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The Familiar Monsters

James Beamon is a science fiction and fantasy author whose short stories have appeared in places such as Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Apex, Lightspeed, and of course DSF (this story makes 8 times!). He spent twelve years in the Air Force, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is in possession of the perfect buffalo wings recipe that he learned from carnies. He lives in Virginia with his wife, son, and attack cat. Currently he's cutting back on the addictive habit of penning short stories to focus on writing books. Pendulum Heroes, his debut novel, is about gamers stuck in their avatar bodies in a world so full of crazy you'd be crazy not to check it out.
Aaron ran down familiar streets. He slayed the familiar monsters.
His shoes clinked on cobblestone. Here it was Victorianesque: ornate brick buildings lurching into gray overcast skies, narrow shadow-filled alleys, steam boiling out of grates. For his part, he wore a dated dark suit under a gray high collar overcoat and a top hat--all of it weightless.
There would be a beast monster hiding around the next corner. Aaron rushed to meet it, cutting it down with his saw-toothed sword before it could react. Down the next alley, he knew to immediately turn to face the two monsters attempting to ambush him from behind.
Aaron heard an unexpected sound for the first time in what felt like forever. Footsteps, clinking toward him on the cobblestones. A woman turned the corner, her face instantly recognizable, exposed as it was without any protective headgear.
"Mina?" Aaron had to ask. Literally anyone could look like her during initial setup.
"Yeah's me," she replied, words coming out of an unchanging, closed mouth on an expressionless face. She raised her arm in the Slayer Salute, which would've looked cool if she had a weapon equipped but now it only showed the back of her clenched fist.
"Wanna run Yhardinburg with me?" Aaron asked. "Monsters need slaying."
"Not really," she said. "I got about ten minutes before my raid kicks off, saw you were on. Figured this is time well spent if I could convince you to give it another shot."
Aaron should've known it was about Legend of Lorecraft again.
"Well, gonna have to convince me on the move," he said in a huff. "Someone's gotta cleanse these tainted streets."
Aaron imagined if Mina could nod she would have as she sidled beside him.
He ran into the next alleyway, Mina following close behind. A bestial man and his pet rabid dog were on their usual patrol. Aaron made it a point to run past the dog and cut into the beast-man with his sawsword. The beast-man collapsed with a death groan in moments. Aaron turned to see Mina's body getting rocked by the dog as it bit her in rhythmic bursts.
"Gonna get this thing off me?" she asked casually.
"C'mon. You still got it."
Her unchanging face didn't have to show a grimace for Aaron to feel it all the same. In an instant a giant cleaver appeared in Mina's clenched fist. A couple well-placed strikes and the rabid dog died with a yelp.
"See," Aaron said. "Once a slayer, always a slayer."
"If that's the case, I'm the slayer seeking the fresher kills. Seriously, Aaron, why are you still here?"
"I like it here. You used to, too. And Manny. And Chara."
Aaron ran out of the alley into the main thoroughfare. Mina kept pace close behind. There would be no distancing himself when everyone ran the same speed.
Rows of tall gas lamps framed the avenue leading up to a wide stone bridge.
"Yeah, the memories are cool," Mina said "but this isn't fun anymore. It's old. And dumb. Just stand still and look at this stupid monster."
A ferocious werewolf was approaching on all fours, snarling at nothing in particular, its head panning back and forth as if seeking prey. The two of them were too far away for the werewolf to see them.
"Hey, you stupid wolf!" Mina shouted. "Hello! We're right here!"
The werewolf paid Mina no heed. Instead, it turned around and headed back, still on the lookout for prey.
A pebble instantly replaced Mina's giant cleaver. She wedged herself into a corner where the bridge's stone railing and the avenue met and threw the rock at the werewolf. The werewolf turned and turned, shaking in a spastic pursuit of Mina that eventually found it stuck inside the stone railing quivering nonsensically.
"Now you're just ruining the slayer experience," Aaron said. He walked over to the seizure-wolf and ended its misery.
"It ruined itself," Mina said. "Look at this. Creatures don't respond to audio, they're buggy with predictable patrol patterns. It was fun while it lasted but there are better games now. Why not give Lorecraft another shot?"
Aaron began to walk across the long bridge. "I don't like Lorecraft."
She didn't follow. "Thing is, Aaron, you've never said why."
Aaron shrugged, a movement that this body would never register and Mina would never see.
"I prefer Bloodcurse." His simple answer.
"But why?" she asked exasperated. "It's primitive, drab. In Lorecraft everything's vibrant. We have legit facial expressions. Enemies hear you. Our weapons get stained with their blood. It's all so very real."
Aaron whirled to face her. "Maybe I don't want real! I come here to escape reality. Maybe there are some of us who don't want to feel like they're really dismembering a person or disemboweling animals. It's crazy."
Mina was quiet for a long moment.
"You're over here haunting this place like a ghost and the rest of us are the crazy ones? Here's what I think: you hate change, the kind of guy who wants to eat pizza every day. Chara had to drag you here at first. And drag you. Think I don't remember?"
He turned his back and continued his walk over the bridge.
"Your raid's starting," he said.
"This thing's always shifting gears, only you don't want them to shift!" Mina shouted after him. "We miss you!"
Alone again, Aaron arrived at the end of the bridge. It led to the next section, the Old Ward. Dense fog blocked his way. Over the fog, the word "LOADING..." hovered. The game was checking for updates, unaware that it had died, that even the creators of this world had abandoned it. Nothing would ever come.
"I miss you," he said to no one listening.
The fog finally lifted, exposing a burned out town with plumes of black smoke roiling skywards behind the buildings.
Aaron ran down familiar streets. He slayed the familiar monsters.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 18th, 2019


I've been a gamer virtually all my life, so it was only natural to wonder at some point where games, especially the ones with online ecosystems and communities, go when they die. This setting in particular pays homage to my favorite game, Bloodborne, and my own longing for a sequel.

- James Beamon
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