The first part of The Kontest is here.
Bernard S. Bird, known as “Nards” to friend and foe alike, stood in the parking lot outside George’s Arcade surrounded by an antsy crowd of kids fresh out of school for the summer. He retrieved a crumpled piece of paper from his battered backpack and held it aloft as he slowly spread it apart with both hands.
“What is this?” he said to the girl who stood, arms crossed, in front of the entrance.
Diane barked a short laugh. “Can’t you read?”
“Yes,” he answered, undaunted. “It says ‘Mortal Kombat Champion Diane Blythe invites the students of Columbia Middle School to the Summer Exhibition Tournament at George’s Arcade.'”
“So, it can read,” said Diane.
“You aren’t the champion,” said Nards. He waved his hands around as he spoke. “The championship isn’t until the fall, and this isn’t an exhibition tournament. It’s the elimination tournament-”
“Hah!” Diane uncrossed her arms and put her hands on her hips. “Clearly a typo.”
“A typo.” Nards mocked. “A typo?” He turned his head both ways and looked at the crowd around him. They murmured in support. “You can’t just print a flyer announcing that you’re the champion-”
“You can’t play anyway, Nards,” Diane said. “We’ve already had this discussion. You aren’t even qualified-”
“I am.” Nards said. “I have. The guys, we had a local tournament-”
“In your bedroom?” Diane’s smile looked like it might break her face. “I already told you, shitty Nintendo doesn’t count.”
“No, Diane.” Nards said. He pushed his glasses up his nose with one finger. “Karl’s Grocery has a machine in the lobby, we had a tournament, and I won.”
“Yeah,” said Diane, “and I just got elected President of the United States.”
Uneasy laughter filtered up from the still-gathering ranks of children.
Nards rifled through his backpack again. “Karl witnessed it himself,” he said, and produced another wrinkled sheet of paper. “He signed this. My mom even had it notarized at the bank!”
Diane’s face fell. “You sonofabitch.”
The crowd gasped.
“That’s right Diane,” Nards began, encouraged, “it’s the Summer Elimination Tournament. You can hang all the flyers you want but we all know that you aren’t the champion of jack shit.”
While the children laughed and clapped, there was a commotion towards the back of the crowd. A jingling. Something approached.
Diane stared at Nards. “You seem to have forgotten something,” she said.
Nards stopped smiling. “Oh no, Diane.”
“Oh yes!” she shouted. Her voice cracked. “It’s my arcade! MINE! You won’t even get in the door!”
“It’s not yours, Diane,” Nards said, “it’s your family’s. You can’t control who goes in the arcade.”
A shadow moved behind the glass. Nards could see the old man take a puff from his cigar. Some of the smoke filtered out through the battered aluminum door frame.
“You,” Nards started. “You-”
A thud startled Nards as an overloaded backpack landed next to his feet with a metallic jangle.
“Donnie,” Diane said. Her voice dripped with disgust.
The small boy approached Diane. His orange hair flew in the wind.
“Time to pway,” he said. “I’w be gweat again.”
Diane pursed her lips. “Hrm,” she said. “Okay Donnie, you’re in. You don’t mind a little exhibition do you?”
“No,” Nards said, “You can’t-”
The crowd around him shuffled.
“I can do whatever I want, Nards.” Diane said. “It’s my arcade, my game, and my fucking tournament.”
The old man cracked the door and beckoned. Diane took Donnie by the shoulder and started towards the arcade. Some of the children in the crowd began to follow.
“Guys. Guys?” Nards looked around him. “Guys you can’t go in there. Who’s going to play? It’s just her, and, and,” he flapped his arms around his head, his hands still gripping the flyer and the notarized letter, “that little troll!”
The kids fell into a line while Nards continued to yell.
“She’ll just pull the plug again!” he shouted. “He doesn’t even know the moves!”
The students of Columbia Middle School filed into George’s Arcade, as they always had, and watched pixelated characters jump across the screen and decapitate each other for hours. Quarters were spent. Second hand smoke, inhaled.
Bernard S. Bird sat on the curb outside George’s Arcade until the summer sun began to disappear over the horizon. The first mosquito arrived and he slapped it away. He stood and pushed his glasses up his nose with one finger. At home waited Star Trek, and Mom.
He put on his backpack, straightened his shoulders, and set off through the orange-blue twilight.