Arcade After Dark
As the arcade closed and the doors were locked, peace came over the arcade. What was once a room full of sounds and lights, was now plunged in darkness and enveloped in silence. One by one, the gang came out of their respective machines and met for their nightly visit. After a few minutes, everyone was there, everyone except Billy the Block. At first no one was worried. Billy was older than everyone else and sometimes it took awhile for him to get to the meeting. But after the minutes turned into an hour, a sense of panic came over the arcade characters.
The first to speak up was Road Kill Bill. He never was afraid to speak his mind and asked the question that everyone was thinking "Wonder what is wrong with Billy? He never misses one of our meetings." They all nodded their heads in agreement. None of them could remember a time when Billy was not at a meeting. Captain Moon Man was next to speak up "He was probably just tired from getting hit back and forth all day. He will be here later." While he did not believe what he was saying, he felt as a Captain, it was his job to keep the others from worrying. Finally, Toygirl spoke up "Why don't we go over and see what is up with Billy?" It was the most logical suggestion and the Captain felt a bit embarrassed by not thinking of it. They all agreed with it and soon the gang was headed over to Billy's machine to see what was going on.
As the gang made their way over to Billy's machine, the noticed a sign on the front of his machine. It was stuck to the screen and would make playing the game very difficult. Since they were so small and it was way up, they were unable to read it. Being a squirrel, Road Kill Bill offered to climb up the machine and take a look. As he headed up the machine, the others were amazed at how nimble he was. Very few of the characters really knew much about each other. Since they were stuck in their own machines all day, they never got a chance to see how the other games were. They only went by what the other characters would say about their games and always believed what they were told. All they knew about Bill was he had to cross a street and was run over quite often. The tire tracks on his back were proof of that. But by watching him climb up this machine, they wondered how someone so quick and nimble could get run over so much. Cap could understand as he still remembers the horror of having the cars and trucks run him over. He would never admit it in public, but he had a great deal of respect for Bill after spending time in his machine. That was one experience he had no desire to repeat.
After Bill got to the top and read the sign, he raced back down. As he approached the group, they all wondered what the sign on the front of the machine said. Bill looked at all of them and said out loud "It says Out of Order. Whatever that means." Being all newer machines, this was not something they ever encountered before. What does Out of Order mean? The talked amongst themselves as they tried to figured out the meaning of this sign. Were the machines supposed to be in a certain order and they just realized that Billy's was out of order? Did machines only have so many games in them and Billy's ran out and they had to order more? No one could figure it out. Finally, Toygirl spoke up again and said "Why don't we just go and talk to Billy and find out what is going on?" They all agreed it was a good plan and they all headed up the power cord and into his machine.
As they head into Billy's home (the arcade machine is the character's home), they call out for Billy. At first they don't hear anything. As they continue to call out, they hear a groan from another room. As they make their way through his house, they follow the groan. They find their way into his bedroom. There on a bed of circuits, lays Billy. He has a film sheet pulled over him and he is shivering. They all rush to his side and start asking how he is doing and if they can do anything for him. Billy looked up with a tired look in his eyes and said "I just need to rest. I think my time is coming to an end." A stunned look fell over everyone's face. What was he talking about? They were arcade characters and had infinite lives. The game was never really over. Captain Moon Man was the first to talk "You're talking nonsense. You just have a blown fuse or circuit. They will have you back to your old self in no time." Everyone nodded in agreement. But Billy did not seemed convinced. He responded in a slow voice "I am an older machine. Heck, I am one of the first machines made. Face it, the kids don't play me that much anymore. It will cost more to fix me than I am worth, if they can find the parts. I am headed to the great arcade in the sky." Toyboy was the next to try and comfort him "Don't say that Billy. The adults still love to play you. I am sure they will be able to fix you for practically nothing." Billy struggled to smile. He knew they meant well but he understood the odds that were facing him. There were new games coming out all the time and the money it would cost to fix him could be spent towards a popular new arcade game, one that would surely bring in more quarters than he did. Before he chased them all out of his house so he could get some rest, he left them with one final thought. "Tomorrow, they will be picking me up to take me back to the shop. Mark my words that a new machine will be in the arcade within two days of my departure. If that happens, you can be sure to know that I will not be coming back."
After they all gave him a pat and a smile, they slowly walked out. In the arcade, they all stood there and looked at each other. No one wanted to say it, but they were all worried. Sure, Billy was cranky and opinionated but he was their friend. They all agreed to call it a night. After that, no one wanted to talk. So they all walked back to their machines, one by one. Each of them thought about the day when they would become obsolete and it would be cheaper to just discard them into the trash, instead of trying to fix them. Was that really their eventual fate? Were they headed to the arcade in the sky as Billy called it?
The next day as Billy predicted, two men came and carted his machine away. They loaded it on a dolly and wheeled it out the front door. Some of the kids in the arcade watched as they machine left. While they did not play the machine alot, it was a part of the arcade. Every kid played Tabletop Tennis from time to time. While it was primitive compared to the newer games, it was still the best two player game. And since it was so easy to learn to play, the little kids cut their teeth on it. The kids walked over to the spot where the game was and looked at it. They could still see the outline where the game sat.
Later that night, the gang got together. They all sat around and talked about Billy. Road Kill Bill suggested they all share a story about Billy to make themselves feel better. Captain Moon Man was the first to speak up. "I can remember when I first came to this arcade. It was just Billy and some pinball machines. I felt so alone until Billy came and introduced himself. If it wasn't for him, I would have never known that I could leave my machine." He holds back the tears but they all can hear the emotion in his voice. Toyboy speaks up next. "I remember when Billy showed me the coin boxes and how it showed which machines were the most popular that day. I felt so bad for Billy as his box always was the lowest. But he never seemed to mind." Roadkill Bill spoke up next "While Billy was the butt of many of my jokes, he never yelled at me. I know deep down that he liked the attention." The last to speak up was Toygirl "I didn't know Billy too long, but he always made me feel welcome. I can tell that he felt video games was a man's job, but he never made me feel inferior." They all raised their glasses up and made a toast to Billy's health. The rest of the night was spent talking about the good old days and how they couldn't wait for Billy to return.
The next morning, the arcade was opened as usual and the kids slowly made their way in. All the games were filled up with it being a weekend. Then around noon, a man came in the front door. He brought a piece of paper over for Mike to sign. After he signed it, the man left. Within minutes, he came back in with an arcade machine that was covered in plastic wrap. They moved it over to the space where Billy's machine was and set it up. The kids all circled the work as he set the machine down and began to unwrap it. The top sign and the sides were covered, so they did not know what it was. Slowly the wrap was removed and it the game was revealed. A cheer went through the arcade. The other games became excited. While they couldn't really see what it was, they guessed by the cheers that Billy had returned.
That night, the gang all ran out and got together. They couldn't wait to go over and welcome Billy back. As they got together and walked over and looked at the machine, a sense of dread came over them. It was not Tabletop Tennis in the spot where Billy was. Instead it was a new game, one they never heard of. Toygirl was the first one to break down in tears. She ran off to her machine. Toyboy ran after her. Captain Moon Man and Road Kill Bill looked at each other and just lowered their heads and walked away.
Arcade After Dark © Tom Zjaba
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