Short Stories


Defender!

 

underneath the stairwell Defender

Dean and Snowy rode their bicycles like there was no tomorrow. They zipped past Hutton’s Bakery as the sun beat down, then under the cool shade of the Moreton Bay fig in front of the post office. Their bikes were brakeless as brakes were for wimps and the large scabs on their knees attested to their bravery in that department. Just as Snowy was speeding up to overtake Dean, his chain snapped loudly and he dropped the bike on its side, skidding and swearing to a halt.

“It’s broken clean off!” Snowy kicked at his bike with disgust.

Dean spotted the broken chain in the dirt next to the bitumen and bent down to pick it up.

“Yep, snapped in half old sport!” he held it up for inspection; it was dry like it hadn’t been oiled in weeks.

Snowy snatched it off him with a grunt, looked it over then spun his arm around and whipped it up into the telephone lines where it caught on a wire.

“I daresay that yonder chain shan’t be of help to anyone!” Said Dean and they both laughed at his clever use of the word yonder.

Recently, both boys had made a decision to be ‘dandy fellows’ in both word and deed. Mainly, this amounted to annoying family and friends with flowery language and antiquated behaviour that verged on the ridiculous.

Snowy picked up his bike, stood on the pedal and pushed off, “No time to waste old chap!”

They crossed the road and cut through the soft grass of Beaman Park as parakeets muttered contentedly in the pine trees and the song of a lone cricket sprung from a patch of shaded grass.

After dumping their bikes in the high gutter outside the old Fun Parlour, the boys ran inside with an enthusiasm borne of anticipation. A group of older boys from the high-school were crowded around a game shouting encouragement at the player and jostling each other to try and get a look in. The Fun Parlour was the second home to every errant son of Yeppoon and along with the dazzling thrills of its many games, it also offered the threat of humiliating violence at the hands of the older boys.

Snowy and Dean were more than aware of this as they pushed their way through the small crowd, earning a few slaps to the back of their heads as they did. Electric noises screamed from the machine but its screen was frustratingly hidden from their view. As the boy playing it bent down to jam another twenty cent piece into the slot, the small crowd stood on their toes to get a look in.

Snowy turned to Dean with wide eyes, “Defender!”

Dean shook his head in wonder, none of the fun-parlours in Rockhampton had a Defender game, yet here it was, in Yeppoon!

Words like, “hyper-space,” and “smart-bomb” were uttered with reverence and shockwaves of excitement rippled through the small crowd. For Dean, Defender heralded a new era in video games and his mind swum with visions of a bright, shining future.

That morning, the boys had been busy burning toads when Snowy’s older brother Tony walked into the back yard.

“What are youse two do…killing animals again?”

underneath the stairwell canetoadThough Tony worked at the meat-works, he found his brothers cruelty disturbing. At least at the abattoir there was good reason for the killing and it was done relatively humanely. Some of the things he had caught Snowy and Dean up to chilled him to the bone. Dean on the other hand always thought that Tony looked like a toad, with his big fat gut, squished up face and skinny legs and would have liked nothing better than to throw him on the fire whenever he spoiled their fun.  A lemonade ice-block dripped over Tony’s hand as he marched across the yard with an expression of lingering disappointment distorting his face. He looked into the fire where several dead toads bubbled.

Tony shook his head slowly and took a bite of his ice-block.

“Youse two have mental problems – ya know that dontcha?” He sneered.

Dean plucked a toad out of a bucket and flung it into the flames, “I blame society!” He declared.

“Little shit!” Tony tried to kick the toad out of the fire, but the flames licked at his feet.

He got down on his knees, picked up a stick and pushed the toad to safety.

“What the hell? You tied his back legs together!” He yelled as he fumbled with the knot.

“Yeah, they just jump out otherwise.” Explained Dean.

Then Snowy pulled out his prick and started pissing into the bucket the toads were kept in, “I blame society as well!” He yelled.

All three of them cracked up laughing, as it just seemed so ridiculous to blame society and start pissing on toads. With the tension dissolved, Tony finished off his ice-block in a few greedy bites and threw the paddle pop stick into the flames. “I thought you blokes would be down at the fun-parlour today playing that new game.”

“What new game?” Dean asked.

Defender, I think it’s called.”

For a few months, rumours about a Defender machine coming to Yeppoon had been floating around but it just seemed too good to be true. Especially when Snowy and Dean’s good mate, Jonesy, who seemed to be an authority on everything, claimed that one machine cost nearly $100,000 and needed an electrician to stand by at all times in case it “melted down.”

Snowy turned to his brother, “Tone, can ya lend me twenty cents to play it? I’ll pay ya back tomorrow.”

“Nuh, I’m not giving ya money to waste on that shit!”

Tony had no time for video games; he didn’t understand or trust them and feared that some sort of strange cancer would result from playing them regularly.

Snowy kicked his brother in the shin, “ah, c’mon just a chenny!”

“Youse two are just gonna have to get a job!” Tony slapped Snowy on the side of the head.

“We’re too young and delicate to work!” Dean implored to the heavens.

Snowy bolted up the back stairs of the house, “C’mon Yatesy, Dad’s always got money on his bedside table!”

Dean didn’t need to be asked twice and darted up the stairs behind Snowy.

Tony kicked off his thongs and started after the boys, “come back here ya little shits!” He shrieked as the whole house, which was nothing more than a sun-bleached fibro box on stilts, shook under his weight on the stairs.

The bedroom door was locked and the two boys started kicking at it in frustration. Tony was panting hard when he reached the top of the stairs. He paused at the top and put his hands on his hips as he glared at the boys.

“Sucked in, it’s locked ya albino freak!”

Now if there was anything in the world Snowy hated more than being called a wimp, it was being called an albino. He was very pale with a shock of pure white hair and wasn’t a true albino, although he came pretty damn close. He ran screaming at his brother and started socking him in the stomach. Tony got him in a headlock and tightened up so that all the blood went to Snowy’s face.

“Albino!”  He hollered.

Dean ran up and kicked him in the shin. Tony yelled and let go of his brother who stomped down on his bare foot. The dandy fellows ran down the stairs two at a time and jumped on their bikes. Tony howled blue murder and shook his fists at them from the top of the stairs.

underneath the stairwell galaxian

Both boys sat at a Galaxian game in silent misery pondering the burden of their ill fortune. The whooping and yelling coming from the direction of Defender compounded their wretchedness.

The un-played pinball machines that lined the back wall of the fun-parlour would occasionally let out a tune, more an electronic requiem now that their star had been eclipsed by the super nova of video games. ‘Kids in America’ came on the juke box and Dean fantasised about what the fun-parlours in America would be like. He imagined darkened skyscrapers filled with super advanced games and menacing gangs who lurked in the shadows ready to muscle in on your credits.

Dean looked up from the screen of Galaxian, “maybe we should start up a gang.”

By the way Snowy looked at him, Dean could tell he didn’t think it was a great idea.

“It would be a very violent gang,” he added.

“Well, I like the sounds of that, but it’s not much of a gang if it’s only us two.”

Dean shrugged and looked back at his darkened reflection on the screen.

“It’s not fair; we have to get some money!” Snowy punched the top of the game.

Dean sat up as if struck by lightning.

“I know where we could get some money!”

“Where?”

“Elementary old bean; the wishing well.”

Snowy’s eyes widened with fear as he shook his head slowly, “but-what-about-the-curse!”

Dean shrugged and they both looked over at the boys crowded around Defender. There was an unknown new world over there and it was all theirs for twenty lousy cents. According to Jonesy, there were hundreds of dollars at the bottom of the well just waiting to be plucked out by a fearless young fellow, but it was protected by a sinister curse.

One afternoon, Dean had ventured over Jonesy’s house to get the low-down on the curse. Unfortunately, the conversation was interrupted by Jonesy’s hippy mother having an impromptu art exhibition. Dean gritted his teeth as she paraded her dumb paintings around the room as her son gasped in appreciation.

“Positively fantabulous mother!” He had remarked as his mother held up a canvas of a naked hippy with a stiffy and Dean tried hard not to puke.

As Dean had left later that afternoon, still none the wiser, Jonesy grabbed him by the arm.

Don’t mess around with the well, the last kid that did is in a mental asylum up in Rocky.”

The scum from the barrier reef had been washing in on the tide for over a week and huge chunks of the frothy brown stuff marked out the high tide line and filled the air with its putrefying stench. Seagulls let out their desolate cries as they fought over patches of it. The tired old wishing well sat on the edge of the promenade, the white paint of its small wooden shelter peeling in the harsh Queensland sun.

underneath the stairwell yeppoon 2

Snowy and Dean searched the rubbish that was built up behind the promenade until they found a rusted coat hanger. Dean bent a hook into the thick wire then fed it through the grill. Once it was through the other side, he hooked the grill and carefully lifted it. With the grill removed, Dean dug with his hands into the cool, compacted sand. At first he produced nothing but more sand, broken glass and nails. He persevered and before long started extracting one, two and five cent pieces from their sandy grave.

Snowy stacked the coins on the side of the well; dead wishes baked into nothingness by fifty summers.

“That’s 26 cents and counting, Yatesy!”

“Fantabulous old chap.”

Before long there was forty four cents on the side of the well.

“So much for the curse,” chirped Snowy like a boy whistling in the dark.

It suddenly occurred to Dean that they were playing with an unknown and unpredictable force.

“Keep digging, what have you stopped for?” Snowy looked at him askance.

“Quite frankly old chap, it’s the curse.

“Well, it’s a bit late now.”

“I have a cunning plan,” Dean skimmed the top coin off one of the stacks and held it in front of his face, “this is a wishing well right? We use this coin to make a wish – a wish that we will not be cursed!”

“Positively spiffy old chap!” Snowy clapped his hands delightedly and did a little jig.

Dean picked up a two cent coin and proclaimed in a solemn voice, “I hereby make a wish that the curse of this well be turned off until further notice.”

After tossing the coin back into the well he turned to Snowy.

        “That should do the trick.”

Snowy ducked down behind the well and motioned at Dean to do the same.

“What are you doing down there?”

“It’s Goit-Goits!” Snowy stabbed his finger in the direction of the promenade.

Dean joined him behind the well and they peered over the top at an old guy who was walking along the seafront wall with a cane. An enormous goiter wobbled horribly from the left side of his neck.

“Definitely a child molester,” Dean whispered.

Snowy cupped his hands and called out, “hey mate! What’s that hangin’ off ya neck?”

Old Goit-Goits stopped dead in his tracks and looked around.

“Shhhh! He’ll molest us!” Dean remonstrated.

“He can’t see us.”

The old man muttered to himself then started walking again.

Now it was Deans turn, “That looks like a hippo’s dick hangin’ off ya neck, mate!”

Snowy laughed so hard at this that he fell over on his side, “a hippo’s dick! A hippo’s dick!” He screamed out in-between laughs.

Dean tried to contain his laughter but failed. His mirth was cut short when he saw that Goit-Goits was on his way over, walking pretty damn fast for an old man.

“You little bastards again! I should ‘ave known it was youse two!” He said as he got closer to the boys, waving his cane threateningly.

Dean snatched up the money and Snowy dropped the grill back into the hole.

“What are you doing to that wishing well, robbing it?” Goit-Goits whacked his cane on the top of the well.

“Please don’t molest us sir!” Snowy said as they backed off staring in horror at his goiter.

Molest…what? You come back here and tell me what you were doing to that well!” He yelled at their backs as they took off up Anzac Parade.

The old guy at the fun parlour wasn’t too happy with all the sand on the coins and used a rag to wipe off each coin and shook his head like it was a very sad thing to wipe sand off coins. When he was finished, he handed over two large shining twenty cent pieces and four pennies still covered in sand. As Dean strutted towards Defender, he inhaled the intoxicating aroma of the fun-parlour, the smell of hot electronics, new carpet and cigarettes; the smell of teenage wildlife. There was still a row of coins on the bottom of the screen reserving the game and the boys slapped their coins on the end of the cue. As they waited, the two of them watched in wonder, it was like nothing they had ever seen before, for a start the spaceship moved horizontally. All the toughs from high-school were still crowded around watching, but Dean and Snowy were one of the gang now; they had a coin up and no-one was slapping the back of their heads. They spoke out of the sides of their mouths like the other boys did and swore frequently.

“Fuck me dead, haven’t seen a game with this many fuckin’ buttons before,” slurred Snowy.

“Fuckin’ oath mate, fuckin’ unreal, ay?” Dean sighed.

One of the toughs turned around and looked them up and down, “You blokes wanna smoke?” He asked.

Both of the boys nodded and the tough pulled a cigarette pack from his shirt sleeve. Neither of them had smoked before, well not properly anyway, they had never done the drawback but the way the tough was staring at them, they knew he was looking for it. It didn’t seem so bad at first and Snowy remarked, “First ciggie of the day is always the best.”

Then both of the boys fell silent as the nicotine flooded into their bloodstreams and made them dizzy and nauseous. They bum puffed the remainder of the cigarettes.

All eyes were on them as they pushed their hard earned money into the coin slot. After slapping the “two player” button, the screen flashed “player 1” and Dean stepped up and gripped the joystick. He pressed the shoot button as fast as his fingers would allow and a stream of fire spewed from the space ships nose. Aliens materialised from nowhere and started firing at him, and then one was on his tail chasing him around the screen like an angry hornet.

Zap! Pii-oooong! Doosh!

It had him cornered, there was no way out.

“Use your smart-bomb!” Snowy screamed in Dean’s ear and tried to press the button for him. Dean elbowed him and Snowy hit the hyper-space button instead. The ship blinked out of existence then reappeared in the top left of the screen where an alien quickly destroyed it.

“What the shit?”

The screen flashed ‘player 2’.

“Outta the way!”

Dean reluctantly moved aside.

As the screen filled with aliens, Snowy howled and pounded the buttons frantically. Dean sneaked his hand out and pressed the hyper-space button. Snowy’s ship reappeared on top of an alien and exploded into a hundred pieces.

“What the…”

“Too bad.”

With grim determination, Dean gripped the joystick and stared at the screen. This was it – his big chance, he was going to clock the machine and be the hero of the fun-parlour. Boys would talk of him for years to come and whisper reverentially as he strutted past, that’s the guy that clocked Defender on his first go.

A minute later, the screen flashed “Game Over.” Snowy and Dean stood looking at the screen in an awed silence, not quite comprehending that their time in the sun was already past.

“Move it!” One of the toughs elbowed them out of the way, snatched his coin from the screen and spun it into the machine.

The crowd parted for them as they turned to leave. Out on the street, Dean pulled the remainder of the money from his pocket.

“Get some mixed lollies?” He asked Snowy.

“Capital idea old chap.”

As parakeets raised hell in the pine trees of Beaman Park and fruit bats streamed out of the mangroves of Fig-tree Creek, Dean and Snowy walked into the lolly shop and slapped four sandy coins on the counter.