"You just going to sit there all night, dork?" My friend's smile has gaps in it from advantages taken with the tooth fairy's kindness. "Come skate with us."
"You know I can't. Besides, I don't have any money to rent skates." I sigh.
His grin turns into a scowl, "I know for a fact you have 20 dollars in ones in your pocket."
"I said I don't have any money for skates. This is for the arcade. You know? The thing I'm actually good at?" I shake my head from side to side to punctuate my sarcasm.
"Suit yourself, nerd." He rockets himself back into the circle, cutting off a young couple holding hands.
The sounds of the skating rink soak into my skin like the steam of a hot shower. Carpeted walls on the interior absorb the roar of a hundred conversations and spit it back out as a dull white noise. Other kids fly by me with a whoosh as I sit on the bench next to the hardwood floor. My friend skids and stutters across the floor on his new rollerblades. He hasn't quite got the hang of them yet.
I get up and start to walk backwards to flash him an inappropriate hand gesture. I never see the lightning bolt that strikes the small of my back. Another impact comes before I can regain my balance. I trip over my own shoes and the ground springs up with a hard slap to my face. The impact knocks the wind out of me and I end up gasping in stale popcorn and the red fibers of the Pepsi stained carpet. I try to turn to see what hit me and this time the pain explodes in my stomach. The air I so desperately acquired not a second before is shot out of me along with some spit. Two more impacts into my chest put me on my back and I think I'm seeing stars until I notice them strobe with the music. A voice comes to me from a nightmare.
"Not so tough now are you, punk?" The voice is cold and much older than my seven years. It is the first time I hear rage in someone's voice who is addressing me. I open my mouth to ask why and he closes it with his boot. My body naturally rolls with the kick and now I'm on my right side facing the wall of the building. I thank God that I landed with my stomach protected, until I start to feel the sharp staccato of my attacker's foot falls on my spine. Over and over again I am slammed against the wall and kicked in the shoulder blades. I can't feel the difference between the heel and the toe anymore. I clench my teeth to keep from screaming. I can feel the grit of dirt from his boot on my tongue and taste copper on my lips.
A new voice pipes up over the thud of the base speakers. I can barely make out the words over my own sobs, but I know it is the voice of an angel, because it stopped the kicking. "Dude, that's not the kid! We got to go right now!" There is a grunt of frightened anger and a final strike to the back of my neck that leaves me dazed and coughing. By the time I roll over and wipe the tears out of my eyes the assailants are gone, like they were never there at all. My only evidence of the last few minutes is the bruising all over my back and the nauseous feeling when I stand up.
My friend skates up to me, his eyes wide with rage or terror. He takes a step toward me onto the carpeted floor and I wave him away. I'm too confused and humiliated to report it.
I don't know who attacked me or why.
Who got spared tonight from their possibly deserved beating because of a mistake on the part of an angry lummox? I can't even bear to think about it. There is only one thing I feel like doing. Only one thing that calls to me as my body screams in pain when I start to walk. I reach into my pocket for my money and stumble over to the token machine.
My hand shakes as I try to flatten my dollar out for the feeder to take it in. Finally the machine accepts my currency and spits out the little brass coins I need. I clench my fist around them like a baby picking up Cheerios and stumble over to the biggest machine in the arcade, Sega's Outrun: with working pedals and gear shift and the seat that actually reacts with the car on the screen. It is my favorite game at this point in my life and I need to play it. The thought of doing anything else at this moment makes me want to start crying again.
I lift myself onto the seat and sit back to get a feel for her. Satisfied, I lean forward and drop my tokens into the slot. POW! 1 / 2 CREDITS. POW! 2 / 2 CREDITS. I lean back and take a deep breath and when the game says "go" I slam my foot down onto the chrome pedal. The chair lurches and something happens. The car peels its tires and rushes out toward the 2D horizon and I am right there with it. I'm driving along the beach in a Phoenix red Ferrari and a beautiful blonde by my side. I can't hear the music of MC Hammer anymore. I can't hear the hum of resin wheels on polished wood. I can't feel the weight of the game tokens shift in my pocket as I take a turn. I can't even hear the beeps and booms of the other arcade machines around me. There's no more copper taste in my mouth. No more pain in my chest. No more aches in my back. The only thing left is just the sweet rush of speed and adrenaline numbing all the throbbing pain and outrage.
I am racing towards a turning point in my life. I have just decided to use an outside influence to dull the hurt of reality. Whether this day is my first taste of an addiction that will follow me for all of my days or it is the day I am born again as someone that won't let stress and pain rule my life, I will never be the same. With every turn of the wheel, every jerk of the gear shift and every gentle sway of the seat, I drive farther and farther away from my childhood hobby of video games and closer and closer to the true escape of gaming.
My friend runs up in his socks, "Damn Steve! We've got to go tell the rink manager! We've got to get you some band-aids or something! We have to call your mom!" I don't hear him. I'm going too fast to hear anyone. I've shifted into H and left this world. I'm gone, and I'll never be back.