Buggy Hardware (or Why I Don't Play Violent Video Games)
rating: +29+x

"Am I imagining this too?"

The darkness consumed both Adamo Smalls and Heather Mason in one fell swoop. It commanded its presence for a fraction of a moment. It transformed a canvas of potential into an inkblot, soaking up the fabric. The birds, the cliffs, and even the curious peak had fallen from sight, consumed by the ether. From their perspective, at the very least.

"I don't think so."

"Is this part of the game?"

"Looks like it. Where's it taking us?"

"I'm not sure, but I hope it doesn't stick around."

"This is what your dark patch looks like. Um, as I said, I was in one of these, once. I didn't have anyone. But right now, you have me. So…"

"You don't need to reassure me, Heather. Whatever is going on, I'm sure I'll handle it just fine."

"But… I'm only saying what's expected of me."

She trailed off, and then the pair met the darkness with silence. The stale air of the void hung in stillness. Wrapped in the shroud, it was like they didn't even exist.
Did they?

"Hey… Adamo?"

"Hm?"

"I — we exist, right?"

"We exist."

"We're not here because we did something wrong, are we?"

He hesitated, and when the response came, he stumbled over it; first in his headspace, and then in the words that escaped his lips.

"We're not."

Heather said nothing to this, and they hung in mutual silence.
After a while, Smalls heard what he thought was the high-pitched whir or hum of a running computer. He then realized it was sniffling. Was she… Crying?
Smalls reached down inside of himself, prying from within his chest the courage to speak, act, do anything. He didn't operate well with emotions, especially not his own, and definitely not someone else's.

"Heather, look. I'm sorry I've been acting so cold, towards you. It's just, I've had far too much time to think and no chance to act. This place, everything, it's not your fault. None of this is your fault. If anything, it's mine. I'm the reason you're here."

The humming, and sniffling, went silent. Smalls' own thoughts were the only noise he could hear now. He tried to look at her. The one light source that illuminated the darkness — her face screen — had gone dim as if it had turned off altogether.

"Heather, are you okay? Please, talk to me."

Smalls outstretched his arm in an attempt to comfort her. He swatted about in the darkness, not seeming to find her there at all.

"Heather!"

Something had gone quite, quite wrong. He panicked, called out into the void, but his voice muffled in the darkness. A primal fear settled into his skin. He felt as though he was entering the maw of a behemoth, threatening to consume him whole. And then he saw the familiar sight of Heather's face-screen, but it was wrong somehow. It showed fresh snowy static, and it was separate from her. And then the static was all around him, pressing into the darkness and beyond. Smalls started to realize that, somehow, Heather's face-screen was trying to consume the darkness. But he didn't know why or how.
But what was the absence of darkness? It wasn't light, that much was sure. Well… What could a person of total blindness perceive?
And her face-screen consumed him, too.

"…"

His feet found a place on solid ground. Each direction showed the same dull darkness; not an unfamiliar sight, now. Where was he? Of course, now the ground beneath him was firm, so that might help him become acquainted with his surroundings. And he did feel a draft coming from somewhere to the left of him. That was enough to give him a chance to —

"Where am I?"

Oh, come on. Who was going to answer that? Was he being serious?

"I'm serious, I'm not going to be messed with again."

Okay, fine, here's a bit of a nudge into the right direction. Where the draft emitted from, so too there was murmuring. Gentle yet dismal, but a sign of activity all the same. Were they real, or was he imagining them? Smalls proceeded in the direction of the odd sounds, not knowing what he would expect.

"Anything is better than nothing at all."

In a few steps, the darkness subsided as Smalls found himself walking down a hallway. The light source came from around a bend. He discovered that the murmur was actually sobbing, grieving noises, from many voices at once.
When he rounded the corner, an expansive suite opened up. Tens of people sat in rows of pews. To the side, a group of people lined up to see a casket at the very front of the room. Running down the central aisle was a red carpet. In fact, the entire room wore various shades of dark reds. The mourning came from the people seated, although Smalls failed to make out their faces. It was as though something was keeping their faces blurred, and he wasn't meant to see them.
Smalls listened in on a conversation taking place near the threshold.

"I miss him. He doesn't look like himself in that casket."

"No, not at all. But the real him is with our Lord now."

"Others are, but I don't think he is. The Lord can't reach him there. Not where he's gone"

"I'd say he's closer to our Lord than we are. Our possessions and even our senses only distract us from Him. No, he has a more pure connection than you or I will ever have. Speaking of which, have you had a taste of Him yet?"

"I haven't! I can't wait any longer!"

"Of course, of course. But you're young. You haven't truly experienced Him yet. All His light will be upon you soon."

"He's so warm. I want His heat to crawl all over me."

"He'll be here, eventually. This might even be your first consumption."

"I sure hope so."

Who were they here to see? What the hell were they talking about? Smalls was more than eager to find out. If he was playing out a balancing act between darkness and desire, and the void decided to send him here, then that meant there was something of purpose here. Something They meant for him to see, to push him to win the game… Whatever it was. He didn't see anything that would point him in the right direction, so he decided to find out who was in the casket. That, at least, had to be important.
Smalls walked down the aisle. Around three-quarters of the way down, someone called from the pews.

"He's here!"

"Me? I'm —"

"Our Lord is here!"

"Who —"

Adamo Smalls found out who they were referring to almost immediately. At once, he collided into a tall bearded gentleman with unkempt hair. He almost didn't see him there; it was like he appeared from nowhere. He had an air to him that Smalls enamoured, even if Smalls had every reason to be wary of strange things.

"Sorry about that. Could I come through?"

"Advisory fun calm mouthfeel osmose elate?"

"Excuse me?"

"Ho, caulifloweret in you? Rhyme!"

Make no mistake, the strange man had spewed gibberish at him. But somehow, Smalls felt as though he meant for him to understand what he was saying. His voice was, in fact, a careful Class-III auditory cognitohazard. Except Smalls had a predisposed genetic immunity to hazards of that sort, rendering its effects and any chance at comprehensibility null.

"Listen, I have no idea what you're saying, but if you could please —"

The man stepped forward. He was now inches away from Smalls' face. His breath smelled of soot and sulphur, while rivulets of a murky copper fluid dripped from his nostrils, mouth, ears, and eyes.
Before Smalls could vocalize complete disgust at the putrid man, he grabbed Smalls' shoulders with both arms, opening his mouth. Cicadas poured out by the hundreds, twitching and screaming with helpings of existential angst.

"Know mount yode?"

By this point, every person in the funeral home formed a circle around the pair, becoming an audience to the strange man as they clamoured and called for his attention. Some tried to get a grasp on him, pushing cold and clammy hands across Smalls' face and body.
Meanwhile, the cicadas crawled up his clothing, and for a moment he could feel their warm, moist bodies hugging his skin. Tiny legs prickled in places where tiny legs should never prickle. The scent of tree rot and the sound of clicking filled his head.

"Okay, okay, if you don't want me here, I'll leave."

The nearest voice, one of the two from before, spoke up.

"I smell the darkness in you! You faded away, but the darkness came to fill the hole. Come, let Him show you His light."

"What darkness? There's nothing wrong with me. Let me go!"

"You don't feel it? The inspiration that courses through your very essence? It runs unwieldy, if not properly shaped. He has a path for you. You can't choose it on your own."

Smalls squirmed out of the strange man's grip, but he persisted. He tried to duck away from the crowd surrounding him, but the throng pushed forward. He brushed himself off, trying to rid himself of the cicadas, but they sang their screaming song.

"I'll do what I damn well please."

The truth was that Smalls did feel something, deep down inside himself. Was it his thoughts of Heather? No, this was something else. He wasn't sure what it was, but he recognized that the useless darkness from before had come to stay, and They meant for him to use it.

"How the hell will accepting darkness help me get what I desire?"

He was about to find out.

"Know mount yode? Know mount yode?"

"I don't know you! I hope I never find out who or what you are."

There it was! The man had asked, "Don't you know me?" And the darkness aided Smalls in understanding. It was so clear now.

"But I've always been with you, Adamo. How could you forget your cousin?"

What scared Smalls the most was that he felt, deep down, like the man was telling the truth. That he did know him. That the darkness was real, and that it was more than his imagination.
The man cackled. Cicadas continued to drop from his mouth, chittering in a perverse imitation of what sounded like schoolchildren giggling. Now Smalls understood them. He understood their cries, their brooding, as though they were people and not cicadas.

"I'll help you! Just help me get out of here. What do you want?"

They wished to be rid of their pained existence. They didn't want to be here any more than he did.

"But how?"

By taking out the source.

"I'm a memeticist, dammit, not a fighter!"

The strange man's body shrivelled up before seaming at the vertical middle. A giant cicada in his shape squeezed itself through the seam. It consumed his flesh. Muddy fluid sopped up in puddles on the ground as it stuffed the skin into its mouth with four spindly arms.
Smalls vomited at the sight.

"Shoo! Go away!"

The cicada-man lurched forward, squealing as it piled itself onto Smalls. He responded by lashing out at the beast, trying to rip it apart. Legs fell off as he grabbed at them. Each one reformed with the same effort it took to rip them off. Rotten sinew dirtied his clothing. He was nowhere near strong enough to harm its body, and if the arms had no effect, then he was stuck.
To the people in the throng, their Lord had reawakened, and they wanted a taste. The circle of bodies closed in, and Smalls felt trapped. Their close proximity was making him sweat.

"Don't you want to hear what I have to say?"

Smalls could understand the gibberish now. But he wasn't any less disgusted by it.

"I don't want to hear any of it."

"This is your funeral! Don't you see? These people are here for you!"

"Is that supposed to be a threat?"

"It's a fact."

"Show me."

Smalls tried to pry the freak off him, but it persisted.

"Only if you can get past me. Prove to me your worth."

Smalls eyed the casket at the front of the room. He couldn't see who lay within. But he knew he had to get to it.

"My body's not strong enough, but my mind is."

With that simple declaration, Smalls felt a creeping feeling flourish on the inside. It felt like insects crawling into his heart and into his head, but he knew it wasn't the cicadas. Somehow, it was the darkness. It was his freedom; his imagination; his will. It was transforming into something tangible, of use to him.

"Darkness isn't a tool you can use! It's the absence of light and nothing more."

While that was true, it was also true that some things had double meanings. It was both give and take that would get you what you desire. What did darkness mean in this case?

"I… I don't know."

Knowing that not much physical strength could take down the Cicada-Lord, Smalls placed an idle hand on the beast's head. Almost immediately, darkness coursed through. Its head collapsed in on itself, its mind overloaded, while its body crumpled like damp paper. From within this body emerged yet another cicada, except this one was larger to an obvious degree. It laughed into Smalls' face. He pushed it back, expelling more darkness into its insectoid mind, to which it howled in even more over-the-top laughter.

"Can you do anything else but laugh?"

"I could deliver a eulogy about how your non-life sucks and nobody remembers you."

"You flatter me, bug man."

"Call me Johnny. Cousin Johnny."

"Well okay, Johnny. What's inside that casket that you don't want me seeing?"

"Something that a god above couldn't get out of your head, no matter how hard you prayed."

"There's a counter-meme for everything."

"I'm saving you from your own mortality. You refuse to make peace. You refuse to confront your fears."

Was the Cicada-Lord right? Whether it was or not, he couldn't trust it, no matter how logical its arguments were.

"So what are you trying to tell me?"

"I'm giving you an opportunity to accept my master. All it takes is a singular act of faith. He'll get what he wants, and in turn, so will you."

"And if I refuse?"

His answer came in the form of a shrill bellow, which reverberated through Smalls' core and chattered his clenched teeth.
Smalls placed his other hand at his temple. He massaged it, trying to focus on how to both interpret the darkness and figure out how he could use it against Johnny. He knew there was not one without the other. The cicada continued to force itself on him. What could he say or do to get this thing off and bring him to the casket?

Darkness is the lack of light! What else is light? Knowledge? Enlightenment? This is so frustrating!

While light is knowledge, that doesn't mean that darkness isn't. Two sides of the same coin. Smalls chose to interpret this as forbidden knowledge, and then it struck him. He was a memeticist and dealt with forbidden knowledge all the time. Was it a force of knowledge that he could use to strike down Johnny?

That's stupid!

Darkness continued to flow into the Cicada-Lord's head, crushing it each time. And each time it grew back. As it towered over him, it lowered its head, beginning to consume Smalls from the feet upwards. This was, of course, what the insect said would happen if he didn't compromise. He writhed and screamed but did not give up.

Heather, where have you gone? I need you!

Heather wasn't here! He was all alone, and the bug was right! Nobody would remember him. Nobody could remember him.
Nobody.
And then the bug swallowed him whole.

There was a bloodcurdling scream. An inhuman one, and so close to his ears, too. And then he thought he could hear a more feminine effect, cutting through the noise. The stench of burning flesh filled his nostrils. Something was being burned alive, and he thought for a second that he might know who the someone doing it was.

"Ah, aaaaaaaah! AAAAAAAAAAH!

"For the son of the one true bug god, you sure cry like a wuss."

Johnny continued to screech, and then the sound of an electric charge conquered all other sounds. Finally, he exploded, filling the room with twitching arms, burnt flesh, sultry guts, and a litter of cicada carcasses. In his restored vision, Smalls could see Heather standing over him, covered in bug guts. Her face-screen showed a curled up, angered ball. >:( Purple electricity arced in places around her CRT head.

"…Adamo? Is that you? Oh my god, you're still here."

Heather Mason peered through the guts and sweat coating Adamo Smalls' body and found the chagrin he kept hidden away. She did this, not out of pity, but out of concern. Despite all that had happened, Smalls smiled when he saw her. And her face-screen smiled back. ^u^

"Where else would I be?"

"I thought for sure I lost you!"

"Lost me? I thought I lost you. Heather, what happened? Where did you go?"

"I went away. I left you. I'm so sorry."

"No, Heather, please, you didn't. You're here now. You didn't leave."

…Sheesh, talk about melodramatic. Makes you want to vomit up your lunch. If you didn't already lose it with the insect viscera-filled prose…

"I think I lied to you. I think that the game is not what I thought it would be. I didn't think you would have to go up against this. I'm so happy you made it, but…"

"I made it. That's all that matters."

"…And you're filthy. You see, this is why I don't play violent video games. God, you reek, too!"

Smalls sat up, searching himself. He was coated head to toe in cicada guts.

"I do. I'll get myself cleaned off soon, or at least try to. But first, Heather, there's something I need to do."

"What is it?"

"I need to find out what's in that casket."

Smalls got up and ambled towards the front of the funeral home. The faceless ones from before had resolved into clarity and sanity. They now looked like his friends and family. The friends and family that he left, that he had forgotten when he faded away. But they ignored him when he passed by. He reached the casket and peered inside.
And his own hazel eyes peered back. They were dead, hanging loose in dead sockets, on a dead face, attached to a dead body.
Heather walked up beside him and peered in. Her face-screen displayed a shocked look once she realized what was inside. :O She turned around, covering where her eyes were supposed to be. There was silence for a moment.

"Do you believe in God, Adamo?"

"My parents were Roman Catholic. I never practised; at least, not the correct way. But it doesn't matter. When the universe throws you perversions and impossibilities each day, you find other things to trust in. I never put stock in the idea of a god watching over me. But…"

"But?"

"But… There must be some reason why I'm still here."

"And that reason is…?"

"The reason is… No. Sorry, no, that's all. That's all I've got."

He closed the casket. A clunk echoed throughout the suite, but not a single person batted an eye.

"That beast tried to teach me something about darkness. I'm not sure I fully get it, but I don't want to remain in it. So let's go. Let's see where this game takes us next."





This has been my entry for Round 2 of the SCP Original Character Tournament! This tale is a matchup between the following characters:


Check out kinchtheknifebladekinchtheknifeblade's competing tale: Sometimes Manna Is Just a Cicada Shell!

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