Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
The New Arcade In Town
This is the first time I’ve told anyone this story, and it may be the last, because they’ve found me.
The year was 1994. I was a 15 year old who lived in a small town mainly dominated by church goers and elderly couples who didn’t get along, so there was never much to do. The only things that captured my attention were video games. They were pretty basic at the time, but my family wasn’t well off enough to purchase such a luxury as a home gaming system. It was the middle of summer when talk started to spread of a penny arcade moving into the building where the old video tape store was. My friend and I…we’ll call him Terry, were beyond excited, seeing as it was a much more economically friendly option for us (and our parents) to get a chance to play a videogame, straight out of my gaming magazines! The posters all around town, all bright and playful, detailed that the arcade was to open sunday at 9 AM, which was incredibly convenient, because Terry and I had already planned a sleepover that saturday night.
I brought my magazines to Terry’s because his mom wasn’t willing to spend money on “gimmicks like that”. We stayed up into the early hours of the morning, flipping through them over and over, until we had drilled every game made to date into our heads.
Eventually we both passed out on the floor, lights on, magazines out, and minds full of wonder.
I awoke to the sound of Terry’s mom leaving for her weekly church service, looked to the wall and read the clock; 8:06 AM. Wanting to get there early so we could be first in line, I woke Terry and told him to get ready. We both took showers, changed out of yesterday’s attire and into something more fresh, and snagged some change that Terry’s mom had left for us on the kitchen counter. Before we ran out the door, I looked at the clock; 8:47 AM.
It took us about 10 minutes to walk there. When we approached the line up at the door, there were only a handful of people there. No kids our age, just some older social rejects who had nothing better to do. We jumped into line to secure our spot as the fourth and fifth people to enter the arcade. We cupped our eyes against the arcade front window to block our eyes from the sun, and what we saw blew our 15 year old minds. Rows and rows of arcade games.
Something caught my eye, though- two large double doors with the writing “The Virtual Reality Experience!”. To hear those words virtual and reality in the same sentence back then made absolutely no sense to me, so it intrigued us to the point of making it at the top of our agenda for what to do at 9 o’clock when the doors opened.
The arcade games sprung to life in a fantastic display of lights and colour, and the doors opened. A bald man with a scar on the side of his head walked out, and gestured to the small lineup that we could now enter. As I walked past him, he gave me a blank stare that gave me an extremely uneasy feeling. We continued through the doors and into the fantastic space full of lights and sounds that excited Terry and I even more.
Without saying a word, we ran to the large double doors and pushed them open. They were surprisingly light, and we both stumbled into the room. There was a bald woman with a scar on her head standing next to a table with multiple bulky circular gadgets on it. We both stood up straight, slightly embarrassed, and proceeded towards her. She held out her left hand, and silently pointed to the paper on the table with her right. Two quarters per player for the most immersive gaming experience in this day and age! Fight off the alien race that is attacking the moon base! You are its only hope!
Terry took out his mom’s coins and handed over one dollar in change to the bald woman. She blankly took the money and grabbed one of the bulky circular gadgets on the table, gesturing for us to do so as well. We both grabbed one and watched as she placed it on her head, surrounding it like a helmet. We went to do the same but she gestured for us not to. She went through a side door and came back with two Star Wars blaster looking devices. Terry and I excitedly snagged them from her hands and examined them in awe. They were surprisingly heavy. The woman pressed a button and a thick metal door slid open. She walked through it and we followed attentively. Walking down a flight of stairs, we came to a long, narrow hallway, which led to even more stairs.
We came into an incredibly large room. Other than a black and red striped door on the other side of it, the walls of the entire room were covered in an opaque glass-like substance. Terry and I shot each other excited glances and proceeded to the middle of the room. The woman helped us equip the helmets and blasters. We couldn’t see anything. Thinking this was some sort of joke, I was about to take off my helmet, when the it came to life.
The screen inside the helmet lit up and I looked around to see a totally different place than the strange room before. We were on the moon, outside a building with Canadian flags on it. I looked towards Terry and he was in an astronaut suit, bearing the same blaster as before. I heard a screech ring out through my helmet that made Terry and I jump. Sound on the moon? Ah, well. It was a video game, after all. We turned toward the origin of the horrible sound, to see what I can only describe as a true monster. It was lanky and crawled on four legs. My first thought was that its face was made up of only two deep black holes, presumed to be eyes. It looked sickly and injured as it moved toward the two of us. Its face opened up to form a mouth that bore rows of razor sharp teeth. It paused its advance, and stood up on its hind legs, exposing claws that looked as if they could slice through human flesh like butter. It lunged towards me with surprising speed.
I froze. Time felt slow as I watched the monster gracefully soar through the air towards me, mouth open and claws outstretched. It was suddenly violently knocked to one side as a rod of red fire blew a chunk out of its torso and sent it flying. I looked to Terry, and saw his barrel smoking. This brief moment of surprise was interrupted by more shrieks from other monsters arising in the distance. Shaken up from almost losing the game in the its first moments, it took me a second to understand the situation. Protect the space station, kill monsters, stay alive… easy enough. A burst of adrenaline hit me as the monsters came into view over the craters and hills. There were at least twenty, and they weren’t crawling like the last one, but rather running toward us on two legs, spastically waving their claws around, every limb on their body seemingly twitching every second or two. Without hesitation, Terry and I started to use our weapons against them. They got about ten metres away before the last one collapsed to the ground, motionless.
More monstrous screams came from behind, nearly upon us. Too many to specifically say. Terry and I began to fire uncontrollably into the mob of creatures as they stampeded toward us. Terry was firing at the ones in front of me, as was I. I realized too late that Terry’s actions were foolish, as monsters poured onto him, covering him from view. He screamed in pain. Firing wildly into the crowd of creatures, I managed to take down enough of them that they started to back up, realizing that I was a threat. They crawled back over the hills and craters, revealing Terry’s body, motionless, on the ground. I had stared at him for a minute or so, contemplating what to, when I much deeper, groggy, shriek echoed through the air.
I turned to see a creature, larger than the others, slowly striding on two legs across the lunar surface toward me. Its claws were noticeably longer, and its teeth were curled inwards. I switched my focus from Terry to the monster, and just as I did, it stopped advancing on me. It turned to the right and started walking towards the horizon. It stopped, lifted up its nightmarish claw, and slashed into nothing, but as it did this, what I can only describe as a rip in the air formed. It kept striking until the rip turned into a hole.
It disappeared into the hole. I stood there, confused. I heard screams, both from humans and ruined electronics. For a split second, the message “ERROR:00001\POWERREMOVED” was displayed in front of me. Then, everything went dark.
I waited a few moments before taking off my helmet, and saw what I can only describe as absolute carnage. Creatures with chunks blown out of them were scattered everywhere across the large room, surrounded by pools of yellow ooze. I looked to my feet to see Terry laying on the ground with various lacerations littering his body. Crouching down, I took off his helmet. He was dead.
The shock of my best friend’s death was interrupted by the walls opening and more monsters surging out. Instinctively, I raised the blaster and started firing. It worked just as well as it had in the game. Dropping them as they came out of the hole kept them at bay. Finally, they stopped coming. I stared at the gap in the wall. No more emerged from the darkness beyond the glass opening. I looked around the room, to notice that the black and red stripped door had been ripped down. Realizing that this was my only exit, I moved to it, and walked through the remains of the door.
I was now in some sort of control room. Bald male bodies were scattered across the room, with blood covering most of the floor. All the electronics in the room had been destroyed, all bearing huge claw marks. The silence of the room was interrupted by movement behind me. The largest of the creatures emerged from a dark hallway, hunched over to fit through the gap. Baring teeth and claws, it approached, with the same deep, groggy scream I had heard before. Without even questioning my actions, I pulled out the blaster and sprayed across the room at the horrifying creature. It cowered into the darkness from which it had come, and I heard it scamper down the hallways until the sound faded to nothing. I walked towards the darkness, blaster drawn, and was swallowed by it.
I felt my way through the black hallways and up staircases for what felt like an eternity, occasionally feeling long scratches in the walls left by the monster. Low growls and metallic bangs echoed through the unexplored corridors. My curiosity was cut short when I turned a corner to see light coming from a smashed window high above the floor. The wall and floor was littered with long scratch marks, yellow ooze and broken glass. I moved up the staircase to come into a small room filled with blasters and a slightly open door. Peeking through, I saw the woman who had directed Terry and me into this horrible mess. I burst through, aimed my blaster and held the trigger until she was unrecognizable, my mind numb with the pure rage of my best friend’s death. From nowhere, more bald men swarmed to the scene.
I stood there, with cuts, bruises, yellow ooze and blood covering my body, as they all blankly stared at me. Shoving through the crowd, I ran out of the Arcade, blaster in hand.
That was 21 years ago, and the bald scarred men have been pursuing me ever since. I often think about the time Terry and I spent in the game, how it could’ve played out so differently. If not for him, we both would have died in that horrible place. I’ve tried telling others, but I gave up long ago, for everyone thinks I’m mad.
I went out west to the coast but it doesn’t matter how far I go, they always seem to catch up to me. I see them walking on the streets, in restaurants, even on TV. I swear one of them looks like Terry. Sometimes at night I hear the shrieks of that monster in the distance. I fear that my time may be short. As I write this, there is a bald, scarred man sitting under the light of a bus stop across the street, blankly staring at my house. I can hear scratching noises at my back door, accompanied by the occasional low groggy moan.
I’m going to die here.
Credit To – Isaac Cook and John Cook