.. mfortable, or even to mildly imitate the role which he felt was required here. But his natural feelings of transparency (which in everyday life he managed to cover with an act), along with the disorientation caused by the drug, loomed so large that Derek could not understand where to begin acting. Arthur thought he understood. “Look, man, everybody in there is stoned,” he said gently. “Just act natural.
And besides, nobody cares, anyway.” Arthur continued pushing and prodding, and slowly Derek let himself be convinced (although he did not know what Arthur meant by “act natural”). He got out of the car, trying to relax. He felt disoriented, uncomfortable and depressed (like he usually did after being stoned for a few hours) and would rather have gone home and gone to bed. Arthur, on the other hand, was quite cheery feeling that he had done his duty in getting Derek into a more sociable setting. Together, Arthur slightly in the lead, they walked around to the front of the arcade. II Arthur honked once and drove off into the night, the big engine of the Plymouth chugging roughly.
Derek watched as the car floated under the dim streetlights and changed colors: now a blue blacker than black, shimmering at the edges; now reflecting the yellow streetlight glare like whole galaxies passing across the empty face of space; now a murky grey-green, but shiny like a shellacked mushroom. The left taillight was brighter than the other. Derek watched until they seemed to rise into the air, then disappeared over the bridge. He looked up. The sky was almost clear, the half-Moon falling towards the hidden Sun.
Derek stared at it a while letting his eyes adjust to the brightness. Amazing how bright the Moon is, he mused. He could almost feel its pulsing rays, the rays of a creature nearly living, nearly stirring and warm. Either that, or powerful and quiescent. If I was a Celt, I’d make the Moon my God, he thought.
Goddess, he corrected. A slow contented grin appeared on his face with the first peaceful feeling he had had all evening. He turned and went in to bed. * * * * * Going into the pool hall had not been as bad as Derek had feared (it never was, but the FEAR was always so dibilitating), and Derek was privately grateful to Arthur for having shown him that. At first Derek felt intimidated by his sense of having violated the “pool-hall clique”, having introduced his not-so- cool presence into the murky, smoky depths of the arcade.
To Derek’s meandering mind, these people had “the Knowledge”, that priceless sense of who they were and where they fit. It was something that Derek had been striving and straining for for so long now that he was beginning to get desperate. But he realized quite soon that none, none of these goofballs had the slightest clue what they were doing there either. Sure, they were having fun, maybe, but were they completely comfortable? Definitely not, thought Derek. All of them were so concerned with posturing and posing in their jeans and leather jackets, black tee-shirts with the promise of DEATH displayed so starkly that they were confined to this one place on Earth, this one place where they could feel that they were a part of the scene, that they were a part of what was happening..
It gave Derek a sense of unwarrented superiority that he, uncool as he was, could barge in on this scene, even though he did not belong, and feel somewhat at ease. And that was the secret wasn’t it? To be a genuine Human Being, able to move freely among all manner of men and women? For that was what it was all about, wasn’t it? Derek found himself on the verge of Truth for the second time that night, only to become aware that he was the subject of laughter and jests, led by Arthur who was saying: “..kind of spaced out. Look at him! Where are you, man?” he taunted, snapping his fingers under Derek’s nose. Derek’s reverie and rapture fled. He grinned a good-natured grin at Arthur and the others, but his eyes glared at his friend saying, “How could you dare to subject me, your friend, to such awful humiliation, you shit?!” And Arthur’s mischevious eyes twinkled back, “Get your spine up, you wimp.
Life’s no piece of pie ala mode, and if you want to be cool you have to be on your guard. If you slip up, you have to cover your ass all by yourself.” To cover his embarrassment Derek mumbled something about being “ripped just right out of my mind”, but nobody understood him, and nobody asked him what it was he said. Feeling ignored, Derek went to inspect the various video games to see if there were any new ones. There weren’t, and he knew all the old ones well. He felt bored.
He felt like leaving and he wished Arthur would hurry up. Finally Arthur came over. They played KILLER ROBOT SERENADE, but Arthur could not beat the high score. Arthur cursed and shook the machine until he was reprimanded by the owner. Derek let himself be carried away by a fantasy where he was almost convinced that the game itself was sentient and had an evil will. It cleverly led them on, let them think that they had it figured out and that the illusory glory of getting “High Score” would soon be theirs.
Then they would reach the dreaded “Panel 9”. “Panel 9” was more than the sum of all the screens before; “Panel 9” had cunning beyond a mere machine, and it showed a true mastery of psychological manipulation; “Panel 9” lived! And to get high score you had to defeat “Panel 9”. Several times they came close, fighting furiously down to the last man the “Beasts of Panel 9”. But each time they were repulsed. Hot and sweating in the dim, overheated hall, they removed their jackets and plugged more coins into the greedy, gaping maw of KILLER ROBOT SERENADE. Finally they were disgusted.
“Last game?” asked a sweaty Arthur, holding a quarter poised to feed the demon to whom they were selling their..selling what? Derek frowned. “C’mon, last game.” “..sure..” and they plunged into the battle again. This time they almost made it. Almost, but Derek’s hands slipped on the controls and his last man was ripped apart. Derek was sure that the controls had jumped in his hands, and so far gone was he in his fantasy that he felt an irrational, cold rage, and a determination to defeat this evil creation, to show it its place like an avenging paladin.
He went and got more quarters. They played a few more games, but it was pointless. They finally left in disgust, donned their jackets and stepped out into the cool of the night. They breathed deeply, trying to rid their lungs of the smoke and filth from inside. Derek blinked, and his eyelids displayed scenes from the game.
That perturbed him since he was trying hard not to think about it anymore. He felt manipulated and cheated, led on by some foggy promise of glory. And how would you have felt if you had gotten High Score? asked an unbidden voice in his head. Derek blinked, surprised. He realized that, while he might have felt some sensation of pride, it would not have lasted very long, and he might very well have poked fun at himself for feeling that way.
So it was a waste, not only of time, but money and your own energy as well. What was gained? Nothing but an illusion, and a masturbation of your imagination. Derek digested this and thought it over. Then he realized that he was making thinking noises–like “hmm”–and that Arthur was looking at him funny. Derek cleared his throat and gave Arthur a sidelong glance that said “Go ahead, say it, I dare ya”.
Arthur laughed. “C’mon,” he said. “I’ll drive you home.” III Asleep Derek lay in the darkest part of the room where the patterns cast by the streetlamp did not fall. His breathing, once slow and deep, came more swiftly and shallower. He turned on his side, opened his eyes briefly without seeing, sighed, and was quiet once again. * * * * * ..It should have been obvious to him at the time, but it’s hard to tell in a crowd. She was no longer visible, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying.
He pushed deeper into the swirling chasm, sometimes helped along, but most times, it seemed to him, hindered. He began to despair, and, on waking, sobbed. I need to go for a walk, he decided. He wiped a tear away, blew his nose, and pulled on his faded jeans. He didn’t put on a shirt; it was too cold, and a shirt wouldn’t help.
He shuddered as he stepped out into the snowy night. The huge flakes hissed and steamed as they touched his vibrant skin, and soon his back was running with cool, clear water which pooled in the waistline of his jeans; it collected there, inexorably soaking downward, loosening their inherent tightness, until they began to sag. This is stupid, he thought. A passerby sneered and muttered, “Disgusting!” That brought him to an abrupt halt, and he stared at the receding back of his slanderer, wishing to look fierce, so fierce tha.