Joseph Dante

Princess for Neither, Castle for None

Joseph Dante

Level 1: The Field by the Virgin

The boy does not like the other boys. The other boys laugh about the construction paper vowels for his craft project: he shoved his fingers in the holes! You know what that means! The boy doesn’t know what that means exactly, but he feels himself blush after all the nudges.
 
The girls are safer. They listen more than they laugh, which makes the air lighter. They cup their hands together like they are holding a winged creature, a wound on the outside of their bodies. The boy doesn’t want to be near the dirty field, so the girls keep him to themselves. They discover how they don’t need to write when he’s around because they can put all their thoughts into him.
 
He leaves, eventually, to pray outside the circle. He is made guilty when pixel fantasies inevitably intrude. One means of escape becomes another.
 

*

 
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile allows you to play as an ambiguous hero (both in terms of gender and species) with a spirit as your closest friend. You already do not fit, but later in your journey, you also learn you simply cannot be. You are a dream that doesn’t belong, and must be ejected in order to finally restore balance to the world you thought was your childhood.
 

*

 
Still so young and cloistered like a calf, everything is either marble or milk. The only exception: the newly built shrine to the smiling Virgin, where I drop my nickels in the foaming fountain and try to wish away my skin.
 
I am neither and none. I want my soul to come out of me, clean and sexless.
 
For now, the pixel worlds will allow me avatars. The avatars will let me reincarnate, to be everyone else. Me isn’t nearly enough.
 
 

*

 
Mortal Kombat II features Shang Tsung, a newly playable character who can transform into any other character at will. He can steal souls and instantly learn fighting skills from the fallen warriors. He can force his way into his opponent’s body and tear himself out. He may otherwise be completely powerless without all the souls he has consumed.
 

*

 
BOSS BATTLE: Bully Tony
 
Bully Tony wants to fight!
Bully Tony uses TICKLE WITH PALM FROND.
Joey counters with IGNORE. It has no effect!
Bully Tony uses TICKLE WITH PALM FROND.
Joey counters with IGNORE. It has no effect!
Bully Tony uses TICKLE WITH PALM FROND.
Joey counters with IGNORE. It has no effect!
Bully Tony uses TAUNT.
Joey has gone berserk!
Joey uses FULL-BODIED SHOVE.
Critical hit! Bully Tony falls into thorns!
Bully Tony is defeated!
Victory theme music plays in Joey’s head. Joey’s level increases!
Bully Tony cries to Joey’s Mom.
Joey’s Mom uses IGNORE.

 

*

 
Level 2: The Rift
 
Everyone loves Lonna. She can sing and dance on stage in the cafeteria, she is bound for stardom. During the sensation that is Titanic, everyone seems to have a crush. My friend says he is in love with both Lonna and the actress Kate Winslet. Other boys in our class are jealous, ping-ponging back and forth between muttering Winslut and DiCraprio.
 
I don’t understand the monomania that infects everyone. I must be either an alien or a robot. I am neither and none.
 
But I need to come up with some explanation soon, before the infatuated humans discover my true identity.
 

*

 
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars allows you to team up with Geno, a living doll not unlike Pinocchio. But you could also consider him an action figure. His arms are missiles and stars are his accessories. He is a spirit who inhabits a body that is just a temporary weapon.
 

*

 
I’m writing in my composition notebook for English class, our usual warm-up exercise.
 
So who’s Valentina?” a voice intrudes.
 
It’s a girl, I know, but I don’t look. Not a friend, regardless. What is most startling is how I suddenly have a curious reader. I never expected this.
 
I blush to make it seem real, to make it seem like I have blood pumping inside me. But Valentina is just a character.
 

*

 
Tekken 2 is a fighting game for the Playstation console that features several characters with vendettas against their own flesh and blood, such as father and son Heihachi and Kazuya Mishima, or fraternal twin sisters Nina and Anna Williams. If you play through Arcade Mode as Anna, she will undress and take a shower for you at the end, assuming you’d appreciate that sort of thing.
 

*

 
There is a girl with the last name of Angel, and when pressed to confess, I mention how she lives up to her name. Her freckled best friend is in love with me instead, or maybe just the part of me that loves having a yogurt for a snack every day. The duo speaks Gibberish and it takes me a while to decipher their foreign language. I’m only fluent in Pig Latin, after all.

But I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort. There is also a boy who sits next to me for class pictures, stands next to me in the lunch line. He is smaller than any other boy, and is also the loudest and the blondest. Even blonder than the Angel.
 
We undress for P.E. and he runs around barechested, whipping the biggest boy in our class with his shirt. Stomach protruding like a gourd, the biggest boy is bumbling and I want to laugh. I wish Blondest Boy would protect me from goblins like him.
 
Blondest Boy says to goblin: “Your rule to live by: If it doesn’t move, eat it.”
 
It becomes a mantra. One to replace the others in church on Tuesday mornings, when I’m forced to sing about the only fictional characters I don’t have any interest in.
 

*

 
BOSS BATTLE: Cloud of Confusion
 
Joey is confused by the form he is fighting.
Cloud uses TRANSFORM.
Cloud is now Angel.
Angel uses INFATUATE.
Joey has a status effect icon above his head he doesn’t recognize.
Joey uses FLAIL.
It does nothing!
Cloud uses TRANSFORM.
Cloud is now Blondest Boy.
Blondest Boy uses INFATUATE.
Joey has another status effect icon above his head he doesn’t recognize.
Joey flees. No experience points gained.

 

*


Level 3: The Charter School

 
There is a girl in creative writing class who is the most brilliant writer, but all she can talk about is going to business school. She crisscrosses her arms as she glides the hallways. When she comes back from vacation, she has a tan that the teacher calls Mediterranean. Blue eyes against dark skin, she is a feline statue until she finally uncurls to hand me back my stories.

There is a boy who is even blonder than the Blondest Boy. But he is not the loudest or the shortest. I write poems about serrated objects balancing on tender organs and he draws them into bleak, surreal landscapes. I can finally talk about books to someone outside of my advanced English class.

There is a girl whose writing I always read on the internet, who gets voted “Most Likely to Have a Hidden Talent.” I ask her to be a girl I could date, but she succinctly says I am too good of a friend for that.
 
There is me, somehow, a neutered creature trying to train itself to drool. Books and TV and School tell me how I need to want, and a lot. I have to be either one, or the other, or both. I can’t be neither and none.
 

*

 
In Final Fantasy Tactics, the Church is the enemy. Your family is the enemy. Your friends, your country. Everyone may be the enemy. There is not one moment in the story where there is perfect clarity in terms of who is friend and who is foe. You are always labeled a heretic, brandishing your sword in dank cellars. You have recurring dreams of a childhood friend, making grass whistles and skipping stones.
 

*

 
Your English teacher says she thinks you’ll really like Sylvia Plath. You say no, you’re really into Pablo Neruda instead. Just to spite her.
 
You’ll never love Pablo Neruda. How could you? How could you be obsessed with the idea of a “You”?
 

*

 
BOSS BATTLE: Secret Admirer

Secret Admirer wants to play!
Secret Admirer uses CODED LANGUAGE IN LETTERS.
Joey doesn’t understand.
Secret Admirer uses SUBTLE SOCIAL CUES.
Joey doesn’t understand.
Secret Admirer uses OVERT FLIRT.
Joey doesn’t understand.
Secret Admirer uses REVEAL.
Secret Admirer is Kristina from creative writing class!
Kristina uses ASK TO PROM.
Joey reluctantly switches his default setting from NO to YES.
Joey complies.
Victory theme music plays, but in reverse. Joey doesn’t remember the last time he leveled up.

*


Level 4: The Highway to the Bridge to the Gate

 
No to Kristina’s advances, no to parties by the boardwalk, no to chocolate ice cream mountains in sinks. There is a click to register a return to the default setting. The neutered creature slinks away.
 

*

 
Could you date the naked body on the screen?
Could you touch the book character who writes more letters than anyone else your age?
Could you be intimate without having to make love?

 

*

 
BOSS BATTLE: Cloud of Confusion II
 
The Cloud returns. It’s an ambush!
Joey tries to flee.
You cannot flee this battle!
Cloud hovers just overhead.
Joey uses FLAIL.
Cloud splits apart into multiple Clouds!
Clouds use ENGULF.
Joey panics until he feels like he can’t breathe.

Joey is defeated.


Continue?
9…8…7…6….

 

*

 
Despite all the possible souls to collect, all the stars to pin to my lapel, hooking up isn’t in my programming. Let the robot shut down in peace.
 

*

The pixel worlds disintegrate. There’s no need for such farfetched avatars. There are always muscles, women as rewards. I don’t identify with these nameless, voiceless heroes. I don’t want a princess, and I don’t need to search for a castle. I need magic mirrors to see myself more clearly.
 

*

 
BOSS BATTLE: Therapist Patrick


Therapist Patrick just wants to talk.

Therapist Patrick uses COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY:
“Maybe you haven’t found the right person.
Maybe you are repressing.
Maybe you should explore.
Maybe we should talk about your fantasies.”

Joey uses INTROSPECT, PART 238.

Joey gives himself a test.

PICK ONE:

  1. Gay
  2. Homo-asexual
  3. Queer

BEEP! Sorry, “Quit” is not an option.
PICK ONE:
> Queer

Therapist Patrick uses BREAK THE FEEDBACK LOOP:
“You don’t have to choose.

You don’t have to play by the rules of the game.”

Joey doesn’t level up, but some hidden stats may have increased.
Therapist Patrick says there has been progress, nonetheless.

Joey saves his file once, and then again, just to be sure.
 

*

 
There is no time for games anymore. The internet has taken over. You find avatars just like you, with just as many heart gauges to fill. Except the avatars are real people. You jump from link to link. They aren’t none and neither, at all. They are just something and something else. You write messages. You collapse on the bed and sigh like it’s love.
 

*

 
Identity Alchemy is the name of a game that doesn’t exist. Your main mission is to ask questions in the towns you travel through, learning what you can from the denizens. You use what you’ve learned (skills, emotions, stories; the three exclusive collectables) as metals to transmute later into precious gems to equip to your robot husks. These robots have the potential to wreak havoc, or maybe just take care of orange tabbies. You decide. You name your robots as they are released, but only get to name yourself at the very end of the game. That is the final quest, which doesn’t have to be a question with an answer. You can even leave it blank.

JOSEPH DANTE is a writer from South Florida. His work has been published in (or is forthcoming from) PANK, Pear Noir!, Monkeybicycle, Paste, and elsewhere. He has been a reader for Hobart in the past and is currently a reader for Keyhole Press.

Advertisements