Arcade After Dark
Chapter #8
by Tom Zjaba


Chapter Eight
The Return of Billy

    It was a typical Saturday at the arcade. The place was full of kids and all the machines had waits. Rows of quarters lined the top machines as kids saved their spot for the next game. The longest line was at Jungle Drums, since it was the newest game. But all the games had a wait, including Toyboy, who rarely had waits anymore. The arcade fever was hitting the country and while this wasn't the hottest arcade in town, it was still a popular hangout for both kids and adults. Most of the adults were in the back playing pinball, while the kids gathered around the arcade machines. Mike was happy as the money was rolling in. He knew if he wanted to keep the momentum, he had to get some more games. Especially now that he was selling food at his place, he wanted the people to stay and eat. The small investment in a popcorn machine, soda dispenser and a hot dog cooker increased his profits more than any machine. Sure he had to put in some tables and chairs and it means cleaning the arcade more often to keep the health department happy, but the increase in revenue was more than enough for him to be able to hire some help. And he needed it with one person running the snack counter and the other making change and keeping the machines running. But as he looked out and saw all the kids playing the games, he smiled and thought of all the money he was making. He also looked at how much empty space he had in the arcade and thought how he could easily triple the number of machines and still have room to spare. The storefront he was renting used to be an old appliance store. So it was roomy and it has lots of outlets, a huge bonus for an arcade. And being within walking distance of the junior high and high school meant there was a steady flow of kids.

    Later that night, the arcade is closed. The lights are out and the signs are turned. Nighttime had come and the moon is out. The light of the moon could be seen from the window as it lighten things up outside. The gang is out and walking around the arcade. Toyboy and Toygirl are looking out the front door at the moon. "Wonder if that is the same moon that Captain Moon Man is named after?" Toyboy asks. Toygirl smiles at him and says "There is only one moon, at least I think there is ." Soon Captain Moon Man and Roadkill Bill join them as they look at the moon. Toyboy turns to Cap and asks "Is that the moon you are named after?" Cap takes a long look at the moon and then says "Of course it is. I was the first man to walk on it." Roadkill Bill breaks out laughing "You are a video game character, you never walked on any real moon." He turns and gives him a dirty look. Toyboy then asks "I wonder what it is like on the moon?" Bill chimes in with his usual smart mouth "If it is anything like Cap, then it is very stuffy and dull." This infuriates Cap and he yells at Bill "This comes from a stinking rodent." Bill just laughs and says "See, even his comebacks are dull." Cap then chases after Bill who quickly runs away.

    As the two of them are running around the arcade, a strange noise comes from the front door. They quickly look over and see that someone is at the front door, trying to open it. They all panic and scatter to their respective machines. A few seconds later, the front door is unlocked and in walks Mike. He heads over to the light switch and turns on the light. He then looks around the arcade as his friend, Danny walks in. Danny looks at him as he searches around the machines and asks "What are you looking for? Dropped quarters?" Mike stops his search and says "I thought I saw something moving around the floor." Danny laughs and says "You probably have bugs. I told the food was a bad idea." Mike gives him a cross look and says "I don't have bugs. And the food is making me a ton of money." This prompts Danny to ask "If you are making so much money, why are you buying old arcade machines instead of the hot new ones?" Mike turns to him and responds "Because I got a great deal on them. How could I pass up two classic games for only $500.00 and he fixed Tabletop Tennis for free?" Danny laughs and responds "Classics? Try antiques. Those games belong in a museum not an arcade. No kids gonna wanna play Bi-Plane Battles or Clown Around." Mike laughs back and says "If you saw the kids in here today, they were playing everything. They will play it and I will have my money back in a month, if not sooner." Danny then puts out his hand and says "If you are so sure, why don't we make a little wager. Twenty bucks says you don't make your money back in a month." He thinks for a second and then Mike grabs his hand and says "Make it fifty bucks and you have a bet." They agree on the bet and shake. They then go out to Mike's truck and start bringing in the new games.

    Later that night, after Mike and Danny have brought in the new games, played a few rounds and then left, the arcade is once again empty. Once the coast is clear, Roadkill Bill comes out and looks around. Since he is the fastest member, he is the one who is the scout. When he is sure it is safe to come out, he lets the others know it is safe. One by one, they come out and start walking around again. Toyboy and Toygirl come over to Bill and wait for Cap to join them. As usual, he is taking his time coming out. While no one knows for sure what he is doing, Bill always teases that he is waxing his armor. To which he usually replies "At least I care about my appearance." When he finally joins the group, Bill urges them to follow him. He has more hop in his step as he runs ahead. When he finally stops in front of a machine, he points at it. They all come over and look. When they realize it is Tabletop Tennis, they all get excited. Billy is back! Bill runs to the back of the machine and yells out "Billy, come on out!" The rest of the gang soon join him and they are all yelling for Billy to come out. A few minutes later, he appears and yells "Who is making all that noise?" When he comes out and sees that it is his old gang, he smiles and heads down the power cord. Roadkill Bill is the first to greet him and gives him a big hug. As he continues to hug him, Toyboy and Toygirl give him a big hug as well. Captain Moon Man stays back and just waves. "That's enough of the slobbering, you are gonna bend my corners." he says as he struggles to break free. While he is quite happy to see them, he has to maintain his tough image. Billy then takes a step back and brushes himself off. He then smiles and says "I want you guys to meet some friends of mine. A few guys from the old days." He then starts walking towards the two new machines and whistles very loudly. They didn't know he could whistle but after the ear piercing whistle, they now know. After a few minutes, they see two characters walking down their power cords. At first they cannot see them, but as they walk out into the faint light, they see what looks like a World War I pilot and a clown. But they look different than the rest of the gang. Like Billy, they are in black and white, or to be more accurate, shades of gray. They are also more crudely drawn than the newer characters like Roadkill Bill. The pilot walks up first and says "Hello, I am known as Ace. Glad to make your acquaintance." He then grabs Toygirls hand and kisses it. She blushes as she smiles at him. Toyboy has an angry look on his face. As he looks at Ace, he sees a tall man with slicked back hair, a pencil thin mustache and is wearing a uniform. His jacket has numerous medals pinned to it and he has a perpetual smile. He then notices Captain Moon Man and salutes him. Cap is not sure what to do but ends up saluting back. This is the first time he has met someone else with a military background and likes the respect the salute shows. Next up, a clown walks up and is juggling some balls. Like Ace, he also is in shades of gray and crudely drawn. "Hi everybody! I am Jumpy the Clown." Toyboy immediately asks "Jumpy? That is a strange name for a clown." He smiles and says "Not for me. I have to jump over various obstacles while juggling, so that is why they call me Jumpy." He then starts jumping around while juggling, including doing a flip, which impresses everyone. They all break out into applause after seeing that. Roadkill Bill comes over and pats him on the back and says "I think we will get along just fine." As he pats him on the back, he drops all the balls, which roll around the arcade. The two of them run after the balls to get them before they are lost.

    As the night goes on, Cap and Toygirl listen intently to Ace as he tells his war stories. She hangs on his every word, which is driving Toyboy crazy. He grumbles about it, but he just sits in the corner and sulks. She was always his girl or so he thought. But how can he compete with a man in uniform, especially one who is much taller and more handsome. At the same time, Roadkill Bill and Jumpy are off in another part of the arcade. Jumpy is teaching Bill how to juggle. Every time they think he has it, Bill ends up messing up and they have to go chase the balls again. But they are laughing and having a good time. Billy is walking around the arcade and seeing all the new stuff. He is amazed at how much the arcade has changed since he left. They now serve food and have a new game. The place is even cleaner. He wonders if it is good or bad that there are so many new games coming to the arcade. He remembers the days when it was just him and the pinball machines and pool tables. He used to walk around the arcade and just think. He was so lonely then. But now with all these people, he thinks about how nice it was to have a quiet arcade. Then he thinks about when he was in the repair shop. He remembers thinking he wasn't going to make it. There were other machines that came in that were scrapped. He thought about some of the machines that weren't given a second chance. The game next to him, Mighty Hunter, was one of the unfortunate ones. On the side of the machine, it showed a mighty hunter with a big gun, standing on top of a lion. When he was healthier, he went over to visit him and was surprised at how weak and frail he looked. He was a shell of the man on the side of the machine. He tried to console him and listen to him for hours as he told about the great hunts and how the kids loved him. But with games like Jungle Drums, there isn't much room in the arcades for Mighty Hunters. Billy wondered how long before he would be replaced by a bigger and better game. He saw a boxing game with colorful characters. There was a bullfighting game and a man climbing buildings. With so many new games, would kids still want to play a simple game like Tabletop Tennis. He was given a second chance and he hopes that he lives up to it.

    The next day, Mike and Danny open the arcade. Danny looks at Mike and says "Remember our bet, your games need to bring in $500.00 for the month." Mike looks at him and says "Yes, thirty days from today, we will add up the totals and see." They shook again. Mike then turns on the power and all the machines come to life. Danny then goes into the kitchen and warms up the hot dog machine and the popcorn machine. Mike then turns the signs and within minutes, the first customers are in. Being a Sunday, the kids are off school and a handful come in and put their dollars in the change machine. Two boys, get their change and immediately look over and see the new games. One of them says "Look, Tabletop Tennis is back. Why did they bother bringing back that hunk of junk?" Danny smiles and looks over at Mike. Then the boys go over to Bi-Plane Battles and Clown Around and start playing them. Mike looks back at him and smiles. After a few games of each, they head back to the new machines and one of them gets in line to play Jungle Drums and the other starts playing Toygirl. Danny smiles back at Mike. As the day progresses, a handful of customers play the new machines. A few games here and a few games there. The arcade is not as crowded as it was on Saturday, but it is steady. More kids are shopping with their parents or doing other things. There is also church and visits to relatives. But enough find a little time to stop and drop a buck or two in the arcade.  

    At the end of the day, they empty the two machines and count the total.  Clown Around brought in $15.00 in quarters and Bi-Plane Battle brought in $13.50 in quarters.  Mike smiles and says $28.50, not bad for the first day.  Times that by 30 days and we have ...ummm...over $800.00 dollars."  Danny laughs and says "First off, this is a Sunday and they are always better than weekdays.  Second, it is new and getting more action.  We will see how it does the rest of the month. "  Mike growls a little as he says "Mark my words, I will win this bet and I will use that money to get a new game for my Atari."  Danny laughs and says "Dream all you want, but that money is going to buy me a new game for my Intellivision."  They both then clean up and leave for the night.



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Arcade After Dark Tom Zjaba

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