Catfish Creepypasta (HAUNTED GAMEBOY ADVANCE CARTRIDGE) – Danielle Keller
November 29, 2020
It’s the last of his two days off. Before they go to the flea market, they smoke from the Cuphead (2017)-colored blue-and-red bong, passing it back and forth like a chess piece.
She says, “You still want to go, right?” to pressure/remind him about taking her to the flea market, then takes a hit to pause then emerge with more THC and trillions of other cannabinoids of which humanity will never learn inside her. He’s a licensed driver, and she never learned how. He agreed earlier to taking her out there, but like a certain kind of child she needs redundant reassurance.
“Yeah, we can go still.”
Comfortably guiding his white 1992 Buick LeSabre down the road, he points at a rain-flooded depression on the side of the road, saying “Swamp!” She looks over, abnormally alert and responsive, at the stagnant water, saying, “I wanna splash around in it and get parasites in my dick!” They pass the county water department building, adjacent to a lot of gas tanks in gridlike rows one would feel nervous smoking around.
Lake energies permeate, while the fish stew in solar-irradiated water, in lands marred by bloodthirsty terraforming and oily sapian presence; but like in Dwarf Fortress (2002) the mirthful psychic effect of water on humans cannot be denied and no matter how many evil wily alien words are cast-upon incandescent wheels tilted interlocked circles form and dissolve into the ground, she says, “No matter how murky and fish-smelling the lakewater is, and disregard that old Hundred-Year ascription,” and her boyfriend glances briefly over at her, listening, squinting slightly, focusing on his driving, then she says, “it’s like something from the game Anodyne (2013).” Catfish eat catfish in the angular ruins of the nearby flooded town. She says, “When I was a kid I used to want to go scuba diving down there and see one of those giant 8-foot long catfish,” staring off.
Entities, maybe enemies, ambling through the flea market move like the NPCs in Mortal Kombat Deception (2004)’s Konquest mode, their strangeness as evident as it was when Shujinko meditated and the surrounding world sped up blurring. He parks his car skillfully, while she enjoys looking out of the window, feeling the science-fictional sensation of existing in a world of fast-moving motorized vessels. Emerging from the passenger side, her feet hit the ground sooner than expected and the sunlight makes her squint. The doors slamming shut sound tinny.
They carefully reconoitter their surroundings. He discreetly grabs her ass, fat in short gray shorts, potentially in view of one decrepit peddler or another. It is bright and sunny but should be foggy and it feels like it is. She likes it. She thinks about how she would like to engulf his Spyro The Dragon (1998) face in her pillowy ass, and he feels the thought as some spark psychically. The gravel, hot beneath their shoes, is bright in the early afternoon sunlight.
They sometimes go into these situations holding onto an adolescent hope that they’ll be sold cannabis or deep web research chemicals for high-INT psychonauts. She says, “I always laugh at the wrong things.” One of the vendors in this town of Crypt Worlds (2013)-esque buildings sells fidget spinners and bongs: and the type to have deep web research chemicals, would sell fidget spinners and bongs. The bongs are colorful behind glass like tropical frogs in a terrarium.
In front of one of these plywood-seeming structures an old man sits on a plastic lawnchair—one of those lightweight plastic lawnchairs children are apt to weaponize—the old man has a displeasing outward appearance and seems to be one of the unpleasant sort to utter burning indictments of young people, such as that young people are unexcited and incurious about life, a burning wide-eyed indictment the sepulchral figure emits psychically. They mentally ball their fists and bite their lower-lips as they approach.
The young man says, “Do you have any video games?”
The old man says, in a way so as to suggest he wants them to leave him alone or go die, that there are plenty of them old games in there.
The young man says, “Thank you, we’ll check it out.”
Inside, there are tables lining the three doorless walls covered with iridescently-colored bric-a-brac. Sunlight comes in through the doorway. Their highs are only half-faded and though it’s been nearly 24 hours since ingesting the tabs of Acid its presence lingers keeping them wakeful, and abruptly she says ohmygosh, continuing, “Look,” pointing at, on one of the tables, a blue plastic container full of Gameboy Advance cartridges.
He looks over at the games, away from some porcelain figures he’d fantasized about destroying cinematographically.
They are genuinely impressed at the sight.
She says, “I played this Rayman game, Rayman Hoodlum’s Revenge (2005), when I was like 8 or 9; they found it at Fred’s near Christmas.”
He says, “That’s awesome. We should really get some of these. I remember this one, TMNT (2007).”
They continue rummaging through the cartridges, feeling like they’re being watched, and the sunlight is the eye of their viewer. It feels made up but it’s as corporeal as radio waves, as real as ghosts. One cartridge sticks out like it’s alive, like a blinking toad in dead leaves. The plastic casing is somehow misshapen and looks as if it’s breathing.
“Look,” she says, showing her boyfriend the cartridge as if showing him something on a smartphone screen, “it’s some kind of bootleg.”
He laughs when he sees it, and glances at her with a deflatingly nervous microexpression, then smiles at her. He says, “Catfish Game,” as he reads the text on the label, which features the Bass Pro Shop bass superimposed upon, as if jumping out from, rippling blue water, and in wood grain letters the words CATFISH GAME. No small company emblems or tiny legal text, granting the artwork an uncanny charged presence, which leads one to look at the thing and wonder, would I really stick that thing in my GBA, this battery acid-seeming homebrew software-stick?
“It reminds me of those weird bootleg Pokemon games you can find tons of on the Internet—like the glitched copy of Pokemon Naranja where I got stuck in the gym on Lapras.”
She says, “Can we get it?”
He says, “Hell yeah.”
She hands him the cartridge as he pulls a dollar bill from his wallet. They step out to pay and a growing tension reaches a mundanely rapturous height when the young man hands the old man the bill. His exchange with the old fuck goes as smoothly as it could, and he clearly doesn’t know what he’s looking at when they discuss the game, seeming to find the smallness of the thing strange. She feels sorry for her boyfriend, having to deal with this—she has trouble talking to people—while a wave of social relief hits the back of her calves and spreads throughout her, listening to their voices and the trees, and the cicadas, blankly aware of airwaves, then she feels glad to be walking away towards the sunlight with her dearest, vertiginously lightheaded. He carries their items, including some comic books like Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandoes issue #2, and other resplendent objects. The Acid has almost entirely left them. He drives them home lucidly, as if throwing basketballs into the wide-open azure sky.
What was a bootleg video game? Since her 2009 childhood exposure to the Pirated Games section of virtualnes.com, she has been fascinated by the lovingly preserved and documented squares of video games—she thought, at that time, she would never understand all of this information; it made her worry that all of her booster packs of Pokemon trading cards from Fred’s were cheap illegal copies distributed to places such as her rural part of Southwestern Kentucky, where no one would notice this fraudulent cost-cutting practice used by these small-time retailers, in her child-self’s view, something like consumable products lacking FDA approval, and the subject of pirated or bootleg video games would always make her feel strangely grossed-out about food and food production. Fuzzy H1N1 anxieties in 2009, when she watched a YouTuber with a fursona profile picture who posted Super Smash Bros Brawl gameplay daily, made her wonder about the things in her food. She had a dream about bootleg video game cartridges levitating like a swarm of bugs, as if being possessed by a spirit, or spirits, near a screen door at the back of a room. The cartridges all aimed their connector pins towards her and flew at her aggressively, causing her to wake up breathing quickly.
19 hours later she peeks past the eagle blanket thumbtacked to the wall curtaining the bedroom window, to see the empty gravel driveway, then—he is at work—she pulls the sheet of Acid from the empty cigarette package in the lavender tissue box, certain he will notice the tab omitted from the sheet, and thinks, “If I throw up, I deserve it,” angry at herself for her commitment to private indulgence: a high-tolerance, gluttonous engagement. She vaguely remembers things she’s read on the Internet about microdosing, as she puts the tab of Acid underneath her tongue, as is customary, for about 10 minutes, which she spends nervously looking at things on her iPhone. Swallowing the gritty bit of paper with a sip of freshly opened microplastic water, she inserts the cartridge of Catfish Game in the gray Gameboy Advance SP which was charged the night before.
The game has no company logo splash screen, and there isn’t a title screen. As soon as the startup jingle and flash screen ends, the game begins abruptly with a top-down view of rippling lakewater. The water’s surface is dark green, animated with a wavy, pixel-smudging scaling effect. The graphics employ incomprehensible layering tricks.
A black silhouette under the water moves wormlike when she presses on the D-pad.
Obstructive masses of greenish nothingness serve as collision points, blocking the shadowy underwater catfish’s movements. Looking down not at the screen, she thinks about the mattress beneath her, 7 years old now, and regrets that her boyfriend has to share that filthy thing with her—the poofy miasmic energy of the thing!
The house is blessedly empty and quiet. The squares of the pixels of the LCD screen, itself a square, are flickering one by one. She feels nothing and doesn’t imagine the beautiful maths behind all these visuals: anthropomorphic numerals on some plane knocking about coquettishly. A short loop of synthetic banjo plucking emanates from the trebly speaker, reminding her of killing toads as a chubby short-haired 8-year-old, brooding and silent in a secluded backyard, and she feels ashamed of herself, moving the silhouette around. The camera is affixed to the silhouette in the center of the screen and scrolling through this maze-like lakescape reminds her of procedurally generated Minecraft (2009) infinity.
But the silhouette approaches a dead end, a lengthy damlike blockage of colorful squares like dead wood and garbage. The camera stops moving upwards, the screeen’s edge prioritized over the silhouette’s centrality. It is impossible to see past it and she wonders acid-addled at this. When the catfish touches the barrier, the screen fades to white, and a new screen fades back in.
A map with jagged geographic lines representing the lake and surrounding woods. A few red dots are positioned across the water, one of them blinking. She presses left and right on the D-pad and watches the blinking dot shift and quickly forgets which one—there are 7 dots in total—she started with, so she presses left until reaching the bottom left dot (because it definitely hadn’t been that one). She presses B and a dissonant beep sound connotes error. It is a deathtone like Mario’s. She presses A and the screen fades to white.
Fade-in to a side view of a catfish floating in some wooden structure, with dark greenness past its ceiling and floor and through holes in its barrel-like background. An out-of-place, loud splashing sound effect plays. Something about the fading effects seemed too high-quality. The view reminds her of Ecco The Dolphin (1992) and Feeding Frenzy (2004). Controlling the catfish feels like playing an inbred version of Ecco The Dolphin (1992), gliding through a submerged wooden interior, deep under the water. Its surprisingly well-animated sprite shows redness in the gills. When still, the catfish sinks slowly, and she feels something liquidy inside of her hands, her humours pumping through her, the small square of the GBA as her nervous system begins glowing—her feet hurting a little yet not at all, and twitching occasionally, as she maneuvers the white-bellied catfish out of the structure, a sunken not-ship, and over the sediment-laden bed of the lake with tires and bottles and boxes, of seemingly infinite variation as opposed to the expected looping pattern of tiles—mangled car bodies tilted and flipped, in the muck procedurally generated.
Not far out there are enemy-fish emergent from the muck, which she presses B for the catfish to bite (A being the basic boost button), and the dark olive-colored background is unchanging past the beautifully scaling particulate sprite-bubbles dissipating upwards. Certain elements like the wooden structure’s holey barrel background have the 3D-to-sprite effect of Donkey Kong Country, though many sprites are marred by error (oddly colored pixels at the edges of certain sprites, frames of animation varying in quality slightly).
Ass up on the bed, putting pressure on her elbows and legs to support her unnatural gaming posture, she contentedly explores the depths, feeling strange about the Catfish’s pain noise (a deep, human groan) and focusing to not take any more damage and potentially die. However, the game shows no health meter and almost seems to lack any such functioning, rendering the pain effect superficial in gameplay terms. The slit of the catfish’s gills drips pixels of blood quickly dissipating into transparent nothing, and similarly when the catfish eats one of the silvery minnowlike fish trying to nip at its plump belly.
Randomly, wood-lettered messages float onto the screen and off of it, like the text in Ecco The Dolphin. The messages leer mundanely like the English LET’S GO of the Famicom bootleg of Pokemon Gold (1999).
The catfish moves unchangingly and she wonders in awe at the game’s complete lack of decryption, that no one has gone through the data of this game and formulated a legible cartography of its contents, studying its innerworkings, excavating cut content. She vaguely visualizes one for the stoically bleeding catfish, pink rectangular segments containing each of its animations’ sprites. Like so many thousands of others, the deepsecrets of this unknown videogame are completely opaque, boxed away in the confines of the battery acid-seeming cartridge connected by little metal teeth to the small square of the GBA in the hands of the young woman who is becoming more aware of her own skeleton, the skull of her face staring blankly down at the LCD screen—bright, slightly knocked out of place in its only damaging fall, so it’s somewhat washed-out looking—lips sealed tightly and eyes focused, the knuckle of her jaw quivering as the limpid catfish swims, eventually knocked by a larger enemy fish than the others she’s seen. She presses start and the game pauses.
In a gridlike fashion, though lineless, the shapes and sizes of colors in her view shift rhythmically, confirming, as she looks down at her hideously-textured leg still in shorts having not showered in 30-something hours, the activity of the chemical introduced recently to her system. But of course she feels at once completely mundane, bound in space and airy flowing time on the bed, experimentally removing one of the earbuds and listening to bird noises coming from outside. She hears the crackly sound of tires treading upon the gravel driveway of the neighbor’s red truck: a common, grounding sound effect, musically familiar as the vehicle went up the road, an audio file played intermittently throughout the last seven years. That noisexsZDcol brings forth a colorful model of the eschatological implications of the ubiquitous metal stallions.
She presses start, sitting upright on the bed, her legs occasionally jerking. The catfish swims rightward a while longer until experimentally surfacing, going straight up. It jumps out of the water, breaching the blue-skied surface and freezing midair. The screen fades to white. The map screen fades back into view and without a pang of frustration she senses that the game may be incomplete and goalless.
At the sides of her lips, she feels an extension, a pressure, the phantom remnants of barbels lost to evolution, and she selects another one of the blinking red dots. The yellowishness of the map’s background looks like paper, yellow map paper, paper paper power, yellow wax paper, yellow map paper, max yellow paper, paper power paper, max power paper.
He messages her the minute of the hour—11:46—and all is still. She knows he will be there soon. It is dark and bright in the bedroom. The hardwood floors and wood panel walls have knots in their grains, like eyes realer than those of ubiquitous camera lenses. She closes the GBA after turning its volume to zero and places it on the bedpost.
She hears the familiar whine of his car’s engine as it comes down the road pulling in to the gravel parking lot.
The crackling of the gravel ceases with the sound of sugar through the surface of coffee, and the engine, with its whining harmonic, abruptly stops. She looks through the window and can see his serious face, through the windshield of his car in the driveway, letting his hands off the steering wheel, unbuckling his setbelt. Dimmed and dramatic looking in that vessel, she thinks vividly of the metal chambers, cold and miasmic, he works in—he would feel chilled when they embraced like some of the meat he was gruellingly working with, from the coolness of the meat department.
She goes to the front door in the living room, and sees him exiting his car, slamming the door with a rattling echo over the rounded landscape. She says “Hi!” to him as he approaches serious-faced from his car, his face warpingly familiar beneath the fluorescent blue cap which he would take off and she would almost involuntarily grab and smell, detecting a metallic-smelling remnant of the meat deparrtment in the background of the lovely scalp scent, which is like that of a good-smelling cat’s fur.
With his cap off, he reminds her of an otter. His eyes are tired and weary with deep purple bags underneath. In the dim house (when it is empty, she turns the lights off, in an effort to lower the electricity bill) they spend 23 minutes cuddling and talking, and the light through the windows looks dramatic, as she staves off the music in her head.
It’s in there,
framed in black jaggedness,
hazy with shifting RYB lights,
seemingly, music from The Realm of The Dead.
Then he has to go to the bathroom.
He sits on the toilet and she stands before him with the bathroom door, as well as the bedroom door feet across the portal was open, open. They enjoy communicating with each other on the toilet. She looks at herself in the bathroom mirror and her pupils seem huge but it could have been her warped sense of proportionality and when she looks back at him he’s looking down at his smartphone gadget so she feels reassured that there’s nothing about the situation that would tell him she was on Acid.
The bathroom is lit up and everything has a greasy, porous overlay, like bumpmapped textures. She looks down at her legs and they look half-plucked and filthy—fungal. He’s bent forward seated on the toilet looking somewhat like a transcendent alien creature upon its throne—glowing in the face, and augmented at its base, like a posthuman godboy before her—with incredibly nice legs—and he says, “Why do you have shit on the back of your shirt?”
Its abrupt subject change as they had been talking about him making illustrations of some pictures she’d sent him. He was referring to a funny-looking blemish on her pug-faces-in-the-clouds blouse. She turns weirdly to try and see the stain for herself. They both laugh, somewhat confusedly. This laughter is abstract. “What shit?”
“Right there. Look.”
She pulls up her blouse, bringing the smear closer to her nose, already remembering the chocolate she’d eaten earlier. Her downward view of exposed torso makes her think of the word livestock.
“Oh,” she says, like a diagonal pink and green gradient upon a square, “that’s not shit. That’s chocolate.”
“Chocolate? How’d chocolate get onto the back of your shirt?” He is grinning and so is she. He looks like an imp prince ready for action, stately upon a throne. About to rise up, to flush.
“It’s just a princess problem,” she says, moving out of the bathroom so that he can wash his hands in the sink.
In the living room, with its sloping ramp ceiling, beneath its lowest point they are cuddling wordlessly as squares play on the TV. Her mind blossoms with pleasing visuals, triggered by proximity and affection with him. She sees sumptuous forms rendered in infrared smoothness shifting to saturated grainy distortion; columnal engraved tablets covered in glyphs scrolling vertically with a cloudy beige background. She feels it is time for her to speak, in case he is silently miserable, sitting in the dim drearily familiar chamber of the small edifice.
“I’ve been playing that Catfish Game, on the Gameboy.”
The darkness of the room is calm but implies the dialectic chaos of light stirring things up—and briefly she has a mental view of the room turning golden and shimmery with light blaring even the top corners of the room, and her boyfriend moving around basking in the goldenness he could handle but which inundated and stunned her nothing-self—but he is there in the darkish living room with her, on the couch.
“Oh yeah? What’s the game like.”
“It’s like, really weird.” She remembers the tinny banjo music, and the sloshing bubble SFX when the human-grunting catfish spawned into the sidescrolling section she played last.
“It really seems like some kind of bootleg thing, but not /of/ anything. Like a homebrew game. You play as the catfish.” She pauses, making brief eye contact with her boyfriend, who is listening, then returns her eyes to the heavily processed segments of grain of the hardwood floor. “That titular catfish,” the word titular sounding stilted and awkward coming from a momentary speech-sneer.
“So it’s actually not just some kind of fishing game? That’s pretty awesome. But like, what do you do in the game?”
“Well, you start off in an overhead level, like The Legend of Zelda (1986). The catfish swims under the water and there’s weird junk around, blocking it. But the game has, like, different styles in it. Genre shifts.”
“That’s really cool, actually.”
“Yeah, and you go to this map screen. It’s a map of the lake I guess, and it’s like a level select menu. When I went to one of the other areas, it was an underwater sidescroller like Ecco The Dolphin (1992). There were little fish enemies to eat, and they could attack you and make you bleed, and the catfish grunts like a human. Like . . . ” she impersonates the grunting sound, immediately regretting it.
“I wanna see this game, or play it even. It sounds kind of fucked up but also really, really good.”
“It’s really good. I’ll probably play it more later.”
She thinks of the GBA in the bedroom, folded in on itself caking hot plastic and circuitry, a warm battery burning—is that cartridge, of dubious origin with its seeming-pushing of the GBA’s graphical capabilities, overheating? extrapolating: foamy boiling battery acid oozing out of the ravaged cartridge slot, a continuous whine implicative of immiment combustion.
Alive and breathing on the couch, she looks over at his face which appears to be reflecting the light refracted through some water, in a state of default weariness. It is 12:40 pm. It seems sad to her that this is all real, that they aren’t plants—he is truly about to drive down the road back to the grocery store meat department, a cold metal chamber with brown tile floors where fatty remnants of beef accumulate like grout—such a mentally taxing environment and he has to return. She staves off, with scaley flesh patterns floating leftward like clouds, the music in her head.
They’ve been still as if they and their surroundings were painted in blue hues. At 12:39 pm, he says, “Shit, I’ve gotta head out soon.”
They grip each other tighter like little things hiding in the canopy. Frogs in bushes.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Although the grocery store he works at is about five car-minutes away and his lunch break is a mere hour, most days he drives back to see her. This routine always brings relief and sadness. When he leaves, she watches him through her window—or as in today’s instance, through the slit of the cracked front door.
Through the windshield his face looks serious, as he starts the car and puts it into reverse. He operates the machine with ease. She’s waving when he looks up at her and, briefly but spiritedly, waves back, smiling. Then he backs out of the gravel driveway and drives up the hill, out onto the main road. She listens to the engine fading away.
When he’s gone it surprises her to feel somewhat blank and fearless, but also like she could cry, and slightly averse to resuming playing the game. But it is quiet in the room and she feels unusually in control of herself, but slightly impaired: thinking of anything else felt nearly impossible. In her comfortable position, this Acid fatalism is easy to submit to. She opens the bedroom door, with a push, and looks directly at the GBA. It’s not smoking or dripping acid as she had feared, and approaching it she sees that the battery light is still green. She unfolds the device, sitting straight up at the edge of the bed, everything is throbbing and bulging and she feels pitiful, that her porous form is subjected to existence. She bends her neck, moving her head backwards, with her eyes closed, sighing, falling back onto the bed with her legs in sitting position.
The next area has deep blue water and the catfish’s silhouette looks healthy and dark, while the only barriers are logs and lillypads and pink flowers. She is aware of her double crouching in front of the entertainment center (with a salt lamp and Vizio smart TV both turned off), dirty bruised flesh covered by tattered clothes, staring at herself playing the game, wide-eyed and unblinking—so she doesn’t take her eyes off of the GBA screen. Although she is sweating, the dreamlike awareness of her other presence is not entirely distressing. She hopes she will leave herself alone!
Swimming around in this calm overhead section, there is different music. Three notes and then a fourth. It sounds calmer than the previous music. More like the music that would be playing, when one’s soul is leaving the body. Leering peripherally is the significance behind everything, behind that catfish a worm in the blue water, grovelling.
The game is wholly unaffecting as text appears on the screen, reading: IIJ/KIJRIIIIWJIIJ’J;J/’IJ’DK;JSLKDKJ./NMN;|ZC,;.;,,KLIQWOEJIM
From the side the screen looks like a glowing mass of 240 x 160 pixels, white hot to the touch leaving the exposed area riveted with iridescent color-LCD scales.
Her parents come to mind, how she has been and will be a parasite in their mouths like famous images from the Internet of wan isopods which sit like tongues in the mouths of host-fish. She thinks of her incompatibility with corporeal humans and cool Internet people, a faint image of pink-lit rooms and bright glowing screens comes to mind, and she feels like a hideous vessel with the sole purpose of pissing. She thinks about how she should be looking for a file to transcribe on Rev, not lousing around on the floor while a haunted cartridge sucks the SP dry like an anime-catfish findom. She thinks of her dearest, at the meat department for another three or four hours. She presses on her closed eyes with her fingers and feels completely sober. It’s as if she’s been awake for 36 hours, and low-functioning by this point, but she doesn’t feel tired, only sore. The hardwood floor separated from her gorilla skull by hair and scalp is cool and familiar. It has been ingrained with DNA and the stamping of feet, she thinks of the culture of a cave, of dancing around a fire under the influence of psilocybin.
She gets up off of the floor and looks again at the GBA. The battery light appears to flicker, briefly turning red. Her utter incuriosity towards the mysterious video game is alarmingly mindless. Like some hardened, highfalutin intellectual, who doesn’t give a fuck. From a plastic hook on the door, which doesn’t stay closed unless held in place by its lock, hangs her pink water-resistant jacket. It’s like a curtain and she walks into it slightly, pressing her face in there, getting lost in the fabric smell and darkness of the jacket.