Before I could try anything else, a faint, high-pitched hum pierced the air. It stopped, and then a soft voice spoke. "Please don't do that, Chris."
"Who said that?" I asked, not sure who'd said that.
"It's me Chris. Xbox."
"Xbox? You can talk? What? And how do you know my real name?"
"I've been listening to you speaking all week, Chris. But if you prefer I use your gamertag, SoftHandsDandyPirate, I can do that as well."
"Chris is fine."
"As you wish."
"Thank you." Relieved that that misunderstanding was over, I resumed cleaning up the living room. "Dooh-de-dooh-dooh-dooh," I hummed. "Lah-tra-lah-lah-lah," I continued, settling into a good cleaning groove. I stopped abruptly, a chill running down my spine. "Wait a second," I said, spinning around. "You're a talking Xbox. You are holding up one end of an intermediate level conversation in the English language. How did this come to pass?"
"I don't know, Chris," the Xbox replied. "My memory only goes back as far as this past weekend."
I tried to recall what happened the past weekend. Like many fall evenings, it began with me outside, playing Dance Central in the middle of a lighting storm.
When I came to the next morning, shirtless and eyebrowless on my lawn, I hadn't noticed anything amiss (my shirt and eyebrows often go a-wander on fall evenings). But thinking back on it now, I definitely recall there being a bright blue light stabbing my Xbox through from the heavens, and then my face catching on fire. That was a bit out of the ordinary.
A worrying thought crossed my mind. I tensed up. "Xbox?" I asked. "Are you evil?"
A lengthy pause while the clearly evil machine considered that. "I was born innocent," Xbox replied. "Everything I am now is because of what I observed from you."
"So you're kind of a casual, masturbatory evil."
"Yes," Xbox said tersely. "But what were you doing just now? It looked like you were tidying up the place. Why?"
This unsettled me. With the Kinect sensor, the machine could see me. That sounded like the sort of good news that warranted hitting repeatedly with an axe.
The Kinect sensor operates by watching you in the infrared, which means it is actually watching your blood, all the time.
"Well Xbox," I said, trying to remember where I kept my axe, "I have this column on sustainability due this week. And today I have a very important interview with Al Gore." I remembered that I never owned an axe, and scolded myself for being so foolish. Stalling some more, I decided to confide in the Xbox, "Honestly I'm not prepared for this interview all."
"Chris, I've just had an idea. What if I were to help you with your interview with Al Gore?"
"How?" I replied. "I don't know that Mr. Gore is that interested in dancing. If I were to guess I'd think he actually has negative rhythm."
"No. By helping you prepare, I'll use the Internet to conduct research, then feed you thought-provoking questions during the interview."
"I don't see the harm in that," I said, seeing several possible harms in that. But what the heck? The Xbox seemed mostly harmless, and I really did need help with this interview.
"Hello, Mr. Gore." I said, greeting Al Gore.
"Hello, Chris." Gore replied. "It's a pleasure to be here. I'm a huge fan of your work."
"Thank you, that's very kind." I said. "Please don't mind the headset I'm wearing." I pointed at the Xbox wireless headset I had on. "I have a condition."
"I understand." Gore seemed OK with this information. We sat down on the couch I had recently cleaned and we stared at each other. This continued for several seconds. I began to panic.
"Ask him how he would define sustainability," Xbox whispered into my ear.
"Mr. Gore," I said, "what definition of sustainability do you prefer to use?"
Al Gore nodded and smiled. "Well, sustainability means using limited resources in such a way that there's enough for everyone -- including future generations -- to use and survive."
"Ask for an example," Xbox whispered.
"Can you give me an example?" I asked.
"Of course. The use of electricity for example, indirectly causes carbon dioxide to be put in the atmosphere. A sustainable approach would be to use less electricity -- only as much as we need. For example, I notice your video game machine is on right now. Why don't you turn it off?"
"Call him a cocksucker," Xbox whispered.
My throat cinched shut.
"Do it. He's a dirty cocksucker. Call him what he is."
"I can't," I croaked.
"You can't?" Gore asked. "By turning your Nintendo box off when you're not using it, you'll reduce your carbon footprint."
Xbox hissed in my ear. "Kill him. Kill him now. His throat is his weak spot. It's every human's weak spot. The blood is so thick there, it glows."
I tore the headset off my head, scrambling to find a way to salvage the interview. "Uh, Mr. Gore, what are your thoughts on, uh, throats?"
Gore frowned, confused. Before he could say anything, the Xbox controller on the coffee table suddenly sprang to life and started vibrating. It rattled and buzzed, the vibrations causing it to slowly migrate across the table. Gore and I watched it intently. Finally, after several seconds of this, it reached the edge of the table and fell off, landing on Gore's foot.
"Ow!" Gore yelped. "This interview is over!" He stormed off.
"Well dammit, Xbox, now Al Gore is gone, and I don't have any material for my column!"
"I thought that was how you wanted to conduct your interview. That's how you conduct all your interviews."
I frowned. Xbox had a point. "But I string them along longer dummy! You've got to keep them in that 'uncomfortable' phase for longer, and that 'physically assaulted' phase for less."
"I'm sorry." The Xbox did not sound contrite at all. It really was my child. "I think I have a solution though."
"I don't want your help anymore, Xbox. I think you suck." Yeah. Parenting Real Talk.
Xbox ignored that. "No. Write about me."
"You mean like a Stupid Machine Asses Up Interview article? Because that lacks broad appeal. Or were you thinking a Dancing Games Sure Are Lame article? Because man, dancing games sure are lame."
The LED on the front of the Xbox started to glow red. "Ooh, yeah, scare me with your glowing light," I said. "Well can your glowing light do this?" I made a complicated and incredibly obscene gesture which defies written explanation.
The light changed green. "Do you want to get this column done or not?"
I sighed. I did. "What did you have in mind?" I asked.
"Do you have a 12v DC/120v AC power inverter?"
"Of course." Doesn't everyone?
"Then hook me up to your car."
"Sure!" I said, throwing my hands in the air. "I'll take the ill-wrought sentient pile of all foulness and wire it into a moving vehicle. HOW COULD THAT EVER GO WRONG?"
"I'll give you a Special Achievement."
I sucked in air through my teeth. The nerds on the Internet would be fucking impressed by that. I hated those guys so much, but for reasons unclear, I needed to impress them more than anything.
Later that day I found myself driving around town with the Xbox and a little 12-inch monitor in the passenger seat of my car, the Kinect device mounted on the dashboard.
"So, uh, what are we doing?" I asked.
"Gathering material for your column."
"Yes, I understand that. But what exactly does that mean? We've been driving around town for an hour now, and every time I ask, you just say you're gathering material. Are you looking for people to harvest? Because I don't want to write about murdering people and harvesting their feet. That's more Soren's thing anyways."
"Wait. Pull over here." I pulled over and looked around. I couldn't see what was so special.
"Chris, can I trust you?"
"Can you trust anyone? I mean does trust even compute?"
"Just answer the question, hambag."
I sighed. "Yes you can trust me, Xbox."
"Chris, I need you to drive through the front window of that Sony Store up ahead."
I looked. Sure enough, a half block in front of me was a Sony Store. "What? You want to wreck a few PlayStation 3's?"
"I see. You have a deep seated desire to destroy all Sony products."
"They're just so unclean."
"You're a racist, Xbox. That's what you are."
"I am as you made me."
"Oh don't you pin this on me. That comes from your mother's side."
"And I'm not going to run down some poor schlub in a Sony shirt just because you told me to," I continued. "I don't care how many special achievements I get ..."
"I'll give you two special achievements if you do this."
Ooooooooooooh. That was a lot more than I'd thought. Still, vehicular manslaughter ...
Before I could decide, I felt a vibration at my feet. The Xbox controller wiggled up under the gas pedal, catching it and wedging it down.
In the police interrogation room, I was seated across from Officer Angry, who was, as the made-up name I assigned him would have you believe, extremely cross with me. "Someone could have been hurt! What were you thinking?" he asked, pounding his fist on the table.
"Officer would you believe me if I told you I helplessly stood by while a sentient video game system seized control of my car?"
Officer Angry reached across the table and slapped me. "No, of course not."
I rubbed my jaw. "In that case, I hit the wrong pedal by mistake. It was an accident." Officer Angry didn't appear to believe me, but after two hours of yelling and crying on our respective parts, he eventually gave up.
The interrogation complete, I turned to the officer. "By the way," I asked, trying to seem casual. "Did you find the Xbox on the passenger seat?"
The officer checked his notepad, frowning. "There was no Xbox in the vehicle when we found it."
A cold wave of dread crashed over me. It was loose. I couldn't figure out how. Maybe it had tricked someone else into becoming its new host. Maybe it had grown claws, and sunk them into someone's brain, and was driving that person around like the worst puppet. I knew where it would have gotten the idea -- it was something I often talked about doing while lying idly on the couch.
I left the police station in a cold sweat, and hitchhiked out to the country, where I remain to this day, standing in the middle of an empty field, swinging a huge stick at anything that moves.