“Cool.”

This is the greatest television commercial of all time in any universe.

Watch it:

 

 

CROSSFIRE!

If you saw this commercial when you were a kid, then congratulations: You, too, are a victim of its singular hypnotizing powers, its ability to sink dark claws deep into the recesses of your subconscious. You cannot escape its grip. This advertisement is your destiny.

The good news: It is the best commercial ever. No other ad spot can even compare – they are full tiers below it, mere mortals who would dare be pretenders to the throne, caught in the minor leagues of the would-be zeitgeist.

Crossfire! The very word itself is a coup de main of the mind, an otherwise unremarkable term now wrought irresistibly appealing once it is associated with this TV phenomenon. Nobody actually cares about the game, only the feeling that watching its ads evokes.

I have played the game. It is disturbingly simple. It is a haphazard, arms-flailing sort of exercise. You use the flipper-pushers on your side of the board to repeatedly fling ball bearings across the surface toward your opponent in an effort to knock a spinny thingy into their area. It is air hockey for the diminutive and attention-deficit among the populace. It grows pointless within 20 seconds and boring within 40. It is a thoroughly silly, useless game, good for nothing except the flash-in-the-pan thrill of playing with the thing you remember from its insane on-screen song.

Well, “song” is a bit much. “CROSSFIRE!” is more of a rallying cry, a let-us-lock-arms call to battle. And who are we at war with? The unexciting, perhaps; the unbold, or something. In any case, Crossfire! is a stance against the quiet, the still, and the uninteresting within our dimension.

Watch the immortal all-consuming commercial again:

 

 

CROSSFIRE!

Can you imagine the pitch meeting for this monstrosity of a promotional effort? Like, can you imagine what ideas were not used?

“I want thunder! Lightning! Fire! Explosions! Bullet-ricochet sound effects! Drums! Leather jackets! Spinning! Hoverboards! The future! The word “ultimate”! Lives at stake!”

Seriously, this commercial has everything. You need nothing else. Welcome to the Crossfire life.

It is a potent piece of nostalgia, if nothing else.

What other commercial inspired a short music video featuring Steel Panther?

 

 

Have you seen the one where it is turned into a tender piano ballad?

 

 

The best Crossfire video out there might be the one by Board James, of Angry Video Game Nerd fame. Why? Because less than twenty seconds into the video he mentions the commercial, and the entire rest of the feature is pretty much spent trying to emulate the feeling of that soul-devouring commercial.

 

 

If any piece of consumer-exploiting capitalist drivel is worth celebrating, surely it is the Crossfire commercial.

You’ll get caught up in the…

I know that most people are sophisticated enough not to attach any significance to the lump categories of “hardcore” and “casual” among gamers. We recognize that these identifiers are just as useful and insightful as calling everyone a jock or a nerd in high school.

But I was still thinking about this the other day, which is dangerous for me. I was wondering: Do you think people who play high-stress, high-action, high-pressure video games are people whose lives do not reflect these traits – and thus, vice versa, those who resort to stress-free “kiddie games” are those whose “real lives” are quite full enough of pressure and stress for them not to seek these in their escapism leisure?

This may sound like I am disparaging those who play so-called hardcore games (and perhaps I am, backhandedly), and it may even sound like a very simple line of thinking that many have already concluded.

The reason it came to my own mind, though, is that lately I have been playing some very, um… low-impact games. Like, your typical match-3 mobile fare, fluff like that.

And the truth is that if I sat down with the Gamer Me of Ten Years Ago, that younger version of my self would have made fun of me now. Oh yeah, he totally would have. I can admit that. Yet, likely, we each would have accused the other of some form of time-wastery. Despite all this, I keep playing this stuff, largely just because nowadays I am more often seeking simple relaxation and peace rather than excitement and The Complete Immersion Into An Entire Fictional Universe experiences I would have so eagerly sought in the past.

… I have nothing profound to say about this phenomenon, I suppose, only that in recognizing it in myself, I believe it will help me respect the tastes of others. I already thought it was silly to think of any particular genre of games as “better” or “worse” than another for people’s enjoyment, but now I think I can see players in a whole new lens in addition.

To frame it another (probably better, like, I should’ve started here instead) way: Sometimes a hardcore point in your life needs casual gaming for balance, and sometimes casual points in life prepare you for hardcore experiences in your games. I might have been the last person on the planet to realize this. Oops.

So, I guess, the next time you see someone playing a “baby game,” cut them some slack, because maybe they’re the ones who can teach you a thing or two.

cd7436fb-3f56-40f7-b3c1-5a8194ab64d9

GoldenEye 007 may be the most famous and influential game that was ever released on N64, even when compared to the Mario and Zelda titles. It set the tone for James Bond games to come, established the first-person shooter as we know it, and even in its own time was released to glowing reviews. Sure, when you go back and play it now it’s a little clunky and the graphics just aren’t up to modern standards. But it’s still a really fun game, and for most of us who loved N64, we can appreciate the major nostalgia involved with playing through these levels.

But which levels were most fun, and which ones stand the test of time most effectively? That’s pretty much a matter of opinion, but here are my own picks for the five best levels in GoldenEye.

5. Monte Carlo – Frigate

Infiltrate a ship teeming with guards, rescue the hostages, blow up a bunch of computer banks, and set a tracker on a helicopter. It just feels like a very complete level for any secret agent game, and as such it can be played in multiple ways. You can take the slow and sneaky approach, creeping around and taking out guards with silencers, or you can basically blast your way through the boat and finish your mission in a matter of minutes.

The other fascinating thing about this level as you play it all these years later is that it might feel familiar because of other games. Specifically, Activision’s Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 designed a multiplayer map called “Hijacked” that feels a great deal like the Frigate level. The ships are different and there are no hostages in a multiplayer deathmatch, but working up and down the sides of the boat and through the central rooms feels almost the same.

4. Severnaya – Surface (1)

Think of all the shooters you’ve ever played, and you might notice that the majority include snow levels and/or sniper situations. The first Surface level in the Severnaya stage of GoldenEye helped to establish both, and it marked the first really useful occasion for a sniper rifle in the whole game.

I would add that this is simultaneously one of the most interesting and most frustrating visual stages in the game. The “snow level” aspect makes for a nice change of pace for a game that takes place largely inside, and even encountering guards in cold-weather outfits feels fresh and different. On the other hand, the steep snow banks and painfully two-dimensional tree lines are a little crudely designed. But all things considered, it’s one of the more memorable levels in the game.

3. el-Saghira – Egyptian Temple

This is the bonus level you unlock by beating the game (on 00 Agent), and while it’s pretty brief, it’s a lot of fun to play. You’re basically solving a puzzle navigating through secret passages in a creepy Egyptian temple, searching for the Golden Gun to use in taking out Baron Samedi (who’s basically an evil sorcerer). It’s challenging and frustrating until you figure it out, but ultimately a nice little bonus stage.

It’s also an easy level to appreciate 19 years later given that Egypt just hasn’t been featured in many video games, aside from some battle levels that really could have been used in any title. Bond went back there in 2004’s Everything Or Nothing (a fantastic game, incidentally). And on the other end of the gaming spectrum, Betfair Casino’s slots include a “Queen of the Pyramids” game that a large online audience enjoys. This title makes use of the iconic images of the pyramids as a sort of backdrop, but ultimately it’s strange how little Egyptian content there’s been in gaming. The el-Saghira Temple is probably still the gold standard here.

2. Teotihuaca’n – Aztec Complex

Not to be too obscure here, but the Aztec Complex—the secret level that comes before the Egyptian temple—has to be considered one of the most interesting ones in the game. Like the temple, it invokes a fascinating setting that’s surprisingly underutilized in gaming (though to be fair the interior of this “complex” could be just about anywhere), but it’s really the action that sets it apart.

Simply put, the Aztec Complex is more difficult than most of the rest of this game. The layout is such that you’re constantly encountering opposition with nowhere to hide, and the guards themselves even feel harder to kill and more aggressive. Playing on the harder levels, GoldenEye isn’t quite a walk in the park. However, for those who have played through once or twice, there’s an almost-formulaic way to beat each level efficiently. Aztec Complex is the exception.

1. Arkangelsk – Facility

What could be better than a level that starts with climbing out of a ventilation shaft and taking out a guard who’s in the middle of going to the bathroom? The Facility is far from the most exotic stage in this (or any) Bond game, but it’s just about the perfect stage in terms of pure gameplay. There are tons of bad guys to take out, the level consists of multiple environments as you move through it, and most of all it just seems to last longer than most other GoldenEye levels.

Additionally, while most GoldenEye levels are best either for single player or multiplayer, Facility is among the best stages for both types of gameplay. Evidently, it’s the third-most-popular level for tournament multiplayer action, and with good reason. The combination of narrow halls and wide-open spaces provides a little bit of everything.

  1. Super Smash Bros (N64)

Super_Mario_64_N64

Today is January 6, 2016. Yesterday was January 5, 2016 – a day that marked the 110th occurrence of 64-day sequences since the North American release of Super Mario 64, which took place on September 26, 1996.

Wow. That is quite an arbitrary milestone!

To celebrate, here are 64 fun facts about Super Mario 64.

###

1) “Nobody has ever been destroyed by an atomic bomb playing Super Mario 64!” – a submission from @TLatshaw on Twitter.

2) The labels for the Super Mario 64 cartridges were printed with colors, not just black ink alone.

3) Super Mario 64 can be completed in one sitting, but you have to remain seated for the duration of the gameplay.

4) Mario, a character I have written about previously, appears prominently in Super Mario 64.

5) In Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES), Mario is clearly seen to be wearing a diaper as a baby:

baby_mario

Which begs the question: Is he still wearing a diaper in Super Mario 64?

6) Super Mario 64 is a video game that contains a number in its title. The number itself contains two different numerals.

7) Any discussion of Super Mario 64 tends to invariably invoke the term “super,” which can carry a loaded implication, albeit perhaps defensible.

8) The eight-word phrase “I have never eaten spiders while playing this” has probably never been used in reference to Super Mario 64 – until now, this very moment, this singular intersection of time between my expression and your comprehension, our unique pixel-to-mind transfer of thought-information dancing grandly in the universe continuum.

9) Super Mario 64 was typically not seen as a direct competitor with Halo: Combat Evolved (XBox), nor with the Vortex line of Nerf-brand novelty footballs endorsed by NFL quarterback John Elway in a series of commercials.

10) The name “Mario” is not exclusive to video game characters.

11) Mario’s middle name is an item of infrequent discussion. As mentioned earlier in this list, Mario appears prominently in Super Mario 64.

12) Some people enjoy Super Mario 64 more than others do.

13) Of all the players who have played Super Mario 64 to completion, none of them have done so prior to their being born.

14) A standard Super Mario 64 cartridge weighs 3.22 ounces, according to this source. Since the cartridge sold around 11,890,000 copies according to this other source, we can thus surmise that when people say Super Mario 64 sold “tons of copies,” they are being literal. The game literally did sell many, many tons of copies. If you put all those cartridges in a pile, it would actually, literally, really weigh a number of tons. It would weigh so much. The weight would be an amount.

super_mario_64_cartridge

15) Opinions on video games can vary widely; as a subject of such discussion, Super Mario 64 is no exception.

16) I would guess that the most common way Super Mario 64 has been played has been with a Nintendo 64 controller.

17) Believe it or not, there were hundreds of other Nintendo 64 games. Super Mario 64 was not the only one.

18) “Also believe it or not Super Mario 64 was only the ninth Super Mario game.” – a submission from @The__Goomba on Twitter.

19) “It was also not the 64th.” – a corollary from @basscomm.

20) I don’t think I’ve ever stepped on a Super Mario 64 cartridge, but I could.

21) It is possible for Mario, the video game character, to swim in Super Mario 64. There are portions of levels designed for him to do this. This is not the only game in which Mario can go underwear, however; in fact, Mario has been swimming in his games since the original Super Mario Bros (NES).

22) Super Mario 64 is generally accepted as the first Mario-canon title release to feature a Koopa Troopa character who is not working for Bowser. In fact, subsequent Mario games would see Koopas joining him in quests altogether. This seems to signify a gradual disgruntlement among the Koopa troops, although whether this is due to mistreatment or merely a perception of Bowser’s incompetence remains unclear.

23) Cameo appearances are not just a phenomenon that takes place within the realm of cinema. One example from gaming history in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES). Despite being a Mario game, flagship characters from other Nintendo franchises make brief appearances, namely Link and Samus. Super Mario 64 is not noted for any significant cameos, however.

24) What may be more noteworthy is the absence of Luigi in Super Mario 64. He is not in Super Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube, either. One could conjecture that such snubbing only intensified Luigi’s neuroses, which manifest in fits of crippling self-doubt and terrified bouts of anxiety, as can be seen in sequences in Luigi’s Mansion, also for the Gamecube. One could theorize that, faced with the debilitating psychoemotional state of the brother of their forerunning character, Nintendo’s “Year of Luigi” initiative in 2013 was an attempt to assuage Luigi and make him feel valued again.

25) Super Mario 64 probably does not belong within the “sports” genre of video games.

26) If you perform 64 in-game backflips in a row, you will have wasted a portion of your total time budget for your lifespan on an endeavor that is fruitless by any meaningful measure.

27) To truly reach nirvana, you must beat Super Mario 64 before even trying to play it for the first time. Can you perceive your soul’s true ending?

28) Does Mario have sexy armpits? Does anyone? It’s all subjective, right?

29) Labeling Super Mario 64 a “fighting game” would require an extremely liberal interpretation of that genre’s usual strictures.

30) I prefer The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask over Super Mario 64, unless we are choosing which Nintendo 64 game we believe is worse. Then again, if the choice was “which Nintendo 64 title do you not prefer,” selecting which one I prefer would strike me as a paradoxical exercise that could land me in an existential crisis.

31) “Watching Mario suffocate under water remains one of the creepiest ways to die in a video game.” – a submission from@PapaKennMedia on Twitter.

This is not Super Mario 64.

This is not Super Mario 64.

32) Mario speaks, somewhat, in Super Mario 64. Among his lines is a joyous “Wahoo!” I like that. Wahoo!

33) Contrary to a belief that absolutely no one on Earth has, Super Mario 64 never came with a coupon for a free cheeseburger at some sketchy joint simply called Ed’s Burgers.

34) Super Mario 64 has never exhibited any signs of bioluminescence, nor do I suspect it ever will.

35) If you grind up a Super Mario 64 cartridge into a fine powder, and mix it into your coffee grounds, it will not enhance the caffeine content. To be clear, your new mix will now have less caffeine per cubic unit of mass. This will not enhance the taste of your resulting coffee, either, unless you are currently undergoing an intense delusion.

36) Super Mario 64 is not the destiny our ancestors intended for us.

37) Many people believe that Super Mario 64 never actually landed on the moon.

38) Super Mario 64 is not the only Nintendo 64 game that Mario appears in.

39) If your Super Mario 64 cartridge begins deep-voicedly chanting in Latin immediately following a power outage and the onset of a severe thunderstorm, exit your house and contact a priest right away.

40) There is a possibility that a fact could appear on this list more than once. For example: If it is listed once, but then repeated later. In this instance, it would be a fact that appeared on the list more than once.

41) I could kill you with a Super Mario 64 cartridge. I say this with utmost confidence and minimal hesitation. I believe I could hold the cart, clutched tightly against my palm, and bash you in the face repeatedly until the resultant injuries are too much of a stress for your bodily coping mechanisms to handle. I think I can swing my arm with enough speed and momentum to form damaging blows for a steady period of time. I would posit that, to my advantage, as the cartridge breaks apart it will actually enhance my combative capabilities – jagged plastic edges will more easily tear a path to brain damage through the fragile flesh of your eyeballs, and bent bits of metal contacts will gradually shred their way through skin and muscle alike. My only concern would be the obstacle that your bone structure would present. My comfort, then, is that the orbital and maxillary structures alike are relatively thin and prone to breaking. For a long while, I have theorized that one could gouge one’s thumbs into another’s eye socket, pivot downward, and pull at their cheekbones until they cracked and snapped away from the skull. I have not had a chance to test this theory. Perhaps that could be my next test, after the Super Mario 64 cartridge murder. Suffice to say, the question is only of difficulty, not possibility.

42) During the Cold War, Super Mario 64 didn’t even really exist.

43) Super Mario 64 is not a very scary game.

44) If you stare at Super Mario 64 long enough, you will begin to see new shapes that were not there before. If you stare at these emerging shapes for long enough, they will begin to move. If you watch the movements of these shapes for long enough, you will begin to hear voices. If you listen to these voices long enough, you will begin to recognize individual words. If you listen to enough words in sequence – start running, and do not look back.

45) Super Mario 64 is not an effective writing utensil, except perhaps as a prompt.

46) Fill in the blank: ________.

47) The ability to swallow an enemy in order to gain their power does not make an appearance in Super Mario 64, but it can be seen in some other Nintendo games.

48) If you write a novel about Super Mario 64, you are likely super lame.

49) Four out of five dentists might have a vague awareness of Super Mario 64 but I have my doubts as to whether they would recommend it for cleaning your teeth.

50) Here is a video of Super Mario 64 being beaten in just over five minutes (with zero stars) –

51) Oh, right, part of the point of Super Mario 64 is to collect stars. This is not exactly a revolutionary idea in gaming.

52) Mario, the star of Super Mario 64, has appeared in a variety of different genres of Nintendo games. He has appears in sports titles, RPGs, racers, obscure efforts like educational and music games, and even a fighting series. But, to my knowledge, he has yet to feature in a dating sim. Am I wrong? This is not something that I want, it is just an observation.

53) What I want is a Mario movie made using the Super Mario 64 engine. Some may call me insane, but I would like to see that.

54) Maybe Mario hasn’t gotten more serious with the Princess because he fears the responsibilities that would come in being married to a member of the royalty. Perhaps when confronted with thoughts of being a future head of state, or having to learn how to navigate the treacherous world of politics, he simply gets cold feet.

55) Wait, does Mario even have feet? Have we ever seen Mario’s bare feet? Again, it’s not something that I want, I’m just curious. Also, can we please stop talking about Mario’s body and physical features? I do not feel that this is necessary.

56) Can you imagine an Earth on which Mario no longer exists? How many years will it take before he is no longer starring in any video games? 50? 230? And once he is no longer churning out gaming titles, how long before he is forgotten altogether? When he is no longer noted in popular writing? Before no trace of his ever having existed remains at all?

57) I’m not even going to pretend like I understand the dynamic of Mario and Donkey Kong’s relationship.  There’s some weird, screwy, messed-up stuff going on there.

58) There is a subculture of humans performing a deep dive into the galaxy of glitches that Super Mario 64 has to offer. They are becoming deities within the virtual realm of the Mushroom Kingdom. Here, look at this.

59) THERE IS NO MARIO ONLY ZUUL

there_is_no_mario_only_zuul

60) Super Mario 64 is an allegory of entering one’s final years, called “the golden years” by some, despite the impending dread with which many approach it. This is a sensitive period of life, but the masterful treatment by SM64 has touched countless hearts, bringing them to a renewed understanding of graceful aging and proper priorities.

61) You may know that 64 = 8 x 8. But did you know that 64 x 64 = 4096? Adding those digits together, 4 + 0 + 9 + 6, brings us to 19. Once again, add the digits, 1 + 9, and we have 10. After a final round of digit-adding, we arrive at 1. There can only be 1.

62) If the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off.

63) There are some development artifacts that suggest Yoshi was intended for a larger role in Super Mario 64, perhaps as an ornery shopkeeper or as the lead in a fabulous ballet ensemble.

64) Super Mario 64 is a great video game. You may not like it personally, but it is great by any definition — its scope, its place in history, its innovations, its quality… if you don’t think it’s a great game, it’s because you’re some kind of contrarian hipster turdball.

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I hope you enjoyed these trivial tidbits! Be sure to like, share, subscribe!

This is not even a video game.

This is not even a video game.


Okay, wow.

I just found something and, although the thought does fill me with a sort of anxiety, I am going to go ahead and share it.

In 2005, I was in a Creative Writing class. I was 19 years old. One of our assignments was to write a short story under one condition: The first sentence had to be the same as a Snapple cap we were given. So, indeed, we were each given some Snapple to drink; and, as we twisted the tops off, we had our prompt to work from.

My Snapple cap fact said, “A rainbow can only be seen in the morning or late afternoon.”

I would be curious to see what someone else would come up with.

The following (fair warning, it clocks in around 2,500 words) is what I came up with. Is it much good? No.

But, for whatever reason, this silly tale took off. My professor, without telling us, had selected certain student pieces and submitted them to the school’s annual creative journal thingy. Apparently, they traditionally held a banquet centered around the idea of celebrating creativity — and making a public show of choosing the top three items in the publication, with the winner receiving $100.

I won. I listened to someone at a podium read an excerpt of this to a room with a few hundred people in it, then explain why she thought it was great. I walked up and accepted the check, then had to answer a couple super awkward, self-conscious questions.

And it was a rush, like nothing I had felt before. I knew I liked writing, but I never knew it could be something worth doing in a sense beyond mere catharsis or expression. That may sound super selfish and shallow (“gosh I can make money doing this so now I like it”), but the truth of the matter is that without that encouragement to keep writing, I would have never sat down and considered what I wanted to write about, and I would have never started this humble little retro gaming blog, which has launched an internet adventure that has been a real blessing and a joy to me, as ridiculous as that is.

Anyway, here’s The Storm’s End.

###

The Storm’s End

A rainbow can only be seen in the morning or late afternoon. This simple fact would soon significantly and irrevocably change the life of a man named Ted Foley.

Mr. Ted Foley operated a truck stop convenience store on the edge of Oak Valley, Arkansas. The town was aptly named, situated within a convenient nook between a few of the Ozark mountains and surrounded by the mighty oak trees hardy enough to survive the harsh environment. A country highway ran along the side of this town, directly alongside the convenience store where Ted worked at night.

Ted was a surly, gruff, and brutish man. His linebacker body was decked with slightly faded blue jeans and a leather jacket. This ensemble was adorned with a scraggly face, with eyes in a constant state of squint over his blunt nose and curled lip. He stood in a pair of well-worn tennis shoes. Streaks of gray in his short black hair topped his imposing figure.

The hours from midnight to 8 a.m. were long and fairly uneventful, but he was content. After all he had seen and done in the six years he served in Vietnam, he did not mind the lack of excitement in his routine. Oak Valley seemed like the perfect place for a haunted soldier to settle in for the remainder of his days. While he had seen the occasional unfriendly trucker, his time in the Valley had been satisfyingly peaceful as a whole.

The time was now well after 4 a.m., and someone he had not noticed before now spoke in a low tone. “You.”

Ted looked up from the well-kept counter where he had been reading out of the sports section from a copy of the Arkansas Times, squinting even more than usual. Staring him down was a figure in a trench coat, brow furrowed in a look of anxious suspicion.

Foley stood up straight and crossed his arms defiantly as he replied. “Yeah? Whaddya want?”

The strange man blinked, his head actually visibly retracting for a moment, as if he was absolutely astounded that his question had been answered with a pair of questions.

“Two weeks ago, on the fourteenth, what were you doing?”

From behind the counter Ted could only stare in amazement for a moment. This guy was completely soaked from the storm outside. His left eye had a quirky twitch to it. Now here he had come into this convenience store in the quietest hours of the night to, apparently, start an interrogation. Ted laughed, allowing himself surrender to the ridiculous situation. The dripping trench coat before him only continued.

“At noon, two weeks ago, the fourteenth, a Wednesday, where were you?” the man asked, his voice somewhere between a stammer and a splutter.

Ted Foley stared at the stranger in disbelief. Then he began to laugh again, harder this time. He had to brace himself, his palm smacking down on the counter as he leaned forward slightly. Tears threatened to leak out if he did not keep his eyes squeezed shut. This was just too weird, and he was not in the mood to play games with some random screwball. He had never seen anyone like this, and could not help but be somehow amused.

“Oh, sure, the fourteenth, why didn’t you say so? I was out with the wife and kids having a picnic. It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, you know. We just sat there admiring the noontime sunshine and a pretty rainbow.”

All lies, of course. Every word of it was blatantly improvised. Ted grinned, as cheekily as possible, figuring he might as well have some fun with this guy after all.

That is when the trench coat pulled a gun. His speed was impressive, whipping the pistol out and leveling its blue steel barrel at Foley’s face before any reaction occurred. The man’s forefinger finished sliding over the trigger, threatening to end Ted Foley’s life.

But Ted Foley was not afraid of death. No, he had stared Death down many times before back in the war, each time bending it to his will, mastering it, conquering it, making it pathetically slink away into some dark corner.

“You’re lying. Lies, all of it. I’m not stupid. You’re lying, lying.” The man’s lip twitched as he spoke, another oddity.

Ted released a gentle-yet-audible sigh, finding that the situation had progressed from ridiculous to surreal. Then again, the entirety of his life sometimes felt as though it were one big surreal experience. He let the man continue.

“A noontime picnic spent admiring a rainbow? Impossible! Rainbows can’t appear midday. Angle of the sunlight’s all wrong. I’m not stupid. You’re lying.”

He began giggling maniacally, a crazed sound that all but confirmed Ted’s suspicions. The man was completely unstable, loony, probably psychotic and obsessive as well. For the past few seconds, Ted kept one hand on the counter, while the other slipped underneath it and slid its finger over the cold smoothness of a concealed weapon. Hidden was a sawed-off pump-action shotgun he had never had to use before. But this, this was going somewhere bad, and quickly.

“You’re right. I’m lying.” Their eye contact never wavered as Ted spoke. “I’m sorry. Maybe we should try this again—“

It was too late. The sound of the weapon’s safety clicking off was nearly inaudible, but Foley’s trained ears easily heard it. Why this anonymous guy would not have turned his weapon’s safety off earlier was beyond Ted’s reasoning, but the errant timing probably saved his life as he now simply ducked.

The pistol was a .22, but the gunshot still rang out loud enough to be heard from the parking lot, and was accompanied by something shattering on the wall behind the counter. The round must have missed Ted by only a couple inches. His ears were already ringing before he sprang up, nimbly grabbing the man’s hand and wrenching it sideways. A yelp of pain spat out of his adversary’s lips as the weapon left his grasp and flew away, sliding across the floor.

Ted grit his teeth as a primal rage welled up within him. That old familiar wartime feeling was kicking at his gut as he hoisted the shotgun up to level. This newcomer was fast, skittering into an aisle of snacks after deftly retrieving his own weapon.

A booming sound shook the entire store as Ted squeezed the trigger of his shotgun. Fortunately, he and the trench coat were the only two people around. The weapon’s barrel began to smoke even as goods continued spilling across the polished tiles, odd liquids rapidly forming puddles while peanuts chaotically bounced around.

A battle began anew. Foley was a full-fledged soldier again as he hopped over the counter and took position behind an aisle, his attacker behind another. Every primal survival instinct was thrashing its way into the forefront of their beings. Ted closed his eyes, only for a moment, but it was enough for a flashback to overtake him in his heightened state.

~*~

The young private nervously glanced back again, petrified. The M-16 grew heavier in his sweaty palms, the jungle climate not helping. He had been separated from his unit, Charlie all around, guerilla mortars still popping and crashing in the distance. The soldier stood still despite his quivering hands. His voice emerged as a loud whisper.

“Jimbo?”

No response.

“Carl?”

No response, again.

“Red?”

Hope was dimming.

“Nick?”

“Right here.”

Fire erupted overhead as a thin figure rained down an assault from a perched position in a tree. Yards away enemy troops sounded off with agony-ridden cries of life’s finality. The figure stealthily dropped down, coarsely grabbing Ted Foley’s arm and pulling.

“Come on!”

The two ran in tandem, serrated leaves opening cuts in their forearms in a manner no knife could. The cruel jungle kept no path, but Nick seemed to know where he was going. That is, until a mortar shell’s scream ended in an abrupt detonation directly in front of the pair.

“Nick!”

Ted winced and fell over, temporarily blinded and half-numb. His world went black, adorned with stars.

~*~

Ted pumped the gun, another round snapping into proper place, not caring if its noise gave away his position. He stood and turned, weapon bearing down on the aisles ahead.

Nick’s voice called out from the corner of the large room, “It WAS you! You ruined my life!”

Ted sharply turned, pivoting on his rear heel. His aim approximated the source of the voice.

“You left me for dead. Ran like a pansy.” The man’s tone was ragged, hoarse, and desperate.

Everything was beginning to fall into place, to make sense. Familiarity brewed in the back of Ted Foley’s mind, as if he had always known, but could not admit it. Recognition roared within his consciousness, longing to be ignored no longer. He then realized the other man in the convenience store was Nick, his old war pal.

The hidden voice sounded off again, “A life for a life, Teddy.”

The intruder’s thin figure sprang up from the entrance, but before he could fire Ted squeezed his own trigger. This shot found its target; the thick slug barreled through the shoulder of the brown trench coat. The man’s entire body writhed with the force of the shot, awkwardly twisting and tightening. A deep red liquid began to run down his chest.

“You, you shot me!” He sounded surprised, as if Ted should not have had the audacity to fire.

“That’s right, Nick. Don’t make me do it agai-“

A bullet from the .22 crashed into Ted Foley’s chest and made itself cozy against his ribcage. The force of the impact caused the well-built man to reel and almost lose his footing. His hand clawed at his newly bloodstained shirt as if to heal the wound by sheer vigor. His teeth gnashed and eyelids clamped together once more, the pain surging through his frame like an all-consuming fire blazing through his veins. He could actually feel where a rib had splintered from the shot. Fortunately Nick was rusty, having not fired a weapon since the war, and the round missed Ted’s heart.

For some reason Nick now ran, his weak arm flailing beside him under its blown-out shoulder. He exited the convenience store and entered his car amidst the pounding rain.

Ted followed, not concerned in the least about leaving the convenience store behind. He climbed into his pick-up truck, rain hammering down on the gray roof of its extended cab. Soon he had started the engine and roared off after Nick, his former war buddy.

Tires squealed on wet pavement as they sped down the country road. Ted ignored the pain of his gunshot wound, and could only marvel at Nick’s actions. He had long ago coped with the loss of Nick, only to find out tonight that not only was he alive but apparently holding a bitter grudge. This was a shock that Ted was finding difficult to handle. He tried to consider what he would say to Nick—if given another chance.

Ted’s thought process was then interrupted by Nick’s vehicle suddenly slamming on its brakes and veering left. Ted’s eyes widened as his knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, trying to correct his truck’s course to avoid a collision. His efforts were in vain, however, as his tires hydroplaned over a slick strip of rain-soaked cement, causing the truck to swerve left as well.

Ted’s truck awkwardly slammed into Nick’s car just before both vehicles crashed through the guard rail, going airborne for a brief, heart-stopping moment. Their tires collectively hit the mud, sliding hard down the embankment. Ted Foley gave up all control, hunching forward and throwing his arms upward to cover his face.

Another rough impact and both drivers were hardly aware of their surroundings as the rain continued to descend all around. Ted was first to exit his vehicle, various scrapes marking his arms. Lightning flashed as he grabbed his shotgun from the passenger’s seat and began trudging over to Nick’s vehicle.

Nick himself soon bailed out, one of his tires still spinning; his car halfway entrenched in wet earth. He coughed and spattered with each crooked step. Thunder boomed in the distance as he revealed his pistol. Each man’s weapon was slowly raised.

“I knew it was you. Two weeks ago I stopped in Oak Valley on my way to visit my brother. It was nothing urgent, so I took my time, figured I’d try out your local motel and stay a while. A little vacation, I guess, to get away from it all. Seemed like a nice enough place.” Nick winced and grabbed his side before continuing. “I walked outside the motel one morning and noticed you drive by in that same truck. I couldn’t believe it. I had to know if it was you. I’ve been tracking you ever since!”

The man laughed in an unsettling manner, seconds later he was staring at the mud he was standing in. Drops of rain rolled off his forehead. He then looked up, right at Ted with a distant look in his eyes.

“Ted, I don’t want to do this. I really don’t. Doesn’t have to be this way.” Nick blinked – and kept his eyes shut for a minute.

“Do what, Nick? What are you doing, exactly?” Ted scowled while breathing heavily, struggling to understand.

Nick lightly chuckled before responding, “I don’t know, buddy. I don’t know.”

With that, he turned his handgun up towards himself, pressing it under his chin before pulling the trigger. As the round drilled its way through flesh and bone, Ted’s body shook more than Nick’s did.

“Nick!” Ted cried out, stunned.

Ted tried to run over, slipping and falling in the process. He cried out in frustration before standing back up and walking over to his old friend’s fallen body. The blood running out of his neck was barely discernible as it was assaulted by the rain, now falling softer than it had in hours.

He dropped his own weapon and began to weep, holding back an overdue nervous breakdown. He ran his hands through his slick hair, groping for a source of reason. The storm was fading, along with his already-tenuous grasp of the situation.

He looked up, wildly scanning the horizon for answers. He slowly forced himself to calm down, at least take some deep breaths. The inevitable was sinking in, that Nick was gone, and his leaving offered only silence. Life would continue at the Oak Valley convenience store. The sun was now rising in the east, its corona peeking over the Ozarks. As Ted Foley looked off into the distance, he noticed a rainbow amidst the light drizzle.

This is not mario.

This is not Mario.

Mario is someone. What do we know about him?

• I am fairly certain that Mario can count. If he can indeed count, I think he can count pretty high.

• Mario’s favorite color is probably not orange, but maybe it is?

• Mario has never once sent me a Christmas card.

• He has been linked to at least one princess, maybe others, and seems to have a thing for damsels in distress. Or are they in distress because of their relationship with him? That could be a possibility.

• He jumps, I guess? He owns a hammer at some point.

• Okay, so, Mario is widely regarded as some sort of extraordinary hero, this very powerful character who is able to fight any foe, even those considered quite strong. He wields a wealth of prior knowledge and experience, coupled with a formidable arsenal of what can only be rightly described as sorcery. Yet, despite his sterling, exceptional reputation, whenever he tries to actually do anything like drive a kart or play some tennis… he is utterly average. He is not remarkable in any way, nor even desirable in these scenarios.

• He is Italian, he belongs to a family, he says things like “Mama Mia!”

• Many have been him. Creepy.

Okay, so what do YOU know about Mario? Feel free to leave a tidbit in the comments! My name is Eric!

 

This is also not Mario.

This is also not Mario.

 

 

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