Thee’s eyes were red and focused. Her face was illuminated by the eery glow of the screen, blinding her to the crowd that had formed around her. Her hands moved quickly and efficiently over the buttons, moved so fast it might have been mistaken as button-mashing if they hadn’t been watching the impressive combos on screen.
No one had ever beaten this level. It had to be unlocked after playing every single level on every single difficulty and obtaining every single hidden item, and then playing the entire game in reverse on extreme. Thee had been at the arcade non-stop for 3 days – from open to close. She had to make sure she was the last one there, and the first one there, or her progress would be lost.
But she had finally unlocked the secret level. And she was certain this was going to be the day. All the kids behind her had been tracking her progress. Word was going around town and kids who had never stepped foot in an arcade before were showing up.
None of them mattered to Thee. What mattered was the victory, the strain of the fight, the sweat clamming up her hands as the heat in the arcade rose and how that affected her gameplay. She felt her glasses slipping off her nose and she was calculating at what point she could sacrifice her hand on the joystick to adjust.
“Hey!” Came a voice in the crowd “hey! Kids! It’s closing time, pack up shop!”
Thee swung herself out of danger and hit start. The game paused. She released a heavy breath, echoed by the groans and sighs of her audience. She took the moment to push up the red rim of her lenses, and then turned around and waited for everyone else to leave. Some of them stayed behind to congratulate her, but until the rest of the crowd had completed their exodus, she refused to abandon her post.
She was so close. By noon tomorrow, victory would be hers. Finally, as the last shoe kicked out of the arcade, Thee exited, with a slight nod to the arcade owner.
The next day, Thee almost skipped to the arcade. Today was the day. She swung the door open and there was her game.
But it wasn’t. It was the loading screen.
“What happened?” She could barely let out the words.
“Hey sorry kid, there was a blackout last night… restarted all the games.”
“Oh,” Thee trembled, angry that victory had been ripped from her. She walked outside and took a deep, deep breath.
And then, after a moment to rejuvenate, she returned to the game, to begin the fight anew. Nothing would stop her. Nothing.