Seven months ago precisely, Billy Mitchell’s ordeal would unfold like a butterfly from a cocoon, but a pretty creature would not emerge, instead a different metamorphosis would occur, with fatal consequences.
We revisit the events five months ago. Billy headed down to the Coin feeders arcade after school lunch on a Thursday evening, he sauntered down the grimy, narrow street pavement, past a cop placing a ticket on an old Chevrolet Malibu, parked on the footpath, painting the image in his mind of an inevitable detention, for not staying within the confines of school during break, but to Billy the arcade was simply irresistible. After he stumbled through the double doors, drained of energy, he followed his usual routine of collecting fallen coins from underneath cigarette and vending machines, at that time no one was around to care what he was doing. The money was used to play the only Namco arcade game worthy of wasting a good several minutes on, Pac-man, the throne of pop culture, a shrine amongst his peers and Buddha had an appetite to quench, so Billy gave it something to digest and forced the sticky, dusty money through the cash slot and fired it up, the menu appeared along with the distinct intro soundtrack, four ghosts dispersed and he set out on clearing the maze of two hundred and forty golden dots, along with the four energisers, he twitched the joystick rapidly, focusing as if he were a Boeing pilot trying to touch down with one wheel, hoping to land a perfect score that would put him on that social pedestal at Sancture High. After fifteen levels had passed, a crowd swarmed around the machine, the game had become increasingly difficult, the group of youths had added an extra weight to the pressure weighing down on Billy’s gaming conscience, the monitor became fogged after every panting breath he exhaled when a ghost came close to devouring the yellow mass, the controls had now become drenched in a concoction of nervous sweat and hair wax. Eventually the combination lead to the fall of the yellow crusader at level forty five, the crowd chuckled and a few hands exchanged dollar bills as Billy pushed his was through and headed back for maths class.
He sat at home that afternoon drawing up mental strategies for the game he decidedly had to beat eventually, he quickly exited his subjective training ground and responded to his elder brother’s provocative taunts,
‘look at your podgy little belly,’ Todd prodded Billy’s stomach with his litter picker from work, he cherished it as if it were a Ghurkha’s knife, ‘I bet you were over at that new bakery scoffing buns down your trap again?, you seriously have to lose a bit of that tonnage, before you like, take a medical sledge hammer to the face and die or something’
‘Thanks for the concern, but I seriously doubt your worthy of giving medical advice, when your half stoned under a tree somewhere with your hippy love-buddies.’
‘Go eat your pixels on crack-man, whatever it’s called, and I’m not a damn hippy you dozo.’ Todd continued to poke Billy out of anger instead of humour this time.
The feud was extinguished by the yelps of his father calling for dinner, the entire family sat around the living room filling their gobs with noodles, staring at a Japanese game show on television. His mother later attempted to steer their attentions away from it,
‘Billy, did you make it to all your classes on time today?’
‘Yeah’, he responded short and swiftly, during the process of stuffing his face with food to avoid letting the conversation venture into his web of lies.
‘Well, I don’t want you pretending your diabetic again, that excuse for not showing up to class was simply desperate and horrible.’ There was a sudden pause, waiting for Billy to retort sympathetically, but it was soon cut short by the clearing of plates and the sound of sirens, followed by the exaggerated laughter of an artificial audience on TV.
After dinner everyone pretty much scuttled back to their own personal corner of the house, as Billy attempted to lift himself from the floor he was sitting on, the sound of a flamboyant Japanese host bellowed out of the television ‘are you ready to win your very own Atari 2600 gaming console.... with five games!!!’ in a tone similar to revving a motorbike engine, Billy’s expression mimicked that of the eager competitor willing to stake his dignity for a piece of plastic and wires, a look of restrained excitement, although the situation did prompt an idea , if he managed to get his hands on that console he would no longer feel compelled to miss much of his classes to indulge his gaming habits, thus alleviating arguments in the home, but getting his hands on one would be impossible, his weekly allowance was cut short as a punishment for the diabetic incident and his school dinner money didn’t amount to much, so starving wasn’t an option. The only solution was a daunting, temporary Job with his brother Todd.
He got the miserable job with his brother, taking verbal hits from him and his friend’s everyday for the past three days. It was a Saturday and Billy just about had enough of all the cheap insults and practical jokes, on top of a terrible pay and a grim work environment, although he knew Todd had wasted through high school, semi-intoxicated on cannabis and god knows what else, only to land himself in a cesspool, the joke was ultimately on his own brother, a comforting thought, which allowed him to continue shovelling trash into the skip with a smile.
Billy caught a glimpse of a bearded man hauling a busted washing machine into a towering heap of electronic throwaways, beside a container full of smaller, more insignificant pieces. He thought it would be interesting to see if an Atari or another console had been discarded, unlikely, but he ruffled through the heap like some sort of tech-vulture, clawing down deeper into the rubble, past broken VHS cassettes and destroyed televisions, until he got sight of something he thought was, at first, a grill from a lawnmower or vent, but to his surprise it was an Atari 2600, with its wooden frame intact, along with the controller and leads coiled and intertwined with other cabals, Billy was overwhelmed and shocked at the site of such a perfect device, buried alive in a skip-grave, under the rusting corpses of dead gadgets, he pictured its previous owner as a spoiled brat, he began immediately, surgically removing it from the trash.
The months to follow consisted of him corroding his time away with endless gaming on a daily basis, with the installation of this new Atari, virtual playground, which he could now practice in his own home. He climbed to the top of the pac-leaderboard at the arcade and surpassed his personal goals, he dug into the very essence of his being and poured his soul into the false reality, the pixel universe was his only existence, in reality he was just a fat kid with a bad school record, a hermit, with barely any real friends, in his new kingdom, he had built an empire, and was eager to expand it.
It was a Friday and everyone was out of the house at his uncles fortieth birthday party, Billy had pretended to be sick in order to stay at home, he soon became absorbed into an intense session of Pac-man after the family had left, he had managed to progress to level two hundred, with a newfound knowledge of each maze and an instinctive, razor sharp hand-eye coordination , attained from prolonged, rigorous practice, structured around a, somewhat, militant routine, punishing himself for making mistakes. He sat on the floor, the screen flickered after he progressed to level two hundred and ten, the flashes of light showered his face like a press camera shoot ,holding his attention, he started chomping through dots, making the strange beeping sounds.
‘I’m gona beat it, I’m almost there’, sweat poured down his face into his blood shocked eyeballs, ‘two hundred and fifty...!’, he leant closer to the TV and focused, swiftly moving away from every close encounter of loosing, defeat was not an option, hastily, he took mental notes ,for a repeat in the arcade, to publicly validate his upcoming accomplishment.
The two hundred and fiftieth level blended into the final, he moved even closer, the flash of light scanned his eyes, his pupils became dilated, a bout of disorientation followed by a surge of adrenaline struck his body, he could see his shadow on the wall behind the TV starting to change, his jacket ripped at the sleeves revealing his new maggot-like skin, faded yellow in colour with hints of grey, his body structure shifted into a hunchback figure, the head, disproportionate and large in size, emerged, with a gaping jaw, similar in shape to that of a turtle or a snake, his eyes popped out of his head like an insect, he tried to make sense of it all before his conscience deteriorated, allowing the monster to prevail, after a brief silence, it growled loudly ‘I done it!!!!’ Its shadowy physique stood hunched in the living room, waiting.
A sound of drunken laughter and the bells chiming at the front doorstep had startled the creature like a spooked dog trying to make sense of the unusual noise, Todd, his mum and dad as well as Uncle Jack and ant Lacy had staggered through the doorway, Jack holding the champagne bottle loosely, leaving a trail of alcohol across the embroidered carpet.
The animal hanging from the ceiling had jumped down and landed softly on the pillows laying at the front of the TV, it crept up to the doorstep and started sniffling the spilled alcohol, the pheromone of a drunken man, it lead it right to the audience sitting at the patio, It was all new to the yellow vermin, it hid behind the door peering through the window at the crowd.
Todd decided to engage in a betting game, bouncing coins into the chrome canister full of melted ice once used cool the champagne, Todd’s father Bob ended up winning the majority of games, probably because he was less intoxicated. The large critter was still glaring at the group, trying to work out what was happening, Jack took off his golden, fortieth birthday medallion, something they all got at his party, he bounced the large coin off the table, it glistened as it eased through the air, temporarily blinding the monster, clanging off the rim of the container, that precise moment, with the distinct sound and the familiar object, memory came flooding back to the thing that once was Billy Mitchell, it knew its purpose, it knew what it had to do. The back door burst open and the yellow mass darted towards Jack, its mouth stretched open like a serpent dislocating its jaw to feast on its prey, Jack was quickly devoured, disintegrating inside the pool of acid swirling around its fat stomach, soon after the rest of the crowd followed the same fate.
A good majority of the Mitchell household was red, bloody finger-paintings decorated the walls. After the festering monster gobbled up all the gold, its family, its own life, the only thing that was left to do was wander the emptied maze.