Chapter 8 Page 11
Posted January 20, 2023 at 01:51 am

Back to this dude again. Thanks for reading!



        Maxwell Puckett, arm in a cast, nursing a headache, and chest deep in a ball pit at Mayview’s eighteenth most popular entertainment venue, was beginning to wonder if his life was better explained by a cold, unfeeling universe, or by the direct intervention of divine forces with a deeply devout commitment to the bit.

        “Dad,” Max said to his father, barely bothering to raise his voice above the chirps and whoops of the arcade sprawl surrounding him. “Why are we here?”

        “Jackpot Junior’s is a Mayview institution,” Mr. Puckett replied. This was largely thanks to the efforts of its lawyers, who, back in the early aughts, discovered a loophole in local legislation that allowed the humble strip mall enterprise to operate as the town’s sole casino and sports betting facility, provided all its gamblers were children. There was air hockey and laser tag as well, tickets and games and prizes, but those were mostly loss leaders there to keep parents busy while their offspring played the slots. Even then, the majority of Jackpot Junior’s profits came from counterclaims against people who sued when their children emerged with sprains, fractures, or cryptic new theologies from the depths of its winding Tube Fortress, where Zoey was at present off spelunking.

        “I meant on this earth,” Max droned back existentially.

        Mr. Puckett sighed, letting colorful balls run through his fingers and cascade back to the pit. “You’re really going through it lately, huh, Max?” He waved pleasantly to Zoey as she pounded on the glass of a tube overhead, desperate to escape the various tube factions she had angered. “Truth be told, I thought coming here might be a nice way to unwind... and I figured it’s as good a place as any to have a serious conversation.”

        “Why did you figure that,” Max robotically replied, printing out the words through stress-clenched teeth.

        “Well, I—oh, just a moment. That’s my target over there.” Max’s dad pulled a wanted poster from within the ball pit to double check his bounty’s mugshot, then revealed a laser pistol in a similar manner and fired off a few blasts over Max’s shoulder. A six-year-old waddling past a nearby craps table screeched and ducked for cover; there wasn’t enough room at Jackpot Junior’s for a dedicated laser tag arena, so a rolling gunfight with haphazard cowboy LARP elements dominated the casino floor instead. “Walk with me, son,” Mr. Puckett said, wading towards the pit’s edge to coup de grace his target at close range.

        Max briefly pretended he was a little duck with no problems or broken arm or lower body at all as he drifted through the balls behind his father.