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It was late June, and I was having an average day. I hunt monsters using a sword, a Nike Cortana I got on sale at Monster Mart for $200. It’s got “DOUGLAS” (my name, though everyone calls me Doug) etched into the blade (another $40). At the time I picked it because I liked the name. Philip gives me crap because it has a French name, never mind that the Adidas Excalibur he wants to save up for is too heavy for either of us to really use. At least it’s not called “Exterminator” or “Terminator” or anything else that ends in “-inator.”

I’d spent hours cutting through squishies and stumpies when I came across a salamander. They’re not super common around Los Banos, but they’re not rare either. I hate fighting those things because they’re always on fire, but I usually don’t pass them up because salamander crystals are worth around $300, which would more than double what I’d get from today’s session. They’re part of why I use a sword instead of a trendier weapon. It has a heat-resistant grip, and the blade it won’t get charred or melted.

When I spotted the thing and resigned myself to fighting it, I paused my iPod and pulled out the headphones. I needed to concentrate to pull this off without having to use another $50 healing potion. I wanted to sneak up on it and get it over quickly, but of course that wasn’t going to happen. The salamander reared up before I got within ten feet, and the fire around it doubled in intensity. I sighed, and set to work.

Salamanders have three main modes of attack: biting, spitting fire, and tail swipes. This one was doing all three. It was definitely in a bad mood, and the sword poking didn’t help any. I kept slashing and thrusting, sweating buckets the whole time. I would definitely need to take a shower afterwards, and of course my sword was getting hotter too, even through the heat-resistant grip. I got a good stab into its underbelly, and it let out a shriek.

A voice behind me said, “Do you need any help?”

That was just enough of a distraction for me to trip backwards. The salamander tried to pounce on me—two or three healing potions worth of pain—but didn’t quite make it. It was Rita. She hunts with this spiked polearm, which the manufacturer calls the “Spikeinator.” It’s a wooden stick with a big spiky metal thing on the end. And she’d lodged it in the salamander’s jaws so that it couldn’t move. As an added bonus, the little video camera clipped to her shoulder was pointed down at me.

“Are you going to finish it off? I can’t do this all day.”

“Oh, you know, I thought I’d take in the scenery for a bit first.” I wasn’t at the right angle to see up her skirt or anything, if you’re wondering. Just being sarcastic. I picked myself up, and jabbed my sword into the salamander’s chest, the spot she’d shown me last year that would get its heart without setting off the crystal right next to it. The salamander hung limply on the end of her polearm. We watched as its fire dimmed and went out, and couldn’t help but laugh.

I put on my gloves and pried the thing’s jaws open. “You’re gonna put that on your show, aren’t you?”

She smirked. “I’m sure everyone will get a kick out of it.”

I cut the crystal out of the salamander’s hot flesh. It was orange and irregular, but it glowed inside. Thank god it was still good. “You want it? Or you want to split it? Or something?”

Rita set the spiky end of her polearm in the dirt and leaned against the shaft. “Tell you what: You can come with me today. I could use some help.”

“With what?”

“I think I’ve figured out where the portal’s going to be today.”

There’s only one portal in Los Banos, but it moves around a lot, and has a relatively high output. That’s good for us, since every stationary portal gets cordoned off, and no one gets to do any monster hunting. It’s not every day (or in my case, any day) that you get invited to go hunting with the famous Rita, Los Banos’ #1 monster hunter and host of the Monster Show video blog. And that’s before we even mention how cute she is. I mean, come on. Those red pigtails alone.

“Are you serious?” The way she dresses is sort of like, everything that’s good about Hot Topic and Monster Mart and none of what’s bad. Her boots, skirt, T-shirt, gloves, goggles, belt, everything. And that’s before we talk about stuff like her figure, and other things that move the conversation into the realm of the impossible.

She picked up her weapon and started walking. “Yeah. I’ve been tracking its appearances for like a year now. Oh, and you’re not going to breathe a word about this to anyone. There’s already enough competition here without people camping the portal.”

I hadn’t even thought about that. It would ruin the whole thing. “Then why did you do all that?” I tried to drink some Gatorade from my backpack. It was already warm.

“I guess I wanted to see if I could do it.” Rita pulled a printout from one of her pockets, got her bearings, and set off. “The portal appears and disappears,” she explained. “There are some places it shows up pretty consistently, but not for more than ten minutes at a time.” She quickened her pace and I spilled fruit punch on my shirt. “We have to hurry to catch it on time. If I’m right about this.”

The ground was lumpy and covered with dry grass, except where it had been blackened by a salamander’s passing. Rita kept checking her printout and her watch, which had a compass. Then she broke into a run. Moving faster through the still air felt a little better, but I was cramped and tired from battle tension, and I had to hold my sword to keep it from bouncing around. I just barely kept her in sight. When she stopped, I put my hands on my knees and tried to breathe.

I heard her printout rustling, and I heard her mutter, “Shit, shit, shit.” I didn’t see the portal anywhere. “Come on!”

Rita is fit, to say the least, but I didn’t realize just how fast she could run. She held her polearm horizontally, gripping it near the head, and her speed kept her pigtails horizontal too.

She skidded to a halt on the loose ground, looked around, and growled, “Dammit! We’re too late!”

What happened next is the kind of thing where even if you could forget it, your friends will never, ever let you. I heard an ear-splitting whine, and something warm and gooey and about the size of a soccer ball hit me right in the face. Me and verticality weren’t on very good terms today. An orange squishy—a dollop of slime with little black eyes—had hit me in the face.

When I could see again I was looking at the portal through stinging eyes. It was a ripple and a bright blue shimmer in the air, about six feet across. More squishies were popping out, but we let them scurry off. Rita put an arm around my waist and helped me up.

She took a deep breath. “Here it is.”

Around Los Banos you tend to see the portal while monster hunting about as often as you do a rainbow, and it is pretty to look at. It’s safe to be around, but my ringing ears were telling me that going through would not be an acceptable course of action. From a few feet away it made a low, pleasant hum.

Rita reached out her hand, so that her fingertips brushed the portal’s surface. Nothing happened, of course. To anything except monsters the portals are just light and sound.

“Doug, how old were you when the portals opened?” I couldn’t see her face.

“Um… Six. But my parents wouldn’t let me go hunting until I was fourteen.” I started begging my parents when I was ten.

“What did you feel when you first found out?”

“Huh?” Most of my memories from when I was six are incoherent light and sound. “I guess I was afraid. I don’t really remember.” I remember coming downstairs and seeing pictures of squishies and stumpies on the TV and my mom dropping her coffee cup and muttering bad words to herself.

“I was excited.” Her head tilted down, at the ground. “Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny aren’t real. Hardly anything turns out to be real. But this is. It looks impossible, but it’s so real it hurts sometimes.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I didn’t. My dad had insisted that the Tooth Fairy had come when I was six, but somehow I was sure that someone called “the Tooth Fairy” would have an arm less beefy and hairy than the one I saw reach under my pillow. Mr. McClure likes to say it’s all metaphor and ritual.

Rita pulled out a still camera to take some pictures. I guess even Rita does than when there’s a portal in front of her. I have a couple of portal pictures on my cell phone too.

“We have about three more minutes max.” She put her camera away. “Well, I found it, waxed philosophical about it, and took pictures.”

“And I stumbled through it and got slimed.” And I wouldn’t be wearing that shirt again, unless it was to help fix a car.

“Yeah, you sure did. And I didn’t even get it on camera. Hey, Doug?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for coming. I mean it.”

“No problem.” I wiped off my face, and finished off the bottle of Gatorade while we waited for the portal to move.

Rita looked at her printout and watch again, and then dropped the piece of paper and started up her video camera. “Something’s coming out.”

“Duh. That’s what portals do.”

As though as punishment for me doubting Rita’s instincts, it came out. When I saw its head, I tried to inhale Gatorade and saliva.

“Doug, get your sword ready now. A yellow dragon isn’t just going to let us go.”
When people say that monster hunting is a perfectly safe hobby, like the former CEO of Monster Mart did, they’re lying. When people say that monster hunting is “a relatively safe hobby,” that R-word actually means “but sometimes you run into dragons.”

I pulled my sword out in a smooth motion that I’d practiced at home more times than I’d care to admit. The dragon set its forelegs on the ground, and pulled itself out of the portal. It was almost twenty feet long, and its scales gleamed in the sun. It opened its mouth and let out a low roar that I could feel in my chest. Electricity crackled in the back of its mouth.

“This is the real deal, huh?” I could only hope it would end before I ran out of adrenaline.

Rita nodded, not taking her eyes off of it. “Yeah. Keep your sword low, and don’t touch the metal part. Aim for the belly. Our weapons will just bounce off its upper scales, and the head is too dangerous to—” She dove to one side as an arc of electricity struck the ground, and thrust with her Spikeinator. It hit the dragon’s shoulder, but didn’t draw any blood.

I tried to get around to its side, looking for the right moment to stab. It came when the dragon reared and swiped at Rita with its claws. My sword sunk deep into its side, and greenish blood poured onto the ground. But underneath the monster’s roar I heard another cry of pain. Rita was on the ground, and her weapon was out of reach.

“Distract it! Hurry!”

That was the easy part. The dragon brought its head around to see who was causing the sharp pain in its side. I yanked my sword out, and ran around its back side. I impressed myself by hopping over its thrashing tail. It followed me, turning around on the spot. When I got to Rita, her right arm was bent the wrong way, and the dragon was bearing down on both of us.

So, I found myself between Rita and the dragon. The Kyle Smiths of the world (some jocks hunt monsters too) would love to be in that position, but my stomach was trying to turn itself inside out and dump its contents, one way or the other. “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and taste good with catsup” doesn’t sound anywhere near funny when you can feel the thing’s breath.

“Our best bet is to try and get it to swallow a salamander crystal,” said Rita. She was holding one in her left hand. “I need you to make an opening for me.”
I nodded. “Right.” It was getting harder to breathe. “Why didn’t we do this to begin with?”

“Because it’s a long shot.”

“Oh. Good.”

“Here it comes.”

I hopped forward, and when it swiped at me with its claws I dove to the side. My instincts wanted to do a cool combat roll and come up to slash at its neck, but what really happened was I landed flat on my back, and the dragon pinned me to the ground.

The half-ton of dragon was going to crush my ribcage if it pressed down just a little bit harder. It brought its head down to look at me. A blast of hot wind and dragon mucous hit my face as it exhaled through its nostrils. When it roared again, everything vibrated with it. I saw the electricity in the back of its throat, enough voltage to stop your heart. There are some things healing potions can’t fix.

I passed my sword into my left hand around the back of its leg, and thrust my sword under its chin. The dragon reared again, pulling my sword out of my hand. It howled, and more green blood gushed onto the ground.

I just made out the arc of the glowing crystal into the dragon’s wailing jaws. There was a muted explosion, and its throat expanded for just a second. The dragon’s entire body seemed to go limp all at once. It fell over sideways, and didn’t move.

I put my feet on the ground, and pushed off with my dirty, sweaty hands. When I staggered over to Rita, she was pale. Her face contorted, and her eyes were moist. What do you say when an eagle suddenly looks like a poor wounded sparrow? Hell if I know. She gingerly aligned her arm. The pain made her wince and moan just a little. Two healing potions later, her arm was healed.

“Are you okay?” Why do people say crap like that?

“I’m fine.” Rita’s voice cracked. She shoved at me as she got up. The ground was hard, and full of small rocks I hadn’t noticed before. She stared at me, and we got stuck in a recursive loop of I know you know that I know that you know that I know. She’d knocked me down, she was crying, and we went back and forth knowing about it under the hot sun.

“What’s with you?” I picked myself up this time. “I look up to you. I have ever since I first saw you.” Every heartbeat made my whole chest shudder. I had no idea what I was saying.

She tried to smile, but the crying got worse. “It doesn’t matter. It’s over. Or it will be in a couple of weeks.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“I’m going to UCLA. It’s all arranged.”

I knew she’d graduated. Duh. That’s what seniors do when late May rolls around. I’d had no idea what she’d planned for college. In LA proper there are no monster hunters to speak of. Just the Los Angeles Metropolitan Planar Containment Department goons—the “Monster Squad” that wipes out every monster that comes out of a portal.

I swayed a little. “You don’t have to go to UCLA though! You’re smart enough to get into any college you want!”

“I know! You think I’d let my parents force me to go?” She grabbed the handle of her polearm. “I applied last year. I picked it. I decided. It’s just…”

“Well…” This was where I was supposed to say something reassuring. The dragon was easier. I don’t usually see stuff like this except on LiveJournal.

I heard Rita’s leather gloves creak as she tightened her grip. She gave a small grunt, and I flinched when I realized the Spikeinator was hurtling towards me.

Monster hunters don’t hurt other monster hunters, or other people in general. It’s just… a thing. I didn’t want to believe Rita had suddenly decided to crack my head open like an egger, and maybe that’s why I locked up. It sounds better that way.
My brainmeats weren’t scattered on the ground. It took me a little while to realize this because there’d been a small explosion about two feet to the left of my head. But, and I think this is important, I stayed standing.

Rita was alert, taking in our surroundings. “Firebat. There’ll be more of them.”
I hate firebats. I really do. I mean, they’re on fire, they’re hard to hit, and you don’t actually get anything for killing them. I yanked my sword out of the dragon, and wiped the blood off with my shirt. If we were really lucky the dragon would have a crystal inside, and even after splitting it 50/50 and deducting taxes I could get a car. (Not a great car, or even a new car, but hey, a car).

We stood back-to-back. I took a gulp of healing potion and my ribs felt better. Rita took a deep breath. “If there’s a yellow dragon crystal in there, what’re you going to spend the money on?”

“Car.”

“I’ll probably wind up spending it on textbooks or something.”

I heard the irritating screech of bats. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah. Time spent moping is time not spent hunting monsters, right?”

*

Six hours later we walked into the mall caked in dirt and lugging a couple of shopping bags full of monster parts. Tim and Phillip stood up from their seats at the food court and looked on in awe. When we got to Monster Mart, Kyle saw us and dropped a slime core on his shoe. In total, I got $628, and Rita just over a thousand, though buying more healing potions and whatnot cut into our profit margins by a lot.

When we stood outside the store, Rita and I looked at each other. This was where we’d say goodbye, and where this amazing day would be over.

“I…” What the hell was I supposed to say? “I had a great time today…”

Rita shouldered her Spikeinator. “Me too. That’s why you’re coming with me again tomorrow. We’ll meet here at 10 a.m.”

I wanted to say that I had already decided to sleep most of tomorrow, but she didn’t give me a chance to answer.

That’s how it became the best summer of my life.
In finally decided to just go ahead and post this story, since the anthology I was aiming to get it in isn't going to happen for a while if at all.

“Slime Story” is a setting I thought up while playing Maple Story (the side-scroller MMO from Wizet). Although the game is free, you can spend real money to get cosmetic items based on real-world stuff. So I had my character running around in a raglan T-shirt, pleated skirt, red sneakers, and headphones, hitting monsters with a big spiky club. This image was what led to Rita, and the Slime Story world. It’s sort of a mashup of suburban randomness and repetitive MMO monster hunting—Sidescrollers (the comic by Matthew Loux) meets Maple Story—where there are cute monsters running around and teenagers hunt them to get spending money. At some point I want to put together a tabletop RPG version, but first I have to figure out how to make the teenage boredom/angst part interesting.

Although I love Rita as a character, she’s too self-confident and well-adjusted for me to really get into her head, hence I decided to tell the story from Doug’s point of view. Her “Monster Show” was in large part inspired by The Show with Zefrank, and I’d like to think its final episode would be every bit as wonderful and tear-inducing as Ze’s. It won’t be too long before I have to do some growing up and moving on of my own.

Hallelujah, it’s a brand new day.
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:iconme-duhhh:
me-duhhh Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2008
A new work! Huzzah!

Have you ever read Epic?

This story reminded me a TON of that book in several rather huge ways, but if you hadn't read it I won't spoil it. Let's just say this almost summarizes the whole book in one page! I may comment more later...tired now.
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:iconnekoewen:
nekoewen Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2008   Writer
I'd never heard of it, but I'll have to check it out when I get the chance.
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:iconme-duhhh:
me-duhhh Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2008
You'll gawk at the similarities, I'm not even kidding.
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:iconkairu-hakubi:
Kairu-Hakubi Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is absolutely excellent... Just when I thought fantasy and videogameparody had gotten staleboring (even my comic isn't really treading any new ground) you managed to write this.. it's completely believable. XD
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:iconnekoewen:
nekoewen Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2008   Writer
I really liked the idea of juxtaposing everyday life with MMORPG stuff. They can both be mundane and tedious, and yet for some people an MMO is a ray of hope in a dull life. I really want to do more with Rita, but I have no idea what or how.
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:iconkairu-hakubi:
Kairu-Hakubi Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm sure you don't need me to suggest turning 'Monster Show Video Blog' into a story/comic :)
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:icondrawinfanactic:
drawinFANACTIC Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2008  Student General Artist
Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and taste good with katchup” i hane that bumpersticker
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:iconcommode7x:
commode7x Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2008
interesting
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