“Can I see that?” Chase asked his almost younger brother, Mark. Mark was playing with his DS system. Chase shared it since he had his new 3DS and he was trying to get along with Mark, like an older brother should.

He’d never been an older brother before, just an only child. His mom and dad broke up last year. Well, technically more than a year . . . closer to two. “Just be careful with the game on the bottom.” His mom was getting remarried to David, and so Mark would be his new little brother in about three months. Which was great. They were getting along well.

Better than he did with his future dad. He was trying to get used to another man actually having say so. Chase new David beforehand, nearly all his life. He was his mom’s best friend, and he suspected that his mom was marrying David more for Chase than herself. But. Well, it was her life.

The whole house felt different and they weren’t even married yet. As soon as David and Mark moved in three months ago, things changed. The trash pile grew faster. The house was never as clean. His future dad preferred cooking.

That part was okay, David tended to have some good cooking. Chase didn’t mind his meals. But? His mom was working instead, while David stayed at home with them. He was giving her a chance to go further in her career. It was only for a couple hours longer they’d see him than their mom since they were still in school, but Summer was around the corner. Being around him nearly all day? Just. It was just all . . . different.

“I can’t pass this stage,” Mark said to Chase, handing him the DS. “Can you help?”

“Which stage are you on?” Chase looked at it. Mark was playing Mario 64 on the DS. “You can skip it if you want. You can collect another star.”

“I need to get another star to open the door in the game. I don’t know where the others are at, just that one.” Mark gestured to the game again. “Please?”

Chase looked at the stage. It wasn’t the easiest star to get, but Mark did need one more star to open the door. This is what a big brother does. “Sure, Mark. I can’t guarantee I can get it, but I’ll try.” Mark was good for his age. Chase was ten, and Mark was eight. Not much younger than Chase, but in gaming, every year and experience with the game counted.

As Chase tried to get the star though, the power went too low. “You have to plug it in. We’ll try again later.” Is this right? While brothers did help, he knew from watching television they were supposed to fight a lot too. Big brothers should get real agitated with their younger brother. While sometimes Mark bugged him though, they seemed to get along just fine. Well, television isn’t always right I guess.

“Hey there you two.” David poked his head in the room. “How are you doing?” He pushed his glasses up.

Chase kind of shrugged, looking away. That was another thing he tended to hate. David wasn’t nearly as fun as his dad. His dad went on trips, took chase out to places, and played all kinds of games with him. David? He was more reserved. He did play games, but he hadn’t known anything from the last decade.

“Hi, dad,” Mark said. “We were playing, but the power ran out in the game.”

“Oh. Well, I know.” David had a funny look on his face. “I could hook up something for you in here? I’ll show you what I used to play.”

“That’s okay, we’re just-“ Chase watched David leave. Oh, great. Chase had plenty of other games. What prehistoric thing would David bring out?

“Do you want to play Mario on it?” Mark seemed to read his mind. It would probably be an old Gameboy.

To be polite I guess. Talk about ridiculous though. Chase tried to get along with the new family though. His mom was always so scared that he’d start to hate Mark or not get along with David. They weren’t bonding, but he never hated him. She watches too much television too.

“Here you go.” David’s voice actually sounded excited as he brought out . . . “This is great, I haven’t hooked this up in years.” He gestured toward Chase. “Maybe we could all play a game on this? I don’t know the new stuff, but I used to be real good at these games.”

Chase just stared. It was dusty, but David clearly had tried to wipe it off. There were funny boxes. What were those called? They weren’t CD’s. He watched David blow on the little boxes.

“I have a bunch of old cartridges,” David said as he handed them to Chase. “Go ahead, check them out.” He dug out a couple. “Bubsy was fun. Animaniacs was great too. It was a show in the nineties.”

Uh huh. “Is there like . . .” What was an old game? “Super Mario or Zelda?”

“No, not for that. That’s a Sega Genesis,” David said. “Those weren’t for it. They were around the time period though.”

“Sega.” Chase dug deeper and then found something he recognized. “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I played that real well. Two person controls,” David said to him. “I got up into the last stages. Yeah. I don’t know games of today but there was no saving back then. You had to solve it the first time or start all over.”

“ . . . okay.” Chase didn’t know whether he should congratulate him for that. Did he think his old games were more challenging because of that? Were they sillier because the adventure was limited? He decided not to respond much to it.

“David?” Chase looked at his mom at the door. “Mom’s here to babysit. What are you doing?”

“Oh? Oh yeah.” David finished hooking up the Sega to Chase’s television. “That’s great.” He pointed at Chase and Mark, like he was trying to be cool. “Hey there you two. I am going out with your mom for an hour or two. So, when I get back, if you want we can play a game?”

“That sounds great!” Mark was clearly excited. “I hardly watch you play, and I’ve never seen you play a sega game.”

“Yeah, we’ll take turns.” David blew dust off the controllers and sat them down. “Go ahead and pick out a game to play between you two so you can get used to the controller. Okay? See you soon.”

Chase watched his mom wave at him excitedly. To her, it must have been a bonding moment. To him? David just hooked up an old game system. Still, as they left, Chase moved down to the ground with Mark. “I don’t know any of these games except Sonic.”

“I know Sonic,” Mark said. “He has lots of games.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Chase didn’t want to act fake with Mark. “He has his games, and then he has games that like twenty other characters share.” David shoved the cartridge in, hoping he wasn’t too rough with it. “Like, Colors was okay. But, I mean he’s supposed to be real fast. It seems like everyone is real fast. Everybody’s equal. They are all interchangable, and he gains more and more freeloaders in every game.” He hit the power button.

Blue Screen. He turned it back off and messed with the cartridge again.

“You don’t like Sonic?” Mark asked.

“I don’t know. I mean, his games are like? Well, now there are like two versions of him, and there’s a bat, and another hedgehog, and a silver guy, and a purple girl, and an alligator, a bee, and I forget everybody. Half the time the games just bomb.” David shrugged, shoving the cartridge in even deeper and turning the power back on. “The old games with just him and Tails are supposed to be fun though.”

Chase turned on the TV again. This time, the word Sega was seen. “Let’s find out if he really was more fun back then.”

“He hated it,” David said to Stace they sat down for their date. Even though they were married, David wanted to support her how he could by keeping their dating strong. Once per month if possible. The subject he picked for it though just blurted out. “I’m not a dweeb now, am I?”

Stace just smiled at him, placing her hands over his on the table. Of course you’re a dweeb, but you’re my dweeb. “You’re not a dweeb. You just don’t play games all day long. There’s nothing wrong with that.” When they were younger, they became friends in high school. Even after she was married, it was clear he still had a crush on her.

Once it was clearly over with her husband, he confessed his feelings. Not seeing any good in denying him, she accepted their first date. David was a lovely man. Sweet. Adorable at times. He’d been married once too, and he had a son. He could handle responsibility, and he’d make the perfect new dad for Chase. Plus, a little brother that Chase was excited to have, him being an only child. Not only that, but he would let her run her own career like she wanted, unlike her ex-husband.

But her own feelings? Well. It wasn’t love, but she cared deeply for him, and he was safe. He’d never leave Chase behind. He’d never leave her hurting. Not everyone married based on love anyhow. It was convenient, he was a great friend, and he also accepted that arrangement. She wasn’t hiding it.

In return, she tried to meet his feelings back.

“I thought if I brought out an old system I used to have, it would help us connect. Player one and player two. An unspoken relationship,” David said. “Otherwise, he’s  going to have to deal with a  newbie’s question in every game we try to play. The last console I played on was the GameCube, and that was just a little bit, Stace.” He looked at the table. “I feel like we got along better before I stepped into this role.”

“It’s okay. Don’t try so hard,” Stace encouraged him. “He knows that you’re a great father. You raised Mark after all, and Chase and Mark are hitting it off fine.”

“I’m trying not to hit it so hard,” David said as he picked up the menus for him and Stace. “I don’t want to over try, but I don’t want to look like I’m not even trying before the marriage. I think, not trying anything would be a worse idea. Right?”

Stace shrugged. “Life’s unscripted, David. Chase is a fifth grader, his own little person, and everyone’s different.”

“Yeah,” David nodded. “Two boys.” He smirked. “Father of two boys is great.” It was clear that he couldn’t wait to go home and play with both of his sons. “I never liked player one.”

“Hm?” Stace barely caught something she wasn’t supposed to hear. “You don’t like player one?”

“Sorry, that was supposed to be softer,” David said. “Yeah. I always preferred player two.”

“Why, Hon?”

“Player one means. . . there’s only one person to play with,” David uttered.

“Oh.” Of course. Before her, he had another best friend. When he was much younger. “Your best friend in sixth grade.”

In sixth grade, he had told her that his then best friend Kenneth and him used to come home from school and play on the Sega. They couldn’t wait each day to try and win one of the games again, or at least progress to a new level until next time.

Then, late in the sixth grade, Kenneth disappeared. Media said he was a runaway, so did the police. There was no sign of forced entry. Kenneth’s parents though, and David, never believed it. It still haunted David at times. At the end, Kenneth’s parents gave David a stack of Kenneth’s old Sega cartridges.

Stace still remembered the stack. When they were younger, she tried to get him to play a game with her. Every once in awhile he would, but he would always be player two.

The heart never fully healed from loss, and Kenneth was an old wound that was starting to surface again. But, at least he was picking up a controller again. Maybe this was a good thing.  “You want to play after the boys go to bed?” Stace asked him. “I’ve always been more of a Nintendo kind of girl,” she chuckled, “but I’d play with you.” He didn’t respond right away. “You’ve hardly ever talked about actual gaming, David. I’m surprised that’s how you wanted to try and bond. Did Chase . . .? I mean, becoming his father soon. Is he reminding you of your old friend somehow?”

“Mark and Chase,” David said. “Seeing those two playing together. It just brings back memories. I don’t want to be on the sidelines with just memories anymore.”

“Well, maybe those two can help you through them,” Stace said. “Do you want to order a new dish this time?”

“Yeah, I wanted to try something different,” David insisted. “Change is good.”

“I don’t like old cartridge games.” Mark put his second player controller down. “There’s no option for a second player, and the sound is weird.”

Yeah, it was. Chase stared at the screen. When it first came on, he swore he saw something weird right before it came on with Sonic in the middle, but it was too quick. Tails was on screen now.

And the only way the controller would let him go was to the right. “This old controller might be broken.”

Tails flew through the air, looking for his partner, Sonic. While they were far from the same age, Sonic had been watching over him since he was a small tike. Tails had more freedom than most children with Sonic. Their relationship was more like brothers, and Sonic trusted Tails to take care of himself.

Still, Sonic was not a reckless guardian. He had trained Tails to deal with all of the evil that would come after him. Sonic wasn’t a regular person, he was a hero, and accepting a spot beside him meant evil would befall Tails too. Tails lost his home at too young of an age to even remember it, so avoiding or fighting evil was something he had done for all his life. Although he was technically a misfit having two tails, it was this extra tail that propelled him enough to keep up with Sonic and his lifestyle.

Tails held his arm up and his fingers across his forehead, trying to look in the distance. The familiar back of the blue blur he had known almost all his life wasn’t far away. Without even thinking, Tails headed downward and lightly touched ground. The day had been like any other and he expected to approach Sonic with a smile. He foresaw his hero smiling back and without a word they would run off into the distance, taking several loops of fun before running into their first enemy.

This was ordinary. This was life. Yet, Tails felt a strange sense inside of him. In a bolt of what felt like lightning, his surroundings had changed. Maybe? Sonic was still ahead of him. He was still on the same grass as before, but now there was a dead animal to the side. It was one of the animals that popped out of the machines once they were rescued. Its eye was left open and blood was seen coming from a gouge in its neck. Who could have done that?

Looking away from that direction wasn’t any more pleasant. He saw another dead animal. Tails could foresee Sonic wouldn’t be in a good mood seeing all this death around them. Sonic was a light-hearted individual. Sonic might not even smile at him when he approached this time. He thought about propelling himself ahead faster, when he realized how one of the creatures had died.

There was a ring sticking out of his back. A ring. Not many collected rings. Evil robots didn’t collect rings. Tails felt a strange sensation inside of him, one that for a split second came and went. It was a fleeting thought. A random thought that refused to actually be recognized with any real seriousness.  A weird thought. But just a thought.

Could Sonic be responsible?

As he approached closer, that thought came to him again. More bodies were piling on the sides. Their enemy had made more than one Sonic look alike in the past. There was a good chance this creature might not be Sonic, just an enemy robot. Tails took his trek cautiously. An enemy would usually look behind him by now, exposing some metal part that he could see.

There was no action yet. No sign of any alert. Tails took the next step and placed his gloved hand on Sonic’s shoulder. Tails was a good fighter, but with his tails he could run away even faster. He had a high intellect too, so he was confident he could get away if it wasn’t Sonic.

“I don’t like the screen,” Mark said as he gestured to it. “It’s grainy.”

“It’s just pixelated,” Chase said, his own self feeling a little awkward about it. Modern day Sonic games were filled with bright colors and bands that used lyrics for cool friendships. This? This didn’t sound like that. “This is a real old system,” Chase said, trying to convince himself too. “They had things like glitches a lot more than we have them today. It’s like twice our age or something. It’s probably just glitching.” It was hard to make out what all the pixelated shapes even represented. Although as he moved, he had sworn the pixels on the ground were dead animals. Oh geez. “Nevermind, pick another game.”

“This is creepy.”

“Yeah, it’s just creepypasta.” Chase didn’t know how someone actually designed a creepypasta game on an old cartridge, but it could obviously be done. Why bother? I mean, this game is so old. No one’s going to want to play it. Dumb prank. He didn’t see David trying to prank him. Maybe someone gave him the prank cartridge.

Both of them were busy looking at the cartridges to find a different game. “What’s a 7up Spot?” Chase shook his head. “See anything you like?”

While they continued to look through the cartridges, they didn’t notice the gameplay still moving on without them.