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Ignore the Camera

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Val had never been so terrified in his entire life. There was one problem, though: his viewers didn’t believe him. Even if they did, what could they do? Calling the cops wasn’t an option: they’d think he was tripping out on some sort of illegal drug, even though he was sober. He wished he wasn’t.
           He was sitting in front of his webcam, broadcasting himself on Twitch. If he wasn’t so terrified, the amount of people watching would’ve pleased him—the counter was at an all-time high. Everyone in the chat was either laughing or spamming the “kappa” emote. They were amused by the show he was putting on, but it wasn’t a show!
           It was 2:58 AM on October 31st. By 3:00, he knew he’d be dead. He’d told everyone this and tried begging for help, but they only thought it was part of the act. All he wanted was for them to believe him.
           “GG, Val!” wrote someone in chat.
           “Two more minutes, guys! Hype!” said another one.
           His mind was running circles in terror. They’d think his death was fake, in the biggest case of dramatic irony he’d ever heard of. It’d be mere entertainment to them, as was his life beforehand. They’d comment on how fake it looked, because it wouldn’t look like it did in the movies. He likely wouldn’t even be in the frame.
           His real pain came from the fact that his entire life had led up to this. It was hard to believe that this was all because he’d decided to play an indie game.
           “Please,” he gasped to the microphone in front of his face. His hand was on his mouse due to sheer reflex, though he didn’t need it. “I swear this isn’t some sort of Halloween event. I’m about to die!”
           More kappa emotes came his way.
           “You should be an actor. You’re great at staying true to character!” one person commented. They followed their remark up with a kappa as well.
           “This isn’t a joke!” Val’s hazel eyes started to well up behind his glasses, but he wasn’t crying yet.
           He lived in a small two-storey house with thin walls, and he was in the basement. So when he heard footsteps on the floor above him, he tensed up and went dead silent. The chat slowed down, but he wasn’t paying attention to it anymore.
           “Did you guys hear that?” he asked the chat in a low voice. If anyone replied, he didn’t notice.
           2:59 AM. The basement stairs creaked. Val had only sixty seconds to live.

* * *

His full name was Valentine Kozel, but his friends called him Val. He was from Ukraine, but moved to Pennsylvania with his parents in 2012. His family wasn’t rich, but wasn’t poor either. Four years ago, he’d moved into his own apartment.
           He’d always had a passion for gaming, ever since his first console: a PlayStation 2 he got on his fourth birthday. He wanted to be known. He wanted people to know about his life—his habits. Making friends offline was difficult. So three years ago, on his 19th birthday, he finally made himself a YouTube channel. The first thing he did was start a vlog. He picked the username “Valcupine”. In retrospect, he wished he could explain why, but it was a spur of the moment decision.
           The vlog was slow-going, of course, until he made a Twitch channel under the same name a few months later. There, he started showing off his speed-running skills in various video games. He hadn’t expected much to come of it; it’d only been an experiment, to kill time. Yet, more and more people became interested in his content. As a result, he seemed to grow better at speed-running harder games. At last, he was starting to build up a reputation.
           It was through Twitch that Val met a casual Danish gamer called KasGaming. He later learned that his full name was August Kasper Lund, but he went by “Kas” online for privacy’s sake. August had been streaming his light-hearted playthroughs for five years. As luck would have it, it turned out that they both lived in Pittsburgh. So one day, Val was a guest on August’s channel. Little did they realize at the time that Val would soon be there for almost every single episode of his show. It was also streamed on Val’s Twitch channel when he wasn’t doing a speed-run, even when he wasn’t present (which was rare).
           Soon they became such close friends that they decided to rent a house together. Of course, that meant a lot of their fans would see them as a closeted couple, but they didn’t mind. It was funny to see some of the corny romantic fanfictions and pictures they made. Besides, Val was a small brunet guy with glasses who only stood at five foot seven and wasn’t very athletic. Whereas August (or “Kas”, as the fans knew him) was six feet tall, blond, and muscular. The girls of their fanbase thought that meant Val bottomed and that they were secret lovers. In truth, they were no more than brotherly housemates. They took amusement in it, nonetheless. The house they shared was small and had thin walls, but did have two floors. So at the time, they figured they’d done well for themselves.
           Only a few months prior, Val got invited to join in Summer Games Done Quick. Overall, it’d been a fun experience. He got a few new fans from it. What made him happiest of all, though, was that he was finally becoming known.
           Of course, he didn’t realize at the time that this would be the death of him.
           It was now October 10th of 2018. He and August were live. They weren’t sure what to play today on his show, so they were taking requests. They did this sometimes; the fans seemed to enjoy it.
           “Castlevania!” suggested someone in the chat.
           August and Val exchanged a glance.
           “We’ve already played that, right?” August asked.
           “Yeah,” Val answered with a smile, “we’ve played them all.”
           They broadcasted the show from their basement, which they’d set up to be more of a studio. The black foam pads stuck to the walls for soundproofing did little to that effect, but they left them up anyway. More suggestions came their way, most of which they either weren’t in the mood for, or had already played. They held fast to a rule of never playing the same game twice, though they felt they’d have to break it soon enough.
           “Come on, guys,” August nagged in a charismatic way. He had a thick, Danish accent. Val liked it, since he had an accent of his own: Ukrainian, though it wasn’t as thick as August’s. “It’s going to be Halloween in three weeks! Let’s get the spook on, huh?”
           They got a flood of game names from various people in chat: “Slender!” “FNAF.” “Sister’s Location!” “Sara Is Missing.” “Undertale?” “Outlast.” “Amnesia?” “How about Bashful Bunny?”
           “Whoa.” August held his hands up in mock surrender. “You’re recommending that trash?”
           Val looked at him, confused. “What?”
           “Someone told us to play Bashful Bunny.” The Dane sniggered. “For one, that’s a kids’ game. Second, some streamers are playing it and making it into some sort of running gag for the spook factor.” He then shrugged in a dismissive way. “They’re all inactive now. Guess they realized it wasn’t a funny joke.”
           “What do you mean?”
           Noticing Val’s confusion, August raised his brow. “You’ve never heard? Everyone says that any streamer who plays it dies on camera if they play it wrong, goes missing if they don’t. It’s stupid.”
           Val had never been a very superstitious person, so he raised his brow also. “Well,” he quipped, “you did ask for something ‘spooky’.”
           “How about this?” The blond turned back to the camera. “I’m not touching that children’s game with a ten-foot-pole, but if Val agrees, he’ll play it while I watch. Just so we can debunk this corny creepypasta trend.” He looked at Val again. “You game?”
           Val nodded. “Sure.” He figured, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s only some awful children’s game that everyone likes to pretend is scary.
           It wasn’t easy to scare him, and he wasn’t one to take challenges lightly. So they followed the viewer’s advice of where to download the game, which led them to IndieDB, of all sites.
           At least it’s not GameJolt, Val thought, though he proceeded to laugh at the thumbnail for the game.
           “Good page,” he snarked, trying to hold back his chuckles. “Ten out of ten in execution. Is that Comic Sans?” It wasn’t, but it looked similar. As the archive downloaded, they looked at some of the screenshots.
           “Oh, man,” remarked August as he playfully elbowed his partner. “RPG Maker VX Ace and shitty custom sprites. We’re in for a treat, Val. Are you ready to get your meme on?”
           “Oh, Jesus,” Val groaned through a vacant smirk. “Pass the bleach.”
           A few viewers in the chat got pissy, so August announced, “Okay, a disclaimer here before you guys want our heads on sticks: we’re not usually this negative about indie games. But . . .” He gestured at the screen. “Come on. You can’t defend this. It’s like a badly written creepypasta.”
           “It’s hard not to judge a game by its cover,” Val added, “when the cover uses flat MS Paint pink and pseudo-Comic Sans.”
           The two shared a laugh at the expense of the game’s poor visuals.
           “I mean, in its defense, Kas, it is a kids’ game.”
           “That’s no excuse,” said the Dane. “You don’t get to make something terrible just because it’s for kids.”
           The download only had a few more seconds to go. As August thanked the viewers for waiting, Val skimmed the game’s description.
           “Go on an adventure with Bashful,” it read, “the bunny who loves children!”
           Bet he’s a pedophile.
           “Learn what it means to feel ‘LOVE’ with your new pal. He’ll always be by your side! But be careful what you say, and make sure you NEVER lie, because Bashful hates liars.”
           It was a weird, brief description that wasn’t even well-written. There was nothing else there, either. No features, no news, no instructions. Nothing. Val had to admit to himself that it was sort of eerie.
           “Who made this?” he asked openly, but then he saw the link to the creator’s profile. It wasn’t a surprise to find it empty.
           “God knows,” August answered, “but he’s a poor S.O.B., whoever he is. I bet he’s some lonely old man who lost his kids or something.”
           Val shot August a playful-yet-scolding look. “No need to depress everybody.”
           Finally, they got the game extracted. The executable’s icon was the sprite head of Bashful: a pink rabbit with squinty eyes. He only recognized it due to the bad cover and screenshots.
           “I’m going to assume I start it now. Are we ready?”
           August only shrugged, so he took that as a yes and started the game. What greeted them was Bashful’s face as the background of the title screen. The title itself was not written, but in its default position at bottom-center of the screen sat the menu.
           “This is weird,” muttered Val.
           August laughed. “You walnut. Maybe you should turn on screen capture so the audience can see it, too.”
           Val felt as though marbles were whizzing about inside his brain. “Well, doi,” he groaned. “I was going to. Be patient, you dick.” Though, he hadn’t realized that the screen capture wasn’t already started. August’s cocky smirk in response showed that he knew.
           Without further delay, Val selected the game in their broadcaster and resized for the audience. Some of their chat went wild, though that part seemed to have mixed emotions. Half of them were ecstatic to see someone new playing the game. The other half were begging them not to do it. Of course, as realistic as they were, they ignored the latter half.
           “Come on, guys,” teased Val, “stop worrying so much. It’ll be fine!”
           Little did Val realize how wrong he was.