Copyright Ken Brady. No reproduction without express permission from the author.
(Originally published in DAILY CABAL, 2010)

Mario grabbed one last coin, then realized he had timed his leap wrong. He missed the ledge and descended into darkness.

The music faded as he fell, replaced by whooshing wind. Flapping his arms did no good, but he kept it up anyway. Just in case.

A fireball suddenly flew up and past him, lighting rough rock walls briefly before it dropped back down. He then saw the fire pits below, and one small square of solid ground between them. He flapped madly to change his trajectory.

He hit the ground hard, landing on his feet, as he always did. The charred remains of creatures were strewn all around, some half crawled from the fire, others just blackened shells. The pits afforded only one exit: a series of crumbling ledges leading up to a small cave opening. He tensed, jumped across the fire pit and landed precariously on the first ledge. Another leap, then another, and he was at the cave opening.

Inside, lit by flickering torches, a dozen pairs of eyes swiveled his way.

There were four climbers in cold-weather gear sitting on turtle shells and a rather big gorilla slumped in the corner. Mario recognized himself in the other seven, jumpsuits, hats, mustaches and all.

“Mamma mia,” he said. “You’re me!”

“We’ve already been over this a million times,” said Mario. “I got here first, who knows when. Fell down a hole.”

“Me too,” said Mario.

“Fell off a cliff,” said a climber.

“Drove my cart off a big mushroom,” said Mario.

“Then him, then them, then him, yadda yadda,” said Mario. “But it’s been a while since anyone else has made it through the fire pits. Now you make eight. Eight identical Marios. Two pairs of climbers. One stubborn gorilla. That’s thirteen of us stuck here.”

“Stuck?” said Mario. “But we need to get out. We still need to rescue the princess!”

“Forget about it,” Mario said. “Even if we could get out, there are other more pressing concerns. One of us found this.”

Mario looked at the poster tacked to the cave wall. It showed a rather cartoonish looking Mario leaping over a fireball. Mario pointed to a name on the bottom of the poster.

“We have to find someone named Miyamoto. I don’t know what’s going on, or how many of us are stuck in these caves across the worlds, but I think he’s the cause of all this.”

“But how do we find him?” said a climber.

Mario looked around. “You’re climbers. You have axes, right? We Marios can jump. And we’ve got a big-ass gorilla. We can climb back up. Together.”

“Maybe with his help,” Mario said, pointing to the gorilla, who had fingers jammed in both ears, defiant as always. “But you try telling him that.”

Mario walked over to the gorilla, levered one big finger out of his ear, and whispered.

A moment of silence. Then the gorilla stood and flexed his muscles. He roared his approval.

“What did you say to him?” a climber asked.

“I told him he could have the princess. I just want Miyamoto.”

The group assembled, climbed aboard the gorilla.

Mario smiled devilishly. “Let’s go,” he said. “Someone will pay for this.”

It was time to change the rules of the game.