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by Mark Allen Berryhill
Gunfire erupts somewhere in the distance, although distinguishing the sound of combat from the noises the arcade cabinets make can be tricky. The bass thump of explosives rattles the glass in the ticket counter and confirms it. He puts his cheek to the glass to feel the vibrations. Ricky isn’t too concerned; he’s worked at the arcade in the Battlefield Mall for the better part of a decade and he hasn’t died once. He has more important things to worry about; his emperor just walked in the door.
Her name is Rebecca Calvin, and she is the Emperor of the Northwest Corner of the Battlefield Mall Food Court. Tiny and blonde, she wears a Sbarro’s uniform. She’s a real asshole, too.
“What the fuck are you doing?” She says and extends her hand. Without lifting his head from the glass he kisses her ring. She smirks.
“They’re shelling somewhere in the mall. I think—”
“I don’t actually care. Jesus Fucking Christ, Ricky, you are pathetic. The Emperor of The Southern Wastes, whatever that fucking means.” She sniffs and exhales. “Gimme some tootsie rolls and a teddy bear. No, gimme that stuffed piece of bacon.”
He reaches under the counter into the candy basket and plops a handful of tootsie rolls in front of her. She snatches them up and helps herself to the doll she wants.
“Tokens?” She asks, but it felt more like an accusation.
“Here, Your Imminence.”
Ricky sighs and fumbles around in his pocket for a roll of coins.
“Put more effort into your groveling next time, seriously.”
She walks passed him to Operation: Wolf and plunks in two tokens. Ricky closes his eyes and sighs. Somewhere, maybe as far away as Dillards, something big goes off. The reverberation is comforting. When he opens his eyes again his best friend Jared is smiling down on him. He wears a button down sleeveless shirt and a tie. His nametag is on upside down.
“Ricky, you look bummed. Everything okay?”
“Seriously, what’s up?”
“Rebecca, man, why did you hire her?”
“Dude, I didn’t know she was your emperor when I hired her. I was just kinda thinking with my dick. She has a pot leaf for a tramp stamp. I was totally going to hit that.” He strums his fingers on the glass. The hollow sound it makes with his ear to the glass makes Ricky smile. “You’re my best bro, dude, and my favorite emperor. You rock at being my emperor, Todd, you know, The Emperor of Socks, he insists that I genuflect when I see him. Every. Fucking. Time. It sucks.”
“I doubt Rebecca knows that word. Don’t teach it to her. Please.”
Jared straightens his tie. Ricky straightens up, pops his neck, and watches as his best bro strides over to The Emperor of the Northwest Corner of the Battlefield Mall Food Court and taps her on the shoulder as she stands hunched over the black plastic gun. She jerks up and startles when she sees who it is.
“Rebecca, your break was over five minutes ago.”
“Oh gosh, Jared, I am so sorry.”
“Have you taken your drug test yet?”
She blanches. “Drug test?”
“Yeah, it’s due today before the testing place closes.”
“Yup, go to the St. John’s Clinic on the north side. They’ll be expecting you.”
“Can I do it some other time? Tomorrow, maybe?”
“Sorry, Rebecca, not if you want to keep your job. Corporate is really strict with this kind of thing. Zero Tolerance. You better hurry it up.”
Rebecca rushes out so fast she forgets her uneaten candy and stuffed bacon.
“Dude,” Ricky says, “That was fucking awesome.”
“You’re awesome, Your Imminence. We don’t even fucking drug test. I bet she doesn’t come to work tomorrow. That girl is sweating THC.”
Ricky smiles from ear to ear. A shell lands close enough to make the lights dim. A few of the games reboot. As Jared leaves he spins around and fires pretend guns at Ricky. Ricky fires back and Jared pretends to die as he walks backwards out of the arcade.
“Fuck yeah.” Ricky says to himself as he goes back to listening to ongoing battle through the glass in the ticket counter. “Fuck yeah.”
Mark Allen Berryhill is the Emperor of the Ornamental Grass Garden. He has two turtles that are the Emperors of Murdering Anything That Happens to Fall Into Their Aquariums. His wife is the Emperor of Mark Allen Berryhill. You can read more of his stuff here at Bizzaro Central, at The Strange Edge, and in various messed up anthologies. If you liked (or hated) this story you can be his friend at https://www.facebook.com/kingmab