So, that's what this is. Rish called it Broken Mirror Shards once, so I'm co-opting the phrase and using it.
The premise went like this: Despite being warned about them, someone plays a claw vending machine game...and wins big.
So, that's how it started. Should be fun. Here's day one of my entry in this craziness:
Photo Courtesy Joel Kramer, Cropped and Title Added by me.
Brody grabbed another slice of pizza, and bit into it with gusto. He really had no idea where his next meal would come from.
"Jason, Todd, seriously, I want to thank you guys again. This really means a lot to me."
"No problem, Brody, you're my friend, buying you pizza is the least I can do. So, what're you going to do now, anyway."
Brody had absolutely no idea.
"I guess I'll probably move back in with my parents, as awful as that will probably be. A guy in my place can't have pride."
He stuffed more pizza in. He only had twenty bucks to his name, no place to live, and now no job either. If nothing else, he could build up a layer of fat that he could live on by horking as much pizza as he possibly could today while he wasn't paying for it. Maybe it would help him survive another day once he was homeless, living under an overpass in a cardboard box.
"Well, that's good that you've got that to fall back on. I haven't been welcome back at my parents' house since Todd and I got together."
Brody didn't say anything. He wasn't welcome at his parents' house any longer either, and he didn't even have a positive, life-changing event like coming out of the closet to put on it either. He just had a bunch of past poor decisions, and manipulations to blame. He'd used his parents unkindly one too many times, and they'd severed ties, expecting, and rightly so, that if they saw him again, it would just be more bad news for them.
Todd went up to the counter, and got a box to take home the extra pizza in, which he, of course, gave to Brody. Todd and Jason didn't need anything. They were finally in a really good place in life. Brody was the one who had been evicted from his apartment, and then the day before he'd had to move out gotten fired from his job as well.
As they headed out of Round Table, Jason stopped them in the lobby.
"Hold on, Brody," he said, "I play one round on a claw machine any time I come across one."
Brody was surprised. No one ever won anything on those machines. You might as well just throw a quarter in the trash can next to it, it would be the same.
"Really?" He said, "why?"
"Yeah, I'm trying to see how many years it takes before I finally win something from one. Don't worry, I only allow myself one play, so it'll be quick."
And it was. He guided the joystick on the machine that had a sign across the top of it proclaiming its name to be Dr. Claw. The machine's claw moved, dropped, closed, and came up again empty, just as Brody expected. All the cheap, chintzy, and ugly stuffed animals in the machine were safe another day.
"Here," Jason said, "Why don't you give it a shot. I'll buy, don't worry."
He tossed him a quarter, and Brody caught it out of the air. He stepped up to the machine, and suddenly a stranger was talking in his ear.
"Hey, buddy, you should probably just put that quarter in your pocket."
He turned, and crinkled his eyebrows at the stranger standing next to him. He looked like a biker, long, scraggly black beard streaked with grey, pot belly, cowboy boots. Except that he wore a white shirt and a Round Table Pizza apron instead of a leather jacket and a black T-shirt with a Harley logo on the front.
"Excuse me?" Brody said.
"Save your quarter, man. Even if you win, you'll wish you hadn't. Every time someone wins from that machine, they walk away sad rather than happy."
Brody snorted. "It doesn't matter," he replied, "I won't win. No one wins on these things." And he plugged his quarter in the slot. The claw lurched to life, heading inward. Brody realized that he hadn't even picked anything to try for. He looked down, scanned the contents of the machine, and made a snap decision to try for the Oakland Raiders plush football in the back right quadrant.
Jason came up beside him, and looked into the glass case of the Dr. Claw game, and said, in what was to Brody's ears a perfect imitation of the three-eyed green aliens from _Toy Story_--a movie Brody had watched at least a thousand times growing up--"The claw is our master. The claw chooses who will go and who will stay."
Brody smiled. He tapped the joystick, trying to guide it to the right spot. He thought he was getting close, and remembered from past experience on these machines that the claw didn't stop moving inward until you pressed the drop button, so as soon as he neared the ball, he smacked the button. The claw plunged into the pile of plush, and landed just left of the football. The claw snapped shut, and lolled over onto its side, obviously empty-handed. Just as he'd expected.
He turned, meaning to hold up his hands a la Vanna White and present his evidence that it was impossible to win at a claw game to the Round Table employee, only to see that he had already left. He started to walk away from the machine when Todd's eyes bugged out, and he pointed at the machine.
"You got something, Brody," he said.
Surprised, Brody turned back. The claw was rising into the air again, and instead of a plush animal or ball, it had a small piece of paper in its grasp.
"What? I didn't see anything like that in there," Brody said. The claw sped back to its start position, and dropped the paper into the hole directly below it. Brody pushed the door open, and retrieved his prize.
"Damn, Brody," Jason said, "I've been dropping a quarter in one of these things at least once a week for two and a half years, and I've never won anything, and then I give you a quarter, and you nail it on your first try."
"Yeah, weird, but what is it?" Brody looked at the paper. It was almost as small as a business card. The words California Lottery emblazoned across the top of it, and Scratcher on the bottom. In the middle were three tacky silver squares awaiting a coin to rub that stuff off and see what lay beneath.
"Oh, jeez, a friggin' lottery ticket," Brody said, "I never win anything at these stupid claw machines, and then when I finally do, it's just a ticket to another game that no one ever wins."
"If you don't want it, you can give it to me," Todd said, "after all, you never know."
"Right. I guess I better at least scratch it and see," Brody said, "do you know how these things work? What do I need, three cherries or something like a slot machine."
"I don't know, " Jason said, "do you?" He asked Todd.
"No, I've never played," he answered, but I think it is supposed to be like a slot machine. I'm sure three of whatever is good, and less matches are not good, you know?"
"Well, can I borrow another quarter. I don't have any of my own, and I don't have keys anymore either. I'll give you guys half of the nothing that I win. How's that sound?"
Jason laughed, and dug a coin out of his pocket. It was just a nickel, but it would probably work even better anyway, what with the big, flat edge on it.
Brody scratched the first section, underneath it was a big sunburst instead of a group of cherries. He scratched the second one, and discovered another sunburst.
"Oh," Brody said, suddenly hopeful for perhaps the first time in years. He scratched the last section, and smiled broadly.
"I don't know what this is worth," he said, "But I think I might be able to pay you guys back for the pizza." He held up his ticket to Todd and Jason, displaying the three matching sunbursts.