This is a snippet from the novel-in-progress, Tanager’s Flight. Look for it to come out in the first quarter of 2023. To tide you over, you might take a look for Crow Moon on Amazon… official announcement tomorrow!
Jem watched Julia practically dance off alongside the woman. He wasn’t inclined to follow too closely, One of the things he had realized was that both Julia and Maria had missed out on childhood. He already saw how much Maria took on, aboard ship, and Julia’s connection with Abraham had him worried about her too-serious planning for the future, as well. He shook his head, and looked around. He’d let her have time to enjoy the fun this shop was packed with.
A few steps in the other direction, and he was amused at the clever way they had displayed their wares thematically, drawing you in, while setting scenes. You might, Jem mused to himself, easily wind up buying most of a display just to recreate the effect yourself. It was a good way to enhance sales. This section reminded him of something, and he paused, puzzled. A foggy hint of long-ago childhood perspective teased at him. He’d seen these things before. Before Walter. Jem bent over the plexiglass-topped box on legs, looking at the colorful interior, with it’s figurines and paths that would light up when the game was played.
“Put a nickel in the slot.”
The soft voice, coming as it did from the vicinity of his left elbow, startled Jem badly, and he found himself a foot away from where he’d been standing an instant before.
A man dressed in the same silver-grey as the woman who’d escorted Julia stood there, looking as startled as Jem felt.
“My deepest apologies!”
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I jumped like that.” Jem took a breath, bringing his heartrate back under something closer to control. “You have a very quiet walk, has anyone told you that?”
“Yes, and Mother said not to do it in the store, but I forgot.” The tone and the obvious chagrin made Jem rethink the age of the salesman.
“You said something about a nickel?” Jem didn’t want the young man to be in trouble.
“Yes, that’s how it works. You put in a nickel, and then play the game.”
He showed the levers and buttons that would actuate moving parts inside the box. “There is a ball, you see, and you try to control it’s trajectory to run a route.”
“I guess a nickel is a coin on this planet.” Jem regretted briefly not having a chance to secure cash. He was remembering. Never playing it himself – he’d not had the money for such things – but pressing in among a crowd standing around a bigger boy who was playing the game, something very like this.
“Yes, and if you’d like to try it.” The salesman held out his palm, with a small silvery coin on it. He was smiling. “It really is fun.”
“I would like to try it,” Jem said, taking the coin and dropping it into a slit on the front of the machine.
The lights light up, flashing in patterns, and he could hear the tinkle of the coin as it fell, before the sound of metal on metal told him the ball was being released. He managed to pop it with the lever as it fell out, and found himself grinning as it ricocheted around the inside, bouncing off pins. It fell into a small pocket, and that lit up, revealing a small red bird painted cartoonishly, and the ornate lettering that spelled out Tanager.
“What…” He turned his head, and the man at his side held out his hand again, smiling. “You’ve made a good move. Put another nickel in the slot, and see what you get.”
Jem took it mechanically, and dropped it in. He was a little more controlled, on this round. The ball skittered, the lever flipped, and then it settled into another pocket. This one lit up with a small red and brown bird, and the letters formed the word Robin.
“I think you’d better tell me about the history of this game, Mr…?” Jem straightened, looking at the other. The lights blinking merrily in cycles around the upright part of the game box illuminated the name of it. Trader’s Luck, it read.
“I think you should keep playing, Captain Reznick. You seem to be very lucky for a new player.” The man’s smile hadn’t altered a millimeter, and Jem would have sworn the nickel on his palm hadn’t been there a moment earlier, but he hadn’t reached into a pocket for it.
Jem hesitated for a long moment, the only sound the whir of the game as it tried mutely to get his attention with flashing colors. Then, he reached out and took the coin.
Down it went into the slot, and he was waiting with grim focus for the ball when it dropped.
I was prompted this week by ‘Nother Mike with “Put another nickel in…”
I prompted ‘Nother Mike in return with “All that remained was ash”
You can read all of the prompt responses, or play along yourself, over at More Odds Than Ends.