Chapter 1 - PrologueBeneath the vibrant display of neon, a barcade bristled with the hum of excited chatter. Games pinged and blinked in syncopated rhythms, a chorus that played to the background of the intoxicating buzz of conversation and the clinking of glasses. The metallic chime of falling tokens and clinking glasses rang clear, underlined by the warm, intoxicating scent of alcohol and the nostalgic musk of heated electronics.
Just as the clamor reached its peak, the sudden death of one particular jingle cut through the noise. One of the establishment’s many pinball machines had come to an unexpected halt, replaced by an unwelcome silence. A tall, stocky man, caught between dismay and frustration, navigated his way through the sea of bodies toward the bar, his face tight.
"Sam!" he called, an urgent note in his gruff voice, "The Triton’s gone belly-up again!"
Behind the counter, a petite rockstar known as Sam, expertly navigated a relentless tide of drink orders while perched on top of a milk crate for added height. With the precision of a well-practiced artist, she mixed, poured, and served; her hands a blur of movement. A bottle of whiskey pirouetted mid-air, a cocktail shaker fizzed, and a pint of dark ale frothed, the momentary distractions for the impatient patrons as they awaited their chosen elixirs.
Cute yet formidable, Sam embodied a punk spirit that was as fierce as it was captivating. Red dyed hair, roughly shorn to her ears, splayed around her head like a halo, a bold dye igniting each strand into flame under the blinking lights. Her gaze, piercing and unyielding, was an invitation and a warning, exuding a charm that outshone her petite, scrawny frame. Her age was a mystery, for despite her being on the cusp of thirty, she looked no more than a rebellious teenager, a paradox that added to her allure. And she wore her youth like armor, baffling many with her impish, almost juvenile nature.
The murmur of appreciation at her performance was cut short by a sudden shout in the vibrant soundscape. The man, wide-eyed and flushed, waded through the sea of revelers, calling out again over the crowd.
"Sam! Triton's down!"
At the call, she stopped, a smirk lighting her face with intrigue. She wasn't just a bartender. Samantha, known better as Sam, was the bar's heart and soul, an anarchist fusion of a sassy bartender, a dedicated pinball mechanic, and a fiercely competitive player. She patted down her red, roughly cut hair—and set off from behind the bar, her worn-out chucks squeaking lightly against the sticky floor.
Despite standing barely under five feet and weighing 92 pounds soaking wet, Sam exuded an aura of resilience. Her style was decidedly rebellious, from the torn-cropped tank and jean shorts to the patches and pins decorating her attire.
As she moved spritely through the crowd, her diminutive figure passed easily between the claustrophobic huddle of masses. Sam approached the silent Triton. Her smirk deepened into a full-blown grin. It was just another challenge in her kingdom, another game ready to be conquered. Jeff, her burly boss and the owner of the barcade, was pacing nervously, his usually jovial face masked with worry.
"Did you check the fuses, Jeff?" Sam began, her tone teasing. "Or did you just decide to yell my name in panic?"
Jeff let out a grunt, folding his arms across his broad chest. "I thought that's why we kept you around, Sam. To keep these old things running."
"And to keep the drinks flowing, right?" She shot him a sly grin, her hands expertly sliding open the front panel of the Triton. "Well, did you try the obvious?"
"Which is?" Jeff asked, eyebrows knitting together in a helpless frown.
"Unplugging and plugging it back in," Sam replied, her tone deadpan. Reaching into the open panel, she yanked the power cord out, counted a theatrical five seconds, then shoved it back in. There was a moment of silence, then the Triton blinked back to life, the familiar electronic warble filling the bar once more.
A sigh of relief came from Jeff, his shoulders dropping as he slapped Sam's back in gratitude. "You're a damn miracle worker, you know that?"
"And don't you forget it," Sam retorted, closing the panel and dusting off her hands.
"You know, Sam," he started, his eyes surveying the bustling bar, "you've done a great job tonight. Why don't you head home a little early? I'll close down."
Sam looked up at Jeff, surprised by his offer. He rarely ever suggested she leave early, but the grateful smile on his face told her he was sincere. "You sure, Jeff?"
"Absolutely," he nodded. "Go on, get outta here. You've done enough miracles for one night."
With a grateful nod and a playful salute to her boss, Sam collected her things and slipped out into the cool night, the vibrant hum of the barcade slowly dimming behind her.
As Sam strolled through the quiet city streets, the serenade of the night comforted her—distant traffic noises and the far-off laughter of late-night drinkers. She relished the calm, a stark contrast from the barcade's lively chaos. The subway station was a few blocks away, but the late-night stroll was something she always enjoyed, a cool-down from the adrenaline of her work.
Turning a corner, Sam's attention was caught by a shop that stood out against the familiar street's usual nocturnal slumber. An inviting golden glow spilled from its windows, and its doors were ajar, an oddity for the late hour. She squinted at the sign hanging over the entrance, the old, beautifully-crafted metal letters reflecting the light softly: "The Mystic Gains Exchange."
Intrigued, Sam found herself drawn to the unusual store. The night was still young for her, and curiosity had always been one of her guiding stars. She pushed the door open, a small bell tinkling above her head announcing her entrance. Inside, the scent of old books and something faintly spicy hung in the air, a welcoming aroma that put her at ease.
The shop was a cave of oddities—antique mirrors reflecting the warm glow of the shop, vintage clothing draped over mannequins, rows of dusty books, and strange, gilded contraptions of ambiguous purpose. Everything seemed to have been curated with great care, a personal touch to each artifact in the store.
Despite the late hour, the shop felt very much alive. Its charm intrigued Sam, who had never seen the place before. As Sam's eyes drank in the melange of the store's peculiar inventory, a rustling sound emerged from the back. A woman materialized from the shadowed depths of the shop, her figure impressively large and commanding. She wore her size like a queen, her velvet-smooth voice filling the room as she greeted Sam.
"Evening, dear. Feel free to browse, but I'll be closing up soon," she announced, her words accompanied by a friendly, albeit tired, smile.
Sam offered a nod of acknowledgment, her attention soon captured by a curious shape looming in the shop's furthest corner. As she approached, the hulking silhouette came into view, triggering an excited thrill in her heart—it was a pinball machine, an antique by the looks of it, its surface gleaming faintly under the dim light.
The sight of the familiar game in such an unexpected place made her steps quicken. The machine looked old, almost ancient. Its art was beautifully preserved, an intricate display of colors, complete with the gleam of a metallic ball resting near the launch slot.
"Wow," she murmured, unable to hide her fascination. She traced her fingers over the worn-out edges, her heart fluttering with anticipation. Sam's fingertips traced the glossy, paint-covered surface of the machine, her eyes taking in every detail. The machine's name was emblazoned on its front panel in bold, vibrant letters: Big Bertha’s Pinball.
Sam's lips curled into a grin at the name—it had a ring to it, something unapologetic and distinct.
She took in the artwork—an alluring, pinup-style illustration of a curvaceous woman that was decidedly 1950s, but the machine itself seemed to hail from a later era; perhaps late 1960s. With no LED screens to boast of, its bells and whistles were mechanical and raw, the allure of its gameplay derived from a bygone era. Despite this, Sam could see how the machine's complexity and potential could rival those in her barcade. She could almost hear the clattering of the pinball, the thwack of the flippers, and the buzz of scoring an impressive high score.
Sam squinted at the scoring reels, marveling at their immaculate condition despite the age of the machine. The glass was clear, the art vibrant, and the inner workings seemed to be well-preserved. Someone had taken great care of Big Bertha, keeping her in playing condition decades after her creation.
"I'll be," Sam murmured, her admiration for the antique machine growing by the second. Her fingers itched to launch a ball, to feel the vibrance of Big Bertha's gameplay, but a sense of respect for the shop and its closing time held her back.
Instead, she turned back to the shopkeeper, a question dancing in her eyes. "Big Bertha, huh?" She gestured towards the machine, her grin wide and full of affection. "She's a beauty."
The shopkeeper followed Sam’s gaze to the corner of the store, a gentle smile gracing her face. "You seem quite taken by it. Do you enjoy pinball?"
Sam chuckled at the understatement, her eyes reflecting the glow of the machine. "Enjoy? I play competitively and actually work as a mechanic and bartender at the barcade just down the road."
"Ah, a mechanic and a player! That's a rare combination," the woman replied, her voice ringing with amusement. "She's for sale, if you're interested."
A spark of interest flared in Sam's eyes, immediately replaced by cautious curiosity. "How much are we talking about here?"
"Hundred dollars, and she's all yours."
Sam's eyes widened in surprise, her heart missing a beat. A machine like Big Bertha, in near-perfect condition, would usually command a much higher price, likely over ten grand. She blinked at the shopkeeper, who simply shrugged as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Without wasting another second, Sam pulled out her phone and dialed Jeff's number. He answered after a couple of rings, his voice echoing the tired but satisfied end of a successful night.
"Jeff, you're not gonna believe this," she began, her eyes still on the radiant Bertha. "I found an old pinball machine. The lady's selling it for a hundred."
She heard Jeff choke on his drink on the other end, "A hundred dollars? Sam, are you pulling my leg? Do you think it works?"
“It looks like it, but you know I can get it running if it’s not. 100 bucks!” Sam grinned, knowing her boss would appreciate the gravity of the situation. "Can we get it for the bar?"
After a moment of silence, Jeff came back on the line, his voice brimming with excitement. "Absolutely, Sam. Get it. I'll sort the money. Just give me an hour or so to close up."
As she ended the call, Sam looked back at the shopkeeper, a triumphant grin playing on her lips. "We'll take her," she announced, her heart pounding with anticipation.
Magical Realism Punishing/Forcing/Hypnosis Helpless/Weak/Dumpling Feeding/Stuffing Competitive Denying Helpless Female Straight Fit to Fat Friends/Roommates
5 chapters, created 2 months , updated 1 month
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