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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction


Our Secret Weapon

After the transcendent night we spent dancing together on the island, it became obvious to me that there was more than a coincidence behind our meetings. There was something between us that made us inseparable but couldnít be easily articulated. Some of the circumstances seemed a little strange at the time, but seemed to make more sense in hindsight. It was strange that she would have picked such a place for us to go, we didnít fit in at all, but maybe that was the reason. We had no expectations, so we didnít have any pressures to meet. No one was looking at us, or paid us much attention. The music they played was before our time, but the doo-wop oldies and strange rockabilly songs seemed to coalesce and mirror us almost perfectly, inexplicably anticipating what we had built between ourselves. As we danced together, we were able to hide from the outside world, together for in each otherís arms. We were able to soak in the night without having to worry about being discovered. As I reluctantly left the island, I saw her leaving gracefully walking down the stone pathway on the other side of the island. I watched from the top of the hill as she went behind a group of bushes and disappeared into the night, sliding under a clasp of winding sand dunes, I could still hear the songs playing, with a few lone dancers still going at it late into the night. It had been a special night, and I regretted that I wasnít able to stay longer. I was young, and we both knew that staying out too late wouldnít be a good idea. We took in one last song, and waltzed across the shiny floor for the final dance, and then we walked away, leaving the shimmering lights and music behind. She hugged me good-night and walked away from me, smiling as she walked away from me, slowly vanishing under the night skies. I was sad to see her go, but at this point, I knew weíd be together again before I knew it. This gave me a strange kind of confidence, since I didnít have to worry, sheíd always be there with me no matter what happened.  

Sometimes, she wouldnít appear for months or even years then suddenly come back into my life. As I left, I went back down to the boat and took the long trip back towards the port by the beach. I felt surprisingly safe, despite it being pitch black all around, with only the stars and distant moonlight lighting my way. Slowly, I moved the boat back to its moorings where Iíd originally found it and walked up the planks and took the long walk home. The last buses had stopped, and there wasnít even a car. It was a long journey and my feet were aching at this point from all the dancing which I wasnít used to. Even through I was alone, I didnít feel that way. I still felt her presence hours and even days after we separated and this night was no different. I still couldnít exactly understand where she came from or why she seemed to be protecting me. This was still a mystery, and even having been so close to her, she maintained a distance that I wasnít able to close. She seemed to show up and appear at odd moments, as if she was aware of what was going on. It wasnít always obvious since she never gave me warnings. I could never really predict when she would show up next. Eventually, my feelings would subside eventually and normalcy would resume. I had gotten very good at hiding this from other people, and I was good at concealing her from the outside. I never told anyone about her, this was something I wanted to keep for myself. I was very careful not to let anyone know when she appeared, and didnít want anyone to know that how sad it was when she would disappear for extended periods. I was very careful when I felt she was around, and while it was difficult to hide, I donít think anyone else had seen our encounters. Still, I needed to keep up appearances when others were around, and I did a pretty good job of it. In between, Iíd immerse myself in the new world of electronic games and computers, which was quite exciting since it was exploding everywhere. Iíd always sense that people knew there was something different about me. Seldom would a day pass when I wouldnít have something reminding me about us. Reliving our encounters became problematic at times, and I had to shut it off and think about something else. This made it fairly difficult to pretend to be a normal kid, though I tried.

The night we shared at the island dance had been completely strange in many ways, and one I didnít think Iíd be able to recount effectively to anyone else. It was the kind of thing I couldnít quite bring myself to believe. It seemed strange. As the weeks unfolded, my memories became less potent and I thought that it was merely something I had imagined. Spring rolled onwards as the months passed and the world gradually pivoted towards summer once again. The weaker pastels changed into stronger greens and the leaves on the trees became denser as each day. The sun brightened and lengthening days meant summer was close at hand. My anticipation began to intensify until final moment finally arrived. After school towards the end of June, I decided to take a walk down towards the beach. It was nearly summertime, and its hot world began to emerge from its long slumber. The sky was saturated in a deep blue that seemed to sparkle against the sun, with the scattered bands of clouds framing the sun effortlessly. It had been a long spring and I waited patiently for months for a day like that. I walked quickly towards the beach, anticipating what would await me there. The sun had begun to heat the ground and the sidewalks were beginning to warm, I could feel the heat underneath my feet, nearly burning through my shoes.

As I turned the last corner towards the beach, I decided to take a quick trip into the old ship docks. I searched around for nearly an hour, but couldnít find any trace of the old boat I had used. I knew that it wouldnít be there, but I just wanted to go and make sure. It might have bothered me, but it didnít very much. Walking out of the boat dock, I thought about how and why the boat could have been placed there, why she would have taken me to such a strange place. It didnít make sense to me, but I thought perhaps it was her way of protecting me, keeping any evil spirits at bay. She had me at first sight the previous summer, maybe the disappearing boat was her way of keeping our secret from the world. I walked by the boats and noticed many of them were now unwrapped from their winter tarps and I could see some people walking around working on them. They seemed a lot smaller now without them, more vulnerable and less intimidating. I walked through the dock and felt the sun begin to intensify as it took its pre-eminent position at the head of the sky, claiming its grand prize without contest. I intended to go back onto the beach and start swimming once again, anticipating the summer days ahead with my brother. It was looking like a promising afternoon until I hit an unexpected detour on the way.

I noticed that the arcade had opened for the season and went inside. There wasnít very much different than the previous year, but things had been rearranged. I still followed games closely in my magazines. I was a little older at this point, and I was primarily interested in the new home games like the Atari system that I had gotten the previous Christmas. There were a few new arcade machines I read about in the magazines and one new game in particular had captured my imagination and created an interesting pull for me. I didnít think theyíd have it at our arcade. They held onto old machines for many years and rarely seemed to get new ones in, and as I looked around, I didnít see anything new. All of the original games were still there, and I couldnít resist another few rounds of Defender, which had been my favorite game the previous summer. I was a little bit rusty at first, but quickly got back into the flow, cashing in waves of enemies effortlessly. It felt like meeting an old friend, I found myself settling into old rhythms and patterns almost subliminally. After a few rounds, I wanted to look around the rows and see if there was anything new for that season. I passed the row of old pinball machines and the Skee-ball cluster in the back. Everything was in a familiar position, for the most part. I wasnít sure what to play next, and I looked around the corner and walked towards the other side towards the front of the arcade. Then I saw it, nestled in between two older cabinets was that new game Iíd heard do much about. It was from the same company that made Defender, but it had a personality all its own. Its name was scrawled on the marquee in bright red letters with an imposing, almost monstrous head in the middle. As I walked towards it, a synthesized voice called out from it, screaming its name. ďI am Sinistar!Ē This was quite startling back in those days and it immediately set itself apart from the pack. I took a quarter out of my pocket as quickly as I could and started playing the machine.

It seemed simple enough at first, playing like a faster version of Asteroids, but Sinistar had a few twists that made it feel innovative and challenging. There were ships that were chasing you around a huge expansive of space. As you flew around theyíd chase after you and fire relentlessly. As I played, I saw that instead of just breaking into pieces and disappearing, the rocks would release crystals. I didnít know what they were for, so I kept blasting the rocks and other ships. Eventually, I lost my last ship and it was over. I didnít know what was happening, but I though it was cool. I put in another quarter and got a little bit farther into the game this time, acquiring more crystals and getting a higher score. I found it quite difficult and the ships quickly got to me again. I was getting frustrated at this point, but I kept playing. The next few times, I didnít progress much farther, but I was beginning to see a pattern. When I collected enough crystals, or survived long enough, Sinistarís synthetic voice would suddenly roar, calling me a coward for running away from it, I I knew there was something about the game I wasnít getting, I tried to figure out how to get it to appear but this led nowhere. It remained out of sight, taunting me from its distant perch but giving me no way of attacking it. I looked for it but it seemed to be nowhere to be found. Having wasted several quarters attempting to find it, I decided to examine things closer. I noticed the radar on the screen had a very big shape in the middle. This was where its demonic foe was hiding. It was there all along, waiting just off the screen, making itself known mostly through its screams and taunts and shouts, creating a menacing presence despite not being visible on the main screenís playfield,

This was a radically different concept than other games at the time, most of which confined the action inside a single play field. It was such a cool idea that the added challenge made it more interesting. As my ship flew towards the demonic boss, I saw it was in the process of being built by the smaller ships that were attacking me. As I flew in closer, I discovered the crystals I had collected were then used to attack it, which changed my strategy. I tried to collect as many crystals as I could before reaching its area. More importantly, I had to hold onto them for the main boss while resisting the temptation to use them on the smaller ships. Unfortunately, Sinistar was a surprisingly aggressive and devious enemy. It effortlessly deflected my crystal attacks each time, destroying all my ships in quick succession. It seemed to be almost alive, stalking my movements, chasing after me, running towards me with almost supernatural speed. It was quite intense and required a different strategy than many of the tamer games. It reminded me of Defender in many ways, but it had a different feel to it. It was quite intense, but was a bit too difficult at for me least initially. It was something that demanded more time and practice, but I was running low on quarters and didnít want to have to walk home, especially not at night. Reluctantly, I put its challenge on hold and left the arcade. On the way out of the arcade, I noticed that several other new machines with strange names Iíd only vaguely heard like Xevious, Bosconian and, Gravitar had come out that summer, but I didnít have the time for them at the moment. It was beautiful summer day and I didnít want to spend all of it inside staring at screens. Iíd save those challenges for another time.

As I walked back into the sunlight, my ears were still ringing from the games, my head was buzzing. Outside once again, it was disorienting, everything seemed too still, too quiet. I felt the sun on the back of my head, its rays beating down on me. Unlike the stale thick air inside the air-conditioned arcade, the air outside felt clean and new. The warm wind felt refreshing, blowing new energy through my body. As I looked back inside its windows, the arcade seemed to represent a different place. Inexplicably, it appeared to have shrunk in size it had the previous summer, smaller and shorter than I remembered. It seemed like a hidden oasis from the summer heat, one that represented an escape, but only temporarily. I felt the sidewalk under my feet starting to boil underneath once again, it was an uneasy feeling. I walked past the golf course again, watching its metal windmills and fabric clowns wilt underneath the relentless heat. I stood at the edge of the street and looked carefully and crossed in between the endless waves of cars that had suddenly converged. I walked across the grassy plain towards the sand. I looked down the shore to the east and saw the tree where Iíd seen her for the first time the previous summer. I stared at it for moment and wondered if it had actually happened. I had often wandered towards that section but something always seemed to keep me away. I think there was a part of me that wanted to keep that area a secret. There was a part of me that feared what would happen if I lingered there too long. Someone would see me and figure out our secret, so it was best to stay away. I walked towards the ocean, my feet moving unevenly over the sand, still mushy and muddy from a rainstorm the previous night. I reached the edge of the sea where the waves came crashing in. I looked down and there were probably looked like a thousand sea shells underneath, I navigated around them to avoid their sharp edges and felt the water slowly begin to over-run my sneakers, saturating them with their salty water. I watched the tide roll in once again, its waves foaming at the edges consecutively building over each other as they relentlessly reclaimed each inch of sand. I walked towards the east, and stood there for a moment. I looked over the horizon, past a few boats sailing on their white sails crossing the beach beyond the buoys, and searched for our island.

I remembered the general direction and position where it was, but it was too far away for me to see exactly where it was. I was hidden past the horizon, far beyond my vantage point, and further blocked from view by the smaller inner islands. As hard as I tried, I wasnít able to locate it with my own eyes. I remembered how long it had taken me to get there and I worried that perhaps it was so far out in the sea that it didnít exist. This caused unsettling doubts to emerge. If the island wasnít real, it meant my boat trip never happened, we didnít dance together, didnít hear those songs and never shared that special night. It had all been the product of a kidís imagination, nothing more than a dream. I stood there frustrated; I wanted to have some kind of proof. I looked at the other side of the beach towards the pier and suddenly thought of something. There were a few large periscopes at the end of the pier that you could use to get a closer look, zoom in and, examine the outer waters and other islands. I remembered that still had a couple of quarters in my pocket from the arcade and decided to go walk there and continue my quest. I took the pathway on the sidewalk towards it. It was on the other side of the beach, but I knew exactly where I was going. It was getting later in the afternoon and there were shadows beginning to form, crossing paths and creating obstacles along the way. I was able to get there in good time, and despite my eagerness, I slowed down once I reached it. Consisting of boards with gaps in them, the creaky walkway had to be navigated carefully in order to avoid tripping. I carefully walked over each plank, passing a few fishermen along the way. No one was having much luck that day; their empty buckets, grimaces and, forlorn body language suggested another low-tide drought. The native sea gulls on the other hand, didnít seem to mind.

I stopped for a moment to watch a group of them running around at the edge of the water seeming to play with each, without a care in the world. They were quite noisy and their squawks filled the air. I counted about a dozen of them together. I continued on my way, listening to them in the distance.  As I walked over the boards, they creaked and cracked under my feet, nervously. Through the cracks, I could see the water getting deeper and the waves getting higher as I went deeper over the sea. I passed through the first of two periscopes, since they were positioned to look in the other direction and would help me. As I got towards the end of the second half of the pier, I felt the boards under my feet shaking from the stronger waves which slowed my progress. I persevered, kept moving and finally reached the end of the pier, which spread outwards on either side. I walked towards the final large black periscope, a heavy device bolted to the boards. It seemed to be in an ideal position to aid my search. I stood on its edge and tilted it down so I could see through its eyes. I put a quarter in the machine, and I scanned the islands surrounding whole beach, zoomed, looked east, west, then up and, finally down. I tried for several minutes, but I wasnít able to see anything, not even a distant outline or a shadow. Before I knew it, my two minutes were up and I needed another quarter. I decided to plunk in another one, and despite my best efforts nothing showed up. I was disappointed but somehow not surprised. Some secrets were meant to remain hidden from view, I thought about giving up, but decided to make another attempt. I scanned for another minute or so and focused my eyes, squinting while trying to focus enough to see some indication. As much as I tried, there wasnít a trace of it to be found anywhere. I was getting really annoyed, feeling like I was wasting my time and money looking for something that wasnít real. In my frustration, I spun the device around the opposite direction knowing there was no chance of seeing anything on the opposite direction. I was just spending the rest of my time, feeling it had been for nothing. I stood there annoyed scanning the beach fecklessly and then it happened. I felt something on my shoulder, like someoneís hand was there. I immediately jumped off the rail. I turned around and looked but no one was there. I looked around, no one, not even a shadow. I knew I felt something but couldnít explain exactly what happened. It took me a moment to figure it out, then it finally coalesced in my mind, and my fears subsided nearly instantaneously. Even though I couldnít see her, I knew she was there.

- Michael Palisano

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