The Electric Arcade on Eighth Avenue was a sacred asylum for bullied Sophomores at my high school. It was also the scene of the slaughter of ’99.
There were only three that went every day. It was better that way. After nine hours of spitballs, shit talk, and slander; we were free to unwind with the neon lights and holographic signs behind encompassing all our favorite brand names.
One Monday after class, the owner claimed he had a new game.
“You have to try this one, I designed it myself,” he shouted over his shoulder after locking up the door.
The proprietor was a friendly man. His name was Jack, and his burly belly and stationary knapsack suggested he was probably picked on too, back in his day. Jack was bald on top, but that never stopped the matted ponytail from peaking out from behind his standard baseball hat.
He kept an eye out for the weak kids, and I think our parents felt better knowing that he was there. It was a rough neighborhood, after all.
The game in question was hidden by a red velvet curtain.
Jack loved to be dramatic about new arrivals. Being his favorite customers, we were always the first to try them out. When we were safely inside the office, he said –
“Now, this one is extremely intuitive. It makes the user the avatar by slowly building your skills via response-time and training exercises.“
Jason jumped forward.
“I am in. I am so freaking in. Let’s do it, Jack. Pull the curtain baby!” the rest of us started to laugh at that. Jason was known for acting out at all the wrong times. He mimed his fists back and forth like a boxer before trying to land a few playful smacks in Jack’s stuffed stomach.
“Easy tiger. I will pull it back, but try to ignore all the buzzers and gadgets. It is a prototype, after all.“
He paused, and looked at Jason with a twinkle in his eye.
“You ready?” he asked, hand on the velvet.
“Let’s gooooo!!!!” the three of us screamed in unison.
With a dramatic flash, the red sash was pulled back to reveal a mesh of wires connected to an old recliner and metal cap.
“It looks like a lie detector test,” I squeaked out nervously.
“Is it safe?” asked Simon.
“It is perfectly safe!” sputtered Jack. He rested a hand on his forehead before he proceeded with his next sentence. “Look, I haven’t tested it before. But Jason here has had a real bad year with that bully Brian. We talked a lot, and well, he was the inspiration for the story line.“
Jason looked down at his feet.
“I think it might cheer him up,” Jack added as he checked on the various gears and switches.
Jay turned to Simon and me with a serious look on his sad face. There was a scar from an old punch to his ear that he hoped nobody noticed. His lip was still busted from his last encounter with Brian on Friday. We all knew the poor kid was barely keeping it all together.
“C’mon guys. Don’t be narcs,” he pouted.
“Fine, but don’t blame me when you die,” Simon stated with crossed arms and crooked glasses.
“How…” Jason began before he was interrupted by the hum of the computer monitor.
“It’s ready,” Jack announced with a huge grin.
Jason stepped forward with full confidence. His arms must have been the size of a toothpick, and so he seriously struggled with the weight of the cap until Jack lurched forward to help. The chair had two long armrests that slid long locks around his wrists once Jay sat down.
“For safety,” Jack chuckled nervously. “Yours and ours.“
The old computer screen fired up and reflected a blue light. Jason shrugged nervously against the locks for a second.
And then, suddenly, he stared ahead with a blank expression.
Seemingly in response, a crudely stenciled icon appeared against the backdrop.
It read in red.
“You named the game after the arcade? Not very original…” muttered Simon.
Jack ignored him. He snapped his fingers a few times in front of Jay’s eyes. There was no response. It was like Jay suddenly went comatose.
“Oh my God, he’s in the universe. It worked!” Jack leaped from his feet, shaking the gaming systems on the shelves to the point that they nearly fell to the floor.
Simon and I sputtered out a million questions. We pushed Jason a bit and he didn’t even bother to respond. I started to accuse Jack of something terrible just as the jingle from the front door sounded.
“Shit. I thought it was locked,” he muttered. Two voices called out from the side of the store demanding service while mine and Simon’s blood ran cold.
“It’s them. Brian and Billy,” I whispered.
Jack’s face hardened as he headed through the corny beaded curtain that separated the store from his office.
“We are closed for a demonstration… the sign was on the door,” he called out to them.
Brian’s snark voice replied from between the shelves.
“Are you denying me service old man? I heard you’re keeping that kid in the back. I have some business that needs to be discussed with him.“
“Nice rat tail by the way.“
“The shop is closed.” Jack repeated.
In seconds there was a scuffle, and the sounds of toppling shelves. Then there was no noise but Billy’s cackling laughter.
“The fat fuck fell! You saw it!” Brian shouted as their footsteps got closer.
“Shit. Shit, we are dead. They killed Jack. I know they did. Do you hear him?” Simon asked.
“I hear you, four eyes!” Brian ripped back the curtains. He was holding a wooden bat, and without preamble, leveled it against Simon’s poor slim frame.
He fell to the floor with a soft thud and groan.
I backed into the corner. There was no chance to fight. There were two of them. They were older and freakishly bigger than me. My only recourse was to cover my face and cower like a fucking coward.
But the bullies were too bothered with Jay.
“What the fuck is this thing..” muttered Billy.
Brian hastily lifted the cap off Jason’s head. As soon as he did, the machine shut down.
Jay’s eyes lit up like the fucking fourth of July.
In one swift kick, Jason landed a blow to Billy’s dick. The shithead crumbled over like a sack of bricks before his buddy could throw even a haphazard blow. Jay caught his fist in the air and crumpled it in an iron grip.
The boys were both on the floor when Jason decided he wanted some more. With seriously skinny arms, he reached down and ripped all four eyes from the boys sockets. They made a sick suckling sound when he squashed them like sour grapes in his flesh covered hand.
It all happened in under a minute.
Jason seemed to regain his mind right around the time Simon got the police on the line. Believe it or not, it all ended up fine. The boys were blind, but their breaking and entering was a crime. They were also charged for the assault of Jack and Simon combined. Billy and Brian each served four years in prison and were ordered to pay a fine.
Jason never regained the strength he found that one time. We went back to the same high school, and nobody paid us much more mind. Soon enough, the students learned not to fuck with the three kids that made two bullies blind.
It was a long time ago. I try not to think about it too much now that I am old and out of my ‘prime.’
But there is only one small problem.
Last night, I saw Electric Arcade for sale online.