When Riku was nearly eight, they took him over to the grandparents' house for a long, summery visit. Riku loved every moment -- catching cicadas, catching fireflies only to release them into the garden, eating crisp red sweet watermelon and swimming in the river. Grandma made a mean mochi and Grandpa had the tendency to sneak out to buy tobacco-- and if Riku promised not to tell, he got to go along and get an ice lolly.
On one such trip, Grandpa was waylaid by an old crony and they companionably smoked pipes and grumbled at each other.
"Grandpa, I'm bored." Riku had said. Grandpa had obligingly dug into his pocket for coins and pointed a small, dingy little game arcade just two stores away. "I'll pick you up when I'm done," Grandpa promised and Riku trotted off.
The bell over the door made a cracked jangle as Riku pushed it in, and the old man dozing at the counter didn't even stir. Riku helped himself to a small stack of tokens and left the change in return; it was apparently a common practice, as two other stacks had also been replaced with a crumpled note and a stack of change.
He wandered around with keen interest, jangling the tokens in his pocket, making "vroom-vroom" noises as he passed a racing game. He didn't recognise most of the games-- the ones back in the city were shinier and sleeker, and it was towards the end of the circuit before he noticed the UFO catcher game.
Most of the toys in there were animals, like yellow cats and pink dogs, but there was something like brown spikes right in the middle, buried under a smiling cat. Curious, Riku dropped his token in. The UFO whirred into life, tinkly carnival music playing, while the metal arm shook and jerked as it moved. But when the jaws closed unceremoniously around the brown spikes and pulled-- it wasn't spikes after all, but hair, and then big eyes and then the biggest smile Riku had ever seen--
He's smiling at me.
Then the little head pulled free, the rest of the body still trapped under the smiling cat, and the metal jaws carried only air back to the tube. The doll slumped back, only the eyes and hair visible.
When Grandpa finally went in to the arcade, he found Riku's nose pressed to the glass of the UFO catcher, and the little face was grimy with tears.
"I can't get him out, Grandpa," said Riku tearfully. "He's stuck in there. You gotta save him-- he's all lonely in there. I used up all my coins."
"Lonely?" Grandpa echoed, bending stiffly to peer through the glass.
"Save him, Grandpa?"
When Grandpa returned home, he carried Riku, fast asleep and tear-streaked on his back, with a smiling yellow cat tucked under one arm.
Sign up to rate and review this story