When they got to town, Edmund planned to change three dollars for quarters and play the arcade game at the front of Winn Dixie. This is what he did Saturday nights while his grandfather hustled pool.
Edmund was slow, the particulars of his slowness uninteresting and not widely known. His grandfather had told the people at the high school what he knew. His daughter had been hanging around some bad types when she was pregnant with Edmund. There was no telling what all was in her system.
Edmund thought of the game during the ride into town.
The screen would flash purple after he inserted the first quarter. The glass lit up months of uncovered sneezes. The words above the buttons had been rubbed off by sweaty hands desperate for a Continue. This was his favorite time of the week, those moments when the machine made its noises to welcome him back. Edmund saw images from the game when he closed his eyes.
Sometimes he didn't realize he was scissoring his fingers to the rhythm of Smooth Criminal, jogging his shoulders in time with the music in his head.
His grandfather said, "You are thinking of that fool game aren't you?"
Edmund didn't say anything. His grandfather cussed when a grasshopper exploded on the windshield.
Sons of bitches!
Edmund dreamed he was Michael Jackson, the legendary King of Pop. Armed with dance powers, he killed gangsters. He rescued kidnapped children. He saved Bubbles the chimp and was a hero.
When his money ran out, Edmund would go to the far corner of the Winn Dixie parking lot. Hidden on three sides by a row of recycling drop-off boxes, a fence, and a cinderblock wall, Edmund practiced spinning on his toes, his arms jerking triangular. He gestured theatrically with an imaginary fedora, fantasizing of the day he would be released from his incapable form to achieve awesome feats of agility in the rarefied style of an American icon.
"You know, I think that man is a pervert," Edmund's grandfather said, the windshield wipers smearing the bug's guts across the glass.
His grandfather was leathery and squat, his stomach like a basketball under his pearl-snap shirt. He was ugly, but no one stared when he entered a room.
Edmund was lean and hairless. The kids at school called him Horseface. He ate lunch with the Down syndrome boy. Edmund's overbite made it so sometimes a bubble of spit popped when he spoke. He would slurp the spit off his bottom lip, but if his tongue didn't get there in time, he would drool on his shirt, leaving a streak like the stain of a single raindrop. His arms seemed too long and white in the medium-size shirts he wore.
When Edmund reached the store, he froze, shocked by the crowd. Some of the people were kids from school. Some were people he'd never seen in his life.
One of the boys spotted him.
"What are you looking at Horseface?" A couple other kids from school turned to register Edmund's presence.
What the hell – Horseface is here.
Edmund squeezed his dollar bills and tilted his ear to his shoulder, allowing the insults to ricochet off him.
The boy who first saw him said, "I bet you love Michael Jackson. Don't you?"
Edmund ran his tongue along his bottom lip.
"He probably don't know. Horseface is poor as shit," another boy said. "He's dead. You know that? Wacko Jacko died."
Edmund closed his eyes. They were right. He hadn't heard. One channel came in okay when the helicopters weren't flying around at the base. They listened to the radio but hadn't today. He'd gone with his grandfather to help on a painting job.
The kids turned back to the game. Edmund waited a few minutes before walking to the cashier and holding out his crinkled bills.
She gave him twelve quarters. She gave him six Continues.
He returned to the edge of the crowd to wait his turn.
Some of the kids left. Boys who had already taken a turn went again. New kids arrived and cut ahead of him. The Winn Dixie closed at nine.
First, he felt sad about Michael Jackson. Then he was angry. Rarely did Edmund find himself upset with his lot, though he knew from what other people said that he would be justified if he chose to go around mean-spirited.
His grandfather told him all the time: They call you Horseface – get pissed off! Punch them in their goddamn nose.
Normally, Edmund let their comments bounce off him.
Not tonight. Michael was his hero. Not theirs.
In the game, Michael uses Dance-Magic to undo his enemies.
The spotlight comes down out of the ceiling. Everything stops. Then they dance.
Everyone dies who can't keep up.
The first girl turned when she heard Edmund's sneakers make a basketball squeak on the floor. He broke his knees in a funny squat and twisted, pivoting on the very tips of his tennis shoes.
He slurped and lowered his heels, sliding backward, his torso lurching, his head still and eyes narrow.
When he came to a stop he could feel them watching.
He threw his shoulders back and rocked his hips. He made himself tight and spun on his bald rubber toes. Mid-spin he bellowed from deep in his chest, an agonized trilling sound. The coins squirted from his pockets and fell scintillating on the floor around him. He took the nonexistent fedora from his head and gestured to the crowd. More people faced Edmund than the game machine. Girls smiled. And he posed, ending the attack. The hand that should have been wearing the sparkling glove pointed up, into the beam of light.
In the moment before they started laughing, Edmund imagined he alone had survived.
BIO: Dan Townsend lives in Alabama. His stories have or will appear online in Drunken Boat, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Dogzplot.