Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Rules for Killing Monsters

When we started playing LandsBetwyxt, Jerry was all about killing monsters. But Amy was in Drama Club at Hematite High, where we went to school, in the Upper Peninsula, near Lake Michigan, on the dateline, and for her it was about interacting with people we met in the online game. Me, I wanted a chance to not be Jim. I guess I knew even then that there was something wrong with who I was, but I hadn’t yet put it together.

But Altram the wizard wasn’t who I wanted to be. So I scrapped him and made Kilbert the Rogue. And when he wasn’t it, I created Ursula—a half-elf ranger with a green cloak and bright red hair. I didn’t tell Jerry she was me. I didn’t plan to tell Amy either, but one time I slipped up and called her Amy instead of Katressa on the road to Eldrytch Castle.

“do I kno u,” Amy asked, “outside of game?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“well?” she asked.

“it’s me jim,” I admitted.

She didn’t respond.

“is that ok?” I typed.

“good job,” she typed back.

“what do u mean?”

“your dressed like a person,” Amy said.

“huh?”

She went on: “usu when a guy plays a girl shes in a chainmail bikini or sparkly lowcut gown. a set of pixels to see, not a person to be.”

I nodded. Of course, she couldn’t see me nod, but I knew what she meant. One guy talked about his character in the third person, even in dialogue boxes. Vannati thinks this. Vannati wants that. Ursula was different.

“shes not vannati,” I typed. “or, um, im not. :)”

“lol,” Amy answered.

And Ursula wasn’t like Vannati. Other players didn’t treat me like a boy. They flirted with me, asked to meet me in real life. I flirted back when they weren’t too creepy.

Some guys assumed I wouldn’t be much use on a quest because I was a girl. I was proudest of that—it meant I could fool them even if they didn’t want to be fooled. Or that’s what I thought. I didn’t realize the truth underneath until Ursula died.

We were clearing a nest of chimaeras from the mountains of Tazgref to save the village of Kremiss from their nightly raids. I had taken my eye off my health bar to shoot down the one attacking Katressa, and I didn’t see the other one charging me from behind until it was too late. And I watched myself fall forward on the rocks, still clutching my bow.

And I just sat there, staring at myself, dead, on the screen, as it faded to black.

When I’d died as Altram the Wizard, it was more like losing at cards. When Ursula died, I felt it—she took me with her when I watched her fall. I remembered, as if out of nowhere, my father spanking me for wearing my mother’s shoes when I was too young to understand why it bothered him. That was how it felt when Ursula died.

• • • •

The path back from the Deadlands was unchanged. In a monochrome background, dressed only in a shroud. Dodge the Bone Eaters; get to the River. Keep enough on my Willpower bar to hold together the driftwood boat until I got back to the Living side. It was the same as before. But this time was different. This time it mattered if I made it back.

After that, I flirted more openly, with Kwentin the Druid and Kalino the Bard, and once with a Paladin. “what r u doing?” Amy asked in an aside.

“roleplaying,” I answered.

Ursula found her way into my real life, too. I stopped dreading deer hunting with my dad. I told him I wanted to learn how to hunt with a bow.

He said, “I guess we’ll make a man of you after all.”

I just smiled. I felt bad about letting him think that, but he got me the bow.

I bought a green hooded parka at the Army Surplus Store. And I practiced my archery every day in the back yard.

The State of Michigan was writing permits that year for antlerless deer because of a deer population explosion in the U.P. My father refused to shoot a doe. Said it just didn’t feel right. But me, I got up before dawn, when my father was still asleep, and I went out of the cabin in my parka and tracked a doe. My feet made almost no sound as I walked across the powdery late November snow, and I watched the doe browsing for acorns and fallen leaves below the bare oaks.

She was beautiful in that light. She stood there chewing, and I nocked an arrow, admiring the beauty of her tight muscles, the faint white spots on her tawny haunches. I pulled back the bowstring and took aim. I knew exactly where her heart was, for I heard it beat in me. And I let fly.

She let out a yelp and fell to the ground, stirring for a moment, a cloud of white powdery snow in the air around her as she struck the ground. I ran to her side, the old twigs cracking beneath my boots.

I walked up beside her and put my hand on her chest. Her heart was still beating. I was ready for her to thrash her legs, like I had once seen a buck do, that my father had shot. But she did not thrash.

I felt her heartbeat slow, through my fingertips. Mercy, I remembered. I drew my knife and slid it across her throat, so her death would be quick. And then I waited with her, my hand on her side, and felt her heartbeat slow down until it was only my own pulse in my fingers. Until she was done. And her big, brown, glassy eye stared out at no one.

I took off my mitt and put a finger in her warm, dark blood. And I drew a tear beneath the outside edge of my eye.

I heard my father’s footsteps behind me on crunchy twigs. He didn’t try to be quiet; the hunt was done. And I knew what he would say before he said it, and I braced for him to shatter the moment’s beauty as he clapped his hand on my shoulder and told me, “Son, you’re a man now.”

And the courage it had taken to kill the deer was less than it would have taken to say No. No, I’m not. So I said nothing at all, but clung to the shred of the moment as the sun rose on us, my father standing in the snow in his hunting jacket and boots, and me kneeling next to the deer with her blood on my face and hand.

But it was more okay than it should have been because he was very far away, cut off from the deer and from me by the cold air between us, and by the blood that rushed in my ears and muted the distant sound of his voice.

• • • •

After the kill, I got bolder.

The doe was hanging from a tree in my front yard when I went back to school. I had helped my father gut her and hang her to drain, and the mix of things I’d felt hadn’t quite resolved. I mean, a part of me still felt weird that I had killed a living creature, that I had allowed myself to love her and take her life. But there was a magic in that, also, like it brought me closer to a world that wasn’t real and to a person in that world who was more real than I was. The reality of it buzzed in me—not like I was buzzing, but the feeling buzzed like a swarm of bees inside me.

Tingling, I walked off my normal route and went past Amy’s house as she stepped outside. “Amy!” I called to her half a block ahead of me.

She turned. “Hi Jim.” She waited. I caught up.

“I want to go out as our characters,” I said.

She said, “What?”

I said, “I want us to dress up as Ursula and Katressa and go out to a party or something this weekend.”

She didn’t answer right away.

I said, “It’s all right if you want Katressa to look human. You don’t have to give her blue skin or pointy ears.”

She said, “You know that Ursula’s a girl, right?”

“Of course,” I answered. “She’s my character.”

“And you want to dress as her?”

I nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s me.”

“No, Jim,” Amy said. “You’re you. Ursula is a character in a game.”

“I know,” I told her. “But that’s not how I feel. Because right now she’s more me than I am.”

“Oh shit,” Amy said. “I’ve heard of this. I didn’t think it would happen to anyone I knew.”

“I know,” I told her. “I was kind of stunned when it happened to me.”

She said, “My mom warned me not to play these games online.”

“What?” I said.

“She said she saw a news story when she was a kid,” Amy went on, “about people getting so hung up on the game that they lose touch with reality.”

“What?” I said. “Amy, that’s not—”

“I can’t believe I ignored her,” Amy said, “and I let myself drag you into this.”

I stopped and took her by the shoulders, and I looked into her face. “That’s not what’s happening,” I told her.

“But you just said—”

“It’s not about swords or monsters or magic,” I said. “It’s not about getting away from the world. It’s about something Ursula taught me about who I am that I didn’t see until I played her in the game.”

“Okay,” Amy said. “I think I understand.”

“Thank you.”

“You want to be heroic. You want to feel brave.”

“No!”

“You don’t want to be brave?” Amy asked.

“Well, yeah, I guess I do,” I said. “But that’s not it.”

“You mean,” she said, and let the words hang there.

I nodded and waited for her to catch up.

“It’s about wanting to be . . .”

“A girl,” I finished for her. “I think I’m a girl.”

“Are you sure?” Amy asked.

“I think so,” I nodded.

“How can you think so?” Amy asked. “Isn’t it just something you know?”

“I—” I stopped to look at my shoes. “This is the first time I’ve talked about it. To anyone, you know? But yeah, I’m sure. I think I’m sure. I mean, in the woods, there was no doubt. I was Ursula there, when I shot the deer.”

“You bagged a deer?” Amy asked.

“Yeah, but—”

“Good for you!”

“Yeah,” I said. “But now I’m walking to school, and it’s hard to believe that anything is real. I mean, I feel like I’m failing science, you know, or like science is failing me, because there’s observable facts and there’s truth, but somehow I know they’re not the same.”

Amy didn’t say anything then, but stood there facing me with the kind of a smile that comic book artists draw when they want you to fall in love with the heroine’s whimsy.

“Did that make sense?” I asked. “Am I raving?”

Amy touched my hand. “Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“For telling me first,” she said. She reached forward and hugged me. “It’s an honor. I feel honored that you trust me.”

I hugged her back.

“Ah, shit,” she said.

“What?”

She pulled back to face me. “I’m kind of crushing on you right now, but I guess now that’s not going anywhere.” She kissed my cheek by the side of my mouth, and I felt a stirring that seemed kind of wrong, like it was outside where it should’ve been inside, but mostly I wished I had breasts of my own to press against someone the way I felt hers against me.

“C’mon,” she said, pulling out of the hug and leading me by the hand. “Let’s go to school.”

• • • •

We didn’t go out that weekend. Amy had to teach me stuff. Basic stuff like how to walk. How to talk. What to do with my hands. And she had to figure out my makeup. Ursula doesn’t wear makeup, but I needed makeup to look like her, and without it I couldn’t become who I knew I was.

So I practiced being Ursula. Amy didn’t try to be Katressa—not the same way. She worked a little blue into her eyeshadow and on her cheekbones, and she wore a blouse that was a bit more fluid and let down her hair. She didn’t darken her hair, but she styled it so that it feathered back like Katressa’s and flowed a bit more. And she made two things. She made a ring for me that looked like the one that Ursula wore, with healing properties, and she made herself a necklace with a sparrow bone at the center to replicate the Amulet of Elantha, which Katressa had taken from a Necromancer she defeated. It gave Katressa power over the dead.

I changed at Amy’s house and went out as Ursula on Friday and Saturday nights. And I would walk into places and take charge. If I walked into a party, people noticed. No one knew who I was or where I came from, but they wanted to know me—wanted to get closer. I told different stories when people asked where I came from—I was from Houghton, from Calumet, from Grand Marais, or visiting from Green Bay. I didn’t bother to try to keep my story straight, and it didn’t matter. The boys who shoved me into lockers during the week were the moths to my flame.

• • • •

Jerry got burned as well. He’d seen Ursula at a party, and he told me in biology class how he wanted the nerve to talk to her.

“She’s out of your league, man,” I told him, cutting open a starfish’s leg.

He nodded, did not even ask how I knew that when I wasn’t there. “What can I do?” he asked. He opened his sketchbook and started to draw the ridges inside of the leg.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “What is—what is it you like about her?”

“She’s so confident,” Jerry said, without hesitation. “When she walks into a room, she fills the space.”

Wow, I thought. I knew it felt that way to me, but it was good to hear Jerry say it.

“Jim?” he asked, waving a hand in front of my face.

“So be that,” I told him. “What you like in her, find it in yourself.” I continued the incision to the center of the star and peeled back the skin.

He laughed awkwardly. “You want me to walk into a room,” he asked, waving his arms around in a caricature of showing off, “and say, ‘Hey, everyone, look at me’?”

“Is that what she does?” I asked, hoping my voice didn’t sound hurt. I put down the scalpel.

He shook his head. “No. No, she doesn’t. She just—the glow is there. It’s inside her.”

I nodded. “So find it in you,” I said, poking his bony chest with the tips of my fingers.

He got kind of small. “D’you think it’s there?” he asked.

“You’ll be surprised,” I told him. “Look for a small, shining thing inside yourself that knows it belongs.”

“Small, shining thing,” Jerry repeated, tentatively, contemplatively.

The bell rang. I put Saran Wrap on our dissection tray, and I put the tray on the shelf, and we went to fifth period.

But Jerry didn’t seem to find that small, shining thing within. The jocks stopped beating up on me, even in my school-day clothes. But Jerry got it worse. And they teased him for liking a girl out of his league. I caught Colin Younckers and his friends knocking Jerry’s books onto the floor between fifth and sixth periods one day. “Leave him alone!” I shouted, but nobody listened to me when I was dressed as Jim.

“She’s better than you,” Colin Younckers said, kicking Jerry on the side of one knee.

“You’re dirt to her,” Scott Lindala said, knocking Jerry against a wall of lockers with a fist to the upper back.

“She doesn’t even know you exist,” said Jared Nordquist, kicking Jerry’s math book down the hall like a hockey puck.

“You’ll never have her either,” I said to them.

“What?” said Colin Younckers, turning to notice me at last, his eyes wide with the fear that I was right.

I felt the deer’s heart beat in me. I was the prey. But I hid my fear. “You’re beneath her, too,” I said. “Why else would you bother pestering Jerry?”

I watched a shame wash across his face. Watched it try to sink in, like water into rock, and I wondered if it would take.

“Faggot,” Jared said.

“He doesn’t know shit,” Scott added.

And then it was on. Colin lunged at me, and I turned and bolted, ducking in between Mary Vinton and Kelly Sjordgren. And I ran, hearing Colin and his friends behind me, barreling through, knocking over the people I’d ducked past and around.

I was still faster—until I wondered if my agility would give away my secret. Can Jim move this way? It was only a moment. But it was enough for Colin Younckers to get a hold of the back of my shirt. I was toast.

I let my shoulder crash into a locker so loudly that Mr. Soderbergh came out of his classroom and asked, “What’s going on here?”

“Nothing,” said Colin Younckers.

“I tripped,” I told him. “I’m kind of clumsy.”

“Okay then,” said Mr. Soderbergh, and he stood there, just to be sure.

“After you,” I said to Colin and his friends.

They kept walking the way we’d been running. Colin stared at me as he walked on but then shrugged off his doubt. I doubled back to Jerry, who had finished picking up his books. “Are you okay?” I asked him.

“I’m okay,” he said. “Are you crazy?”

I nodded. “Maybe.”

• • • •

That night I went online and gamed angry. It was the second time Ursula died. I shut down the computer and saved coming back from the dead for another day. That weekend was when I died for the first time.

• • • •

It was Saturday night. Amy was doing the makeup for Twelfth Night. She’d had time to help me change, but after that I was on my own. I was on my way to a party out on CR 28 when I heard a brutal noise, and I found Colin, Jared, and Scott pushing Jerry into a snowdrift, saying, “Where’s your boyfriend, Jerry?”

“Leave him alone,” I commanded, afraid my voice would crack with real worry.

“This is none of your business, Ursula,” Colin said.

“Of course it is,” I answered. “You hurt another person, a girl wants to know. Who’s to say you won’t do the same to me?”

“No way we’d do that,” Scott Lindala said.

“Oh, really?” I answered, and let my eyes talk, scanning the three of them against the boy who couldn’t take even one of them in a fair fight.

“Never,” Colin said.

“Then let him be,” I repeated.

They backed away, mumbling vaguely. I walked up to Jerry. “C’mon,” I said, reaching my hand down to help him up. “Let’s get you home.”

“I hoped you would be here,” he said.

I ignored that and helped him up, and he tried to kiss me.

“Jerry, back off,” I said as I pushed him away.

He looked at my face and he recognized me. Then, without a word, they all did.

I ran for my car.

I outran them easily, but they caught me as I was opening the door.

Colin bashed my head against the frame as the others caught up. And then . . . well . . . I don’t want to talk about what happened then.

• • • •

The Deadlands were as I remembered them. All black and white, and yet so bright it was hard to see. But I had never known how cold it was there, dressed in only a shroud.

I walked over rocks and dead grass that looked like a photograph overexposed, like it was caught within the moment of a flash. I ran just to keep me warm, although it was not like my body made its own heat in that place—more like I just outran the cold. And the form I had there—not a body, but a form—it was meant to run. I ran past bones that grew from the ground instead of trees, through mists that whispered sounds that were not words, though I wanted to come closer to hear what they said. I ran across shadows cast by nothing at all, which wavered like the ripples on a pond as I went past.

I saw the Bone Eaters, too, of course, skeletons put together all wrong, crawling on all fours, scavenging those who could not make it back. I outran them easily, but I had to pace myself, because I didn’t dare run out of strength to run. If I died here—if I died and stayed dead—there would be no one left to avenge me. There would be no reckoning for Colin and his friends.

I came to the river, swirling mists above rough stones, and I wove a boat from the driftwood on the shore, fitting the worn-down edges together like a jigsaw in three dimensions. I rode it across the river, the boat held together by my will, the boat slowly dissolving as it spanned a chasm of fog full of angry fishes and tentacle things.

As I reached the far shore, all that remained of my boat was two planks. I stood on them like skis until the ends of them tapped the land. I bent my knees for just a moment and jumped with both feet.

Jim would have stumbled. Jim would have lost his balance as the planks slid backwards in the water when he jumped.

I did not slip.

And then I was back.

In the hospital room, I looked over my body in the bed. No one stood vigil. The life support monitors beeped, but I did not know how to read the numbers or the lines.

Something of the Deadlands clung to me, like I had carried back a bit of that world when I returned. I put my old body back on like a suit of clothes, and I sat up in bed.

I ached all over. The places they’d beaten me hadn’t healed, not completely. And there were other things wrong with this body, too—the things that had always been wrong. But I needed to be in it again to finish this. If the parts were wrong, they were wrong, but I couldn’t concern myself with that now.

The beeps on the monitor grew stronger and more even. I found the switch and turned off the machine, then I pulled the leads off of my chest and my fingertips. I looked around for clothes, too, but all I found was two vases of flowers—from my parents, from Amy. Nothing from Jerry.

I cinched up my hospital gown at the waist, to cover my butt, and went out in the hall. Walking through the hospital at night was like my journey through the Deadlands, colorless and way too bright and almost nobody there. The nurse on the hall was making rounds, but he had his back to me as I passed.

An old man’s ghost crossed my path in the hospital halls. “Excuse me, miss,” he said. “Could you help me with something?”

“You’re dead, old man,” I told him. “Move along.”

I wandered the hospital like I was exploring a labyrinth in the game until I came to a white room full of lockers. I found a set of scrubs and put them on, and I shaved the stubble off my face with a disposable Lady Bic. The shoes in the locker didn’t fit, but another locker had a jacket, which I put on before I walked out into the snow.

• • • •

It was still dark when I got to Amy’s house. I entered through an open window and went up the stairs to her room. I let her sleep because I did not want the real world to intrude. I did not want her to be responsible for what I was about to do. I found my boots, my cloak, my ring, and other clothes in the place we kept them in the back of Amy’s closet where her parents wouldn’t look. I didn’t bother with makeup but trusted the night and my will to shape my face. And before I left I took the Amulet of Elantha—the necromancer’s necklace that gave Katressa command of the dead. And I put it on.

“Jim?” Amy mumbled as she stirred in bed.

“It’s just Ursula,” I said. “Go back to sleep.” I cast Restful Slumber on her so she would not stir.

Dressed for adventure, I stepped out the window and leaped silently down, bending my knees as my feet touched the grass.

Then I went home and grabbed the key from the fake rock, and I got my bow and my hunting knife.

And then, before sunrise, I went to wait in the wooded lot that Colin and his friends cut through on their way to school. In a town this size, you get to know where people live and the paths they take. A town this size would remember a triple homicide for years. My toes hurt from before, when I walked in the snow without my shoes. I climbed a few feet into a pine and waited, an arrow nocked but not yet drawn.

They were deep in conversation, talking low:

“My uncle’s a lawyer. He has a practice in Green Bay.”

“I don’t think Jerry’s gonna talk. He doesn’t want word getting out about him and his boyfriend.”

“He tried to kiss him.”

I took aim and fired and pinned Jared’s hand to a tree.

“Aargh!” he screamed.

“Are you all right?” Scott shouted.

“Hey, watch out!” Colin shouted in my direction. “You could’ve killed us!”

“Did you see where it came from?” Scott shouted.

Colin shook his head.

I fired an arrow over Colin, so close the feathers brushed his hair.

Scott turned and ran. I shot him in the butt and he stumbled, bawling, sprawled out on the ground.

“Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t,” Scott bawled, reaching back to pull the arrow from his butt cheek.

I dropped to the ground, nocking another arrow. “It’s better to leave it in,” I said. “That way you won’t bleed to death until after I finish your friends.”

“Jim?” Colin asked.

“Jim’s dead,” I told him. I took aim at Scott’s other leg. “You killed him.” I shot an arrow in Scott’s thigh. He howled in pain.

“What are you doing?” Colin shouted.

I pointed an arrow straight at Colin’s face. “What does it look like I’m doing?” I drew back the bowstring.

“Okay, okay,” Colin said, stepping backwards. “Let’s not do anything crazy.”

“Crazy?” I said. “You mean like beat a kid to death because you don’t like the way she’s dressed? You mean crazy like that?”

“He,” Colin corrected me.

I shot him in the shoulder.

“Agh!” he screamed as the arrow hit. “Are you nuts?”

“I’m dead,” I told him, drawing an arrow from my quiver slowly.

Colin ran at me. I put an arrow through his foot. He stumbled forward right in front of me.

I kicked him in the face. “I’m dead,” I told him. “You killed me.” While he was still stunned from the kick in the face, I put my toes under his shoulder and flipped him over onto his back. “Are you a gamer, Colin?” I asked as I put my foot on his throat and pressed down. “Have you played LandsBetwyxt?”

He gasped for breath.

I pressed my foot down harder. “There are monsters in the game,” I said. “You know they’re evil, so it’s okay to kill them.” He grabbed my ankle and tried to push me off, but his hands had no strength.

I pressed down harder, and he began to gasp for breath.

“And they’re things that don’t belong in the world. Things like bats with the heads of dogs, or ancient kings who don’t know they’re dead.”

His gasps were airless motion now; I saw his mouth move but no sound came out.

“And I wonder,” I said. “Do you see me as a monster?”

Colin’s eyes pleaded for mercy, but they could not focus on me.

“Do you think I’m something that shouldn’t exist?” I asked. “Is that why you killed me?” I let my foot up just enough so he could breathe.

“I—” he began.

I dropped from a standing position, slamming my knee down on his throat. “Or are you the monster, Colin?” I shouted. I put my hand against his chin and pushed his head back. I could tell he wanted to answer, but I didn’t want to hear. “I’m not a monster, Colin,” I told him. “I’m just living my life.”

I pushed his chin up farther and put my hand over his mouth. I caught his nostrils between two fingers and held them shut. I saw the terror in his eyes. I felt him struggle, but the fear in his face was not enough to make amends.

I gripped his airway tighter, felt his chest rise and fall without hope, with no air going into his lungs. A shadow crossed the side of my eye as I held him down. Jared came at me with a large stick, and I sidestepped him without looking up. As the stick struck Colin in the face, I grabbed Jared’s collar and flung him to the ground.

I think Jared hit his head on a rock. He bled from his head wound into the snow. Colin tried to get up then, when I was distracted, but it was too late. He had no fight left.

“Now where were we?” I asked as I sat down on Colin’s chest. I gripped his throat beneath the chin and pushed his head back so he couldn’t breathe.

“I asked you if you were a monster, Colin,” I said. He convulsed beneath me. “But you’re not a monster, are you? You’re something worse—because you had a choice. Nobody programmed you. Nobody coded you. You were a living person with free will, and you chose to kill me. And that’s not okay.”

And then I let go. And Colin lay there, no longer breathing. I stood up, then, and watched the spirit rise from his limp form.

“You monster!” Scott shouted somewhere behind me, too far away to matter.

I laughed. I laughed long and loud. Then I realized he meant it. And he had a reason. But he was wrong. I’d had a choice, too.

Jared’s head wound bled into the snow. The real world was coming back. A world without magic or monsters or quests. A world where evil is always a choice, and I’d just killed a guy.

It was coming back fast. But it wasn’t there yet.

“Are you sorry?” I asked Colin’s ghost. “Do you regret what you did to me?” I realized I was crying because I felt the tears in my throat.

And Colin’s ghost stood there, looking lost. Looking at me like he didn’t understand what had just happened.

If he’d said anything at all then, I don’t think I would have believed him. But his bewilderment showed me a trail of regret that led back before my death.

Gripping the Amulet of Elantha, I opened my lungs and breathed him in. Felt his life force fill my chest and course through me. Through all of me. Felt him in my lungs and in my fingertips, completely subsumed.

Then I knelt down and I put my mouth over his, and I breathed his spirit back into his flesh.

I leaned forward, then, and whispered in his ear, “I’m a woman inside,” I said, “but I still have to work at being a lady. And you, you’re not a monster. You have a choice.”

I laid my hand on Jared’s head and cast Minor Heal so he wouldn’t bleed out. Then I retrieved my arrows, using the Heal spell to close their wounds and leave no trace. Colin sat there, blinking. Scott cringed when I laid hands on the puncture wound in his ass. But he was silent, like a rabbit afraid to flee, as I stood and walked away in the falling snow.

David Sklar

David SklarDavid Sklar grew up in Michigan, where the Michipeshu nibbled his toes when Lake Superior was feeling frisky. His work has appeared in such places as Strange Horizons, Ladybug, and Scheherazade’s Façade. Publications in 2014 include the anthology Trafficking in Magic/Magicking in Traffic (coedited with Sarah Avery) in May of 2014 from Fantastic Books, and the October re-release of David’s debut novel, Shadow of the Antlered Bird, from Eggplant Literary Productions. David lives in New Jersey with his wife, their two barbarians, and a secondhand familiar, all of whom he almost supports as a freelance writer and editor. For more about David and his work, please visit davidwriting.com.