Tag: alien

Polybius II

Of the many cultural signifiers of 1980s America, the video game arcade ranks as both important and transitory. They were once ubiquitous and the source of much consternation regarding the moral fiber of 80s youth, but unlike Transformers and My Little Pony toys, you  won’t find one on eBay. Video arcades were places to gather with friends, have some fun and forget about school, parents, even oneself. This effect was supposed to be temporary, but for one young man, it threatened to become a permanent situation.

When Jeff was a young teenager growing up in a Washington suburb, the allure of the arcade was too strong to resist. “I was there every chance I could get,” Jeff tells me. “The weekend, I practically lived there.”

Jeff’s friend Mark shared his obsession with video games and even excelled his friend in his passion. “If I was at the arcade for two hours,” Jeff said, “Mark was there for three.”

Jeff explains that while Mark’s family was well-off and could keep him well stocked with quarters, trouble at home kept Mark from wanting to leave the arcade. “There were a lot of incidents at Mark’s house, sometimes the cops were involved.” Jeff tells me. “Mark wanted to be anywhere but there.”

One morning in November 1984, Mark met Jeff at school in an agitated state. “I hadn’t seen him so worked up like that,” Jeff says. “I thought something had happened to his parents.”

Mark went on to explain to Jeff in ecstatic terms the new video game that had arrived at the arcade the day before. It was, according to Mark, the most advanced, most exciting, most important video game he had ever played and Jeff had to play it as soon as possible.

“He said it was called the Pole Busii or something,” Jeff recalls. “English was always his worst class.”

Unfortunately for Jeff, he wouldn’t be able to make it to the arcade. “My mom’s family was visiting and she had all this stuff planned,” Jeff says. “No way was I getting out of it.”

The next day at school, Jeff noticed a difference in Mark’s demeanor. Instead of breathlessly monologuing about video games or sullenly complaining about his home life, Mark was distant and spoke very little. “He was kind of blank,” Jeff remembers, “like something inside him had been deleted.”

Jeff tried talking to his friend but he got little out of him. The only question Mark seemed to respond to was when Jeff asked if he had been back to play the new arcade game. “Mark’s eyes widened and he turned to stare at me. ‘It’s only pretending,’ he said” Jeff recalls. “He didn’t talk the rest of the day.”

The next morning, Mark didn’t show up at school. Throughout Jeff’s morning classes, he grew more and more concerned. By lunchtime, he knew what he had to do. “I cut the rest of the day,” Jeff tells me. “I had to find Jeff and I knew exactly where he’d be.”

The arcade was dark and empty. Almost empty. There at the back of the arcade stood Mark, his back turned to Jeff and half-lit by the lights from a dozen arcade game’s garish attract modes. He was a playing the new game, or at least that was what Jeff could surmise. “The top of the cabinet where the name should be,” Jeff recalls, “it was filled with these weird symbols like hexagons and triangles.”

Jeff approached his friend and stood next to him. Mark didn’t acknowledge him but kept his attention focused on his game. Jeff tried to talk to Mark, but soon, even his attention was drawn to the screen. What he saw there still disturbs him.

“The game was primitive yet highly advanced,” Jeff remembers. “It was a series of colorful geometric forms moving from the middle screen to the edges at increasing speeds.” The effect of this pattern for the viewer was the feeling of intense movement. But soon another more unsettling effect began to become apparent.

“I stood there watching the screen as Mark played, although I’m not even sure what he was doing that would be considered playing,” Jeff recalls. “After a few moments, the sense of movement intensified like a hundred times and the basic shapes on the screen seemed to take on elaborate 3-D forms. There were these purple lights that started blinking and then rotating and moving around, even what seemed like to the sides away from the game cabinet and then behind me. There was a sound like loudly humming machinery from far away and a weird clipped buzzing much closer to me. It almost sounded like speech.”

Jeff came to slowly realize that there was actually someone talking. Under the disturbing sounds of humming and buzzing, Mark was speaking very quickly and quietly in a monotone. “I’ll never forget it,” Jeff says. “He was mumbling incoherently, but I could make out some of it: ‘communication is impossible…dwarfs the visible structure…we didn’t build it…symbol of the old empire…waiting inside the ziggurat…the form it will take…at the edge of the asteroid belt.’”

The strange sounds and sensations began to draw Jeff further and further into the screen until he felt like he wasn’t in the arcade anymore, that he had been transported somewhere else entirely. “I suddenly felt very cold and it seemed like I was floating,” Jeff recalls. “There was a large object in front of me, a rock or a planet, and it seemed to be impossibly distant and I was flying towards it and it was opening up and there was a golden light inside.” And then, Jeff and, possibly even Mark, was saved by Jeff’s poor mealtime decision-making.

“I got sick and puked up my lunch all over Mark and the machine,” Jeff says. “I had some funky tacos that day.” Mark was momentarily stunned and took a step back from the game. He had a look on his face of unimaginable loss and extreme disgust. As he recovered, Jeff saw that the strange effects on the screen had disappeared and the game was now beginning to play its ending screen. “It read GAME OVER,” Jeff remembers, “POLYBIUS II.”

Just then, the arcade owner came charging up and chased the boys out the front door for making a mess. Mark stalked off in silence and Jeff headed home to clean up.

That evening when his mother returned home, she told him how she had seen a lot of police activity at that arcade he liked so much. Jeff shot out the door before she could finish. When he got to the arcade, police cars blocked the street, their lights flashing in the fast approaching twilight. A large black van was parked directly in front of the arcade. FBI was written in yellow across the side.

Jeff joined the small crowd of gawkers gathered down the block. Mark was there wearing a confused and pained expression. Jeff approached his old friend. “I said ‘Hey, man’,” Jeff recalls. “And he said, ‘Hey, man. You puked on me’.”

Mark had seemingly recovered some of his old self. As Jeff and Mark watched the scene, they overheard a man in the crowd explaining that the owner of the arcade had been running an illegal gambling operation. The FBI had been raiding arcade parlors up and down the state for gambling.

As the man finished, two FBI agents emerged from the arcade with a game cabinet on a large dollie. Jeff saw Mark shudder as the agents wheeled the cabinet around to reveal the strange game with the enigmatic symbols that had so fascinated them. It disappeared inside the empty van. Mark grabbed Jeff’s arm and the two friends turned to leave.

“Mark was fine after all that, no permanent problems,” Jeff tells me. “Of course, the arcade closed down and we never heard about Polybius II again. One thing I’ll say, I didn’t see those agents take any other games out of the arcade that day, just Polybius II.”

Jeff’s story remains the only documented evidence of the existence of a video game known as Polybius II. The side effects of this sinister machine appear to be quite alarming, but the implications it raises about the human mind and the universe it inhabits are doubly so. Was something using Mark and, presumably, other players to reach out across the cold vast voids of time or space? And if so, was the message a hopeful one of cooperation and a better future? Or was it, as some believe, a warning that the lonely reaches of interstellar space could only harbor the enemies of life itself, that waiting in the cosmic gulf was humankind’s worst nightmare. Or as others have sometimes put it more succinctly, game over, man.

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

Google Bus From Beyond

The following account was sent to me three months ago by a young man known to me only as Ramon. His story is fantastic and horrific; I, however, cannot testify as to its veracity. Despite my attempts to reach him, I have not had contact with Ramon since his first email. I reprint it here in full.

“I do a lot of freelance work for a weekly in San Francisco. As you may have heard, one of the big stories right now is the shuttle buses that take tech workers from SF to Silicon Valley for companies like Facebook and Google. Residents complain about the buses blocking traffic and idling in city bus stops. It’s really a story about gentrification and income inequality, and everybody loves to dump on the techies, too.

This stuff has been covered to death in San Francisco, so I wanted to find a different angle. I thought if I talked to some of the shuttle drivers, I could sell an editor on a story about a difference in culture and income between the riders and the drivers.

It sounded a lot easier than it was. When I approached the shuttle companies, they wouldn’t even talk to me. At first I thought they were trying to avoid publicity, but now I know the real reason.

I considered staking out the bus stops in the city, but I really wanted to talk to the drivers alone, without the tech workers around. To do that, I needed to know where the buses went, I needed to know their route, I needed to follow them home.

It wasn’t hard to get on the trail of these buses; Interstate 280 is full of them. My plan was to follow the last of the buses up from the valley to San Francisco, catch the drivers after they make their drop offs in the city.

So, one early summer evening I sat in my car on Page Mill Road just off of 280 and, around 7PM, I pulled into the evening traffic behind a large white bus. You can always pick out the tech buses because, unlike those gaudy tourist buses, the tech buses are plain white and black with no markings at all.

We pulled onto 280 and started the crawl north to San Francisco. The sun was just going down and, with the light behind the bus, I could almost make out the silhouettes of the passengers inside, their heads bowed in concentration of their numinous screens.

It wasn’t long before the traffic began to thin and soon, it was just me in my little Camry and the sleek white bus prowling the lanes like a killer whale. As we got about halfway to the city, the bus moved to the exit lane and I thought for a moment it was going to pull over.

It was just before the junction for 92. This stretch of road is pretty barren, but I knew there was a rest stop coming up somewhere. If the bus was stopping there, it would be a great chance to talk to the driver. Suddenly, the bus was exiting the freeway and I was following close behind.

Then I did something and I’m still not sure why I did it.  I turned off my headlights. I know it was pretty dangerous, but I just had this feeling that something was about to happen. I kept my distance behind the bus.

The exit road curved up and away. It didn’t look like a rest stop at all. The bus climbed up and up and I never saw the usual parking lot or buildings for restrooms or even any other cars.

I had never seen this exit before. My best guess at the time was it was one of the scenic vista exits that they have around there; a place to stop and check out the view of the bay. But what would a commuter bus be doing there?  We drove for a few more minutes on the unlit road. The bus never slowed down.

I wasn’t sure I could keep following the bus because there weren’t any lights on the road. The only light I had to go by was what came off the bus itself. The bus turned a corner, however, and it suddenly seemed that the night turned to day.

I pulled off the road and slammed on the brakes. In front of me was a parking lot, a huge parking lot lit up with banks and banks of stadium lights, surrounded by a high chain link fence. The entire lot was filled with buses identical to the bus I had just followed. I watched as that bus pulled into the lot through the open gate.

It drove through without stopping, disappearing behind rows of similar buses. I didn’t see a guard or intercom or anything at the gate. I knew this was my best chance to get up close to these buses and talk to their drivers.

I marched straight through the gate and stopped. The lot was like a still picture, it was lit up, alive, but nothing moved, nothing made a sound. I couldn’t even hear the bus I had followed in; it had joined its brethren and become a part of the picture.

I followed the path that the bus had taken as best I could. The other buses had arranged themselves in rows at odd angles, making it difficult to make out where the other bus had gone. The whole place was deserted and quiet except for the sound of my sneakers against the gleaming black asphalt.

I knew I might never find my bus, but I wondered what could have happened to the passengers and the driver. Was there something else here in the parking lot as well? If I couldn’t get an interview, I would settle for some pictures of the inside of a bus. My editor would buy that.

I approached the nearest bus in a state of agitated caution. Not being versed in the laws regarding unattended vehicles in California, I didn’t know if I was breaking a law or not. I reached for the door with trepidation, but before I touched the cold steel of the handle, the door sprung open of its own dreadful volition.

The driver’s seat was empty. I called out a timid greeting, but the darkness beyond the yawning cavity did not respond. Curious, I placed a tentative step on the black plastic step and raised myself up to peer beyond the towering passenger seats.

The seats were unoccupied and darkness seemed to rule the empty bus. I paused in frustration, not knowing if photographs of an empty bus were enough to excite my editor. Then, in the darkness, I heard what I thought was a whisper drifting over the brightly-colored fabric of the sepulchral bus seats.

It seemed to come from somewhere far away, yet it could only have originated from inside the cavernous bus, if not in front of me, then on the unseen second floor. I took another cautious step into the darkling aisle and approached the staircase that wound above.

The sibilant whispering grew louder and I thought I could discern within it the peculiar rhythms of a ritual chant, like something I had heard the swarthy Palo Altans call to their idol-capped screens. I turned away from the steps as I perceived at their summit the coalescing of a strange form loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from our own.

I ran from the bus in a rush of delirium, my thoughts a jumble of nameless plasticity. I staggered in my madness among the bone-white buses until I could locate the lonely gate from whence I made my escape from the parking lot.

In my feverish agitation, I fled past the spot where I had left my car and up until I summited the hillside. I found myself overlooking the hellish lot and its fleet of monstrous implications. I could see now for the first time that the buses were arranged in a very curious pattern not unlike the frightful elder signs that the crazed Menlo Park idolaters use in their blasphemous rites. The revelation of the profane symbol sent my thoughts careening on the edge of non-Euclidean angles.

And in my reverie, I felt as if I was carried far from this benighted shore to a strange, nethermost space so distant, so forsaken, it was hard to say whether it had ever really existed. And there beyond the vagaries of time and space, in a chamber unlit, there was something that moved, something boundless in its cruel hunger, something that saw me and knew me! It whispered its blasphemy to me, in maddening murmurs, it muttered its madness! It was the center of infinity, the boundless place where all things, known and unknown – the information – were collected and entombed; the place where one could seek and uncover all the secret knowledge of the universe. All one had to do was search! And it seemed that this place was reaching out and touching our plane of existence, collecting all that was known, draining dry our very thoughts and adding them unceremoniously to the black spirals of infinity that swarmed in the occult gulfs outside of time.

I awoke in the driver’s seat of my Camry. My clothes were disheveled and I smelled terrible. The sun was rising. No fleet of hellbound busses met its light. No perverse parking lot stretched to the reaches of furthest space. I was alone on a hill overlooking a highway.

I present my account to you in the hope that someone, somewhere will be able to make sense of it, or at least, find some small grain of comfort in the confirmation that the struggles of this world are transitory, that something strange and terrible is waiting for us in the dark. Remember: what was driven may be parked, and what was idle may drive again.”

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

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