Mina pushes another penny into the arcade and it flares into life, the music crackling through the fading speakers. Around her the floor smells of stale soda and gum trodden in like an indecisive patchwork mosaic. The machine is almost as old as she is, and so familiar, the light gun practically moulds into the print of her palm.
She’s dead by Level 5, too soon for her talents, distracted by a memory of playing the same game crossed-legged at home in her Nanna’s house. A two bed place above the weird family, who tried to ‘sell’ them t-shirts by shoving the damn things through the letterbox in the middle of the night and demanding payment, hammering on the door at first dawn. The arcade is too warm, and as a bead of sweat runs from Mina’s hairline down the bridge of her nose she is back in that stifling living room next to the gas fire, rippling malevolently from behind a copper cage.
That warm memory triggers another; a hot summer day with the neighbourhood kids, including two from the family under Nanna. Liam; blonde haired, as pale as a newborn fish with bright red lips, and Sebastian; pockmarked with brown freckles, jet black angular hair and eyebrows that seemed to weigh heavily on the rest of his face so you never really saw where he was looking. On that sweltering afternoon Mina and the gang had been playing football on the green, in the centre of the semi-circle of welfare housing that made up the Estate, when a door flung open, and a grotesque crackling voice blared out into the blue sky. The ball hung high in the air, as though not wanting to land until the trouble had passed.
All the kids scattered, milling around the confines of the Green, never crossing the dreaded threshold of the Dangerous Road. Except for Sebasian and Liam who stood frozen like statues where everyone had been moments before, as their father cursed and swore towards them. Waving shirts above his head, some flecked with paint, he looked like Mario, except a decayed, verminous version of Mario; a piece of fleshy wreckage the result of spending the past twenty years trying to find his misbegotten teen years at the bottom of every bottle he could get his hands on. Looking back on it now, he reminded Mina of a deranged medieval herald, planting the battle flag of a hopeless hundred before a mass of bloodthirsty thousands.
The Father pushed Sebastian aside, who realised the power of his legs and scampered towards the rest of them hovering before the inevitable spectacle. Liam had flicked paint onto some of the hundreds of crap stolen shirts that littered the house, and now this was his public execution – as brutal to a kid in front of his friends as being torn to pieces by horses and chains. Over the father’s knee, pants down, Mina and the gang watched as he belted that pale arse with the heel of a slipper until blood peeked at the edges of the purple horseshoe shaped marks left behind. When it was over, and with Liam in too much pain to even begin crying, he was hustled inside. Gradually, tentatively, Mina and the rest of the kids made their way back into the middle of the Green, avoiding the spot where the horror had occurred. Someone kicked the ball into the air, running alone towards the goal, but the game was gone from their hearts and everyone shuffled home.
Back in the arcade, Mina pushes in another coin. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she lines up the first three bad guys and pop, pop, pop, lays them out with three head shots. Another dude appears from behind a door, floored before he can even get a shot away. The game moves down a narrow corridor, opens another door into a small room, and on screen Mina sees what she has been looking for. Another bad guy, a Mario lookalike, with a bulbous gut and beady little eyes. She ignores the head and shoots for the legs. The character falls to the ground, groaning loudly through the speakers and going through the jerky animation of someone in horrible pain, as text appears on the screen imploring the player to FINISH HIM, FINISH HIM.
But Mina doesn’t finish him… lost in a memory, she just lowers the gun and smiles.