Arcade Catastrophe

Arcade Catastrophe by Brandon Mull, now you can read online.


Late One Night

Roman lay still in the darkness, his covers up to his neck. The hall light had gone out five minutes ago. He heard no murmurs of conversation. Only the whir of the air conditioner interrupted the silence.

He could probably get started, but it would be safer to wait a few more minutes. In the dark, with nothing to do, waiting was hard. Seconds passed like minutes, and minutes dragged like hours. Roman kept losing the staring contest with the digital numbers of his clock as he willed the time to advance.

Bored or not, he chose to wait. If his parents caught him breaking curfew, he would get grounded for even longer. He had almost survived the week. He had not left the house except with family, and he had gone to bed by ten o’clock every night. Once in bed, he was not allowed to have his light on, which meant no reading comics and no drawing.

Ten o’clock might not sound early to some people, but it was summer vacation, and even during the school year, Roman usually stayed up until at least midnight. In the summer he was often awake until well after that.

Now that the end of his punishment was near, it would be tragic to get caught breaking the rules. So far, each night after going to bed, once the house became still, he had clicked on a flashlight under his blankets. Twice he had heard footsteps in the hall as his mother or father came to check on him, and both times he had switched off the light well before his door had inched open.

The air conditioner stopped blowing cool air through the vent high on the wall. The house was quiet. It was probably safe. If he heard somebody coming, he would just be quick.

Roman clicked on his flashlight. Made of shiny metal, it was long and heavy, with a strong bulb. The bright beam provided more than enough light for reading comic books. He had checked how much of that light escaped when he kept the powerful flashlight under the covers. From outside his room, a person practically had to lie down and stare under the door to see any sign of it.

Roman retrieved his drawing pad and colored pencils from under his bed. He had no new comics, and he was feeling in a creative mood. He flipped past pictures of battleships, dinosaurs, superheroes, and burning buildings. The current image in progress involved three skaters diving out of the way as a monster truck crashed through a brick wall. It was more than halfway done.

He was trying to decide what insignia to put on the most prominent skateboard when he heard distinct tapping at his window. Roman reflexively switched off his flashlight and laid his head down, hiding the drawing pad beneath his chest. He held his breath. The gentle tapping repeated insistently. As the fear of discovery faded, Roman began to wonder who was at his window. Since his bedroom was on the second floor, this was especially strange.

Roman peeked out from under his covers. The glow of streetlights backlit the figure outside his window enough to confirm that it was a person. There was no way one of his parents was out there on the narrow apron of roof. It had to be one of his friends.

None of his friends had ever visited him like this. What if it was a burglar or somebody shady? But would robbers tap persistently to announce their presence? The figure at the window waved and gently tapped again.

Otherwise the house remained quiet. Roman crawled out of bed, crossed to the window, and clicked on his flashlight. The bright beam revealed Marisa, squinting and holding up a hand to shield her eyes.

He switched off the light. What was Marisa doing on his roof? She knew he was grounded. This could get him busted for life!

He unlocked the window and slid it up, grateful that he was in a T-shirt and shorts. When he was feeling hot, Roman sometimes stripped down to his underwear to sleep.

“Hey, Rome,” Marisa whispered, carefully crouching through the window.

“Hi, Risa,” Roman whispered back, glancing nervously at his door. He heard no hint of his parents stirring. “How’d you get on my roof?”

“I have my ways,” she said with a mysterious smile. “You’re almost done being grounded, right?”

“Unless my parents catch you here,” Roman said.

“I won’t stay long,” she promised. “I just wanted to show you something.” She held out her hand. The back was stamped with a blue fighter jet.

“You got it,” Roman said, impressed.

“Chris helped me,” Marisa replied. “Rome, he was right. It’s better than you could guess. Way better. It’s like a passport into the coolest club ever.”

“I know that much,” Roman said. “What kind of club? He would never tell us.”

She shook her head. “I can’t. I promised. You’ll understand when you get yours.”

Roman huffed darkly. “Right. Risa, I’m done. That’s how I got busted in the first place. My parents would destroy me if I went back to that arcade. Besides, I already blew all my money. It wasn’t enough.”

“You have to go back,” Risa insisted. “Chris and I will put up the money.”


“The jet stamp comes with perks. I’ve got some spare money now. You’re part of the way there, Rome. Only two jets are left. You have to finish what you started.”

“I don’t know,” he said.