Michael Pondnoddle whistled. ‘Blow me, I never thought…’ He lost his thread as his children disappeared inside the arcade, squealing at the flashing lights and buzzing noises.
‘What’s up, Mikey?’ Coleen watched the children disappear as she spoke. She set off after her offspring, without waiting for an answer.
Michael walked slowly forward, until he was within touching distance of the ancient figure. His voice shook slightly. ‘Hello, old friend.’ He put a hand on the painted plaster of the cloak and imagined the vibrations that had shook the display, remembered the mesmeric eyes, the cartoon twitching of the moustache and the scary clacking of the jaw as the machine intoned its responses. His finger traced the gold leaf of the machine’s name that ran beneath the crude cast of the crossed legs. ‘The Great Mysterio’.
‘What you doing, dad?’
Peter ran up and pushed in front of his father, slapping his pudgy hands on the plaster legs. Michael winced at the lack of respect and then chided himself. He’d been the same, at Peter’s age when he’d been to the arcade with his parents and first encountered the mechanised southsayer.
‘What’s it do?’
‘He tells you your future.’
‘Cool. What..?’ Peter twisted his head to see how you started the machine.
‘You’ll need a token. Here,’ he handed his son a note. Peter needed no second invitation, running to the booth back by the entrance. He was a seasoned arcade user, even at seven.
Michael watched him go and absently fingered his key ring. His thumb and forefinger gently rubbed the two old scuffed red tokens that had been on all of his key rings since he could remember. In his mind’s eye he was the child again, banging his fists with frustration on the Great Mysterio. He’d fed in a token and been told his future, which, to his seven year old self made no sense so he’d tried to feed in another, but the slot refused to take one from him. The man who ran the arcade had tried and declared it ‘bust’ and put up a sign. But later, Michael had seen two other boys using it and tried again only for the slot to refuse to take his token.
‘Dad,’ Peter’s whining brought him back to the moment. ‘The man says it doesn’t work. It’s just for show. It was his dad’s and he had to keep it.’
Michael sighed. ‘Oh well, you’d better go and play something else.’
Peter didn’t need a second invitation. ‘You coming?’
‘In a moment.’ Michael stared at the eyes, those eyes that had held his own like two magnets. He could almost hear the words. ‘You’ll live, love and have luck, but you will have to pay me my dues.’
And he had lived, loved and, above all, had the luck. Everyone said he was the luckiest man alive.
Before he knew what he was doing, he pulled out his keys and fiddled one of the tokens from the ring. Without giving himself a chance to think about how silly he was being, he pushed the token into the slot. It slipped in and in moments the eyes lit up, as they’d done all those years before. The haunting music he recalled so well began to fill his ears and the arms began their tortured circling. Smoke – he’d forgotten the smoke – poured out of The Great Mysterio’s nose and ears and the jaw, with its sinister stained teeth began to clack together. ‘Hello…’ the oh so familiar voice began and then faded.
Michael looked at the man who’d come up behind him unnoticed. ‘How’d you do that? It’s not worked since dad was alive.’ He was fat and pasty, wearing oily blue dungarees. He wiped his hands on an old cloth. ‘He swore by its prophesies, did dad. Said it told him when he was going to die. Date and time.’
Michael could barely breathe. ‘And was it right?’ He clutched the second token, still on the key ring. Would he have the courage to ask it for his future? What if it foretold his death?
The man sniffed. ‘Nah. Load of old cobblers.’
Michael breathed out. Of course it hadn’t been right. He was being stupid. The man turned away as Michael reached forward and pushed the second token into the slot. It was just a bit if fun.
The man laughed sourly. ‘It was an hour out. Bloody clocks going forward must have thrown it.’
Michael felt his heart stop as those hypnotic eyes held his and, as he slipped to the floor, he heard, ‘Hello, Michael,’ it intoned. ‘Are you ready to pay those dues?’
This is what this week’s #writephoto prompt inspired…