“Let’s Play” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

In a tiny window inside a tiny window, GialloBlade81 leant closer to the camera and put on an ominous voice: ‘Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got a real treat for you tonight.’ Under the bright studio lights, his dark hair stood out like a tarantula above the pale zombie make-up.

Beside him, Elvirus23 tugged on one corner of her plush slime monster hat and gave the camera a wonky stare: ‘Oh god, it isn’t a horror game is it?’

GialloBlade81 looked shocked: ‘Why, no. It’s the beloved SNES classic Super Mario World. Bringer of cheerful childhood nostalgia and innocent fun to millions of gamers.’

Elvirus23 let out a conspicuous sigh of relief: ‘Whew! I was worried that you’d dug up some scary indie game or something like that. Can we just play the first couple of levels? The ghost house level used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid. That spooky music!’

GialloBlade81 cackled: ‘Oooonly joking! Of course it’s a scary indie game!’ He leant forward and pressed a button. On the screen behind him, a start menu with the words EMPTY HOUSE: REQUIEM dripped ominously. The howling laughs of hidden clowns skittered through the air. A CGI cockroach scuttled across the bottom of the screen.

Elvirus23 flinched and glowered: ‘You fiend! You know that horror games give me nightmares for..’ She corpsed. Once her hissing laughter had subsided, she said: ‘Better cut that from the episode, Norman.’

GialloBlade81 flashed a puzzled glance at the camera. ‘Really, it’ll be funnier if we leave it in. I mean, it’s not like any of our viewers don’t know that I’m the one putting on the brave face and you’re the one who only acts scared. It’s ironic. Postmodern, even.’

Elvirus23 shrieked with laughter. Finally, she took a deep breath and put her slime monster hat back on. She fixed the camera with wobbly eyes: ‘B…But, you said we were playing Mario.’

‘One of the cannibal clowns inside the Empty House is called Mario. The developers were kind enough to share that intriguing fact with me when they sent us the game key.’

‘S…Spoiler alert! Wait, did you say clowns?‘ Elvirus23’s eyes widened.

‘Oh yes!’ Another cackle. ‘It’s a real funhouse, I’m told!’

Elvirus23 made a show of covering her eyes and shivering. GialloBlade81 reached for the controller. Keeping his trembling fingers below frame, he pressed another button. The screen behind the presenters dissolved into the dilapidated hallway of a photo-realistic abandoned mansion. Lightning flickered through the gloom, illuminating dried stains on the flaking walls.

Keeping his voice under control, GialloBlade81 said: ‘Well, I’m giving this hotel a bad review on HolidayAdvisor when we get home.’

Elvrius23 opened her fingers and peeked out: ‘It had to be a haunted mansion, didn’t it? I can’t even go round National Trust museums thanks to those.’

‘Aren’t they usually only open during the day? Oh god, that would make a brilliant horror game. Just think of the number of restless spirits who roam the..’

Elvirus23 quivered theatrically: ‘No, don’t! Just get on with the game.’

He got on with the game. The first-person camera took slow, crunching steps through the swaying hallway. As it passed a locked door, loud banging and squeaking suddenly filled the air. GialloBlade81 barely managed to keep his composure. Beside him, Elvirus23 made a big show of screaming and falling off of her chair. As she climbed back onto the chair, GialloBlade81 ignored the furious pounding in his chest and kept playing.

He paused in front of the stairs. The only other place to go was a dark corridor. As he turned towards it, two red eyes glowed back at him. He nearly dropped the controller. Elvirus23 let out a piercing scream, worthy of any late-night movie. He took the stairs. Like the loading screens in the original Resident Evil, every creaking step seemed to take an age. He kept moving.

Neither of them heard the silent tread of oversized shoes behind them. It was only when the smell of greasepaint reached GialloBlade81’s nostrils that he dropped the controller and turned around. A giant motley clown towered above him, the smudged red smile on its face wider than ever before. GialloBlade81 tried to scream. Instead, his eyes widened. He clutched his chest and slumped forwards. His head hit the desk with a loud bang.

Elvirus23 couldn’t stop laughing. Within seconds, the clown joined in, his spiky green hair quivering and swaying wildly. Finally, Elvirus23 caught her breath and said: ‘Oh my god, Fred. That was too funny! Brilliant!’

Fred chuckled: ‘I wish I could have seen the look on his face. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for that during editing.’ He glanced at the slumped man: ‘Sorry about that, Norm. It was Sophie’s idea.’

Norm said nothing. Fred’s voice trembled: ‘Norm?’

Sophie frowned: ‘Come on, Norm. That’s the oldest joke in the…’ She leant closer. A single droplet of blood dripped from the edge of the desk. This time, there was nothing fake about her screams.