The final part of Everyone’s a Winner
“…and this is where the young woman was murdered?” Gillian said, pushing an errant strand of red hair away from her eyes.
“Yes, I’m afraid so. She fell just in front of this machine, here.” The man pointed at the claw machine, just as its electronic fairground music started again. “It took quite a while to get the blood out of the carpet… oh I’m sorry. That sounds a little…”
“Cold? Yes, it does somewhat. So you stayed open?”
“Well, everyone has to make a living…” the man said, an embarrassed half-smile on his thin face, shrugging his shoulders. “Still have mouths to feed and all that…”
“So what have you decided to sell now for?” Gillian said, approaching the machine to peer through the glass.
“After the… incident, custom actually went up for a while. You know how some people seem to thrive on these things. But now its’s died…. I mean, business isn’t what it was. I suppose with all the new games and phones and stuff, there isn’t much call for all of this anymore.”
“This is your last day?” she said, reaching in her shoulder bag for her purse.
“Yes. I’ll be closing up and shutting down after you leave.”
“Did you know that there have been a number of strange deaths in the region recently, and toys like this,” she said, tapping the glass, “were found at the scene? There’s even a story on the internet that the space station accident wasn’t an asteroid impact, and that the rescue team found one up there?”
“No, I hadn’t heard that. Well you know, these things are very popular…”
Gillian found a coin, and palmed it while she put her purse away in her bag.
“Are you going to have a go?” said the man, smiling.
“I thought I might,” said Gillian, holding the coin up for him to see.
Yes! One more soul…. Just one. How will I torture her, her loved ones? How will she beg for mercy before the end? What delicious death will I create for her? And that soul, this will be the last piece, the last one I need…
“I wouldn’t bother if I was you. They’re all fakes. Even with a machine as crooked as this one, I couldn’t afford to run it if those toys were real. I’ll let you in on a secret. There’s only one authentic officially licensed product in the whole machine.”
She slipped the coin into the pocket of her jacket.
Gillian put her hand to the glass to filter out the reflection and looked at the toys, getting close, moving around the machine. The music started again, sounding off key somehow, slightly de-tuned.
“Which one?” she said, looking at all the prizes piled in the bottom.
“No – up there, on the shelf.” The man tapped the glass next to her head and pointed.
“But, you can’t win the ones on the shelf,” she said, spotting the toy and looking at him, shocked.
“That’s the whole point.” He smiled to himself. “It should really be called Everyone’s a Loser.”
Gillian straightened up. “So what will happen to all the machines now?”
“Some will be repurposed, or updated. Recycled. This one, this one’s for the tip, I’m afraid. Nobody wants it. Can’t give it away.”
No. NO. I can’t be denied. PLAY! PLAY the machine! Just one more soul! One MORE!
The man walked to the back of the machine and bent down, flicking a switch. The music stopped, the lights went out. The claw swung back and forth on its arm, uselessly.
“Right, let’s go. I’m not as cold as all that you know. This place – this place really gives me the creeps now. I’ll be glad when they’ve bulldozed the lot. So what is your company going to build here?”
They turned to leave, walking out through the aisles of grey, lifeless machines.
“A hospital. A memorial hospital. Perhaps then everyone who comes here will be a winner.
The lights went off with a loud thud, as the main power was switched off. The whole arcade, once an ear splitting cacophony and a blinding blaze of neon was entirely dark and silent.
And at the back of the arcade, in a glass-walled prison, a silent scream from a permanently smiling red mouth. Useless arms with white gloved hands thrown wide to give and receive embraces that will never come.
Wide open lidless eyes, staring into darkness – unable to close – or look away from the abyss.