Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

One man's games of the year.

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Editorial Feature Reflections Review

The Shelby Cobra 427 careens down the rain-slick highway, its cherry red paint a strobe of color as it speeds past a line of streetlights at more than 100 miles per hour under a stormy midnight sky. The sound of sirens fades into the background as the 427 slides easily onto a side street, hugging the curve of the road before steering smoothly back to the right, disappearing into a nearby alley.

The 427 crawls to a standstill alongside a no-name pub, the vehicle growling deep in its throat before the driver kills the engine. A man steps out from behind the wheel and slams the door shut, his bright red tank top turning the color of blood as the rain patters down and soaks in. A warm light pours from the pub’s open door, turning the man’s heavily scarred face into a criss-crossing jungle of shadows.

The man in red enters the pub, wading deep into an ocean of chatter and a muffled rock and roll riff coming from a jukebox in the far corner. The place is overflowing with visitors, some swapping tales around the countless tables, others playing pool at the back, and still others brooding along the outer edges, content with keeping to themselves.

One pair of these loners catches the eye of the man in red. The first is a middle-aged black man in a blue shirt. The other is a little girl of maybe eight, likely his daughter. The two of them are eying the rest of the pub’s occupants uneasily, as if they expect everyone to suddenly stop what they’re doing and start attacking one another. The man in blue is propped against a pinball machine. When he sees the man in red staring, he whispers something to the little girl and she quickly scurries away.

The man in red makes his way through the crowd, flowing past the bustling bodies and ignoring the sudden bouts of laughter.

“Can you believe this fucking place,” he says as he arrives at the pinball table; Theatre of Magic, as it turns out. “Have you ever seen so many fucking people in your life? It’s insane.” The man in red talks as if he’s known the man in blue for years, even though this is their first meeting.

The man in blue frowns, not sure how to react to this loud intruder. “It’s pretty busy, yeah.”

The man in red laughs and claps his hands once, the noise briefly upsetting the chatter at nearby tables. “‘Pretty busy,’ he says. If this is pretty busy, I don’t want to—Hey, I love this fucking game. Give me a quarter, man.” The man in red leans down close to the pinball cabinet’s glass, admiring the flashing lights, metal alleys and moving contraptions below.

The man in blue shakes his head. “I don’t have a quarter,” he says. But it goes unheard. The man in red’s attention has already moved on to a nearby table, where he swipes a freshly delivered pint from a guy who could easily play center for the Dallas Cowboys. The man in red gives the giant a wide-eyed stare that dares him, almost begs him, to protest. The mountain sitting at the table only stares back, though, and so the man in red returns to the pinball table, taking a sip from the stolen glass.

“I could’ve taken him,” the man in red offers, eyeing the man in blue to see how he will react.

“I’m sure you could have,” the man in blue says, clearly not enjoying his new company.

“That little girl your kid? You bring her in a place like this? Not too smart, my friend.”

“She can handle herself,” says the man in blue, an aggressive edge creeping into his voice. “And I may not look it, but I can handle myself, too.”

The man in red smiles. It’s oddly charming. “Okay, I get it. No talking about the kid…Mind if I ask what happened to your arm, then?” The man in red motions at the man in blue. The sleeve of his shirt is pinned up where his left arm should be.

“It had to go,” says the man in blue, making it clear that talking about the little girl wasn’t the only thing that was off limits. He didn’t want to talk, period.

“You did that yourself?” This actually draws a nod of approval from the man in red. “That’s insane, my friend. I knew there was something wild about you the moment I stepped foot in this place. We smell our own kind, you know?”

“Sure,” says the man in blue, back to staring at all of the other patrons like they might be his worst enemies. “Whatever you say.”

The man in red finishes his beer and places the glass on the Theatre of Magic cabinet. “Man of few words,” he says. “I can respect that…Do you at least have any idea when he’s going to show up?”

As if summoned by those very words, a silhouette fills the pub’s door frame. It’s still raining outside, and the pool of water gathering below the stranger is swimming with sand, the golden grains washing from his hooded poncho and soaked red scarf.

The drone of voices dies down, leaving just the soft rock coming from the jukebox to dance across the air. The stranger looks weary, and a man at one of the first tables offers him a seat.

The man in red straightens, smirks and points at the stranger with two fingers, his bullheaded air all but abandoning him. “That’s the guy everyone’s been talking about, huh? The one who says shit without actually saying shit, or something like that?”

The man in blue only nods, not wanting to interrupt the silence.

The man in red shrugs, pretending not to be impressed. “I could probably take him, too.”


Ryan’s Top Games of 2012

Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Far Cry 3
The Pinball Arcade
The Walking Dead

[art credit]

Filed Under: Editorial Feature Reflections Review

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

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