By Jeffrey Bishop
Bloody Mary meets Minecraft. Enjoy.
Tell Time: 6 minutes 30 seconds
Scare Rating: 3/5 Ghosts
“Game on!” Jackson said as he screamed down the stairs to his basement lair. He grabbed his controller and powered on the flat-screen television and game system. His favorite game, Mindkraft, loaded onto the screen.
“You have two friends waiting to join you,” read the on-screen dialogue. Jackson completed the rendezvous with Tyler and Gabe and loaded up a world of his own design.
“Lemme show you what I made last night,” Jackson said to his friends via chat as they joined him. He led their on-screen avatars around the virtual world, showing off a small feudal village with a tall tower in the corner made from cooled, solidified lava. The trio then descended into an abandoned mine that Jackson had converted to an art gallery. Pixelated versions of more famous real-world productions adorned the walls.
“Nice, CurleyFlakes,” said Gabe, using Jackson’s gamertag as the tour led back to the virtual world’s surface. “You’ve been busy!”
“Played all night,” Jackson boasted. His on-screen character approached a small shrine just outside of the hole they’d emerged from.
“Wait a minute,” said Gabe, noticing — and recognizing — the artifact. “That’s not a Harowine spawn shrine, is it?”
“Could be,” said Jackson coyly. He pulled bones from his stockpile and dumped them into the fire. He waited a few seconds, and when nothing happened, he did it again.
“Knock it off!” said Tyler, well aware of what Jackson was trying to do. “Herobrine’s pure evil. Why d’ya wanna bring him around?”
“I dunno,” said Jackson absently. “I just think it’d be pretty cool to see if I could make him come around. To see what he’d do.” He tossed a few more bones into the fire before Gabe rushed his on-screen character and pushed him away from the shrine.
“You don’t know what you’re messing with,” said Gabe, jumping into the fray to get Tyler’s back. Gabe didn’t take sides very often, and never did so by person. But when he did pick sides, he did so on principle.
“Don’t you know that once you let him into one of your worlds, he can get into all of your worlds. He’s bent on evil: random destruction of all that you’ve worked so hard to create, morbid threats, and some say worse. Much worse,” Gabe continued, ominously. “And, he can’t be stopped.”
“Let’s get out of here, Gabe,” said Tyler; his avatar didn’t show the chill that had run up his back.
“Wait guys, don’t go!” said Jackson. “I heard you, BaTtLeFrOg. I was an idiot for messin’ with Harowine. Let’s keep playing. We can finish the colony we started the other day.”
“Ok, sure,” said Tyler, who played as the combat toad. “I guess no harm’s been done — Harowine hasn’t shown up or anything, so I guess you didn’t make your shrine right. Or else, maybe it is all just an urban myth. But either way, it skeeves me out just to think about it. Let’s get out of here!”
At that moment, Jackson saw a wooden sign appear in the ground behind Gabe’s character. He wanted badly to read it, but he didn’t want his friends to freak out, so he took charge and quickly switched worlds.
“We’ll have a lot more fun in our colony,” he said. “Without Harowine!” he added under his breath, nervously.
The boys began toiling away on their shared world. Tyler set to work on paving the main pavilion, while Gabe built out the main hall. Jackson busied himself on the villas that each would occupy in the virtual world.
“Hey, who tossed this chicken in here,” called Gabe from the hall. The other boys were deep in their own work and didn’t really understand the seemingly random comment, so each ignored their mutual friend.
“What the heck?” Gabe called out again. “Call off your crazy killer chickens!”
Both boys now were curious, and each ran to the hall from different directions. Jackson stopped when he saw this sign in front of the hall:
“Don’t be chickened, like PhantomWalrus95”
The sign referred to Gabe’s gamertag. But who had planted it and written the note?
“Get these chickens off me!” yelled Gabe desperately. Just then, Tyler entered the hall to find at least 20 chickens angrily swarming Gabe and pecking at his avatar. The boy’s life meter slowly drained while he tried desperately to slay his attackers.
“Jackson, we’re gonna need some help over here!” called Tyler as he, too, tried to take out the chicken horde. Tyler was thankful that the chickens only lusted after Gabe’s blood, but when one of the boys would slay a chicken, it seemed as though three more appeared to replace it.
Jackson showed up and was initially stunned to find the hall filled with angry chickens — many dozens of them, all of them all over Gabe. He hesitated for only a second, then joined the battle. But it was too late.
“Guys, I’m dead!” Gabe exclaimed somberly. “I’ve been pecked to death!”
Then, as mysteriously as they’d appeared, the many chickens disappeared, some by walking into others to become one chicken, some pecking others to death, and others just glitching out of the game.
“That is really bizarre …” said Tyler. Gabe had a different thought.
“That had to be Harowine!” said Gabe. “Who else would have … could have … done it?”
“You might be right,” said Tyler. “Spawn and get back in here and let’s finish our work. And then we might have to form a hunting party.”
Tyler returned to the patio to resume excavating the top layer of soil.
Jackson hesitated, trying to decide if he should share what he knew about the sign. Harowine’s sign.
“Hey guys, why haven’t I re-spawned?” called Gabe across the chat. Tyler stopped working to respond when he heard a “click.”
“What the … ?” was all he could utter before a chain reaction of TNT explosions took out Tyler and the entire pavilion project.
“Jackson!” Tyler yelled out to his friend. He was clearly not amused by the destructive practical joke. “What gives, booby trapping my work?!”
“Honestly, it wasn’t me,” was all Jackson could say. He’d ran over to the pavilion as soon as he’d heard the explosion, but stopped at the latest sign left for him:
“Boom goes the dynamite! Boom goes the BaTtLeFrOg!” it read.
“Guys, I’m kinda freaking out here,” said Jackson. Clearly, Harowine wasn’t a myth, and he’d found a way into their safe colony.
“So am I,” said Tyler. “I can’t re-spawn either!”
“Hey, what’s that behind you?” Gabe asked. He’d screen peeked on Jackson and saw a wooden sign — a new wooden sign — behind Jackson’s avatar.
Jackson wheeled his character around from where it was facing to find a new wooden sign. The three boys read it aloud together:
“For Real: Turn around. Now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tyler asked.
Jackson turned to look behind him in his darkened basement.
“Oh my …” Jackson mumbled, before erupting in a panicked scream. “Noooooooo! How can you be real? What do you want?!”
Jackson’s screen went blank. When it did, his chat audio cut out, too. Tyler and Gabe stared at their monitors and didn’t say a word. Neither one knew what had just happened, or what to say about it.
The police classified Jackson”s case as a missing person — although they suspected that mischief and violence had befallen the boy. His friends knew for certain that it had to be murder. After all, the sole piece of evidence at the crime scene was a wooden sign set into the carpeted concrete basement floor. It read: