HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for the Toys & Games Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website. Below are just a few of the pieces we loved. Keep an eye on our website for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release date of Toys & Games…
Slowly, they edged me out Of my favourite position Courteous, friendly, smiling Replacing my beer mat The empty crisp packet Surgically removed.
Maintaining what used To be called Polite conversation The small blocks Clacking on the table With increasing intensity.
Before I knew it My glass was empty Concentration shattered I put the tablet away Grins all round Stabbing steel pins.
‘We’re going to see Slade next week And Sham ’69’ ‘The real ones?’ ‘Dunno, who cares? We’ll have a skinful.’
Dominoes Are they back Or did they Never disappear? For a moment I am a lad again.
David Subacchi lives in Wales (UK) where he was born of Italian roots. He studied at the University of Liverpool and he has 4 published collections of his English Language poetry First Cut (2012), Hiding in Shadows (2014), Not Really a Stranger (2016) and A Terrible Beauty (2016). His work has also appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies.
The Perpetuity of Her Ghosts
I had just turned ten years old when Santa Claus left an Atari 5200 beneath our family’s Christmas tree, a tall fresh spruce with stale popcorn that wound its way up to meet a plastic, glittery angel who stood guard on the top. I wasn’t really interested in technology, but the gaming craze was birthing and like many other novel things throughout the 1980s – an answering machine, a bulky video camera and a phone that was sandwiched between the seats of my dad’s car, plugged into the cigarette lighter – my privileged family were among the first to embark on such advancements. It was evident, by the time the sun went down on Christmas night, the joystick set the 5200 model apart. In comparison to today’s devices, it’s laughable, but at the time it mimicked the arcade games found at Chuckie Cheese or Gameland, the smoky game room I was only allowed to go into during daylight hours accompanied by an adult. Though we had a few cartridges to choose from, I became partial to Ms. Pac-Man, her feminine red bow, cherry lips and strong force validating her place as an unlikely protagonist.
When Denise, a fiery redhead I met in Sunday School, told me that the Rivergate Skate Center had the perfect gaming console and high scores were in the hundreds of thousands, I had to see it for myself. The glass, she said, was shiny, not dull like those in other arcades. The screen was perfectly symmetrical. Most importantly, the joystick was one that reflected the gamer’s reactions in real time, not yet molested and loose like the others around town. Months of practice at home that spring led to the freedom of summer, where Denise and I spent mornings volunteering at our Presbyterian church just a few minutes from the skating rink. My mom carried us in her glacier blue Pontiac down Two Mile Parkway so we could spend the afternoons in the dark windowless dome, feet sticking to the floor while we ate cheap, cold, french fries drenched in ketchup, washed down with warm Sprite. Denise was a good gamer, really good, and quickly we became a force. We defeated any and all rivals. Even the cocky teenage boys schlepped away, tails tucked between their legs.
Denise and I would challenge each other, playing for either boards or points. For boards, we tested only how safely we could get through each round, rendering the score immaterial. For points, our level in the game was irrelevant, making the goal to consistently crush the high score of the suckers who had played before us. We learned the habits of the ghosts, the tunnels and patterns and how they would connect us to the dots we desperately chased, pulsing wildly on the screen. We learned from our mistakes, our hearts beating in unison with the power pellets that were the heroine’s only lifeline. We memorized the nuances and timing, the progression and regression of the ghosts between evil pastels to the safe, edible, flashing white. When the game was over, it was over. A quarter was only able to buy a new life, no matter how desperate we were to extend the one we had. Sometimes Denise would lose interest, roaming around the skating rink chasing boys or playing Centipede. I would play her turn, where I took calculated risks, shaking out my hands and forearms only as Ms. Pac-Man married her lover and their babies flew by giddily, while she climbed up the ladder of her life.
Eventually, when the stakes were highest, the large power pellets that were once ingested to fend off danger became indifferent, and Ms. Pac-Man had no safety net. The only way to escape demise was for her to chomp her way around the board, twisting frantically, fleeing her ghosts until she could gobble the last dot and discover the momentary safety of the start of the next board. No plan, no practice, nothing could prepare me for this intensity. Ms. Pac-Man only had herself and her choices to defend her family from the ghosts. Sometimes, Ms. Pac-Man would succeed. Sometimes she didn’t. And sometimes, Denise would tap me on the shoulder and let me know that we were late, that my mother and her furrowed brow were waiting under the shelter of the pick-up lane. Mom was done with her book, peering from her watch to the entrance, growing impatient. Seeing no choice in the matter, I would hesitantly tear my sweaty fingers away from the joystick, the blood rushing back to my cramped hand. Even though my back was turned and I was shuffling hastily toward the front door, within a split second I could tell, by the cries of the machine behind me, that a neglected Ms. Pac-Man had already been engulfed by her ghosts.
Anna Reid has been writing creatively since she learned how to use a pencil (her first work appearing in a gold-embossed diary with pink ballerina slippers on the cover). She is currently writing a memoir, Prone To Wander. Anna lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her Scottish husband, and spends her time traveling, hiking and begging for a puppy.
What Shall We Play?
What shall we play? Kerplunk it is; Let’s see how long we can last, Watching those marbles teeter on the edge, All those memories rattling against the plastic,
ing. Then we scoop them up, put them back. We’re fine. I pass GO with every sincere gesture, But with a few rolls of the dice I’m bankrupt again, The crease in the board becoming ever harder to smooth the more we play. I would try to talk, or mime, or draw, But what more meaningful sub-plots would render me as valued As the terms and conditions on the back of a box if I did? What shall we play? Chess? That’s a tad generic, but go on; I’ll be black, you the purest white. Protect your Queen, I’ll be protecting mine, But I feel like more of a Rook; Forever linear. Predictable. A crumbling turret unworthy of your crown… A spare piece for when another is lost. What game shall we play? You can pick. It’s okay, it’s okay… You may as well choose – I’ll lose whatever it is.
Zoe Little has an A-Level in Creative Writing, and is currently studying English and Creative Writing at Coventry University. She has multiple writing projects on the go, mostly in prose form, but is also working on developing her poetry. Zoe is hoping to have a first novel near completion by the summer.