After I ate my Weetbix on Saturday morning, I walked down to Bunkoo’s place at the end of Cliff Street. He was busy burning toads in the backyard. That’s the funny thing about toads – everyone pretty much hates them and no one cares what in the hell you do to them. If we did the same thing we do to toads to any other animal like a frog or something we’d probably be arrested or some crap. Kill a hundred toads though and some old bloke would probably give you a medal. Mind you, me and Bunkoo take the killing of toads to pretty crazy levels. He has a bucket full of them and he is just taking it easy and tossing one on the flames every so often and watching them jump around.
“Come and help me with the Barbie.” He says when he sees me.
We were just shooting the breeze and burning toads when Bunkoo’s older brother, Tony, comes huffing and puffing into the back yard.
“What are youse two do…killing toads again?”
Tony worked at the abattoir but I guess he was an animal lover at heart because he was always wrecking our fun. The funny thing is, I always thought that Tony looked like a toad, with his big fat gut, squished up face and skinny legs and I would have liked nothing better than to throw him on the fire whenever he spoiled our fun.
A lemonade ice-block dripped over his hand as he marched across the yard with a look on his face like he had a mouthful of dog crap. He looked into the fire where several toads bubbled.
Tony shook his head slowly and took a bite of his ice-block. “Youse two have mental problems – ya know that dontcha?” He sneered.
I plucked a toad out of a bucket and flung it into the flames, “I blame society!”
“Little shit!” Tony tried to kick the toad out of the fire, but the flames licked at his feet.
He got down on his knees, picked up a stick and pushed the toad to safety.
“What the hell? You tied his back legs together!” He yelled as he fumbled with the knot.
“They just jump out if you don’t.” I said.
Then Bunkoo pulled out his prick and started pissing into the bucket the toads were kept in, “I blame society as well!” He yelled.
All three of us cracked up laughing, as it just seemed so ridiculous to blame society and start pissing on toads. Tony finished off his ice-block in a few greedy bites and threw the paddle pop stick into the flames.
“I thought you blokes would be down at the fun-parlour today playing that new game.”
“What new game?” I asked.
“Defender, I think it’s called.”
For a few months, rumours about a Defender machine coming to Yeppoon had been floating around but it just seemed too good to be true. Especially when our mate, Rimsy, who was like a walking encyclopedia, claimed that one machine cost nearly $100,000 and needed an electrician to stand by at all times in case it “melted down”.
Bunkoo turned to his brother, “Tone, can ya lend me twenty cents to play it? I’ll pay ya back tomorrow.”
“Nuh, I’m not giving ya money to waste on that shit!”
Tony had no time for video games, he didn’t understand them and feared that some sort of strange cancer would result from playing them regularly.
Bunkoo kicked his brother in the shin, “ah, c’mon just a chenny!”
“Youse two are just gonna have to get a job!” Tony slapped Bunkoo on the side of the head.
“We’re too young and delicate to work!” I implored to the heavens.
Bunkoo bolted up the back stairs of the house, “C’mon, dad’s always got money on his bedside table!”
I didn’t need to be asked twice and darted up the stairs behind Bunkoo. Tony kicked off his thongs and started up after us.
“Come back here ya little shits!” He shrieked as the whole house, which was nothing more than a sun-bleached fibro box on stilts, shook under our weight on the stairs.
The bedroom door was locked and we kicked at it in frustration. Tony was panting hard when he reached the top of the stairs. He paused when he got to the top and put his hands on his hips as he glared at us. “Sucked in, it’s locked ya albino freak!” He said between breaths.
If there was anything in the world Bunkoo hated more than being called a wimp, it was being called an albino. He wasn’t really an albino but he had crazy straw like hair that stuck out everywhere, so his brothers called him an albino. He ran screaming at his brother and started socking him in the stomach.
Tony got him in a headlock and tightened up so that all the blood went to Bunkoo’s face. “Albino!” Tony hollered.
I ran up and kicked Tony in the shin. He yelled and let go of his brother who stomped down on his bare foot. Then we ran down the stairs two at a time and jumped on our pushies. Tony howled blue murder from the top of the stairs as we pedaled like crazy. We zipped past Hutton’s Bakery as the sun beat down, then under the cool shade of the Moreton Bay fig in front of the post office. Then we jumped the curb to do some skids which laid down some rubber on the driveway of the copshop. I popped a mono which lasted until I flipped my bike and landed hard on the footpath.
Bunkoo doubled back. “Thought you was Evil Knievel for a minute there!” He said as he gave me a slow clap.
I dusted myself off and picked up my bike and we started racing each other on the main street.
Just as Bunkoo stood up and was speeding to overtake me, his chain snapped loudly and he dropped the bike on its side, skidding and swearing to a halt. “It’s broken clean off!” Bunkoo kicked at his bike.
I spotted the broken chain in the dirt next to the bitumen and bent down to pick it up. “Yep, snapped in half!” I held it up – it was dry like it hadn’t been oiled in weeks.
Bunkoo snatched it off me with a grunt, then spun his arm around and whipped it up into the telephone lines where it caught on a wire.
“Yonder chain is truly stuffed!” I said and we both laughed at my clever use of the word yonder.
Bunkoo picked up his bike, stood on the pedal and pushed off, “No time to waste!”
We crossed the road and cut through the soft grass of Beaman Park as parakeets chattered in the pine trees.
After dumping our bikes in the high gutter of Anzac Parade, we ran into the cool darkness of the fun-parlour. A group of hoons from high-school were crowded around a game shouting at the player and shoving each other to try and get a look in.
I loved the fun-parlour but along with the dazzling thrills of its many games, there was also the threat of violence at the hands of the older boys. Me and Bunkoo were more than aware of this as we pushed our way through the small crowd, earning a few slaps to the back of our heads as we did. Electric noises screamed from the machine but its screen was frustratingly hidden from our view. As the boy playing it bent down to jam another twenty-cent piece into the slot, the small crowd stood on their toes to get a look in.
Bunkoo turned to me with wide eyes, “Defender!”
I shook my head in wonder, none of the fun-parlours in Rockhampton had a Defender game, yet here it was, in Yeppoon!
The boys playing the game used words like, “hyper-space,” and “smart-bomb” and excitement rippled through the small crowd. As far as I was concerned, Defender was the start of a new era in video games and my mind swum with visions of a bright, shiny future.
After a good hour of watching other people play Defender, me and Bunkoo sat at a tabletop Galaxian game thinking about our rough luck at being broke.
The un-played pinball machines that lined the back wall of the fun-parlour would let out a lonely tune every once in a while. Hardly anyone played them anymore except older people like my dad who wasn’t that keen on video games.
‘Kids in America’ came on the juke box and I thought about what the fun-parlours in America would be like. I imagined dark skyscrapers filled with super advanced games and menacing gangs who lurked in the shadows ready to muscle in on your credits.
I looked up from the screen of Galaxian, “maybe we should start up a gang.”
By the way Bunkoo looked at me, I could tell he didn’t think it was a very great idea.
“It would be a very violent gang,” I added.
“Well, I like the sounds of that, but it’s not much of a gang if it’s only us two.”
I shrugged and looked back at my reflection on the screen.
“It’s not fair, we have to get some money!” Bunkoo punched the top of the game.
Then I sat up as if struck by lightning. “I know where we could get some money!”
“The wishing well.”
Bunkoo’s eyes went wide with fear as he shook his head slowly, “but-what-about-the-curse!”
I shrugged and we both looked over at the boys crowded around Defender. There was an unknown new world over there and it was all ours for twenty lousy cents. According to Rimsy, there were hundreds of dollars at the bottom of the well just waiting to be plucked out by a fearless young fellow, but it was protected by a sinister curse.
One afternoon, I had ventured over to Rimsy’s house to get the low-down on the curse. But our conversation was interrupted by his hippy mother having an art exhibition. I ground my teeth as she paraded her dumb paintings around the room as Rimsy gasped and clapped like a complete dickhead.
“Positively fantabulous mother!” He said as his mother held up a painting of a naked hippy with a stiffy and I tried hard not to puke.
When I left later that afternoon, still none the wiser on the curse, Rimsy grabbed me by the arm.
“Don’t mess around with the well, mate, the last kid that did is in a mental asylum up in Rocky.”
The scum from the barrier reef had been washing in on the tide for over a week and huge chunks of the frothy brown stuff marked out the high tide line and filled the air with its rotten smell. Seagulls let out high pitched cries as they fought over patches of it. The tired old wishing well sat on the edge of the promenade, the white paint of its small wooden shelter peeling in the sun.
Me and Bunkoo searched the rubbish that was built up behind the rocks at the top of the beach until we found a rusted coat hanger. I bent a hook into the thick wire then fed it through the grill. Once it was through the other side, I hooked the grill and carefully lifted it. With the grill removed, I dug with my hands into the cool sand that had filled up the well. At first, I got nothing but sand, broken glass and nails. A sharp piece of crap stabbed me under my thumbnail and really pissed me off. But I kept on going, digging deeper and deeper into the well until I started pulling out one, two and five cent pieces from their sandy grave. Bunkoo stacked the dead wishes on the side of the well.
“That’s 26 cents and counting!”
Before long there was 58 cents stacked on the side of the well.
“So much for the curse,” said Bunkoo like a boy whistling in the dark.
I suddenly felt like we were playing with an unknown force.
“Keep digging, what have you stopped for?” Bunkoo looked at me sideways.
“It’s the curse.” I hissed.
“Well, it’s a bit late now.”
“I have a cunning plan,” I skimmed the top coin off one of the stacks and held it in front of his face, “this is a wishing well right? We use this coin to make a wish – a wish that we will not be cursed!”
Bunkoo clapped his hands and did a little jig.
I picked up a two-cent coin and said in a very serious voice, “I hereby make a wish that the curse of this well be turned off until further notice.” After tossing the coin back into the well, I turned to Bunkoo. “That should do the trick.”
Bunkoo ducked down behind the well and motioned at me to do the same.
“What are you doing down there?”
“It’s Goit-Goits!” Bunkoo stabbed his finger in the direction of the promenade.
I joined him behind the well and we peeked over the top at an old guy who was walking along the promenade with a cane. A huge goiter wobbled from the left side of his neck. “Definitely a child molester,” I whispered.
Bunkoo cupped his hands and called out, “hey mate! What’s that hangin’ off ya neck?”
Old Goit-Goits stopped dead in his tracks and looked around.
“Shhhh! He’ll molest us!” I said.
“He can’t see us.”
The old man stopped for a minute, muttered to himself then started walking again.
“That looks like a hippo’s dick hangin’ off ya neck, mate!” I screamed at him.
Bunkoo laughed so hard at this that he fell over on his side, “a hippo’s dick! A hippo’s dick!” He choked out between laughs.
I tried to stop laughing but couldn’t. My laughter was cut short when I saw that Goit-Goits was on his way over, walking pretty damn fast for an old man with a hippo’s dick on his neck.
“You little bastards again! I should have known it was youse two!” He said as he got closer to us, waving his cane threateningly.
I snatched up the money and Bunkoo dropped the grill back into the hole.
“What are youse doing to that wishing well, robbing it?” Goit-Goits whacked his cane on the top of the well.
“Please don’t molest us, sir!” Bunkoo said in this real smart alec voice as we backed off staring at his goiter in horror.
“Molest…what? You come back here and tell me what you were doing to that well!” He yelled at our backs as we took off running up Anzac Parade.
The old guy at the fun-parlour wasn’t too happy with all the sand on the coins and used a rag to wipe off every single one and shook his head like it was a very sad thing to wipe sand off coins. When he was finished, he handed over two large, shiny twenty cent pieces and a bunch of change still covered in sand.
As I strutted towards Defender, I inhaled the smell of the fun-parlour, it smelt of hot electronics, new carpet and cigarettes-the smell of teenage wildlife. There was a row of coins on the bottom of the screen reserving the game and I slapped our coins on the end of the cue. We watched in wonder as we waited, it was like nothing I had ever seen before, for a start the spaceship moved horizontally. All the hoons from high-school were still crowded around watching, but me and Bunkoo had a coin up and no-one was slapping the back of our heads now. We spoke out of the sides of our mouths like the hoons did and swore a lot.
“Fuck me dead, haven’t seen a game with this many fuckin’ buttons before,” Said Bunkoo.
“Fuckin’ oath mate, fuckin’ unreal, aye?” I sighed.
One of the hoons turned around and looked us up and down, “You blokes wanna smoke?” He asked.
We both nodded and he unrolled a pack of Winfield Red from his shirt sleeve. Neither of us had smoked before, well not properly anyway, we had never done the drawback but the way the guy was staring at us, I knew he was looking for it.
It didn’t seem so bad at first and Bunkoo said, “First ciggie of the day is always the best.”
Then we both went silent as we became dizzy and I felt like puking. We bum puffed the rest of the cigarettes.
All eyes were on us as we pushed our hard-earned money into the coin slot. After slapping the “two player” button, the screen flashed “player 1” and I stepped up and gripped the joystick. I pressed the shoot button as fast as my finger would allow and a stream of fire spewed from the space ships nose. Aliens came from nowhere and started firing at me, and then one was on my tail chasing me around the screen like an angry hornet. Then it had me cornered, there was no way out.
“Use your smart-bomb!” Bunkoo screamed in my ear and tried to press the button for me. I elbowed him and Bunkoo hit the hyper-space button instead. The ship blinked out of existence then reappeared in the top left of the screen where an alien quickly destroyed it.
“What the shit?”
The screen flashed ‘player 2’.
“Outta the way!”
I slowly moved aside.
As the screen filled with aliens, Bunkoo howled and pounded the buttons. I sneaked my hand out and pressed the hyper-space button. Bunkoo’s ship reappeared on top of an alien and exploded into a hundred pieces.
I gripped the joystick and stared at the screen. This was it – my big chance, I was going to clock the machine and be the hero of the fun-parlour. Boys would talk of me for years to come and whisper as I strutted past, that’s the guy that clocked Defender on his first go.
A minute later, the screen flashed “Game Over.” Bunkoo and I stood looking at the screen in silence, not yet accepting that our game was over.
“Move it!” One of the hoons elbowed us out of the way, snatched his coin from the screen and spun it into the machine.
The crowd parted for us as we turned to leave. Out on the street, I pulled the remainder of the money from my pocket.
“Get some mixed lollies?” I asked Bunkoo.
He thought that was a good idea so we walked into the lolly shop.