The Arcade by Cortez Roberts
The Arcade by Cortez Roberts
Portland, Oregon. Not really a city that stirs up much controversy. Unless you live there, of course. The height of Portland’s scandals seems to be during the 80s. The most well-known issue we had struggled with was drug rings, but being a resident, I know that there’s more to Portland than just that. Winter, 1985, is when I noticed some of the darkest secrets Portland wants to hold onto.
I was the young Lucius Crosby, but now I’m just the old Lucius Crosby. At around the glorious age of 13, I was still going to school, even with report cards covered in Ds and Fs. But that was fine with me, my heart was with my friends at the time, and the arcade. The place used to be known as ‘Scapelli’s Arcade and Pizzeria’. My friends and I spent many hours and many quarters in that ancient place, until there were ‘renovations’.
It was a chilly day when I left the school yard with my friends; Alvin, Damian, and Emilio. These were the best friends a guy could ask for, even if Emilio was a bit of a troublemaker. Alvin was your typical nerd-type, but the guy had a good heart. And like I said, Emilio was a troublemaker. A real jerk actually, but at least he was our friend. It was like we had tamed a bucking bronco. Then there was Damian, Damian was probably everyone’s favorite friend to have, he was so laid back and level-headed, there wasn’t a thing that could bother him. Anyway, we were all headed out to Scapelli’s with another treacherous Friday behind us. Our pockets full of quarters and our hearts set on high scores, we left school immediately.
Clearly our outing wasn’t meant to be. When we pulled up to Scapelli’s the place was surrounded by cops. Red and blue lights any which way you turned. My friends and I all shared a heavy and fearful feeling in the bottom of our stomachs, because we knew, we might not get to play at Scapelli’s ever again. All we did was watch as the place was searched.
“Well fellas it was nice while it lasted,” Emilio had suddenly belted out. None of us were much in the mood for talking, though. We essentially were watching our memories get torn into by the police. Without a word, we all had decided to just go back home for the night.
I felt like a dog with its tail between its legs, simply utter defeat. While slinking back home I was reflecting on all the fun times me and the guys had shared. We witnessed many arcade games come and go through that shop. Some of my favorites being the Pac-Man games. I waltzed through my front door to find my mother at the kitchen table.
“Hi Lucy! How was school today?” She liked to tease me about my name with a cutesy nickname, despite the fact that she gave me my name. But, this was the same response I typically heard from her once I got home.
I painfully admitted, “It was fine until me and the guys tried to go to Scapelli’s.”
“Well gee, why’s that?” She actually seemed interested.
“There were cops swarming the place, I think old Scapelli got caught doing something he shouldn’t have.”
“That’s okay honey, there’ll be more arcades in the future.”
“Yeah, but not like Scapelli’s,” With that being said, I headed to bed for the night, I wasn’t much in the mood for eating.
Bright and early that Saturday morning I arose from my bed almost forgetting the day prior, as though it was a bad dream. During a quick stop in the bathroom I examined myself in the mirror. I was a pretty handsome kid, shadowy black hair, fair skin, and these grey-green eyes. My smile didn’t shine too bright, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of these features came from my mom, she was proud of this. Although, today I did look a bit more sunken-in than usual, I was real sore about what happened at Scapelli’s. After I tended to my business I plodded downstairs to prepare myself a bowl of cereal, Corn Flakes. As I poured the milk I glanced at the newspaper beside me and saw the headline; “SCAPELLI’S ARCADE JUST A FUN-FILLED DRUG DEN”. Finally, some closure as to just what happened at the arcade. I carried on as usual, a little more saddened by the news of Scapelli’s clever drug escapade.
Not wanting to be stuck at the house all day, I decided to head out to just ride around town. I threw on some clothes and hopped on my bike. Truthfully, I kinda just wanted to see what sorta shape Scapelli’s arcade was in.
The air was brisk, but pleasant, and the sun was actually out that day. I raced towards Scapelli’s hoping to see caution tape all over the place. It was an odd attempt at coping with the ordeal. As I made it down there, I saw something I would have never expected to see in a million years. A working arcade. Scapelli’s was gone just like that. Poof! And it was replaced with ‘Funtown Arcade’. I was dumbstruck, utter awe is all I felt in that moment, some might even say hope.
I had to tell the guys about this one, I wouldn’t dare check the place out without them, that’s like a form of betrayal. So I had to race back to the neighborhoods, and boy was I tired. I slowly managed to drag each of the guys out of their houses one by one, with promises of a new arcade! Once we had re-grouped and collected our thoughts Alvin asked,
“So let’s get this straight. Scapelli’s is gone and in its place is ‘Funtown’. This doesn’t seem right Lucius.” Disbelief dripping off each word.
I had to defend myself here, “Listen, I know it seems crazy, but it’s real, I saw the place. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a new joint to hang out at, even if they took over our old spot.” They were hesitant but Damian spoke out on my behalf.
“C’mon fellas, let’s take Lucius’ word for it, and check out the place.”
With that said, it was decided, we were off.
We arrived at around 10:30 AM and the place didn’t seem very popular. The inside was a different story, however. There were at least twenty kids crammed into the place, but they were all gathered around the area near the back. Since the scenery wasn’t too crowded near the front, I got a good look at the place. Somehow, they had managed to completely morph the place from Scapelli’s into what looked like the aesthetic an office building has. Blocky panel ceilings, bland dark blue carpet, and tiresome fluorescent lights all about the place. All of it being very sterile and clean looking. Which made sense of course, as the place was new. And, despite the lame interior, the place was alive and kicking with guests. Maybe we were all just desperate and begging for entertainment, even without the atmosphere.
Just as I was comfortably lost in thought at the sight of the place, Emilio smashed into my side to knock some sense into me.
“C’mon man! They have all the best games! It’s almost like Scapelli never left!” He ran off without caring to hear a response.
I looked over to see Alvin and Damian playing some games next to one another. Alvin was on Dig-Dug and Damian was on Donkey Kong. Emilio was right, they did have great games in here, I’m sure most just taken from Scapelli’s. I did see some fresh new games like Burgertime and Centipede, both garnering a fair amount of attention from fellow arcade-goers. I was very curious about the crowd forming in the back, there must have been some crazy, new, ground-breaking game they were hiding from the rest of the arcade’s patrons. I didn’t let that thought get to me, as I was sure I would get to see the game eventually. With that decided, I saw my old favorite, Pac-Man. It was open too! I tossed my quarters into the machine and decided to blast through a few rounds with the notorious ghost eater.
A good forty five minutes went by and I felt a little bit happy again, gaining confidence in the ‘Funtown’ establishment. I stepped back from the arcade cabinet and gazed around looking for my friends, who were all missing from my sight. In fact, there was nobody in my general area! I turned again to look at the back to see that the crowd had grown! I wanted to take advantage of the many open arcade games but, the curiosity was eating away at my mind. It was time for some good old sleuthing.
I waltzed on to the back and a wall of people is all I was met with.
“So… What’s the crowd here for fellas?”
Some grubby looking kid turned to me and said,
“There’s this cool new game! Everyone wants a turn really bad! The graphics are insane!” He turned away from me almost immediately.
I had figured as much, I’ve seen arcade crowds, but nothing on this level before. The crowd was rather rowdy, quite a lot of yelling coming from all of them, so I was confused as to why nobody was intervening. Everywhere I looked it appeared to only be kids in there. Not a single adult to be seen, not even the owner. Since there were no authority figures, I decided to act.
I shoved my way into that crowd like an absolute jerk, I was jamming my elbows into sides left and right. Honestly, that was one of my least-proudest moments, I’m not too big into being a gigantic brute. Once I had hammered through about five kids, I saw the cabinet itself, and in control, was Damian. Upon the sides of the jet black cabinet was the word Polybius in a minimalistic teal colored bubble font, probably a weird foreign name, I thought. From the angle I was standing at I couldn’t see past Damian’s head to see the actual game itself. I casually walked over to Damian to see if I could figure out why the game had everyone so hysteric.
It was boring. The game had no cutting-edge graphics, no insane gameplay, it just looked like a Tempest rip-off. No style or flair, it was shameful! Just a shameful clone of a good game! My mind was dulled and perplexed all at the same time, why was this gross display of plagiarism the thing driving everyone so mad?
“Hey Damian? Buddy? Might I ask, why are you playing this lame rip-off?”
It took him a good five seconds to retort, “You don’t understand man, you gotta play it to comprehend the complex gameplay!”
The only difference between this game and Tempest is that the screen occasionally flashes white for a second, which is especially nauseating. Maybe it was a fun game, I mean, it did have some sort of grasp on the player. In fact, everyone in the arcade that day was affected by Polybius’ grasp.
I got home later that night, the arcade had to close at some point, frustrating some more than others. I found my mom watching a movie on the couch.
“Hey Ma, I’ve got some weird stories to tell!”
“Well aren’t you all excited?”
“Yeah, it’s great stuff I’ve got to tell, but uh, could you make me some dinner first? Please?”
“Okay honey, but this story better be good.”
Oh boy was it good.
After a solid hour of explaining all the odd occurrences from the day, she didn’t know what to think. Of course, I didn’t think the game had any bad intentions or anything, it just made people act weird. How naive I was. But, I needed sleep, so I wished my mom a good night followed by an ‘I love you’ and went to bed.
That night I had some odd dreams, which I suppose were nightmares really. I dreamt of the Polybius arcade cabinet itself, or even some of the actual gameplay. All of this was weird considering that I never got to play the game myself that day. But, the most disturbing thing I saw in my dreams that night was an image of the cabinet with pulsating flesh coming from out of the screen, covered in shattered glass and glowing red, being lit from underneath the mass of meat.
I woke up feeling absolutely sickened. I didn’t want to get up. I had suffered from an “illness” known as “Tetris Syndrome” in which a person starts dreaming of a game. But again, this was all odd since I had never actually laid my hands on the joystick.
That whole Sunday I was extremely sluggish, like there was a weight on my body, both physically and mentally. I decided to stay in bed for a majority of the day, only getting up to go to the bathroom or to eat. Bare-minimum living.
But Monday was different, being a new day I felt like a new person than from the day prior. I wasn’t one-hundred percent energized, but I felt a whole heck of a lot better then. Besides, I got to see all my pals back at school. While also actually having to deal with the academic half of school, yuck. I biked to the schoolyard to get there at a decent time. I met Alvin just outside the front door of the place, as I was locking up my bike he turns to me.
“Hey dude, how are you feeling? The guys and I didn’t see you much yesterday.”
“Oh just, dealing with a mood I was in, how was your sunday?”
“It was fine ‘til Damian totally blew up at Emilio and I.”
“Yeah, Damian of all people blew his lid!” I thought he might have just had a fever dream of some sort.
“What caused all that?”
“He kept trying to drag us to the arcade, but Emilio and I wanted a break, we wanted to go to the creek and chuck rocks into it or something.”
“Then where did Damian go?”
“I’m guessing the arcade, I certainly didn’t wanna be around him.”
“Have you seen him since?”
“Thankfully not, I better get a hefty apology when I see him today.”
But we never did see him that day. There were quite a few missing students during that school day. This never bothered me, it was flu season, after all. It was like almost everyone had caught the bug.
At lunch I sat with Alvin and Emilio.
“What’s up goofy-lookin?” This was Emilio’s way of saying hi to me. If I remember right, he says I looked goofy because my nose is too big or something. I like my nose.
“Nothing much man, how have your classes been? Anything cool happen?” Usually I didn’t see anything particularly interesting in my classes, sometimes we got a substitute teacher, but they were jerks.
“I haven’t seen anything cool, but I’m weirded out that so many people are gone.”
Alvin had been quiet this whole time, he was probably in deep thought, typical.
“What about you Alvin? Any hot substitute teachers walk through the door?” Emilio slapped him on the back, which woke him up out of his trance.
“Oh, God! Uh. Nah, I’m just thinking about the arcade.”
I think we had all been secretly thinking about the arcade, we were like fish, utterly hooked.
As I was biking home, I decided to go past the arcade. Mostly from curiosity, but also from desire. The place was decently populated, not crazy like on Saturday, so it wasn’t hard to identify people through the windows. I was met with familiar faces, almost everyone that was missing from school today was intensely playing their favorite game. I had to squint to see to the back wall. I thought I was losing it, but I saw him! He was really in there! It was Damian, and he was playing on the Polybius machine. I’ve never been electrocuted before, but I imagine it feels a lot like what I felt in that moment. How in the world could he dare go to the arcade without us? I was convinced Damian had turned on us.
I was conflicted, do I rat on Damian, or do I hold this damning fact to myself? In fact, if Damian was healthy enough to head on down to the arcade, why wasn’t he at school? Was he avoiding us to selfishly indulge his craving for digital entertainment? I was marinating in these questions all throughout the night, becoming saturated in anger. In my pissed off slumber, I had no bad dreams, I only recall seeing the color red. Like shoving my head in a fire and roasting there. Needless to say, I did not sleep in peace.
I woke up feeling warmer than usual. School was the last thing on my mind and I didn’t know if I could put up with the full seven hours that day. So I did what any crafty kid did, I faked my sickness. Parents always fall for clammy hands, and all you gotta do is fake a stomach cramp or two to really drive it home. In all honesty, I did sorta feel sick that day, not physical, but more of an overwhelming weight sitting upon my conscience.
I stayed in bed for a good hour, I was in a sleep-like state, but I didn’t get a wink of rest. Being a bump on a log was nice and all, but I didn’t wanna totally squander my day off, and the worst-case scenario was a total repeat of Sunday. So, in a stiff manner, I arose from bed. Half boy, half corpse. It was all just routine without the threat of school looming over my head. I didn’t bother a shower, though. I wanted to wallow within myself a while. Looking back on it, I’m surprised how sore I was over Damian just going to the arcade without us guys. There was that word again, arcade. The arcade. In an instant, I wanted to be back. I needed entertainment. Something to do, something better to do.
Biking as fast as my non-athletic legs could, I rushed into the front door of Funtown. Pocket full of quarters and a heart that was full of both nothing at all and frustration. There were not many kids there today, only about three, not including myself. I didn’t want the games I was used to, the classics, as some may say. I wanted something more, something refreshing and new. I made quick notice of how vacant the Polybius machine was. I ran right into its decrepit arms.
Two quarters was the price to pay if you wanted a good run on Polybius. But, nothing stopped you from pumping more quarters in as your in-game lives diminished. Touching that joystick was like getting pricked by a heroin needle. Straight through the blood and into the brain. Into the belly of the beast.
There was no fun animation to be played on the title screen, just the name, POLYBIUS in that damned teal color. Underneath that was smaller, darker blue text that simply displayed the words; ‘1981 SINNESLOSCHEN INC.’. These colors and fonts are like the bright colors seen on a poison dart frog, warning you of the toxicity. Despite all of these thoughts, I started the game.
Flashing colors, lights, and text. All of these elements attacked in an all-out assault on my senses, my eyes and mind taking the majority of the ‘beating’. But I enjoyed every minute of game time I had. Like I had previously stated, the game looked like a weird bootleg of Tempest, but it was the addition of the flashing lights and text that changed this gameplay experience. Each light acting as a new injection of the drug that kept me hooked to the game. The on-screen text disappeared as fast as it arrived, only being able to be read by the world’s most elite speedreader. I played as much as I could, until the arcade itself closed. A man in a charcoal black suit and reflective sunglasses escorted me from the arcade.
“We’re closing up shop, and we run a tight schedule, so don’t give me any trouble,” There was not an ounce of humanity in this man’s voice.
“C’mon man, I’m a paying customer, just let me keep playing! I know my rights!”
Despite my protests, he grabbed me pretty roughly by the arm, but this didn’t bother me as much as being denied more time with Polybius.
I almost fell to my knees when I stumbled as the jerk pushed me through the front door.
“What a bastard,” I said to myself, scorn falling from my mouth to the floor as if I had just spit out a brick.
I stopped for just a moment, my back turned to Funtown, and I checked myself over. What was wrong with me? I thought about my actions and realized I had been acting like a real rotten kid, I never usually use the term ‘bastard’ towards anyone. I just heard it from movies and when Mom referred to our landlord. Alone with my thoughts, I walked myself and my bike home, it was about 5:42PM. How long was I even in there?
Boy, was my mom upset.
“I almost called the police to search for you!” Her words bouncing off the walls and into my skull.
“I’m sorry! Okay! I lost track of time!”
“And worst of all, you lied to me! You’re not sick at all! Do you think of anyone except yourself Lucius? You’re killing your poor mother!”
I sat in silence, I had no defense or justification, I really was being awful.
“Just.. just go upstairs! You’re grounded for the next week! No going out!”
I rarely ever got grounded. I thought I was a good kid, but, I think I proved myself wrong. I slid into bed, hoping that maybe Mom wouldn’t be so mad in the morning. I fell into slumber with tears building in the corners of my eyes, like potent little droplets of regret.
A teal room, the size of a walk-in closet, devoid of furnishing or detail. Except for a window across the way from me, sitting, wide open. I could not fit through this window, my waist being just three sizes too large to make it through. I returned to the back wall where I had awoken. I sat, thinking of an escape. A noxious smell of flesh, rotting flesh, wafts in through the window. My lungs are filled with the stench and my body rejects this repulsive odor. I’m choking, all alone, when liquid meat pours in through the window. My feet are submerged in this gorey filth, my three sizes too large waist follows, and not soon after my upper body is enveloped. I’m choking on the smell, then drowning in the sloppy fluid. I came from nothing, and into nothing I return.
I woke up wetter than a dish sponge. My sheets were stained with sweat, I felt like a piece of steak marinating all night. And, I didn’t smell so good either. I doubted that Mom will give any more time off, especially after the day before, I needed to be more frugal with absences. I hopped into the shower to wash off the wretched wetness from my body. Then, I quickly shoved off to the kitchen for a basic breakfast of toast with jam, I didn’t even have time for a glass of milk. Out the door and on the road, I headed back towards school, I had to tell Alvin and Emilio about Damian.
Honestly, I wish I would have told them sooner, I was far too selfish with my time at the arcade. The only problem was, none of my pals were at school. There had been fewer people there than when I was at school on monday! Of course, I just figured it was the flu or the cold or whatever other contagious disease there was out there. But, I was awfully lonely having to sit through my classes all day. I wanted so badly to leave, to somehow visit or contact my friends to make sure there were still among the living. Lunch was a bore, I had to just kick rocks until the bell rang. I noticed how annoyed my teachers were at the high absence rate there had been. I mean, you can’t teach a class if there are no kids to teach! And yeah, I made note of their frustrations, but I didn’t care, I had bigger fish to fry.
Immediately biking home as to not infringe upon my grounding, practically leaping off of my bike to rush inside and get on the telephone. I had to speak to someone, I was so devoid of social interaction the past two days. I dialed up Alvin’s home phone number and was met with his mother on the other end.
“H-hello? This is the Westchester residence,” Alvin and his mom sounded so alike sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was speaking to him or not.
“Uh, yeah! This is Lucius, you know me Mrs. Westchester.”
“Oh! Hello dear, what have you called us up for?”
“Would you mind if I speak to Alvin, we’ve got pressing issues to discuss.”
“He’s a little under the weather with a head cold at the moment, I’ll ask if he’s okay to talk to you right now.”
“Yes! Thank you!”
“One moment now,” I waited for a good minute waiting on a response. I was met with bleak silence until I heard a meek yet gruff voice respond.
“Heeey buddy! How’re you holdin’ up?”
“I’ve felt better in a gym class than I do right now!” That got me chuckling quite a bit.
“I’m so glad to hear from you man, but listen, we’ve gotta talk about Damian.”
“Oh, I still haven’t gotten an apology outta him, not that I’ve seen him,” He paused for a moment to relieve himself with some coughing.
“He’s gone awol man! I caught him going to the arcade all by himself!”
“I’m not all that surprised, but, what game was he playing?”
“Polybius,” I had responded in a much darker tone than I intended.
“Why the hell does everyone keep talking about that game!” Panic and annoyance.
“I mean, have you played it yet?”
“Okay, I get it, it’s the best thing since sliced bread! I’d rather stick to games I know I like.” In that moment, he sounded ignorant, but now I realize he was sticking to his gut feeling.
“Ya gotta try it some time man, I tried it recently and…”
“Oh great now you’re in on the game too! Answer me this, why do you like it so much?” I pondered this question for mere seconds but time froze as I considered my liking of the game.
“I-I don’t know… The gameplay just hooks you in and-”
“Thanks for the chat Lucius, I’m going back to bed, I’ll see ya around.”
And like that our call was over. I stood in the kitchen listening to the gaunt hum of the dial tone for a solid minute. Why did I like Polybius so much? I could have thought about the topic for days on end, but I had schoolwork to tend to. I blasted through my homework until Mom got home. We ate dinner in silence, Mom was still shrouded in anger from yesterday. I got to bed as early as I could, life in my house was awkward for the time being.
I got good sleep that night. No terrifying visions, just a calm hum and the color black. Peace. A concept I haven’t had much of for almost a week at that point. I had been pissing off just about everyone around me. This moment of peace was a reminder to get my act together. To act. The time to make amends and act was now.
I biked to school at a leisurely pace, I didn’t want to overwork my body. Today I was gonna play my cards just right, right my wrongs. However, in doing so, I got to school late. I wasn’t able to see if all of my friends were at school today or not, and considering their poor attendance rate at this point, my hopes were low. Come lunchtime, I was pleasantly surprised!
My whole gang was together! And at the same table! I walked up to them during Damian’s apology to Alvin, but Damian’s eyes had these awful yellow-purple circles underneath them. The guy looked like he had been rubbing beet juice on his eye sockets. I sat down with excitement, like a loyal dog with its tail wagging.
“Guys, it’s such a relief to see y’all here again! We gotta make some weekend plans and link up!”
“Good to see you too, but these dorks here are kinda arguing. If you haven’t noticed,” Classic Emilio, always a realist.
Once I removed my rosy outlook on the situation, Damian and Alvin were really going at it.
“Dude, I swear! I wasn’t in the right mind that day! How many times do I gotta say sorry!” Damian looked like he was close to crying, which made me want to cry.
“I don’t believe you a second! You’ve changed on us dude, you’re a total jerk now!” Alvin’s face was looking like the ripest tomato in the world.
“Please! The game changes how you act!”
“I call BS, games can’t do that!”
I just had to butt in at this point, we were gathering attention from all corners of the cafeteria.
“Fellas, fellas. What game, and Alvin, could ya chill for like five minutes here man? You look like a ticking bomb!” I was met with heated silence until Damian spoke up.
“That damn Polybius game. I swear on my life, it changes you.” It was like I had awoken from a silent sleep, I knew exactly what Damian meant. My mind had been affected too.
“Alvin! He’s right, that game corrupts you or something, it morphs the player into a brash heathen!” My use of abstract vocabulary got Alvin’s attention.
“Alright, alright. So let’s say Damian was under the game’s effect, does that still mean that we should be friends with him?” He had that same Alvin-brand disbelief with each word, but this time, he added sarcasm as an extra ingredient.
“Uhh, yeah! Are you going dumb or something man?” Emilio was here to defend Damian too.
Alvin was pretty steamed up at this point so we all just kinda waited for each other to react. So I turned to Damian and I hugged him. Alvin caved in and joined in on the hug. From Damian’s shoulder, I saw Emilio roll his eyes and join in too. I swear I saw him smile, though.
Long struggle short, we were best friends again. We talked this situation out and have become one whole unit, ready to take on the world. But what were we to take on? The simple answer is; Polybius. That damned game rotted us and tore us to shreds, the time to act was now, there was a mystery to be solved and we were just the young men to investigate. Come Friday at the lunch table, we were already strategizing.
“So we know where the game is, but we don’t know why it is,” Alvin pondered.
“What the Hell does that even mean? It’s just a game!” Emilio was already stumped. I came forward with a rather risky proposal.
“We should just break in and investigate!” Crickets.
“You really are an insane person, that’s a crime, dude.” Damian just wanted us safe.
“Okay, listen, I say we gear up
tonight and hit the place after closing time.” Foolish bravery built on flimsy
speculation, I was a hero. Alvin butts in.
“Aren’t you grounded right now? And even though we aren’t grounded doesn’t mean our parents are cool with us sneaking out.”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.” Sorry Mom.
“I’d say we have a shot,” I got Damian on my side, a good start.
“I’ve got a baseball bat just for the occasion!” Emilio was ready as ever.
“Alright, you got me three to four, I’ll play,” Four out of four teammates, the perfect storm.
Funtown closed at 10pm, making midnight the time of attack. I took out this hideous green forest camouflage backpack from the no-man’s land that is my closet. I hadn’t seen the sorry excuse for a bag in months. I meant to use it for camping, but Mom feared the wilderness. Regardless of how long it was in my closet, I found a rope at the very bottom. Why I thought I would need rope, I didn’t know. I chucked it out. Among the items I did bring was a pale gray carving knife my Grandpa gave me for my birthday, two cheap walkie talkies from Radioshack, a jet black bandana to cover my face, and a bottle of water (You have to stay hydrated). Mom slept like a stone golem at night so I wasn’t too concerned with the amount of noise I made as I snuck my bike out the front door. I just had to lock the front door and act natural.
Our decided meeting place was Chesbury Park. The layout was just a fountain surrounded by spindly, bare trees. Like cultists gathering in a circle for a chant. This was the perfect place to be shrouded in night. Emilio was there first, toting around the baseball bat he had mentioned.
“Hey dude, I like the bat,” I was surprised the maniac actually brought it, the thing was metal too.
“Got it as a Christmas gift from my dad, it’s meant for baseball, but this is way cooler.”
“What other supplies have you got? I brought walkie talkies and…”
“YO! Lemme get one of those talkies!” I quickly rummaged through my bag and pulled one out.
“Set it to Channel B, we can keep in touch that way,” He turned the knob on top, setting it just as I had asked. He put his mouth to the speaker and said in a gruff voice;
“Roger, roger! 10-4 need backup!” That got me laughing my head off, but we had to keep quiet.
“Cut it out dude,” As we were recovering, Damian rolled up. He was wearing a full-blown hockey mask.
“Christ, Damian! You look like a slasher villain!”
“It was all I had to cover my face…” He averted his gaze from ours.
“Hey, sorry. I was surprised is all.”
“We’re good, but where’s Alvin? We had a set time!”
“I know, we just gotta hold up here for a bit and then we can roll out. What did you pack?” I realized then that Damian hadn’t even brought a bag of any type with him. Beneath his mask I felt him grin as he reached into his pocket.
“Check these out! Got them off of my dad!” He brought brass knuckles.
“What the Hell! What we’re doing is already super illegal!”
“Relax, I probably don’t even need to use them,” I was standoffish, but his reply was good enough for me. I looked behind Damian and saw Alvin arrive, wearing a black baseball cap.
“Finally! What did you bring Alvin?” I was hoping he didn’t bring a gun or something ridiculous.
“The only useful tool I could find was my walkie talkies,” They were the same ugly green as my backpack.
“Okay, that’s great, give yours to Damian. Emilio and I are sharing mine,” We were geared up and ready to rock and roll.
We traveled as a pack of wolves, with one idea on our minds. Infiltrate Funtown. Upon getting to Funtown, we decided to park our bikes on the backside of the building, so that they remained hidden from street view. We rallied ourselves together as I put my bandana over my nose and mouth. Damian pulled down his mask and Alvin settled his cap on his head. Emilio was the only one insane enough to not bring a disguise of some sort. I had to speak up.
“Hey, Emilio, why didn’t you bring a mask or something?”
“The plan is to not get caught, so we won’t,” His confidence was spilling onto the concrete.
“Okay guys, the door will be locked so we have to smash a window or something,” Alvin was usually more tactical in his ideas, but he was being as blunt as ever. We all turned to Emilio, considering his bat.
“Okay, I’ve got it covered,” We all crept to the front door.
I remember hearing the smash of glass and expecting to die suddenly. I didn’t. We didn’t. We were all surprised because there wasn’t an alarm sounding or any sort of security that came to apprehend us. So we crawled in through the gaping hole where a window once was. It was sobering to see this place of entertainment shut off for the night, like being in a crypt full of corpses adorning each corner you look into. Without saying a word, we all knew where we needed to be, we headed towards the back wall to look for Polybius.
But it wasn’t there. I made sure to scan the entire back wall, no, we hadn’t misplaced it. Polybius was gone. I turned to the guys.
“It’s gotta be here somewhere! Alvin, come with me, we’re gonna check every nook and cranny. Emilio, Damian, act as lookout.”
“Yes, sir!” Emilio was being wise but I knew he wouldn’t let me down.
To the left of where Polybius typically is, was a lone door. There was nothing too enticing about this door, other than that it was the only option we had to progress in some form. Trying the handle proved effective, they didn’t bother much with security in that place. Behind the door was stairs leading to a hallway with that sterile, fluorescent light beaming down it. Alvin and I tiptoed further into the beast. Peering into the hallway, I saw two doors adjacent to one another halfway through and double doors at the end of the hallway. The mid-hallway doors had windows, the double doors did not. The mid-hallway room on the left contained an isolated computer, thankfully, with nobody inside. The other door revealed a room with a dentist’s chair in the center. I never liked the dentist.
In a heartbeat, Alvin and I hear steps from behind the double doors. We bolted into the room with the dentist chair. Hiding behind the lonely chair, we witnessed a charcoal suited figure with reflective sunglasses head into the computer room, skulking like a ghoul. After three or so minutes we ducked our way out of the room as we solemnly headed into the double doors. I pick up my walkie talkie and whisper to Emilio;
“There’s at least one guy down here with us, keep an eye out for anyone up with you.”
“Roger roger,” Always a kidder.
Stealthily breaching the double doors showed us what we were after, Polybius. The foul demon was hooked into a computer tower, perhaps charging, perhaps something more devious. The room was filled with walls of filing cabinets, like bookshelves in Satan’s personal library. A wealth of knowledge I cannot comprehend, knowledge I do not want to comprehend.
The computer tower was resting on a steel table beside a manila folder. Alvin was the first to set his eyes upon the document enclosed. I was closing the double doors as he uttered aloud;
“This is sickening. Mind manipulation. Militarizing the youth. Hijacking brainwaves!”
“Slow down buddy, what’s it all mean?”
“This game. Uses the player, to mine brain data, and reprogram the user.”
“To create the perfect soldier.”
From down the hall, we hear boots on tile, coming right towards us. I leap behind a set of filing cabinets, Alvin curls up behind Polybius, the folder still in his clammy hands. The Suit barges in, immediately sensing a disturbance, his eyes drawn to the table.
“What the Hell is this!?” Voice like Hellfire. His thunderous cry frightens Alvin and I. I stay composed but Alvin lets out a whimper, bad move. The Suit homes in on Alvin, tearing off his baseball cap and grabbing a handful of his hair. Alvin is being dragged out for interrogation. I lock up, the world shaking me by the neck. I consider my options, the time to act was now.
I rush the Suit from behind, stabbing him in the thigh with my knife, he falls like a bag of garbage, catching himself with his hands. Alvin is behind him, limp like a fresh-caught tuna, I extend my left hand towards him.
“You little son-of-a-bitch!” The Suit berates me as I slash his right hand this time. As the Suit is reeling back, I yank Alvin to his feet, we make a mad dash to the stairs out of this Hellhole. I get a glimpse of the bottom of the stairs when I hear a blast and then ringing in my right ear. The right side of my head gains warmth as Alvin and I leg it to the surface.
Emerging from below, I see Damian’s face for but a moment and yell;
“Get the Hell out, or we’re dead!” Emilio runs to Alvin and I to assist my escort. Damian slams the basement door and guides us through the arcade. We approached the front window when two more gunshots pop off from behind and the window opens up even more. The two shots wake Alvin out of his stupor and he’s ready to jump ship. As one, we hoof it to our bikes out back, the last sight I remember is me grabbing hold of my handlebars. And then I woke up at home.
I was sticky with sweat, I felt like an amazonian frog. But something was missing, something not too important, but welcomed still. I put my hand to my right ear to find a chunk of the top missing. I decided to shower and stay in my room all day. And I stayed in my room unbothered, no phone calls, no pals dropping by, just nothing.
Come Monday the guys and I had a whole heap to talk about, but we were all scared of what might happen if we were to talk of what happened. Alvin was the first to say something.
“We need to talk about Friday night, I read some damning papers.” We sat, obediently, waiting for him to continue.
“Lucius already knows this, but Polybius was a brainwashing scheme, which is why it messed with our heads so much. That game is a virus and we have to contact the authorities or like our local priest or something to spread the word.” Emilio had a response.
“But what if the authorities are in on it too..?” We never got our chance to spread the word about Polybius; Funtown burned down later that week. An ‘electrical fire’, which I guess isn’t too uncommon for old arcades. With Funtown gone, all of our resources on the matter died out. The guys and I drifted apart over the years, but I’m sure we all haven’t forgotten about what happened that winter, how we sort of saved our town from Polybius. With all of this information I have written down, I warn you, dear reader. AVOID. THIS. GAME.
Copyright Cortez Roberts 2019