upsidedownhouse.jpegStory Title: Home Sweet Home

“Hey! This flipping machine ate my quarter!” Connor kicked at the Home-Sweet-Home arcade game.

“Watch it, Ladd-o.” Ripley’s hunched, disfigured form cast a crooked shadow. He gave the tweener kid his evilest eye. “These games aren’t cheap, you know.” He stroked the metal casing lovingly. “They need to be treated right.”

Connor’s lips curled as he stared, brows furrowed under a frock of dirty-blonde bangs. His nose wrinkled, as if he’d caught a bad smell. “Weirdo,” he muttered, backing away.

Ripley shook his head. Children shouldn’t be allowed near games. He chuckled. Some children, at least. He peered into the Home-Sweet-Home screen.

“Oh, dear!” His pale face blanched.

Maison Jaune, his favorite house in the game with her bright yellow façade and white trim, lay upside-down at the bottom of the waterfall, her pretty scarlet roof on the ground, corniced gables jabbed into a pile of shrubs.

Ripley grabbed his keys, cursing his gnarled limbs as he worked at the coin box. It opened with a pop. Blonde boy’s coin jangled onto the floor. Ripley plucked it up, closing the box before sliding the coin into the slot.

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home!” Digital vocals intoned.

Ripley grasped the controller and pressed PLAY.

Welcome to Alternate Ave. The sound of shoes clacking on concrete sounded as the screen moved, giving the perspective of someone walking. Find a door, and come explore.

Houses of various shapes, sizes and colors lined a perfectly manicured street. No problem—except they weren’t the same houses as before. Everything had changed.

“What is going on?” His frown deepened.

Careful. Behind some doors, shadows hide.

Cheek twitching, Ripley twisted the controller clockwise. There, at 333 Alternate Ave., an old Victorian sat where Maison Jaune should be. Weathered siding the color of old tea, rose three stories to a roof studded with turrets. Tangled weeds filled the yard, clawing at a large, shadowed porch.

“How did you get there?” Ripley’s cracked whisper echoed back at him.

He glanced around the oddly empty arcade room. Dark screens reflected the game’s menacing countenance. Where were all the pimple-faced youth normally loitering about? The emptiness squeezed his chest like a clenching fist.

Swallowing past the dryness in his throat, he turned back to the game. On the eerie house’s upper floor, a pale face looked out from a grime-encrusted window. As Ripley watched, the face turned. Red eyes stared straight into his.

A chill coursed up his spine as the door of the house opened, revealing an even deeper darkness inside. From that abyss, a pale arm appeared. It reached toward him, stretching impossibly long. Questing fingers pressed against the inside of the game’s display. The video flexed and bulged. Ripley gaped, unable to move as a yellowed, overgrown fingernail tore a hole in the screen and a pale hand poked through. Cold, mottled flesh grasped his hand on the controller.

“Ah!” Ripley jerked backwards.

His warped back contorted. Pain speared him as his legs slipped on the linoleum. His head hit the floor with a crack. Stars exploded behind his eyes, the taste of metal filling his mouth. He blinked to clear his vision, but the dark spots intensified. No… wait. The spots were dissipating. In their place, a shadow had covered him. As he stared, the shade elongated.

The disembodied hand extended. Coming for him.

Welcome home. The digital voice had become a grating, computerized whisper. Come inside, where shadows hide, Crippley Ripley.

The singsong name he’d heard throughout his young life echoed in his ears. Crippley Ripley! Crippley Ripley!

He couldn’t breathe.

This wasn’t happening. How could a game know he’d been tortured as a child? How could it be… aware?

A swath of light cut across the floor. “You okay, Mister?”

Blonde boy?

A couple followed the tweener through the door, their faces blanching when they saw him on the floor. They rushed to his side, carefully helping him up.

“Thanks.” Ripley allowed himself to lean on strong, straight arms.

Only when blonde boy’s father stood between Ripley and the game did he risk a glance, heart skipping a beat as a pale pink fingertip disappeared back into the display. The screen undulated for a moment in its wake, then went black.

“You’re all right now,” the woman said softly.

Ripley’s misshapen body shuddered.

The three of them insisted on staying with him until they were sure Ripley was truly unharmed, giving him a bottle of water and a cloth to wipe his face with. When he could stand, he went behind the counter and pulled out a card, handing it to the boy—Connor, his parents called him.

“What’s this?” Connor tilted his head.

“Free games.” Ripley gave as much of a smile as his face could manage. “For life.”

Connor’s face lit. “Thanks, Mister!”

After Connor and his parents left, Ripley circled the Home-Sweet-Home game, warily. He edged behind it and yanked the plug from the wall. He should leave it unplugged permanently, but had to know. Had it been real?

He plugged it back in and peeked around the side of the game, one hand holding the cord—just in case.

The screen was intact. No rips or holes. Behind the glass, the image of a pounding waterfall poured past the bright shape of Maison Jaune, upside-down window boxes like decorative eyelashes on her face-like countenance. With a sharp yank he pulled the plug, this time for good. He’d put an OUT OF ORDER sign on the game tomorrow.


Connor bounded through the arcade door, eager to use his new prize. The crooked owner guy was nowhere in sight. Connor held his new card to the game scanner, amazed to see the word UNLIMITED flash in the credit count.

“Yes!” He pumped a fist.

“Be it ever so crumbled, there’s no place like home!” Digital vocals intoned.

“Cool,” Connor breathed. “All new houses!”

Find a door and come explore!

Connor gripped the controller and pressed PLAY.