Martin’s eyes were trained on the road, the light from overhead streetlamps flashing over his glasses. The bashed-up radio was spitting music, the type with heavy bass and lots of swearing. Unusually it was turned down, as requested by the others in the back of the van. This too, was very unusual for the rowdies. They weren’t even being as loud as usual, even though they were still clearing arguing about something.
“Hold the light better.”
“Why don’t you hold the light for once-“
“Shut up I’m concentrating-“
“Why don’t you shut up and let me concentrate-“
Cross was holding a large piece of paper, folded out like a map. Grumbling, he squinted at the small printed letters, unclear in the dim light of the torch that Gripps was pointing at the paper. The light was unsteady, every time the van bounced over a pothole or took a turn too sharply and at far too greater speed, the men fell against each other and promptly elbowed each other upright again.
Amanda was watching them, sitting further along the seat. Her fingers were weaving the Beast’s hair into plaits and she went back to concentrating on her elaborate hairdo. The Beast sat patiently between her knees, playing with a stim toy they’d snagged from a shop earlier. Whilst they were out getting supplies, they’d come across a toy and games shop and Vogel was already inside creating havoc before they could do anything else. Though their style was normally looting, they actually paid for the games as the shop owner had been nice. Him and Cross had had a very in-depth conversation about Scrabble and the owner had shown him some other variants on the game, including but not limited to 3D scrabble, scrabble that was played over various boards at the same time and of course, the themed scrabble sets.
Cross settled on a large board as his own had been smashed and used so often that the letters were fading on the tiles. Gripps spent ages looking at rpg themed games before loudly exclaiming that he couldn’t choose and then went to help Martin choose a new deck of cards (as his were so frayed down the sides that you could easily pull the backs off). Vogel generally bounced around the shop, eyeing up the consoles and tailing Amanda whilst dropping hints that he really REALLY wanted a new ‘electronic blasty thing’. Normally he would have just smashed the glass cases and taken what he wanted, but as the others were behaving themselves he did as well. Beast stuck to Vogel after finding a stim toy and they both stuck Amanda, who was looking for a classic game for the boys, picking out Monopoly for them. Gripps eventually chose a game as well and they all lined up, being as quiet as Amanda had ever heard them, even though they still jostled each other and trod on each other’s feet.
Cross had clapped the shop owner on the back hard, smiling so widely his cheeks hurt and the rowdies bounced off, free from the quiet calm atmosphere the shop had forced them to follow. The scrabble had been tried, but unless Martin was playing, Cross found there was very little love for his favourite game, so they decided to figure out how to play Gripps’ new one instead. Currently, they were trying to read the instructions.
Vogel was being weirdly quiet as well. He was scrunched up in the passenger seat, knees up and feet tucked against the dashboard so that he was folded away in his chair. His ancient game boy colour was clutched in his hands, his face an inch away from the screen. As it was dark, he was using the light of the roadside streetlamps to help him play. Every now and then he’d kick his arms and legs out, crowing loudly as he beat a level. As he’d been playing the same game for nigh on ten years, the outbursts happened very frequently.
“So these guys are the … bad ones?” Cross held up a bag of small, yellow little toy soldiers. “No wait are they all the bad ones?” Gripps shook his head. “There’s always gotta be a good guy! Stories always have a good guy.” Frowning so hard his forehead creased, he squinted at the instructions again. “I really don’t think there is.” They both looked at the open box, filled with a board which was folded away, two dice and a bunch of other bags with cards and more playable soldiers. Had Amanda been able to help, she would have, but other than some family classics like Monopoly she wasn’t all that big on board games.
Suddenly Martin cursed loudly and they all bounced towards the ceiling as the van hit a pothole. The contents of the game box went flying and both Gripps and Cross shouted in panic as they scrambled to collect all the pieces. Amanda had yelped as she fell off her perch, landing right on top of Beast. The girls both helped, getting on their hands and knees to reach under the seats to find all the bits for the game. The torch had fallen out of Gripps’ hand and was rolling on the floor, haphazardly illuminating them. Of course, they all knew some dice or player pieces were bound to go missing, that was only to be expected with their rowdy behaviour, but they still would prefer to have all the pieces for the first playthrough of the game.
“Got everything?!” Cross was holding the box, glancing at the four corners of the van whilst Gripps got the torch back, looking scarily uplit as he held it up to his face. “I think so!”
Beast kept feeling around under the seat, looking up and shrugging. Amanda’s upper leg felt a bit bruised, but she was otherwise okay and also couldn’t see any more pieces on the floor. “Everyone okay?” Martin grunted, still speeding along the road but looking significantly more awake. Vogel just groaned, leaning back – he’d smashed his knees into his forehead when they’d hit it and felt awfully bruised.
Deciding it would be better to set up camp than to ask Martin to continue driving, they stopped in field. It felt like the middle of nowhere and when she listened closely, Amanda was sure that she could hear owls and other nocturnal creatures roaming about. The boys got the seats out and Beast started a fire, it was a skill of hers they’d discovered after fumbling with flint and twisting sticks when their matches and lighters had run out. Easily getting the fire crackling, Beast sat herself down on the floor cross-legged and spent more time twisting, pulling and pressing the stim toy, trying to figure out all the different things she could do with it.
Cross and Gripps had set up their board and were trying to start the game, explain as best they could what the goal of the game was to Martin. He seemed quite interested once they said the goal was world-domination. Vogel sat with his back to the camp fire, using the flickering light of it to play more on his own, though Beast sat beside him to keep him quiet company, her fingers fiddling as she watched the small screen with him. Every time Vogel hollered because he beat a level, she celebrated with him and after a while he started explaining what the controls meant, what you had to do. Nodding vigorously after each thing, she listened to him speak and continued to fiddle.
Amanda watched them all, listening to Cross’s explanation of the rules with half an ear. She was also trying to listen to what Vogel was talking about, but once the game started she had to concentrate fully on the game. Instead of the game, Martin was more interested in organising his soldiers by rank and setting the upright on the dirt, but he could be pretty lethal when it came to wiping out armies they soon found. Gripps was sneaky, pooling his forces down in Australia and then sweeping most of Amanda’s Asian forces off the board in one move. Once the game came down to Gripps and Martin, the others all cheered them on and booed at ‘morally corrupt’ moves as Cross so nicely put it. Even Beast and Vogel joined in, even though they weren’t sure what the point of the game was. The battle lasted for most of the night, the non-participants soon tiring of it and falling asleep where they sat. The two playing had a break and collected blankets for them all, placing those sleeping in odd positions back in the van or on the seats to sleep more comfortably. After a while Martin and Gripps agreed on a truce, once the map of the world was split almost evenly in two, occupied by their forces. They made a show of shaking hands even though none of the others were awake to see it. Whilst Gripps packed away the board meticulously, Martin put out the fire and drained the last of his beer.
Cross was livid when he woke up to find the game finished and demanded he was told exactly what happened and which moves had been used. His voice woke up Vogel, who in turn demanded that next time he was allowed to join, a fact that was disputed as he hadn’t been excluded from the first play to begin with. They all woke up Amanda and Beast, who stuck their head out of the van sleepily and told them to shut it and that the games would continue once they’d all got some sleep.
An explosion of arguments left all four of their mouths as each demanded they play now, even though Gripps and Martin were almost staggering due to exhaustion. “Sleep now, play later.” Amanda told them, dragging Gripps and Martin to bed and instructing Beast to lie across of them so they couldn’t get back up. She then did the same with Cross and Vogel, lying over them so they had no choice but to sleep. They were a tired and tiring bunch, but it was always fun and games with the rowdies, even when they were like petulant children.