First chapter of what will probably be a long short story, or a short novella. Horror genre, though nothing disturbing like limbs being ripped off or such. Maybe like a Stephen King type of horror. There will be errors in this like missing punctuation or words or weird and incorrect grammar. This is just a rough draft. If you dig it, let me know.
May 3, 1986
Billy Jacobs arrived at the Circle-K ready to play. He had two full hours to kill, and he planned to unlock wizard mode on The Minotaur again. As he looped the braided stainless steel cable through his bike’s frame and front wheels, then around the frame of the bike block, he replayed in his mind the one and only time he’d ever achieved wizard mode. Three weeks ago today, as a matter of fact, offered his brain while another part of it helped him clip the Schlage padlock to the anti-theft cable. Borah wasn’t a hotbed of criminal activity, but if his mom ever found out he’d left his bike unlocked, she’d ground him from it for a month or more.
Billy stood up and adjusted his backpack, light for a Monday, even for him. For the last two Mondays, he’d burned through twelve dollars in quarters, The Minotaur greedily gobbling them down then laughing at him in its most insulting tone. Screw you, dude, he thought. I beat you once. I’ll beat you again. From all around him came the booming laughter of The Minotaur, making him visibly jump just as he opened the door to the convenience store. Billy stood still for a few seconds, wondering if he’d been hearing things. He decided he’d psyched himself up so much for today’s play that he was just letting his imagination get to him.
“Hey, squirt, in or out,” Jimmy Garvin called to him from behind the counter, an issue of Jellies in his hand.
Billy’s wonder at whether the laughter had been real or not was broken by the clerk, and the mostly naked girl on the cover of the magazine. Billy had wondered more than a few times why the magazine was called Jellies, but when he asked Jimmy, the only answer ever given was wait a few more years, kid. He entered the store and headed straight to the counter, a five dollar bill already in his hand. He slapped it on the counter as if he were a cowboy outlaw in a rough and tumble saloon.
Jimmy put down the magazine and turned to the kid at the counter. He squinted at the kid and rested his hands over his hips, as if waiting to draw down in the middle of a dusty street. Billy stared at the older boy with steel in his eyes, not even flinching when Jimmy surged forward and snatched the money off the counter, feigning a punch to his face.
“You gettin’ brave, kid,” Jimmy said in a drawl, banging on the register until the drawer popped out and he could make change. “How much you gonna lose today?”
“I only need two dollars today,” Billy said, his voice calm, sure of success.
Jimmy paused in the middle of stacking out five dollars’ worth of quarters on the counter. He looked at Billy, who only nodded at him. Jimmy made a show of removing twelve of the quarters from the counter, making sure to drop them loudly into the register. He never took his eyes off the twelve year old kid on the other side of the counter as he thumbed three dollar bills out and laid them next to the quarters.
Jimmy knew Billy Jacobs from the neighborhood, which meant the whole town. Borah only had a few thousand residents, and it felt smaller than that to anyone who had grown up within its sphere of influence. He knew Billy mostly because of the story of Billy’s father dying when the cattle truck he was driving got T-boned by a Pacific FreightLine locomotive carrying sixty-four cars behind it. He knew about the kid’s mom, a woman who seemed to have lost her mind after the accident. She’d become weird, and because Billy had only been six at the time, her weirdness had begun to shape him.
The kid had a round face, though he wasn’t chubby in the least, a dusty baseball cap turned around backward on his head, and a t-shirt that always had a professional sports team and logo on it. Jimmy tried to remember if he’d ever seen the kid wearing any other kind of shirt. By the time he realized he hadn’t, Billy was long gone, finding his way into the game alcove near the back of the store. Weirdo homeschooler, Jimmy thought to himself, deciding he’d remember that later tonight when he got together with his friends.
“Hey,” Jimmy called out to the kid just before he disappeared behind an old Asteroids Deluxe arcade cabinet. Billy stopped and looked back. “You forgot your Coke.”
“Not today,” Billy said, gone from sight a second later.
The clerk frowned, trying to also remember the last time the strange little kid had only asked for quarters without first grabbing an ice cold can of Coca-Cola from the cooler. Jimmy’s stoner brain thought it could recall one time it had happened, and only a couple of weeks ago. The memory became stronger when he saw in his mind the flushed, frustrated, nearly enraged twelve year old stomp through the store after The Minotaur ate his last quarter.
But the kid had also been… elated? Confidently furious? Righteously defeated? Jimmy stifled a cackle as he filed those away for later on as well. He’d joked with his buddies about how Billy had acted like a junkie without his fix, but thinking about it now, it seemed more like The Minotaur had gotten to the kid. The Minotaur did weird things to some of the people that played it. The kid wasn’t the strangest, but he was the pinball machine’s most frequent customer by far.
Billy Jacobs rounded the Asteroids Deluxe machine and almost bumped into the man standing in front of The Minotaur. He glared at the man’s back, a suit of some kind made out of black cloth. As if in response, the suit began to wiggle back and forth, then it shot out right at him before rocketing forward. The triple ding of a multiplier target being met hit his ears at the same moment the man’s exaggerated howl of triumph did. Billy stepped to the side just in case the man had to dance his way through another bonus.
He looked around, annoyed that he would have to wait for this adult to finish the game before he could plug his quarters into The Minotaur. He could always play the Asteroids Deluxe game, but it was older than he was, and wasn’t very interesting. On the other side of The Minotaur was Mrs. Pac-Man, which had been slightly interesting until he’d figured out the pattern. It was boring to stand in front of the machine for an hour and be able to follow specific patterns on each stage to always win. The randomness of the stainless steel balls within The Minotaur, however, had no pattern.
He looked at the backbox and almost snorted at the man’s pathetic score. Billy decided he wouldn’t have to wait very long after all, and gave the pinball machine a loving wink to let it know he, Billy Jacobs, a pinball master, a wizard even, had come to conquer it once again. Mondays had become his day with his secret love after the older delinquents had driven him away on most of the other days. The older kids clung to The Minotaur as if it were a dope dispenser, and though Billy had never taken a drug in his life, he understood the connection.
They always smelled like some kind of sour cat urine, had bloodshot eyes, and though they weren’t aggressive unless they’d been drinking, they loved nothing more than to mess with the younger kids. He’d taken his turn as the object of their juvenile torment, shamefully remembering how he’d finally burst into tears after two hours of being the away in a game of keep-away. One of the older kids, Dennis, had thrown the baseball cap on the ground and spit on it, calling Billy a fuckin’ crybaby. Then the kid with the full beard, Todd, said some ugly things about Billy’s father, hoping to make him cry some more. Billy had held it in until he’d made it two blocks down the street, sitting on the curb, his bike in the gutter, crying like he hadn’t cried since his dad’s funeral.
Mondays were free from all of the torment. He wondered if the juvies maybe had to go meet their probation officers all on the same day, which made him laugh out loud.
“Well hello there, son!” the man in the suit said loudly, making Billy jump.
He looked up to see the man’s face only inches from his. He blinked, and suddenly the man was back to doing his little dance in front of the pinball machine, trying to use some kind of partially-physical psychic power to make the ball go where it was needed. Billy blinked again, annoyed that the man hadn’t lost his ball yet. He smiled to himself as he had a little fantasy in his mind of the man stepping aside to watch him play, and having to stand there for two hours or more as Billy tore The Minotaur a new one.
That fantasy branched into a slightly different one, this one his imagining how he was actually going to beat the game and unlock the wizard mode, a bonus round that had multipliers that would make the high score use every available space in all of the score boxes just to display it. The Minotaur was, according to everyone, which was everyone in Borah that frequented the Circle-K, the hardest pinball game ever created. As far as he knew, there was only one person, Zach Traynor, one of the juvies that was on probation for the fourth time in his young life already, who was anywhere near as good. And as far as he knew, Zach Traynor had never unlocked wizard mode.
Billy leaned back against the Mrs. Pac-Man cabinet, adjusted his baseball cap slightly, then jammed his hands into his pockets. The Minotaur roared in fury as the man completed a 10x multiplier, hitting all six of the drop targets on the right side of the playfield. He stopped himself from vocalizing his disdain, not impressed in the least, recalling hundreds of times he’d been able to crank the multiplier up over 100x. He looked up at the man’s face, but he couldn’t get a good look at it. In fact, he couldn’t remember what the man looked like, even though their faces had been within inches of each other for a few seconds.
He shifted slightly, trying to get more of a view, but the man’s face seemed like a mass of boiling clouds, except his facial features were stark and had definite shape. Billy blinked and looked back at the pinball machine, wondering again if his mind was getting too psyched over the upcoming game. He chanced a quick look again at the man’s face, but this time it seemed both perfectly blank and like a crazy grin he’d seen some of the juvies have after smoking their dope.
“Dammit!” the man shouted, slamming his hand down on the protective glass top, a ring on one of his fingers making an even louder clacking noise.
“Hey now!” Jimmy cried out from the counter. “Don’t make me come over there and toss you, little dude.” Jimmy estimated that he spent almost one third of his shift yelling at the kids of all ages who tried to abuse the game machines.
“Apologies!” the man said, but he was looking at Billy, a curious expression on his face, a face that was free of distortion finally.
The two stared at each other, neither replying to whatever Jimmy had mumbled back at the man. The man’s face began to shift again, melting into smoke and reforming into dozens, hundreds of different facial features. One second the man was black, a bushy afro and a scar running from his right eye down to his jaw, the next he was an old white man that hadn’t shaved in a couple of weeks. The strange man’s eyes were the most frightening, shifting from blue to red to gold and back again, almost glowing from inside his skull.
Billy took it all in, but his overpowering need stuffed it all away as unimportant. “Are you done?” he asked.
“Billy Jacobs!” the man practically screamed, as if meeting a long-lost (and rich) relative for the first time in decades. “Just the young man I was hoping to see!”
Billy paused, hand halfway out of his pocket with two quarters resting between his fingers. “Do I know you?” he asked cautiously. Are you finished? is what he really wanted to ask.
“No… no, I guess you probably don’t,” the man said with a huge aw shucks grin. He leaned in a little too close to Billy’s personal space. “But I sure as shit know you!” He leaned back quickly, then did a formal bow. “I hear you’re just about the best Minotaur player around these parts.”
“Hmmm,” Billy said noncommittally. Why the hell won’t this guy get his ass out of the way? he asked himself. I just want to play, not be your friend.
“Well, Billy Jacobs,” the man said, leaning down slightly again, his voice too loud in the little alcove, “let me introduce you to… me!” The man laughed, a sound that almost matched The Minotaur’s evil chuckle before it took away all hope by opening every floodgate that could eat your last ball. “My name is Arthur Coombs, and I’m from parts on down south, pleezdameetcha!” He held out his hand to Billy, the grin on his face even larger than before.
Something finally broke into that place in Billy’s brain that could only process data pertaining to The Minotaur, and gave the outstretched hand a careful look. He looked at Arthur Coombs’ face again, and the instant it began to shift around again, he knew he had no intention of shaking that hand. Billy didn’t know exactly what it was about the man that frightened him so much suddenly, but the feeling of his bowels clenching like he had a painful gas cramp and his bladder trying to uncork and spill its contents into his jeans made him queasy.
“…to meet you,” Billy mumbled, trying to keep from soiling himself. GO AWAY!
Arthur Coombs, didn’t look offended at all. In fact, he looked downright maniacal. “Well, Billy, I myself am just about the greatest pinball master in the entire world. The world, Billy. Not just Dirt Clod, Idaho. Some might even call me a wizard.” The way Coombs said it made it sound like it was either equal to being labeled Jesus, or being called a murderer.
“I’ve heard about you, how you are also a master, maybe even a wizard. And so I’ve traveled to the middle of nowhere to challenge you to a game of The Minotaur.” Coombs waved his left hand back and forth a couple of times, two quarters appearing between his fingers when the movement stopped. He did the same with his right, two more quarters appearing. “I’ll even cover the cost,” he said, his grin so bright that it almost hurt Billy’s eyes.
“Sure.” It was the only thing Billy Jacobs could say, his desire to play The Minotaur still greater than his fear of whatever the man in front of him was.