A few years back, whilst feeling nostalgic, I dug out my old Silver game. Tragically, the battery had died, thus my save data was all missing, and I was unable to start a new save. Oddly, this has been the first time in all of my 20+ years of playing video games that a battery has died in one of my cartridges.
This left me understandably disappointed, as I had lived and breathed that cartridge when it was new. I was rarely without it within arm's length, no matter where I was, had accumulated at least one dozen each of Shinies and Level 100s, and worst yet - I had traded my best Pokémon from my first game, Blue, to it, including a Level 100 Squirtle that I had outfitted with strong physical attacks and named "Ninja".
While I was thoroughly sad in regards to this event, it was not something that debilitated me in any way. For the next few years, I, on the whole, forgot about my little Silver cartridge, and went on with life.
Every summer my family goes to the local Swap Meet. It's been tradition for as long as I can recall and continued even after I moved away from my parents; last summer was no exception. The Swap Meet, especially recently, has had the quality of its selection decreased by far, but a few gems can be found to the careful observer; for example, five years ago, I had nabbed a pirated English Pokémon Green version for $10, that, although it is just a title screen hack of the English Blue release in a green cartridge, is one of my prized possessions.
In any case, last year, I came across an elderly gentleman with a slew of old games for various Nintendo systems. Most of these cartridges were either games I already owned, or had no interest in, such as the stacks of every Madden release for the SNES that were so high that they threatened to topple every time someone approached the table.
Skimming through the GameBoy games he had for sale, I came across a copy of Pokémon Silver. Strangely, although the little labels affixed for prices on the cartridges read $5–15 on each GameBoy cartridge, Silver was only noted as $1. Nostalgia came flooding back to me, and not wishing to curse my luck, I decided not to inquire the price and jumped on the chance to purchase the game.
I had become sidetracked upon arriving home that night, so the game went untouched until the following afternoon. Rummaging through my bounty of the previous day, I came across the Silver cartridge and decided to give it a go.
I popped the cartridge into my GameBoy Advance and booted up the game. A save file was already present, and like anyone would be, I was a tad curious as to what had gone on in the previous owner's game. I smiled as I chose "Continue", hoping to receive a little insight on a stranger's psyche.
Immediately after the game started, I realized that I hadn't seen the name assigned to the player character; using the start menu to check, I found it was labeled as "The S".
I cocked my eyebrow in surprise. Surely, there was no way anyone else would use this moniker in his or her game - in all of my years, the only people I've encountered using it have been deliberate impostors - hardly someone that would use it in a game of Pokémon.
I shrugged this off for a few mere seconds, when I had found that the player's team also mirrored mine at the last time I had seen it - Ninja, Venom Jr. (Beedrill), Mewtwo, Lugia, Letherhed (Feraligatr), and Slashclaw (Scyther). I couldn't tell whether I was more creeped out or jubilant. Eventually, even though I failed to comprehend exactly how this turn of events came to be, I was just so excited to see my old team again that I continued to press on.
Everything in the game mirrored my previous Silver adventure, right down to other Pokémon I had caught, rival's name, and more. Despite still feeling a little uneasy over my game being duplicated, I kept playing, as nothing else seemed amiss, and it was like I had never lost my initial game.
After clocking a few hours just battling and messing around, eventually I made my way to Cinnabar Island. This is where things truly began to frighten me. Cinnabar had been restored to its former glory, as it had been in Generation I. My fear temporarily subsided after I reasoned that it had to be some sort of hacked cartridge, or maybe, since I had read that Gold and Silver were built on Generation I's architecture, that some glitch had called back to some Gen I Cinnabar Island data still left on the cartridge. This second theory seemed to be the most accurate at the time, considering that the buildings on the island were unavailable for entrance (as if the code to enter the buildings had been disabled) and the sole inhabitant, an old man, spoke only in glitchy-looking gibberish.
I fooled around a bit, surfing and fishing around the area. I was only coming up with low level Magikarp and Tentacool, which was becoming exceedingly tedious. Just as I was heading back to the island from surfing off the east side, I ran into a Wild Pokémon encounter. With a sigh, I anticipated another Tentacool, but what awaited me caused my heart to skip a beat.
I don't know why I hadn't consciously made an effort to run into MissingNo. on the coast of Cinnabar Island, but I did indeed encounter it upon my attempted return to land. However, instead of the garbled mess of town sprites that normally compose Pokémon #000 (as well as many glitches in Generation II), this was the standard Red/Blue MissingNo. sprite. Unfortunately, MissingNo.'s appearance in this game wasn't what had me nearly soiling myself in terror; it was the cry it made upon appearing. A sound that had already burrowed itself into my brain.
Earlier that year, I had been out for a jog a few blocks from my apartment, when I had come across a house on fire. Nobody seemed to be around, nor was anyone responding to my shouts for help. I did not have my cell phone on me at the time, and so, in an instinctual move, I broke a window and entered the house. Exiting the kitchen (which was the room I had come into from the window), I was hit in the back with something heavy, hard, and hot (although not on fire), sending me to the floor. Unable to get up, I heard a blood-curdling scream echo throughout the building. Later, after I had been rescued by the firefighters, I had learned that it was the elderly man that had lived there; his wife was already dead when I had made my rescue attempt.
This was the sound that MissingNo. made. The scream of a man burning to death.
Immediately, I dropped my GBA on the couch. Terror flowed through my body like blood, as I just stared at the game lying there. I didn't know what the hell was going on, or what I was going to do next. It may have actually been but a few minutes, but it seemed as if an eternity had passed before I worked up the nerve to pick it up again, again trying to reason why this had occurred, I figured that it simply was a random assortment of glitch noises that just happened to sound similar to the man's screaming. With a shaky hand, I lifted the game up, telling myself how silly it was to be freaking out over a game.
Although it was only Level 3, the MissingNo. wiped out my entire team - which consisted of three Level 100s and no Pokémon under Level 70 - with one Water Gun each, claiming it was "Super effective" no matter what type the Pokémon it hit was.
After Whiting Out, I arrived in a Pokémon Center that according to the map, was in Lavender Town. I had not visited Lavender since I had turned on the game several hours previously, so I was a bit surprised at this. I suddenly heard a bizarre noise, which actually did sound like a glitched warble that would be given off by a MissingNo. It took me a few minutes, however, to realize it was my cell phone. This was not a normal sound for my phone, thus I was startled. Flipping it open, I found that the battery was drained, and it was warning me of such. I had just charged the phone the previous night and the phone has only ever been drained when I hadn't charged it for a couple of days, or used it excessively - which I hadn't.
Sighing, I plugged in my phone, only to be shocked to see a photo pop up on the screen. It was a MissingNo. against a plain white background. Pressing a key on the phone made the phone cycle to another photo, which was another one of MissingNo., but from another angle, as if it were a 3D representation of the glitch, such as an action figure or papercraft.
It took a lot of attempts, but eventually I was able to figure out how to delete the photos (as the normal method only caused the phone to advance to the next photo). Sadly, these photos either overwrote or deleted the dozen or so photos I had on the phone previously.
Now aware that there was definitely something "not right" going on, I approached the game again... but instead of turning it off, I continued playing. I can't tell you why I did... morbid curiosity, perhaps, or maybe it had me in some sort of trance. Normally, as a fan of horror movies, I would think myself savvy enough to not take the bait, but ultimately, I kept at it.
Exiting the Pokémon Center, I found the surroundings to be familiar, but a bit different than I recall Silver's Lavender Town being. It didn't take long to dawn on me that it was because this Lavender Town was a reproduction of the Generation I version, like Cinnabar Island before it - Pokémon Tower included.
I walked into the Pokémon Tower, but the interior was completely different than in other games. It was a small nigh-featureless room, about the size of the inside of a Pokémon Center, with one gravestone in the center. My palms sweating so hard that I thought I was going to drop the game, I approached the grave, expecting to see my name there.
"Here lies Tomb."
Now, most of you would probably find this a bizarre non-sequitur or the game pointing out the obvious. After all, it's a tombstone, so of course there lies a tomb, right?
This message had special connotations for me, however. I had a close friend named Tasha who I had basically mentored for almost a decade, who was like family to me. When she moved out to Wisconsin, her friends there realized that her initials - TMB - were like "tomb" without an 'o', so that became her nickname. Tasha ended up having lymphoma, and while she was sick, I lent her my English Green version - her name as "Tomb" in that game is still there to this day. She passed away in 2008.
This was starting to drive me mad. This game knew details of my life, or at the very least, ones that had been entered into my Pokémon games previously. It was causing things to happen with my cell phone - even though Crystal was the first game to have cell phone interaction, and that was removed from the English version. And it was able to reproduce, realistically, the screams of a burning old man despite the technology not being available on an 8-bit cartridge.
My text message ring tone went off on my phone at this time, causing me to drop the game on the couch hard enough to bounce. Eying my phone, I was reluctant to pick it up again. After a few minutes, eventually irritated by the ring tone going off every 30 seconds as a reminder, I picked up the phone and saw that it was from Tasha's partner, Leslie. At first a chill went down my back, as there was no way this was a coincidence that she was texting me right after I had seen this event in my game. Then, I, still likely in denial, reasoned that perhaps there was ultimately some mystery and that she had come across clues. Sure, it's a hard pill to swallow, but at this point, I was grasping at straws.
I saw that the text had a photo attached, so I held my breath for a moment while I chose to download it. My phone is a TracFone that runs on pre-paid phone cards, so it's not exactly stellar technology, and thus, it took a while for the attachment to transfer. When it appeared on the screen, I came face-to-face with the most horrifying sight I had ever seen in my life.
Tasha appeared on the screen, her flesh a sickly gray and her face covered in deep, bleeding cuts, like the time she had been thrown through a bar window. Her mouth was twisted in a menacing scowl, and her normally beautiful eyes were completely devoid of life. She appeared to be reaching for either the photographer or the item being used to take said photo.
Seeing the face of someone so close to me in such a disturbing manner, tears began to trickle down my face. I just stared at her, willing away the photo while my thumb nervously bashed the keypad, trying to get the image off. I finally managed to delete the text (via the standard method, not the workaround I'd used to get rid of the MissingNo. photos), and quickly closed the phone. Using my landline, I dialed up Leslie... no answer, no voice mail. Scared out of my wits, I pulled the cartridge from the GBA's slot (without first turning it off), stepped out onto my balcony into the hot summer night, and flung the cartridge with all of my might across the street, hearing it crash against something with a satisfying snap.
The GBA screen was white, and there was no sound emanating from it. I turned off the system, confident that I had beaten whatever cursed monstrosity that had tormented me. As I went to put away the GBA, I saw a Silver cartridge sitting on my sofa. Nearly vomiting, I realized there was no price sticker, and that this was my original Silver cartridge, which must've fallen out from the carrying case. Just to be certain, I loaded it into my GBA, and it indeed had no save file. Satisfied, I returned everything to it rightful place. I checked the cell one last time, and everything seemed to be in order, save for all of the photos that were removed by the MissingNo. ones.
I never did have problems with the cell phone or GameBoy again. I got a hold of Leslie the next day through her job, and she had told me that she had switched providers but not numbers, thus why I wasn't able get a hold of her. I decided not to frighten her with the plight I had just encountered, though.
To this day, I don't think I'll ever get another Silver version. I definitely will not purchase any more Pokémon games secondhand, and if I decide to get one of the remakes, I'm getting HeartGold.
Audible (Direct Sequel)