's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Forgotten Venues

Submitted by Jac R. B.

Somewhere, somehow, theres a little place just like this. a very small place, just big enough to fit in the space of an alley between two stores proper. its in places like these where we get vivid memories, some we never lose, some we wish we could. but for now, we focus on a place known to all children, an arcade.
a small place, barely enough room for the roughly 10 cabinets, 7 pinball machines, 4 skii ball games and the prize corner. none of these places had ever been the most superb place to visit. No matter what one does, on any given day a machine or two is inoperable, the pizza is less than standard, floors sticky with long since spilled soda from running children. And yet, in these places we found a home.
always deeply nostalgic, we beg our parents for an early allowance and a trip to the local arcade. a weekend paradise for all who are young, but often, the parents knew.
theres a special kind of filter that covers one's eyes, you see it one way as a child, and another as you grow. as children we only ever saw the games, the prizes, our friends, the delicious pizza and the high scores we meagerly managed to tap out on those buttons. but our parents, our older siblings saw what we didnt. they saw the grime on the walls, the glazed look in the employee's eyes, they saw the stains and garbage. they saw lt;i>everythinglt;/i> we didnt.
theres a reason why your parents were always so apprehensive to bring you there, right they were. the staff never seemed to care, come to think of it they never seemed to speak either did they? they always just stared, not at you, but through you. never the same person either. and what about those weird bags? you always saw them, but they were always gone by the time you could tell your parents about them and how they moved when you were about to look away.
yes thats right, the horrors were never restricted to adults. theres a special kind of horror that can only be encountered as a child. when youre alone.
how about that one arcade cabinet? you always swore it was there, but every time you tried to find it you couldnt, only when you made a mistake, a misstep. youve been misplaced, and now the arcade is different, but the same.
you recognize these cabinets, but not these others?
bewildering as always. you try to find your friends but youre surrounded by kids you dont know and dont recognize. they dont acknowledge you either, too locked in their game.
then in the corner of the sudden labyrinth of electronic entertainment, you see it, positioned so pristinely under its own light.
you've never seen this game before, you think, youve never even heard of it. but it calls to you, beckons with its flashing lights and low high score.
you can beat that flimsy cabinet, you could easily conquer it and have your own victory.
you approach the cabinet, examining its old and faded decals on each side, depicting a looming figure and electrified fences. theres codes long since scratched and rubbed away on the sides. no cheat codes this time.
as you placed your hands on the controls it seems to start, how lucky! you think, someone must have gotten their quarter stuck and now you have their turn.
You play, trapping strange, dark figures, shaped almost like snowmen behind fences, keeping them from innocents. Racking up points easily.
the arcade melts away around you. theres only the game. fence after fence, creature after creature, you trap them mercilessly, or are they now trapping you? a crowd draws around you, watching your apparent mastery of the forces of this game, you ignore them and their seemingly luminous eyes. reflecting the lights of the cabinet no doubt. they say nothing.
each level you climb, the game seems to get easier and easier, strange then that the all time high score is so low. the figures on the screen, black silhouettes with white, peering eyes and long spindly arms, seem to focus less on the sprites of the screaming village folk and seem to look forward. they become slower and slower as the levels go on, but their numbers certainly keep increasing.
you climb to levels youve never reached in any game before, How long have you been here? you dont know, and those surrounding you keep silent. before you know it youve hit the kill screen. everything breaks down into lights and sounds and finally youve lost. But not in vain, youve earned your all time high score, several million points above the previous. the machine prompts you for your name, to mark your glory over it eternal.
a name is a powerful thing. the crown leans forward in anticipation, you pay no heed. four letter slots. anticipation grows as you consider carefully.

"P I S S" you chuckle to yourself and you hear a ghastly hiss. as you turn you find that the crowd is all gone, even the other kids from their own cabinets. How long have you been here?
you look to your hands and are returned with the image of wrinkles, spots, and varicose veins. How long have you Been here?? the machine chimes its earworm music and sound effects mockingly. as you turn in anger you see the whole cabinet begin to shake, shudder, smoke and bellow.
one of the figures of the game fills the screen. it sees through to you. it points to you.
the cabinet's sides bow in and out as if the entire machine were heaving.
you do not stay long to find out what its preparing to do, you turn tail and run, run as fast as you can as the arcade cabinets around you steadily begin to shut down. you hear a loud clamoring behind you. you do not look.
you keep running until you find the 'EMPLOYEES ONLY' door and enter, hoping to find someone to help.
you find that youve entered the eerily lit kitchen. youve never seen one in such an establishment before, barely taking note of the strangely rusted cooking implements, mountains of filthy dishes, the dark reddish brown stains or the creatures that scurry away from you. as you try to search the kitchen for any form of intelligent life, a sound calls out to you. hard to hear at first, but it soon grows. Muffled, pained, it calls out moaning. its coming from the oven.
you begin to muster up the courage to look before the steady moaning grows into frantic screaming. something begins to bang on the door from the other side. you do not look, you simply run for the next room, kicking up ruined tile from the floor as you go. as the door slams behind you, you hear a slam, a crash and very loud sizzles and crackling. you feel heat until the door behind you is shut.
youre finally in the order station just at the neck of the arcade entrance, you finally see an employee. they do not acknowledge you. you grab their shirt, you shake and plead and cry that something is wrong. they do not respond. eventually your shaking has caused them to fall over, limp. their expression does not change, and there is a heavy grease stain where they once stood.
youre not able to process whats going on but the sound of roaring fire steadily increasing from the other room has sent you into a frenzy. you leave the employee and scramble over the counter, running out of the darkened arcade as you hear the horrible wailing of whatever terrors within engulfed by flames. you close your eyes as you feel the heat. you begin to cry.

the voice of your mother calling out to you brings you back. you look up, to see a normal arcade, no flames, no monsters. you see your worried mother calling out to you from the door, 'why did you just sprint out like that? you had me worried sick! why do you smell like smoke?'
you take a moment to process. you look at your hands, as young as the day you first entered. you run and hug your mother, asking to go home, glad to be alive. you decide not to tell her what youve experienced, she wouldnt believe you, and theres no fire, no monsters, so it must have been some sort of dream, right?
She sighs and shakes her head, kisses you gently. she agrees to take you home. as you put on your seat-belt, you glance back at the arcade.
from within the windows you see only two, luminous peering eyes.