Writers (in order): Ayden Bridgeman, Rory Kilgore, Langston Wu, Najia S, Alex Venusti, Gray, Piper C, melle, Ananya Sandeep, Julia Weber, Crystal Tse, Mei Knutson, Shriya Malu, Francesca Stamati, Jessica Kelso, Camille Dupuis, Su A, Xinyi Chi, Meithepoet.

Editor: Irene Tsen.

She was gorgeous…

… And she smelled like death. Nah. It was probably just the smell of alcohol.

The lady stood up and released the man she was holding in her powerful grip. She turned toward me and held my gaze, and before I knew it, I had written down my number and presented it to her. Everyone else stared at me as well in shock and fear. She smiled and took my arm, suddenly, we vanished in a puff of green smoke.

I had never known just how much a simple visit to that bar could change my life. Until then.

Five years ago, I had gone to my usual bar to see my friends and make sure they got home. After all, I never drank and they were always drunk by the end of the night. You couldn’t trust them to get themselves home to their wives.

That night, I walked into the bar to pick up Sam and the rest of the guys, to find that a girl had defeated the toughest man in the joint in an arm-wrestling match. After he was defeated, he was turned into pixels and disappeared. I was in shock, but that feeling soon vanished when I got a better look at her.

At first, I thought it was all of that grape juice I had sipped on. The bartender may have accidentally refilled my glass with wine instead of grape juice. But my glass was still empty and I was sure it had been grape juice that I was originally drinking. Then I noticed something else, an ever-so-slight twitch on the lady’s face. A moment of discoloration causing her mouth to reveal, for a moment, a malicious, blood-red smile. Nobody else seemed to care, as they were already on the “69th bottle of beer on the wall,” simultaneously chuckling and singing. I stumbled to the counter, trying to wrap my head around both the disappearing man and the demonic woman.

“Are you going to finish that?”

I looked up at the bartender. At first, he was a regular person. In one blink, a human with crimson horns curling skyward was staring me down. His sharp fangs protruded past his lips and his eyes peered into me with a tenacious hunger. My eyes widened and I frantically glanced around, to no avail. The lady was arm wrestling yet another overconfident man, stealing everyone’s attention with her captivating, bony hands.

“No, thanks,” I replied, as I zipped from the stool, crashed through a couple of patrons, and bashed through the exit. As I took off into the night, the bartender shouted, “Hope you come back soon, because ‘here, everyone lives life’!”

And it was only because I didn’t drink and was safely in the comfort of my own abode that I realized I had been given my first clue: an acronym for HELL.

HELL was a Nintendo video game and series based on conquering disguised demons. Protagonists started in various scenarios throughout the series, with the objective to accurately identify demons from humans. One wrong identification and you were sent to the 8-bit display of a dark screen with fire effects.

Who would’ve known the following weeks would revolve around the game. I had bought the game a while back purely on a whim. I was amazing at the game and was even ranked first on the leaderboard. But with work piling up, I hadn’t gotten time to play recently.

Now, I was stuck in a real-life version of the game. The people around me were demons in disguise, and I had to identify them, or I would be sent to hell—at least, that’s what I expected to happen based on the consequences of the game.

I tried desperately to remember how to beat the game as I tried to find an alleyway to disappear into. I didn’t remember its being difficult; however, most of my knowledge about the game seemed to have vanished. Only three rules stayed in my mind: Stay close to the areas where the sun won’t find you, don’t trust anyone, and, most importantly, never look a demon in the eye. A literal nightmare. Demons could be in every corner of the world, waiting to jump at me with their enticing eyes. I stared straight down at the concrete floor, my gaze locking with the gray crevices.

I headed into a well-lit alley, though there were multiple other people waiting for something—or someone—inside. All of them were lined up against the wall, looking down toward the end of the ally. They all snapped their heads toward me, staring at me in what seemed to be disgust. I kept my head down, a bad feeling passing through me.

I glanced up for a quick second. What I saw startled me: all of the people were pale, with dull and dead eyes. I continued to walk on. Whatever they were a part of, I didn’t want to be there for any of it.

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