message appeared that I had earned 14,000-plus seals in one go. Normally I was lucky if I got 10 at a time.

Then, the next day, it happened again. This time I got 69,000-plus seals at once, which unlocked… a bikini. You know, like vampires wear. In the sunlight. Thanks, Namco.

On paper, a fighter who falls asleep in the middle of the game sounds like an awful idea. And that is because yes, it is. But in all my tinkering with Eliza over the last few days, I only ever found one move that legit put her to sleep, and the player has approximately one semester at a lackluster community college to wake her up before being countered.

Eliza has some cool juggling moves, a classic vampire bite for her throw, and an honest to goodness, Geese Howard style "Reppuken" fireball. I’m looking forward to seeing her in Tekken 7, once that game finally comes to consoles in June.

Also you could make her breasts bigger if you got enough blood seals, which if done without boosts of any kind, would take anywhere between 16,000 and 160,000 fights. I was randomly awarded a third time with 70,000 seals on TR’s final night, so I got this the easy way. Lucky me?

Anyway, here’s a video of Eliza in a battle bikini fighting lion-headed luchador, King, because why not.

No Regrets

I think one of the reasons Tekken Revolution has been so important to me lately is that I was finally able to fix things, like unlocking Eliza. But the period in my life I associate most with the game, living in that cheap apartment four years ago, not so much. I can’t hop in a time machine and tell my younger self to hang out more with my roommates because they were having a tough time too, or to eat a carrot instead of an entire pizza, or maybe we don’t take a drunken walk to Skeevymart at midnight to buy beer seven hours before I had to be awake for work.

I can’t retroactively make myself a better person, and now I can’t change anything about my experience with Tekken Revolution. But I’m glad I took the opportunity to pick it back up. It paid off, even if it was only for the blink of an eye.

Maybe in this case, it’s not the worst thing that I can’t whip out Tekken Revolution and give it a quick play when I’m feeling nostalgic. I moved out of the apartment in which I first played TR a long ago, after all. As we close the book on TR, maybe I can put my misgivings from the past on the shelf too.

Thanks for being there when I needed you, Tekken Revolution. Instead of morning your loss, I’ll look forward to new fights and better days.

This Revolution has come to an end.

Friday, March 17, 2017

PART 1: The death of a Revolution

A few days before Christmas of 2016, game developer Namco announced that their free to play fighter, Tekken Revolution, would be shutting down on March 20, 2017. I suppose that after a nearly four year run on now ailing last gen equipment, it only makes sense that they’d pull the plug.

I understand why this has to happen, but it doesn’t mean I like it.

During the days leading up to Tekken Revolution’s surprise release on June 11, 2013, I remember thinking that I was really hankering for a new Tekken game. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 wasn’t even two years old at that point and the time between Tekken games – at least in the post-PlayStation 1 era – can be measured in half decades. So you can imagine my utter glee when Namco announced in June 2013 that they’d be releasing a new Tekken game, for free, in just days.

Sure enough, Namco delivered a (nearly) full featured Tekken, as promised. Basically, the PlayStation 3 exclusive game was a stripped down Tekken Tag 2, ripping most assets directly from the older game but adding new, dubsteppy tunes.

Players were rewarded with experience points after each battle, and upon leveling up, they could upgrade their fighter’s power, endurance, and vigor. This was the most controversial aspect of the game, allowing some players to win simply because they were able to purchase more coins and thus, gain more experience points.

Though a lot of hardcore Tekken players bashed Revolution for its simplified gameplay and emphasis on attracting new and inexperienced players, it felt fresh to me. It distilled the Tekken formula to its core, forcing people out of their arcade mode comfort zone and into player vs. player via the unique token system.

Each player started with two arcade tokens and five PvP tokens, and as they burned though them, the tokens would slowly regenerate. If you ran out, no problem: just watch other people fight it out for a while until you regenerate some tokens, or spend a few bucks to get some premium coins. Reportedly, this mechanic was supposed to emulate an arcade-style, “I got next!” atmosphere. I’m not sure how well it succeeded in that, but it sure was fun. I know I ponied up at least $20 over the years, hungry for “just one more match.”

Tekken Revolution came at a time when I sorely needed it. In early 2013, I had left home for the first time since college, trading my parent’s rent free house for a single room in a shady neighborhood, the other bedroom occupied by my cousin-turned-roommate and his wife-to-be. The first week I lived there, the cops towed my car because, they claimed, the snowplow couldn’t get past it, despite there being no snow the night before. My ex-fiancĂ© had left only a few months ago, and my new girlfriend lived three or four hours away by train. And by day, I suffered through a new job that kept me hours late most days, doing the work of two people with the patience of three.

Despite unopened copies of great retail games sitting on my shelf, I’d come home after work lock myself in my room with Tekken Revolution and a half pint of vodka. When the tokens ran out, I’d watch other people fight in battle/chat rooms I created with titles like “Sell You Children” and “Baby Stabbin’ Dudes.” And when the liquor ran out, sometimes I’d stumble down the street to the local saloon for a nightcap or three. One time on the way to the bar, I watched a kid, maybe 16 years old, get wailed on by at least four other teenagers. He wasn’t hurt too bad, but he seriously had no idea why they were hitting him. I went inside the adjacent convenience store (we called it “Skeevymart”) and bought him a cold ice tea to hold on his injuries, but when I came back out, he and his assailants had disappeared into the night.

Now it’s four years later, and the crumby apartment in the shady town is lightyears in the past. I married that girlfriend of mine, and now instead of spending my weekends going back and forth on the Long Island Rail Road, I spend them on the couch watching my ten month old son. And when I do get a chance to play video games, it’s not vodka I’m swigging, but diet cola. In a companywide reorganization about two years ago, my director title was lost in the shuffle. But my paygrade is the same and my responsibilities are much more reasonable.

And yet, hearing that Tekken Revolution theme song thrusts me into that small, poorly ventilated bedroom, and jumping online with my powered up Kazuya brings back the little bit of happiness I felt during a difficult time. I remember the sights and smells of that low rent neighborhood, and the summer sun setting to the sounds of victory and defeat on the small screen. I remember that kid who kept asking why he was being beaten, and the voice of a girl behind me yelling, “You KNOW why!” I remember the guilt of ignoring my roommates, the burn of the vodka in my throat, and the numb joy of just me and the game.

I guess four years isn’t a lot of time in the scheme of things, but I regret that I never got all the characters or had a chance to power up most of the ones I did. I regret that I never unlocked Eliza the narcoleptic vampire, earning about a quarter of the 20,000 “blood seals” required to get her. And I regret that after this weekend, I’ll never irk out another tough victory in a tense Revolution match, the way I did so many nights back in the day, before passing out with the television on and the controller haphazardly tossed next to me on the bed.

Like Namco’s other free to play fighting game, Soulcalibur: Lost Swords, Tekken Revolution is another causality in the ageing world of the PlayStation 3. Last year I bought copies of Resistance 1 and 2 because they were only a buck each at GameStop, and found them to be fun. But out of the box, the online components to both games (and Resistance 3 as well) had already been shut down. That’s dozens of trophy opportunities, game modes, and hours of playtime gone forever.

I guess it’s just in my nature to morn lost games like Tekken Revolution, the ones most people moved on from years ago, the ones I can’t just pluck off my shelf when I’m feeling nostalgic. Reader(s) of this blog might remember my multipart series on the curiosity that was PlayStation Home. And like PlayStation Home, I hope to be there when Tekken Revolution breathes its last.

I owe that much to my old friend. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

On Gaming, Then and Now

Gaming Then: Oh boy! I just got a new game! I'm going to go home and play it right now!
Gaming Now: Oh boy! I just got a new game! I'm going to paint my house, wax the dog and shave grandma while I wait for it to install, download the updates, sync my trophies, steal my credit card numbers and reboot my toaster. Maybe I'll get to play next week.

Gaming Then: You get pissed off that your friend is hogging the controller and you have to settle with just watching someone play.
Gaming Now: We willingly watch someone else play video games on YouTube and Twitch instead of doing it ourselves. Some of us pay for the privilege.

Gaming Then: Let’s play Mega Man!
Gaming Now: Who’s Mega Man?

Gaming Then: Tilting the game in the system ever so slightly might result in some fun and crazy glitches!
Gaming Now: Tilting the game in the system ever so slightly might result in a $400 paperweight.

Gaming Then: Jump, Mario! Jump! …JUMP, DAMNIT! No! ARRRG!
Gaming Now: Jump, Mario! Jump! …JUMP, DAMNIT! No! ARRRG!

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Few Hours in the Darkness

It’s funny how belongings mean so much to people, but in the end, they have so little value.

I had crammed box after box full of my mother’s trinkets from every corner of my childhood home, but as the deadline to move out crept ever closer, I just rented a dumpster. What had started as a careful process to preserve my mother’s legacy had degenerated into a last minute dash to the trash. My mother’s favorite china was nice, but it was old, heavy, and worth about seven bucks. I cringed as I heard it smash against her rocking chair. As I hurried away from the overflowing dumpster, I could still hear slivers raining down though the refuse, a reminder of the sin I had just committed. The lid slammed shut, as if in protest, as I stepped back in.

After a dozen sacrificed weekends, hundreds of sentimental knick-knacks put out to pasture, and thousands of miles on my odometer, the house was finally starting to look empty. The new owners were gracious enough to give me another week to straighten things out. They were set to move in tomorrow, November 1. Things could have gone smoother if my sisters had been around to give me a hand, but for the first time in weeks, I could honestly say the house was in good shape.

I guess the neighborhood kids knew of my mom’s passing or put two and two together when they saw the dumpster in the driveway. Either way, I’d gotten not a single trick-or-treater. When I was a kid, we’d all gather in my living room and trade our candy until we all had “the good stuff.” I was vaguely aware of a steady stream of drugstore Yodas, ragtag ALFs, and haphazard He-Men at our door while we shuffled through our treasures.

Now I didn’t even hear the telltale laughter of children out for candy, just the breeze whipping though the branches and lifeless leaves tumbling to the ground. From the most popular house in Podunk to an abandoned shack – another reason to forget this place and move on.

It was probably for the best anyway. All I had were a few Tic-Tacs and a grimy quarter from my last hurried meal at the burger place in town. Thirty years ago, an offering like that would have made me a prime target for some trickery. Then again, 30 years ago I was the most powerful force in America and it took more an a few rotten eggs to scare me. But now, as a “normal” adult, I was thankful I wasn’t going to have to add picking eggshells out of the shutters to my to-do list.

The front door slamming behind me dragged my consciousness back into the present. Must have blown shut, I thought.

I stood with my hands on my hips, surveying the bottom floor of the house. It was getting tough to see with just a few candles to light my way, but I was pretty sure everything had been taken care of. The electric company cut off the juice last week, as I had asked. What I hadn’t anticipated was needing extra time. So while my plan to get everything finished before dusk had failed, a few of mom’s ancient, ugly candles were as reliable as ever. If it meant I didn’t have to pay yet another bill, a few hours in the darkness was fine by me.

All that was left was the basement. Not too much in there, I wagered, since I had helped my mother clean it out a few years ago. Great, I’d be done soon and I could start the long drive back to my apartment.

I scooped one of the candles off the floor, turned the rickety old handle to the basement, and pushed open the door. Though the squeal of rusty hinges, I thrust the candle forward, parting the darkness like Moses parted the sea.

The funk of decades of mold brought memories flooding into my mind: getting the basement key, finding Great-Grandfather’s Diary…

I didn’t remember making it to the bottom of the stairs. But there I was, shining the light around the cellar, searching for anything to bring upstairs and throw away so I could finally go home. And all I wanted to do was just go home again.

On one of my passes with the candle, something yellow caught my eye. A plastic wiffleball bat was propped up in the corner, complete with duct tape mending the crack I’d put in it ages ago. The handle was freezing, like it had been left out in the snow.

I could have sworn that I tossed that thing, aching to be rid of the artifacts of my childhood. I guess I had just dumped it down here, but I didn’t remember coming across it when Mom and I had cleaned the basement out. I slid the bat under my arm and kept looking. As its chill bit though my shirt and onto my skin, I started to feel a little woozy. All that dust and mold I’d stirred up must have been getting to me.

Turning to head up the stairs, I glanced around one last time. Thought the darkness, I could see the oaken altar on which I had discovered Great-Grandfather’s Diary all those years ago. It had been too heavy to move for my mother and me, so I certainly wasn’t going to be able to drag it upstairs by myself. I toyed with the idea of leaving some cash for the new occupants, so they could pay their moving men to do it. But all I had on me was my credit card and that one quarter. I was either going to have to leave it, or break it down and take it to the dumpster in pieces.

I kicked the bottom of the altar, trying to get an idea of how heavy it was, and accidently sent caked-on dust fluttering though the air. The years-old handprints of my mother and me were still there from the first time we attempted to move it. I held my hand over one of the indentations – a perfect fit, so it must have been mine. A second, smaller set was my mother’s, obviously. Next to that was another one where I must have run my hand across the behemoth looking for a better grip. The fingers were several inches long, and there appeared to be no middle and ring finger, just one big digit. But while the other two handprints had begun to collect new dust, this last one somehow seemed fresh. Must have been a trick of the lighting.

As I reached down to hold my hand over the odd print, I noticed a magazine where Great-Grandfather’s Diary had rested so long ago. I recognized it from when I was a kid. It was one of those parody magazines, like MAD. The pages were open to a story called “My Secret Life, chapter 3.” I read the last paragraph:

“A police officer pulled me over and asked for my driver's license. He said I was going 20 mph over the speed limit. I instantly pointed to my wife and said, ‘I'm in a hurry, my wife is in labor.’ Fortunately, my wife actually had a big stomach. I hoped he'd let me go with this excuse. ‘Oh, since it's an emergency. I'll lead you to the hospital with my police car,’ he said. ‘Let's get going.’ ‘No, no! We can't! This baby is a demon child!’”

I let out a little chuckle for old-time sake. But as I moved the candle closer to get a better look, I noticed that the word “demon” had been underlined in red ink. Maybe one of my sisters…?

My chest grew tight and my throat tensed. All the dust and mold in the air must have been aggravating my asthma. With one hand on my ribs and the other holding the candle, I stumbled up the stairs towards the door. My breath got shallower with each step. I could see the light of the moon pouring through the window upstairs.

The light disappeared as the door slammed shut. I couldn’t help but chuckle though my gasps. What a clichĂ©, I thought. Stuck in the basement on Halloween night in the dark. I couldn’t remember leaving a window open, but it had to have been the wind. Should have just paid the electric for another week.

I reached out for the door knob and turned it expectantly. It jiggled in my hand, but wouldn’t open. I felt the pain in my chest exploding into my arms and shoulders.

“Why are you getting rid of all my things?” asked a female voice. A gentle hand came to rest on my shoulder, familiar, but ice cold. “Don’t you love your mother anymore?”

My chest tensed again. I had to concentrate on every breath. I tried to turn my head, to see who was standing behind me, but the debilitating pain crawled into neck.

“I just want to forget about all of this!” I yelled. “I want to go home!”

“You CAN come home again, Sweetie. It can be just like it was before,” said the voice sweetly. “Don’t you remember the fun times we had – you, your sisters and me? Don’t you want to go on picnics and build a town out of Legos? Don’t you want to play Super Mario Bros. with me? You can be Luigi. I know how much you like his green mustache.”

My mind buzzed with images of my childhood. The pain started to subside. The hand on my shoulder suddenly radiated warmth.

Then the voice added, “Don’t you want to… save the world again?” I could tell the voice’s mouth had bent into a mocking smile.

“That ruined my life!” I screamed. “I’m just a normal guy with a boring life now. I don’t even have enough money for rent! After all of that, saving the whole world, no one cares about me! And I’m terrified that the alien going to come back! I’m terrified that he’s going to… to… Oh... my... God….”

The pain flashed back into my chest, worse than before, and the warm hand on my shoulder grew fiery hot. I forced my neck to turn and saw four long, ashen digits digging into my body.

“I told you we would meet again,” screeched an otherworldly voice. Though the pain, I was vaguely aware of a serpent-like tail wrapping around my neck.


From the front door, I could hear the muffled voice of a child exclaim, “Trick or treat!”

“Get out of here!” I screamed, banging on the basement door with all my might. It was all I could muster before my voice dwindled into heaving and my arm twisted into a painful claw.

The front door opened, and the child exclaimed again, “Trick or treat!”

“Here you go! Have a safe Halloween now!” hissed the voice of my mother. As the front door slammed shut, my candle flickered out and the basement was plunged into darkness.