by Than Pence
Darrell explains his latest hobby to a friend, only to follow a more interesting path
| “That sounds awful!”
“What? No it doesn’t!”
“I mean, it doesn’t sound great! But it basically sounds like you’re video game is about cockfighting. When you get down to it.”
“Well, it’s not my video game!”
Tracey scrunched her freckled face up, adjusting her pink glasses. “Well, you bought it. Or you parents did.”
“Well, whatever. You own it and you run around your fake countryside, finding wild animals, beating them up, and stealing them.”
Standing up straight, Darrell turned to look down at Tracey. “Nah, nah, that’s not all it is, Trace-ee. ‘Tracey with an E’.” Noticing her cheeks color slightly at the comment, Darrel backed off. Everyone knew that Tracey hated being reminded of her pretentious first few weeks at Springhill Middle. “It’s about building a team of heroes. And it’s your job to make sure they know the right moves and have the right strengths to compensate for each other’s weaknesses.”
Tracey looked down, some red hair moving forward over her shoulders. Pushing her glasses up again, she met Darrell’s gaze. “Weaknesses? What kind?”
A car breezed behind him on the other side of the street, making his heart skip. He saw Tracey smirk.
Smiling, Darrell sat on the curb. “See, you got a monster on the team that’s made of wood.”
“A wood monster?” Darrell thought her scrunched up face might eventually become her permanent face as much as she did it.
“Yeah. I mean, he’s a grass-type. They’re successible--”
“Yeah, that. Grass-types are that,” he pointed at Tracey like the elusive word was still sitting in her mouth. “They’re that to fire-types.”
“How many types are there?”
“A bunch. But if a fire monster was there attacking my wood monster, I’d pull back that woodeo and throw in a foamseal.” Tracey’s face told Darrell she was annoyed about the animal names. “Okay, a foamseal is a water-type. It--”
“Yeah, I get it,” she started, grabbing up her backpack with one hand and wiping her pants with the other. Darrell heard Tracey’s father’s car turning down the road, too. “The ones that hurt fire ones are the gravel ones.”
“There’s no gravel-type. But there’s--”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it, Dee.” Shrugging into her backpack with a grunt, she continued. “But it’s still just animals fighting animals. It’d be like if you took Gizzard around and told him to start beating up other lizards. And then, when they’re too weak to fight, you trap them. Forever.”
Tracey met his gaze once more. “It just sounds cruel. And if I were you, I’d let those defenseless animals go.”
Rolling his eyes, Darrell said, “Defenseless? Have you seen a gorhorn? Really nasty piece of work!”
With a fake smile, she said, “I’m so sure.”
Then her dad’s car squealed to a stop. Something hissed under the rust-pocked hood and exhaust started drifting on the wind. Mr. Bell leaned into the seat Tracey was trying to sit in.
“Dee-Man, you need a ride, my brother? Your mom comin’?”
Looking up the street, Darrell nodded twice, forcing a smile. “In a minute.” He knew from experience that his mom didn’t want Darrell riding in anyone else’s car.
“We can wait, son.”
Tracey threw her head back, releasing a groan.
“Trace, girl, where you gotta be?”
“I’ve got homework, dad. And I would’ve done it here while waiting but ‘Dee-man’ wouldn’t stop talking about his dog-fighting game!”
Mr. Bell cocked an eyebrow. “Dog fights?” The car started to betray its age, sputtering as if trying to remind the owner that it needed to rest a while. “Son, we gotta go. Tell your mom, ‘Hi’” Then he lit a cigarette, the smoke from his mouth mixing with the the exhaust. “G’luck with your dog fights!”
The shifting gears were louder than they should’ve been, but Darrell was used to it by now so it only scared him a little. He sat down when they were out of sight. Checking his watch, he saw that his mom was five minutes late, but he knew better than to round the corner and use the payphone to call her work. He knew he’d better be here when she showed up.
Finally, he felt regret over playing his Gameboy right after school: the batteries were dead and he didn’t have anymore.
Forty minutes later, as the welling of tears in his eyes were reaching the breaking point, his mother rolled to a stop. Keeping his eyes dry with a quick sneaky swipe on his sleeve, he smiled. The smell of McDonald’s rolled out and he imagined it was comparable in ways to Mr. Bell’s car exhaust.
“Sorry, Dare. Jeff kept me over. Susan was late.”
Darrell just affirmed that he was okay. She mentioned something about overtime pay but he had zoned out by then, noticing the first star shining in the sky above. He couldn’t recall ever seeing it while being picked up after school.
Most of the kids at Springhill had new Gameboy Advances. The games on those looked better, but Darrell was glad to simply have a regular Gameboy. He could play Pocket Monsters just as easily.
What he didn’t like was that the Gameboy took four batteries to play. He knew the Advance only used two batteries and lasted longer somehow. And some kids even had a special Advance that didn’t need batteries: it plugged in and charged up and could be played for forever.
Even after Darrell came home, he had to wait on batteries. Shortly after his mom had gotten Darrell the Gameboy, she came to learn that he liked to use every battery in the house. This led to a couple of times where the remote control for the TV was discovered to have no batteries whatsoever, or surprisingly-drained batteries after Darrell had swapped them out.
At First Marty’s Second Hand, she had found a used battery charging station. It was yellow and long like a shoe box. Right now it held his last four batteries and he was finally starting to get tired of looking at them collect a charge.
To Darrell, his play time seemed to shorten every time he charged the batteries on that thing, but new batteries didn’t grow on trees. With a sigh, he went to his room to check on Gizzard.
“Hey, Gizz. Whatcha doin’?”
“I’m just sittin’ here, Dee, wondering about some bugs you might get for my dinner.”
Frowning, Darrel said, “Oh, sorry, bud. We had McDonald’s. The Big Macs that would’ve been thrown out. So we got them before any bugs got on them.”
“Oh, that’s okay. Dee. I’m sure a fly will wander in here soon. It’s a game of--’”
“Dare, stop that!” yelled his mother from the living room. “You know I don’t like you talkin’ ‘bout bugs in here!” Her voice was steadily growing as she approached his room. When he saw her, she was holding a wicker basket with her smelly uniforms in it. I’m ‘bout to go down an’ wash my uniforms. Do NOT--”
--let anyone in,” they finished in unison. “Yeah, I know, ma.”
Snapping her fingers, she pointed at him. “Don’t backtalk, boy.” After giving his bedroom a once over, she added, “And you need to stop hanging out with that little girl so much. This looks like some white kid lives here.”
Darrell looked around at the Pocket Monster posters, the Dragon Punch posters, and the Harry Potter books. He didn’t know what to say so he shrugged.
“And clean up that aquarium.”
“It’s a terrarium, ma. No fish.”
She snapped her fingers and pointed, saying nothing and everything. After a tense two seconds, she rolled her eyes and he followed her to the door so he could bolt it behind her. She always asked that he bolt it loudly to make sure she heard it on the other side.
Going back to his bedroom, he noticed Gizzard was chewing. “Alright, Gizz! You caught a fly!”
“Yeah. No thanks to you.” Darrel stopped and looked around the room. After a pause, he said, “Homie” but it only made him feel hot with embarrassment.
“What,” he started aloud. “Am I embarassaed in front you, Gizz?”
The chameleon didn’t answer, but it did change color a little from green to reddish-green.
Recalling his talk with Tracey, Darrell started thinking about her point of view of his Pocket Monster game. Looking at Gizzard really did help him see things from her perspective. Thinking about taking Gizz out of his terrarium for a walk through the woods made Darrell laugh.
He imagined the pair coming upon a possum. “Gizzard uses sticky tongue. It’s not very helpful!” Darrell went to his splintered bookshelf for some notebook paper and started drawing Gizzard fighting a possum - really a potassum in the Pocket Monster world.
Then he drew other potential dangers that may lurk in the woods: a poisonous barkbat, shocking squirrelctrics, a two-headed pig species he called pigtwos, and even an octopus with branches for arms: an octree.
When his mom was out of the apartment, Darrell knew he could listen to music, but he didn’t. There was always the chance he’d miss hearing his mother at the door and anger her. He knew there was always a chance because one-too-many times was more than enough to remind him that playing in silence could be just as fun.
Because it was quiet, Darrell heard the beep from the kitchen. Stopping, he knew what it meant: the batteries were charged and ready to go. “Gizz, you ready to play?”
“Ready to watch you play, yeah.”
“Well,” he said while standing up. “It helps if you have thumbs.
As if in response, the chameleon lifted up a singular foot, slowly and with care. He knew it was only because the lizard was taking a step, but the coincidence made Darrell chuckle.
In the kitchen, he unplugged the battery charger, took out the warm Rayovacs, and put them in the Gameboy that had been sitting like a brick on the kitchen counter.
The electronic dings made Darrell smile as he walked. Sitting in the chair before the terrarium, Darrell leaned in so Gizzard could see the action. After only a few minutes of beating down wild animals and other character’s monsters, Darrell realized he was becoming bored.
Pausing, he looked at Gizzard. “Did Tracey with an E get to me, Gizz? I’m not feelin’ it tonight, ya know?”
The chameleon blinked, his skin reddening ever so slightly. Then one eye rotated downward, seemingly directing Darrell’s attention to the sketches and landscapes where Gizzard had been more than a spectator: he had been a hero!
Smiling, Darrell put the Gameboy down and decided to continue exploring the world he and Gizzard were stumbling through together.
Around the same time he noticed the red light starting to flash in his periphery on his Gameboy, he could hear his mother’s distinctive footsteps in the outside hall. Grabbing the electronic brick, he went to open the door before she even knocked. As she stepped through, the waft of clean-McDonald’s came in with her.
She glanced at his Gameboy. “I see you wore that down as quick as you could, huh, Dare?”
Looking at the toy, he couldn’t deny that the batteries needed charging, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her he hadn’t played it much at all: it was kind of expensive. He didn’t want her to think that money had been wasted.
And he’d still play it another day; just not when he and Gizzard were saving Princess Lacey with an E from the evil clutches of Blingabor and his army of barkbats and sharkcats!
“G’night, ma,” he said as she kissed him on the head. He had no intentions of sleeping right away though: he still had five sheets of empty notebook paper to fill up.
Word Count: 1,980