You ever resuscitate a dead arcade machine? It can get pretty ugly.
The landlord isn’t happy about what happened to our den, but it’s such a perverted string of events I don’t even know how to begin to explain it to him. Yeah, it all comes back to that stupid arcade machine of Ray’s. You remember how last week we buried it in the Evans City Cemetery? Long story, that … but you think once a broken arcade machine is buried six feet under, that’s the end of the tale.
No. Two days later I’m scarfing down breakfast with my two housemates (Microwave burritos) and Ray’s got these big black circles under his eyes. “I keep seeing him!” he said to us, referring to his beloved Sinistar Arcade machine. “Whenever I go to sleep at night, there he is…”
“Dude, it’s an it,” Ian corrected him. Ray kept right on trucking.
“I feel like we buried him too soon. I mean, for the love of God – HE WAS STILL TALKING!” Ray did his deep-throated impression of the Sinistar voice synthesizer:
BEWARE! I LIVE!
“I’m telling you, he’s haunting me.”
“C’mon buddy, up! UP!” Ian cooed, grabbing Ray by the arm and helping him put on his coat. “The grieving process is, uh, natural. You just go right ahead and work your shift at Radio Shack, pretty soon you’ll move on.”
Ray grabbed our sticky front door with both hands and forced it open with a grunt. The chill fall air hit him in the face but did little to revive him. “He lives…” Ray said quietly, shuffling out. “…he hungers.”
Ian slammed the door behind him, then motioned with his head for me to sit down. “I’m gonna be late–” I protested. But he pointed, dramatically, to the chair so I had a seat.
“I was surfing the ‘net last night and look at this:” he whispered, withdrawing a folded up printout. “It’s a description of the special AMOA Sinistar board. Uh, lemme explain: AMOA was the Amusement and Music Operators Association, and every year they held a convention to showcase the latest coin-operated arcade games. See, Sinistar was unveiled at that show in 1983, but they weren’t quite done yet – so the versions they produced for the trade show were different than the final products that shipped. See?” He pointed to his wrinkled piece of paper, the printing far too small for me to read. “It describes Ray’s version of the Arcade to a T. No wonder the repair guy thought it was some custom version.”
“So … what, you’re saying we have a Beta of an arcade game?” I asked.
“Precisely! Well, more likely a copy of the beta. But check this,” he pulled out another printout. “Collectors love burning ROM images of the beta of the game because it was easier to play. They upped the difficulty on the retail version so people would pump in more quarters, so those old pre-release-based ROMs are valuable. And here’s a website that shows you how to wire up the alternate main board, and here’s a list of all the modified DIP-switch settings and wiring changes…”
“Ian, Ian stop – stop!” I interrupted. “You’re talking in a foreign language at this point. What you’re saying is that we buried a valuable relic? Cool. I gotcha. Let’s not tell Ray, okay? He’s already convinced the machine is mad at him.”
Ian shook his fist and then pointed at the wrinkled schematics in his hand. “No! You’re missing the point. See!? This shows us how to fix it. We can fix it. Ray will be BLOWN AWAY.”
I jumped to my feet. “No!” I said. “You want us to Frankenstien a buried arcade game? No! No, no. … No.”
Ian grabbed my shoulders. “C’mon, Marcy. You’ve seen Ray. He’s a walking zombie. He’s having nightmares. You’re the one with the truck. This all hinges on you.”
“I’m sick of this stuff hinging on me,” I mumbled. But, on the flipside, we all loved Ray. And if there was a chance – even a slim one – of making him this happy … well, I had to try. “Okay,” I whispered.
Ian was ecstatic. He started babbling about how he knew a guy who knew a guy that had a ROM-burner or something, but I didn’t really care about the details.
* * *
Two nights later I was, once again, driving up the rear access road of the cemetery with my headlights off. We held our breath every time a twig cracked under my tires. Apparently, ever since the incident last week, the night watchman had doubled his patrols – that meant he was bringing his wife.
But we had no intention of running across him. As soon as his golf cart rumbled by Ray’s family plot, we sprung out of the bushes with our picks and shovels. What a sight we were. Two ragged twenty-somethings, digging and scraping away at a fresh grave in the fuzzy blue haze of a Fall moon, our breath steaming in the light. Suddenly, a raspy voice from under the earth cried out:
…and the two of us jumped out of the shallow hole. I howled a ragged scream until Ian’s dirt-smeared hand covered my mouth. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he hissed. “Remember, we left it plugged in.” He pointed his other grimy hand toward a power outlet sticking out nearby for groundskeepers.
“I can’t Believe I share a home with you freaks,” I said, panting.
Like archaeologists, we carefully brushed the dirt away from the Sinistar nameplate. It was lit from within, casting a red-and-blue light from the open grave, illuminating our faces with an inhuman glow. Ian looked at me and I returned his gaze – together we gulped.
Once we’d uncovered the coin slot, Ian opened ‘er up like peeling open the chest of a heart patient. He had a miniature flashlight in his teeth. “Kill it,” he grunted through clenched teeth, and I pulled the plug. He unwrapped a circuit board from a delicate foil package, plugged it in, checked all the little switches, and then reared back up on his knees. “That’ll do ‘er,” he said, wiping a sweaty brow with a dirt-smudged hand. “Hit it!”
I plugged the machine back in.
The screen lit up in a test pattern, filling the grave with an unholy white light. Then, the attract mode started! It worked! Sinistar growled with fury!!
“It’s alive!!” Ian bellowed, leaning back to peer up into the heavens, white and blue light pouring up to illuminate his face from below. “It’s alii-iiive!”
With that victory under our belt, getting that beast actually up OUT of the grave and into the truck was much, much harder than we anticipated. Especially because there were only two of us. We struggled, we grunted, we took off our coats, and eventually we persevered. But our time was short – the night watchman was on his way back, so we didn’t have any time to properly fill in the hole. Instead, I threw caution to the wind, started the motor, and gunned the truck back to our place.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t there, but from what I was told afterward I was able to piece together what was happening across town that very moment.
* * *
Ray, working on nearly two days without sleep, had both elbows on the glass counter at Radio Shack where he was working the late shift. It was quiet. Dead quiet. The TVs along one wall all crackled and gabbed, but there wasn’t another soul in the place. His mind began to wander. Sinistar appeared on the evening news, bellowing about his hunger to the anchorman. When they went to the weather, huge asteroids littered the weathermap. Ray awoke with a start, then slapped his cheeks.
“Gotta stay calm, gotta stay focused,” he whispered to himself. But there was nothing to focus on. His eyes drooped, and his forehead lowered itself onto the glass counter once again. Was it closing time? Yes, yes it was. It was time to close. Ray turned out the lights and the reeled with horror at the red and blue electric glow that filled the windows of the Radio Shack: Sinistar had come for him.
the terrifying voice boomed. The monster’s huge robotic head filled the windows of the store, and the glass shattered. Ray fell to his knees. “No! No!” he begged as the robot’s head moved in.
He awoke with a short, shrill scream that frightened the pants off an old man who had come in to buy a cable switchbox. “I’m sorry!” he sputtered, looking around the store to make sure Sinistar wasn’t in sight. “Can I help you?”
“No!” the old man gasped, dropping his intended purchase and backing slowly out of the store. Ray’s black-rimmed eyes followed him the whole way, half-expecting the roaring head of Sinistar to devour the man on the way out.
“This is crazy, I gotta get control,” Ray said to himself. He needed to talk to someone, and suddenly remembered a friend from California, a buddy from grade school who had since become an Arcade attendant near the coast. Ray checked his watch: It would be earlier out West, a great time to call. He dialed long distance from the Radio Shack manager’s phone.
“Palace Park, can I help you?” the voice on the other end of the phone answered.
“It’s Ray from back East!” Ray said. Behind his friend he could hear the bleeps and bloops of dozens of arcade machines. His friend recognized him immediately; they exchanged some friendly banter before Ray finally cut to the chase. “Hey, uhm, you run an arcade, right? Do machines ever haunt people?”
The other end of the line grew silent but for the noise of the games. Suddenly Ray heard a door shut, and the noise of the games dropped to a whisper. The attendant’s voice got very serious. “What did you just say?” he asked, wavering.
“I said, do arcade machines ever haunt people?”
Three thousand miles away, the color drained from the Arcade Attendant’s face. He paused long before he found the courage to answer. “OH yes,” he said. “Yes … yes they do.” He shuddered, and without a further word, hung up.
Ray held the phone up to his ear for a long time after the line was dead, moving nothing but his eyes. It was as though the walls were closing in.
Finally, after another terrifying silent hour at work, he decided that as soon as his shift was over he’d visit the gravesite of his beloved machine and make amends. He intended to soothe the savage Sinistar. Instead of walking straight home, he headed up along a little-known dirt path that wound straight up a steep hill from downtown Evans City into the upper part of the big cemetery.
Silently Ray crept through the bushes, until at last he came to his family plot. At first, he thought the haze and the moonlight were playing tricks on him… fear gripping him from head to toe, he crawled on all fours across the wet grass toward the tombstone. His mouth opened in quiet terror at the sight of the fresh pit where once Sinistar had been buried. “Oh God…” he murmured, imagining the Arcade machine clawing its way out of the ground. “I shouldn’t have left it plugged in … I shouldn’t have left it plugged in!!”
When at last he could get his jellied legs to move, he sprinted at a full run toward our house. He intended to tell us to board up the doors and windows, maybe prepare some shotguns and Molotov cocktails. When he got to out rough stone steps he skidded to a halt, noticing all the mud that was tracked into the house. Gripped by unholy terror, he grabbed a nearby snow shovel and kicked the sticky door in with his foot.
What greeted his eyes was our darkened den – and in the center of that den, like a black ominous monolith, stood Sinistar. The Arcade machine was covered in fresh mud, a trail of it leading from the machine to the door, as though it had hobbled in of its own accord. But what horrified Ray the most, as he gripped the shovel with both hands and lifted it over his shoulders, was that the machine appeared to be working. Working, after two weeks of being declared legally dead.
I ... AM ... S I N I S T A R
…croaked the machine. Ray belted out a lengthy, protracted, rasping scream and bum-rushed the machine with the butt end of the shovel. “DIE! DIE! DIE!!” he howled as Ian and I rushed in from the kitchen to stop him.
Yeah, it was pretty ugly. Despite the dirt and the damage done to the cabinet, an appraiser tells us the machine is still worth something like six grand. Our landlord is hardly impressed, though. Do you know how much damage a swinging metal snow shovel can do to a plaster wall? No, don’t try it. Trust me on this one.
Ray still hasn’t been able to match his old high score. I think the machine’s a little miffed at him.
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- As an Arcade Attendant of Five Years, I Can Say with Certainty That Creeping Horror Is Not a Usual Fixture of Palace Park Amusements.