Stuffed Horses with Horns, by Lee Turner

He offered to get the first round and I said no, paying my own way and thinking I could use this gesture to get more drinks down the line. Hadn’t seen him for a while and never had gone drinking with him before, but he was showing all the makings of an alcoholic and it got me feeling like a hearse had just driven past. That was the difference between him and me: he turned to these things as a coping mechanism, I just did it out of boredom, maybe to feel something real.

True to form he left after five drinks, myself on two, and we wandered down the road, past the famous river. This was Friday night in the capital, and the crowd swarmed around us like it was alive. I gave him a cigarette and he wanted to use the bathroom; there was some kind of arcade right by us with a men’s room and a bar. He went in, came out and we went to the bar, putting away another drink and another. I was fucked and so was he, but he was a big fella: even if you could tell what state he was in, you made sure you weren’t looking too hard.

And we were supposed to leave and find something else to do, but on the way out I passed this fancy little machine. UFO grabber, with prizes to be won, bunch of stuffed horses with horns. At first it was his change I fed it, but when that ran out I ran to the cash machine, took out a note and turned it into coins. Then I was back, trying to catch a horse I never knew I wanted. The grabber got right around its waist, over and over again, and each time the horse slipped through, like silk or sand, falling back into a mass grave of horses, all waiting or weeping or laughing at me.

Some cunt walked past and told me I was wasting my time, but I only found out about it later. I was focused on this one horse, never changing target or strategy, three metal claws around the belly of the beast, and each time the beast slipped. Two girls stopped to watch and raised some kind of cheer in anticipation, before the attempt failed and they left and it was just me and him and the horse.

The coins kept pouring in, one after another, and if they were going to run out, I was going to get more. It was this one horse I was after, just this one horse. He was telling me to leave and it didn’t even matter to tell him no, because the only thing that did was getting the horse where it belonged. I kept thinking to myself that if I could only get this to work, if I could only get it to stay in the grabber long enough without slipping, everything would be fine, the world would make sense.

Lee Turner lives in Surrey, England. Beyond writing, his pursuits include travel and digital illustration.