The game was Tentrum.
The high score was thirty-five.
The man was Benjamin Munro.
This is his story.
“Benjamin Urkel Munro, your services are no longer needed. You are officially and formally dismissed.”
That’s what Benjamin Munro’s wife sternly told him after he revealed to her he’d just been fired.
“You’re dumping me!? Just because I lost my job?”
“Of course not. It’s also because I’ve decided to start a full time relationship with your boss, who I’ve been having an affair with for seven years. Sorry, ex-boss.”
“But…I’ve only been working there five years. And I only met you two years ago. And he’s only been working there a few months.”
“Yeah and I’m sexting him right now, so can you please leave me in peace?”
“But what about all my stuff?”
“I guess it’s mine now. Actually I hate this vase, you can keep that.”
Benjamin’s wife threw the Ming vase out the window.
“That actually wasn’t mine.”
“Oh. Well it landed on your car.”
A now homeless, jobless and happily married-less Benjamin wandered the streets. He looked at a wall and imagined punching it, then felt guilty about his near outburst. Eventually he found himself at a rundown cafe, Diney’s Diner. Benjamin didn’t usually drink but it had been a rough day so he thought “Screw it, I’ll have a coffee.”
“One short black, thanks Diney.”
“What, you just assume my name is Diney because it says that on the sign?”
“Yeah, I’m Diney Junior. But you can call me Diney.”
“Actually you know what, Diney, make it a medium black.”
Everyone in the diner gasped. A man had just got shot outside, but Benjamin was too engrossed in his own depression to even notice.
“Hey mister!” a kid from the corner of the room piped up. “If you’re feelin’ sad, mister, you should play Tentrum, mister!”
The kid pointed at an old arcade game in the corner.
“Nah I’ll probably just lose; like I lost my job, wife and house.”
“Wow, you’re a loser, mister!”
“Hey! What brought that on? Sorry, sometimes I lose my temper. Sigh…OK, I’ll play this game.”
Benjamin walked up to the machine. A spherical being on the screen moved around, its glove making a gesturing motion. It was almost like it was gesturing him somehow.
“So, what, how do I play?”
“You’ll know, mister! You’ll know. Mister.”
Benjamin pushed a quarter in, pressed the “GO” button and bam. He was instantly addicted.
The bright lights! The mazes! The spaceships! The game!
It was like everything he wanted in life, but better.
Whenever he lost, Benjamin grabbed another quarter from his quarter pocket, threw it in and continued to power away, his button pressing finger getting blister upon blister upon unrelated wart.
Benjamin spent what felt like hours on Tentrum, but it was actually several weeks.
“Hey, buddy…” Diney called over to him. “Do you think you may have an addiction?”
Benjamin responded in a series of beeps, coughed, and then mumbled, “Nah, I can quit this game anytime I want.”
“OK, but I was talking about coffee. You’re on your tenth for the day and I haven’t even opened for the da—OK, now you’re on your eleventh.”
“Oh yeah I’m definitely addicted to that. Also, I lied, I am addicted to Tentrum. But how can I not be? It’s like crack, but not life destroying.”
He then vomited blood.
Diney stared at him.
“I was doing that before I started playing the game. “
“Come on, Bon Jovi…”
“Oh I thought it was Bon Jovi. Benjamin, really? OK well come on, Benjamin, maybe it’s time to call it quits on Tentrum. You’ve got countless high scores on that thing.”
“But not the high score: thirty-five. That belongs to ASS. Do you know him?”
A mysterious teenager appeared from the shadows, smoking.
“There are only a certain select number of people who know ASS, and even less have personally met him. Or her. Or it. Or how…”
“Hey, you can’t smoke in here, kid!”
“It’s not marijuana.”
“Oh OK. Continue.”
“Some say ASS is the creator of love, the fighter of souls and the milker of joy. Some say its Kathleen in the kitchen’s brother. I say, who gives a shit.”
“Interesting. Thank you for your advice, mysterious teenager.”
“Please, call me mysterious teen.”
“So uh, anyway Benjamin…” Diney interrupted. “You reckon if you can beat ASS’s high score, then your life will be complete?
“I have never been as sure about anything else ever.”
“OK, well this diner closes down tomorrow. And that Tentrum game is gonna go with it.”
“Noooo!” Benjamin dropped to the ground. “Why does everything I love have to go? My job, my wife, my house! Well I hated them all deep down. But not this game! This game gives me support, warmth and a sense of importance. People walk into this diner and say ‘hey, it’s that weird video game guy.’ They used to not call me anything, because I never used to go to this diner.”
“What’s the matter, mister? You still got a day left to beat the score, eh, mister?”
“Yeah,” piped up the mysterious teenager. “I agree with kid.”
“Benjamin, I love you like a son and I fully believe you can win this thing.” Diney patted Benjamin on the back.
“We agree!” the rest of the diner agreed.
An important looking man strutted in from the bathroom.
“I’m the mayor of this town and I believe you can do it, Benjamin.”
“OK,” Benjamin smiled. “I’ll do it.”
He wiped sweat from his forehead, sculled a coffee, screamed, and put a quarter in.
He lost instantly.
“Shit, OK, lemme try again.”
He put another quarter in and lost again.
“Is this guy for real?” asked the mayor.
“OK, hang on! Third time’s a charm!”
One loss later, and Benjamin and the crowd groaned.
“Aw man, OK, can someone lend me a quarter?”
The diner was silent.
“Nobody has a quarter?!”
“Well we live in Melbourne, so no…”
“Hang on Benjamin, I have one,” Diney spoke up.
“No, that’s a dime!”
“I’ve got a quarter, mister!” the kid called out from the crowd. “I was going to use it for my surgery, but you should have it, mister. It’s more important.”
Benjamin inserted the quarter and lost again.
“Fuck! Oh, hang on; I remember I have a quarter in my shirt pocket. And it’s my lucky quarter!” Benjamin turned to his audience. “It’s time to win me some Tentrum.”
Everybody cheered as Benjamin pressed “GO.”
This time he was on fire. All the angry apples, he jumped on and got extra bonus points. All the enemy clouds, he pulverised. All the gold grapes, he massacred.
“He’s gonna get it!”
“You can do it, mister!”
Suddenly the machine started shaking.
Benjamin then got sucked into the game.
He found himself in complete darkness, with an ominous booming voice echoing around the area.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Benjamin Urkel Monroe.”
A large menacing man appeared in front of Benjamin.
“Gasp! It’s…it’s you!”
“That’s right Benjamin. It is I, ASS. Also known as Alan Simon Shit, your former boss and current husband of your ex wife.”
“It all makes so much sense now.”
“Yes. Now, there’s a reason I hold the high score to this game, Benjamin. It’s because I am amazing. I am an astoundingly brilliant human being of a man. You on the other hand, well, you’re just a piece of trash that’s been left out in the sun for too long and just really stinks and is not good.”
“We’ll see who’s a piece of trash that’s been left out in the sun for too long and just really stinks and is not good!”
Ben ran towards ASS. ASS reached for his mega crystal diamond sword and swung at Ben. Ben ducked and reached for a nearby mushroom turtle.
“Hey, ASS, hope you like losing.”
ASS’s eyes widened.
“Because it’s losing o’clock. Population: you.”
Ben pressed the mushroom turtle.
“No!” ASS screamed. “How could you possibly have known that being defeated was my weakness?”
“Because I’m a winner.”
The game exploded and Ben shot back into the diner, collapsing onto the floor. The patrons and staff immediately rushed over.
“Mister, are you dead, mister?”
Ben opened his eyes and coughed up the game’s screen.
“He did it!” Diney yelled. “He beat the high score!”
Everybody lifted Benjamin up on their shoulders and screamed with happiness.
Benjamin’s high school crush walked in and kissed him passionately.
“Benjamin, I just read about you on the computer. I run a game company, how would you like a job there? And also will you marry me?”
Everyone in the diner laughed and cheered.
“So, wait, is that a yes?”
“Oh, yeah. Yes.”