by J.B. Kish
“What’s worse than the worst video game ever created? The BETA version of the worst video game ever created…AND I’VE GOT IT! Tune into my #livestream now and let’s see if we can identify where it all went wrong. I’ll see YOU in the catacombs!”
Ashley’s tweet whistled out the door and he nervously chewed his fingernails.
Seventy likes. His phone coughed to life as a once loyal fanbase returned from the dead. He’d nearly forgotten how good this felt. Invigorated, Ashley spun up his stream and pinned a comment atop the chat:
“Contacted about private storage auction of Saul Summer’s personal possessions. Included disc titled: Chanting Catacombs – SCRAPPED BETA.DO NOT SHIP.”
Within seconds, the chat flooded with typical internet fodder:
Bullshit! Ashley is a #Squidnose!
Yaaas! Chanting Catacombs was an EPIC FAIL!
Made your career talking trash…Integrity much?
That last one stung. True, Ashley had made a modest living vlogging about Catacombs, but Saul Summer was the greatest video game developer in history. It wasn’t Ashley’s fault Saul admitted to being a reformed occultist days before releasing the worst game of all time. That kind of surreal PR lends itself to criticism. Not to mention that, to his dying day, Saul Summer insisted the launched version of Catacombs was “code complete,” which was sort of like arguing a bag full of groceries is a sandwich. Ashley yearned to understand the man’s rationale, and he considered it his consumer right to livestream whatever disfigured brainchild was on that disc. Any viewers gained along the way was a perk.
“Welcome back, everyone.” Ashley grinned into the camera. His face was bathed in the emerald glow of the Catacombs load screen. “I’ve missed you.”
Inhaling deeply, he started a one player game and prepared to wade through a rotten swamp of cringeworthy code. Instead, he watched as a dungeon loaded that was a near-pristine assembly of 90s-era polygons. His skin prickled and the smile slipped from his face. On screen, a familiar bat dove for his character and leeched three life. Ashley hurriedly killed it with a torch, but not before losing a stamina potion.
That couldn’t be right.
The bat never attacked.
Abruptly, an unfamiliar line of text appeared on the screen. “Bring congregation…”
As his view-count topped three hundred, Ashley took a few timid steps down an opulent corridor. His confusion only deepened. Where was Saul’s kludgy code? The broken sprites and incomplete level design? Where was the game awarded the internet’s Digital Rash ten years running? For five hours, Ashley navigated through a story so frightening and polished, it was nearly unrecognizable. Yet this was clearly Chanting Catacombs, or rather what Chanting Catacombs was meant to be. Directional lighting, balanced enemies, genuine fun; had Saul secretly finished the game?
The chat was explosive! Four-thousand new subscribers were losing their minds or bleating hoax. Ashley was getting cash offers for a copy, but he was too focused on reaching the final boss—a squid-nosed demon that was so broken at launch it became the internet’s go-to meme for describing something perfectly useless. It’s inability to actually do anything also meant no one had finished the game before, and Ashley was quickly realizing he was about to make history. He was going to reach the Catacombs end screen live!
Glistening with sweat, he stepped through a doorway and was transported. Instantly, Squid Nose was floating above him. Tendrils of smoke emanated from three bewitching eyes as he tracked Ashley left and right. His tentacled nostrils switched restlessly. The design was…breathtaking. He almost regretted taking a swipe at the demon, but Ashley wasn’t about to lose viewers now. He clicked his mouse. Nothing happened. “Wait,” he whispered, smashing it again, but suddenly the game was unresponsive. With a violent groan, he fell back into his chair. Then a line of text appeared on the screen. Ashley leaned forward and obediently read it aloud: “Bring offerings…?”
* * *
Ashley paid the clerk and climbed into his car with a loaf of bread. It just didn’t make any sense. Why would Saul scuttle his own game and publish a broken version? All he had to do was fix some bugs with the final boss. It was almost as if he was ashamed of what he’d created.
Back in his bedroom, Ashley unsleeved the bread and placed it in front of the demon. The monster nodded, its nasal pads expanding and contracting with pleasure. To Ashley’s surprise, nearly nine thousand people were posting their own images of bread in the chat.
Then Squid Nose spoke again. “Bring devotion.”
Ashley felt the blood drain from his face.
Then he slapped himself.
Photos appeared of viewers doing the same. New subscriptions rang out as Ashley slapped himself again, leaving a red print on his cheek. The demon seethed with approval.
Ashley was confused.
No one had analyzed Catacombs more than he had. Compared to the beta, what launched wasn’t just sloppy code. Saul must have intentionally regressed his work, created broken loops, dead ends. He had to have purposefully hacked Squid Nose into complete submission. Why? He was so close to perfection. Ashley slapped himself a third time. It actually hurt.
All the while, the demon pulsed with ecstasy. “Now,” it spoke, “bring sacrifice.”
Sacrifice! his viewers chanted.
Ashley wiped spittle from the corner of his mouth and tried to process what was happening. The game would have been an instant blockbuster, without a doubt. Millions of copies sold. Billions, even. Was Saul overwhelmed by his own creation? That kind of pressure could make anyone second guess themselves, Ashley supposed. It really was a magnificent game though. A mesmerizing final boss. All it needed was a proper ending.
Sacrifice, the chat demanded. Sacrifice!
With a sigh, Ashley wrote BRB and watched as nearly three-hundred thousand viewers typed the same. Then, holding his cheek, Ashley walked to the kitchen. He grabbed a knife, his jacket, and headed out into the night.
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Originally from the Southwest, J.B. Kish moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2012. He is currently working on his second novel. Read his fiction in Metaphorosis Magazine and Unsettling Read’s Still of Winter Anthology.
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