Chapter 3

I'm a Fudging Vampire!

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Sarah gawked.

The inside of the tree was absolutely, positively nothing like she had expected. She didn’t step into a room; she stepped into a vast world in and of itself, a world with a sunlit sky, rolling green hills, small lakes, rivers, and a valley of trees.

She immediately turned toward the door only to find it had sauntered off somewhere as magical doors were wont to do. “I’m alone. . .?

“Not alone!” Apology Thirteen said, fluttering in the air. “I be here. Yes yes! I your Interface. You no lose me, not till get soul device.”

“What’s a soul device?”

“You see. If survive en win.”

Far below, by a cropping of trees, a door—looking quite similar to the one she had just stepped through—materialized. Someone rushed out from the blackness, and, as soon as they did, the door dispersed into streams of colorful flakes.

Other doors were opening across the valley, evidently spreading the contestants out from each other.

“What am I supposed to do?” Sarah asked.

“Prepare!”

“For what?”

“For terrible, terrible night. Daytime, gather resources, prepare. Nighttime, land change, strong monsters hunt you. Follow! I help.”

Apology Thirteen flew around a cluster of deciduous trees. They stood tall with strong boughs half obscured by large green leaves.

“I find first monsters,” the fairy whispered, waving her hand. “First treasure. Come see!”

Sarah cringed. Monsters. . .? Right. Good. That was exactly what she wanted to find. She tiptoed—as quietly as quiet could be—in the opposite direction.

“No no no no no!” Apology Thirteen yelled. She flew up to block Sarah’s path. “They be weak monsters. Daytime monsters. You must fight now or die to strong, nighttime monsters.”

“I don’t know how to fight. I once punched a bully after weeks of him teasing me, and I broke my finger. I can’t fight monsters!”

“I help. You must fight or die. You die, I lose. I no want to lose, no, so I help.”

Sarah considered this for a very long two seconds. She, irrefutably, undeniably, did not want to die, did not want to be discarded into that sea of souls place. But what was more terrifying? Real monsters or losing her lifetime of memories?

She bit her lower lip. The answer was obvious, of course. There really wasn’t that many good memories. She continued away.

“No no no no no!” Apology thirteen said again. “They dumb, easy-to-kill monsters. You see. Just see once, yes? Just once.”

Sarah sighed. Could it hurt to take a look? A tiny peek? Worst case, she’d run. And . . . be hunted by some eldritch horror that would rend flesh from bone or yank her beneath the ground.

“I see cogs turn turn!”

But like it or not, ignorance wasn’t bliss. Ignorance only compounded fears of the unknown, letting them grow unchecked until they became debilitating.

She needed to know.

And so she nodded reluctantly.

Apology Thirteen smiled to reveal her jagged white teeth. “Good! I show you dummy-dumb monsters.” She flew around the trees, waving and whispering, “This way. You see, you will.”

Sarah followed, creeping silently and slowly, muscles tensed and ready to bolt. It didn’t help that she had a wildly active imagination and a lifetime of reading about every type of imaginable monster there was.

She brushed past a bush and snuck up behind a tree that sat near a clearing. Plopping, sloshing sounds came from beyond as if from a large beast, chomping on the remains of a recent kill. Maybe a manticore . . . or a hydra!

This was stupid, exceedingly and completely-unlike-her stupid. She shouldn’t be here.

Apology Thirteen pointed to her lips, then pointed beyond the tree. “They dumbest of dumb monsters. They protect chest. Chest be resources. Use stick there—hit hit hit them.”

Sarah snatched the dry stick that was about the length of her arm. It felt oh-so-very nice having something to defend herself with. Maybe she could find more sticks like this, then hide in a nook somewhere. The contest was about survival, not killing monsters.

But first, she had to know.

She swallowed hard and drew in a deep breath. Her fingers, white with pressure, wrapped her stick as if it was her last lifeline, ignorant of the fact that any sizable beast would find her makeshift weapon unthreatening at best and provoking at worst.

Beyond the tree . . .

Three gelatinous blobs bounced around a small chest. They were no larger than two feet in any direction. Their faces, a depiction of carefree glee, were illustrated as if painted there with black ink.

These were monsters? She almost laughed. All the built-up tension flowed out, replaced with a flurry of relief.

Two of the blobs were pink, the other blue. One sang, “Boobah boobaaah.” And the others chimed, “Beeboh beeboooh!” They were totally, without question, the cutest things ever!

What was heaven’s pet policy? Could she have more than one? And what did they eat. . .?

Apology Thirteen said—with all the cheerful excitement of getting a new dog or bike or finding a $20-dollar bill in an old pair of jeans—“Murder them!”

What?” Sarah balked. “I-I . . . can’t. They’re not monsters. They’re cute, blubbery pets.”

“No no no no no, they be monsters. Bash en splat! Smear into ground.”

Sarah shook her head, appalled by the very thought of slaughtering such helpless creatures. She took a step back and dropped her stick.

“Fine!” Apology Thirteen shouted. “I pick loser. No good luck. Always pick loser. Grr!” She flew around the tree and landed on a pink blob.

The blob stopped bouncing, its smile replaced with a curious frown, its black dot eyes trying to see what new friend it had bumped into.

The fairy grabbed fistfuls of gelatinous ooze, flapped her wings rapidly, and with a grunt, launched the monster.

It flew like a bird . . . directly at Sarah!

She yelped, hands waving out in front. She tried to evade the translucent, flying thing, but she sucked at evasion! In fact, she sucked at every sport and every physical activity. If it wasn’t an intellectual pursuit with a book, she sucked at it.

As a result of this suckitude, the once carefree blob slapped its slimy, mildly warm body against her face. It tasted remotely like strawberries, a fascinating discovery were it not a living, growling entity preparing to bite her nose with its illustrated mouth. She reacted without due thought, throwing it to the side.

She turned back to her evil, no-good, soon-to-be-fairy-paste helper in time to catch the blue blob. It, too, didn’t seem to appreciate being lobbed around in a not-so-fun game of hot potato and did its best to bite her arm.

She dropped it and danced away. “Stop it!”

“Losers need help. I help!” Apology Thirteen shouted, heaving the last blob. “Fight or die. Sink or swim. Act act act!” She launched the blob.

Sarah dodged the flying monster, dodged herself right into a thicket, wiry branches scraping her side. She pushed herself out and confessed, once again, and likely to no avail, “I don’t want to kill them!”

She might be strange, but growing up, all the other kids in elementary school would burn the legs off of ants and grasshoppers with magnifying glasses. Well, she was on team insect. Even got detention for burning a kid named Erik.

The moral of this untimely flashback? Killing friendly monsters was a no-go, nonnegotiable.

“They monsters,” her fairy said, exasperated. “You fight, you kill, or you die!”

A pink blob slammed against Sarah’s back. She took three uneven steps forward into the clearing, proud of the fact she didn’t—for once in her life—face plant it. A second blob bit her leg with its grammy gums.

Cute.

Except . . . it hurt. Like a lot? A lot, a lot!

She shrieked and kicked the thing off of her, tearing her robe and revealing lacerations along her leg, lacerations that didn’t bleed as one would expect; they glowed a silvery white.

A -3 in red slipped out of her leg and floated up past her face, mere inches away. When she touched it, the number dissolved like smoke dissipating.

Light and colors coalesced above her, forming into a green bar. Above the bar in white text was her . . . name? and additional information.

Sarah

47/50hp

“What the . . .” she whispered. It was like a video game. She was certainly not a gamer nerd by any definition. In fact, she had only played Pikmin and Rayman Legends. Oh, and Mario, of course Mario. And a bit of Mario Kart, just enough to get gold trophies on all of the maps and speeds.

Was she inside a game?

“Watch out!” Apology Thirteen yelled.

Sarah jumped back, dodging the blue blob, which seemed stronger than the pink ones. Its illustrated face had angled eyebrows, its mouth bent into a frown.

So maybe they weren’t that cute and helpless after all? They certainly didn’t want a belly rub from her. If anything, they wanted a succulent limb to gnaw on.

This officially elevated their status from cute and friendly to cute and unfriendly. And if this was like a video game, was killing a monster so bad?

With that thought, she scurried back to her dropped stick, grabbed it, then twisted around in time to bat a pink blob—one launched by her helpful fairy—out of the air.

The monster made an Eeek! sound. It plopped to the ground where it quickly rolled away but not before gaining its own health bar and a -2 in red text.

Pink Slime

8/10hp
  • Lesser Amorphous Fighter · Lvl. 1

“Good good. Do it again!” Apology Thirteen yelled, zipping around a tree in search of the next slime—apparently not blob—to throw.

The Blue Slime hopped three times away, then spun back and started vibrating. The surface of its body shifted like alternating sound waves.

The Pink Slime with full health charged.

Alright, fine!

Sarah tightened her grip on the stick. She didn’t want to fight the cute slimes of death, but she’d kick and bash and show everyone who was boss.

As it turned out, the empirical answer to that implied question was . . . the slimes.

This all served as a quick reminder as to why she had never pursued sports in the first place. Instead of kicking the slime, she kicked the ground. Her big toe complained with a loud popping noise. And instead of bashing the slime over its squishy little head, she—somehow—managed to slam the dry piece of wood against her shin.

She screamed and hopped and blinked back tears. Of course, all of this was on top of the Pink Slime biting her other leg and the Blue Slime launching something that looked like an icicle at her chest.

It hit!

She stumbled backward, hand grasping the blade of ice that had punctured her robe, punctured her skin, and was doing who-knew-what to her very precious organs.

A chilling cold pulsed into her chest. Flakes of frost started to spread. She pulled on it, sucking air through her teeth. It hurt more than being shot!

This was not a fun game at all!

The Pink Slime on her leg shook left and right, growling a high-pitched sound while digging its impossibly sharp jelly teeth into her leg.

Sarah pulled the icicle free and slammed it into the slime. The evil thing broke away, rolling and bouncing beyond a fluffy green bush.

After three seconds, all of the pain evaporated. She drew in a seething breath. Never once in her prior pacifist life had she wanted to physically hurt something as much as she did at that moment.

Her stupid fairy was right.

Fight or die.

There were animal instincts buried deep below all of her knowledge, all of her studying and growing up in a civilized society that taught how violence was not the answer. But right now, violence was the answer.

Her health was down to 37/50.

The Pink Slimes circled. The Blue Slime started vibrating again, an icicle—long and dangerously sharp—forming inside it.

Sarah dashed to the side behind a wide tree just as another icicle shot across the clearing and shattered on the tree’s bark.

She caught a Pink Slime unprepared and slammed her crappy stick down on it, over and over, beating it into the ground. With each hit, the monster squeaked a pathetic noise that, in any other moment of her life, would have unleashed the floodgates of guilt-ridden tears.

After the fifth or sixth attack, the slime stopped moving. Its eyes turned into Xs. A silvery-white substance seeped out of all the ragged gashes across its body and enveloped it. A second later, it dispersed to flakes of light that ascended skyward.

Something popped out and hovered in the air within a bubble.

Sarah stopped, breathless, sweat trickling down the sides of her face, her heart galloping, urging her to act and not pause to reflect on what she had just done or what this floating thing was.

She ran around the tree and charged the Blue Slime. An icicle launched out of it, slicing into her thigh. Ice cold agony ricocheted up her femur and into her hip.

She crashed to the dirt, dislodging the new shard of ice, and slid across forest debris, a whimper stuck in her throat.

Again . . . within seconds, the pain vanished. She rolled just as another icicle launched at her face, piercing the ground instead.

The remaining Pink Slime charged.

She sat up and slammed her stick across the side of the slime so hard the stick snapped in half. The force of the attack sent the gelatinous monster rolling until it smacked into the base of a tree.

She pushed herself to her feet, sidestepped another icicle that only promised seconds of totally-not-fun agony, crossed the distance to the obnoxious Blue Slime, and shoved her stick through it while screaming something like a war cry, something that evoked a sense of strength deep within her and pushed her past her innate fear.

The wood pierced all the way through the slime and into the ground. Tiny frozen crystals spread out beneath it.

The slime thrashed and thrashed, trying to escape its anchor, and in doing so, took more damage until it solidified into a block of ice and shattered, releasing flakes of silvery-white essence.

The last slime returned with a vengeance. It shot across the clearing, rolling. Its face appeared after every rotation like an enraged flip book.

Sarah yanked her frozen stick free before the slime bounced and rammed into her chest, knocking her to her back.

The monster immediately jumped and solidified, changing into what looked very much like the biggest pink sapphire she had ever seen. It landed with force far greater than physically possible.

She exhaled sharply, a dense pain coiling in her chest. Her lungs refused to work, leaving her gasping for air while her ribs cracked under the continuous pressure.

Out of sheer desperation alone, she jabbed her frozen stick against the hardened slime, chipping pieces away until the entire thing turned white and dispersed.

She gasped, lungs finally working again. She laid there, every muscle, every sense, every emotion twisting into a ball of tension that was ready to act and react, ready to survive.

“Good good!” Apology Thirteen said, fluttering overhead. “Not loser. Winner winner chicken dinner. I choose best. I be—”

Sarah slammed her stick against the fairy, taking the little woman by surprise and sending her tumbling through the air. Her body slapped the hard bark of a tree, covering it in fairy dust.

“Never do that again!” Sarah yelled. “You almost got me killed. I-I . . . wasn’t ready. I . . .” she trailed off.

Apology Thirteen fell forward. Her body flopped to the ground. Her wings started to dissolve into fragments of light exactly the same way the monsters had . . . before dying.

Sarah stared in horror. Pinpricks tingled up her neck. She rushed over, hands shaking, not knowing what to do. All of that bundled-up guilt of beating the life out of cute monsters burst out as tears. She gently picked up her fairy, doing her best not to cause any more damage.

“Strong. . . .” Apology Thirteen said with a weak smile before vanishing to a wave of silvery-white light and ascending skyward.

No,” Sarah whispered, her throat contracting. There was a dense pain in her chest, a pain that grew as her awareness of what she had done grew. This was a type of pain that didn’t go away after a few seconds.

Now she was all alone. She killed the only person that was implicitly on her side. Killed! How could she kill anyone or anything? She had never killed before. . . .

Is this truly heaven?

Something snagged her sixth sense. She jumped to her feet, fists out as if ready to kill again. What was wrong with her?

“Fairy killer!” said a tiny voice.

She snapped her attention to a half dozen fairies standing on a branch above her. Their mouths hung ajar; their eyes, alarmed; and one portly fellow, oblivious to the others, shoved handfuls of something from a bucket into his mouth, his lips stained orange.

They flinched, obviously not wanting to be the subject of her attention. In a burst of erratic activity, they jumped from the branch and flew away.

“Come back!” she yelled. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to hurt her. I . . .” But what else could she say? What could she do? There was no rewind, no take-backs, no undoing her sudden and violent reaction.

The portly fairy, now finding himself alone and mildly confused, shared a long and silent stare with her. He belched, dropped his bucket, which turned into flakes of color, and flew off.

Sarah stood there for a time, arms hugging her chest, the world a blurry mess. She sniffed and breathed and replayed the events in an attempt to punish herself.

Apology Thirteen was no saint. She was so . . . obnoxious and, and dangerous and, and— But she didn’t deserve to die! That was the crux of the matter.

A slow, languid movement caught her eye. She tensed until recognition ignited in her brain. It was the bubble that had sprung out of the first slime she killed. It shifted up and down, seemingly tethered to where it had first appeared.

She wiped her eyes.

Part of her—a big part of her—didn’t want anything to do with this heaven, this world, this competition to entertain a bored god. But another part of her was curious.

She was always curious, which was why she loved the library so much. All of the answers to all of the questions existed somewhere on a shelf, waiting to be discovered.

She walked up to the bubble, its thin walls refracting sunlight, giving it a glossy rainbow appearance. Trapped within was a ring with a yellow gemstone. She reached out a finger and poked the bubble. It popped, and the ring fell into her other hand.

She looked at it for a very long moment, gears grinding in her head. In video games, killing monsters sometimes dropped loot.

Is this loot?

It was a simple ring, the gemstone small and basic. Game items typically granted some form of benefit. What benefit could this ring provide?

It didn’t come with an instruction manual, but holding it between her fingers gave off the tiniest of vibrations. She slipped it onto her ring finger, a bolt of anticipation zinging its way through her.

Nothing happened.

Nothing as in, no magical third arm, no sudden ability to breathe fire, no sense of protection or armor or shield. Then again, what would such a thing feel like?

The chest the slimes had been guarding was now sitting all by its lonesome in the middle of the clearing. Sunlight glinted off its metallic slats that reinforced the wood. The lock hung open.

Seeing it sitting there, its unclaimed treasure waiting, instigated a duel of convictions. Her angel and devil played to her conscience, whispering their words of guidance.

The truth of the matter was that she didn’t want to die. Maybe it was just human nature or living nature. What form of life welcomed death?

No . . . she may not deserve this eternal life, this persistence in heaven, but she would fight to survive, nonetheless.

She crossed to the chest and grabbed the lock. It immediately burst into flakes of gold before fading. The lid opened on its own, and two items, trapped in bubbles, sprang into the air.

The first bubble seemed to contain a miniature set of clothing, designed for a tiny doll or a . . . fairy. The second bubble held an equally small club made of bone.

Not the best of loot. . . .

She popped them anyway, and they materialized, much like the ring. Unlike the ring, however, they grew several dozen times larger than they had appeared.

Sarah jumped back, narrowly avoiding a painful pedicure by club. The items landed hard in the dirt, and the chest shifted away to flakes of various colors matching the wood and metal.

The green clothes weren’t clothes as you’d expect them to be. They had formed in an odd, squished-down rectangle like folded clothes that had been shoved into one of those vacuum bags.

She picked it up. An icon of a shield glowed in the top left corner. It hovered above the material like her health bar, which, she realized, was no longer there.

“Well, new clothes would be nice,” she said to no one in particular. The robe was far better than galavanting in the woods naked, but it wasn’t the most practical of wardrobe choices. Long strips of torn material revealed it wouldn’t hold up well to much more fighting.

But . . . how did she wear this squished down concoction of clothing?

The thought triggered something as if her intent spoke to the item itself. The material changed. The greens turned to a luminescent white that snapped into a tiny sphere and shot into her chest!

She staggered backward, nearly falling over. Why did everything shoot at her? Stupid bullets, stupid icicles, and stupid, glowing spheres!

At least this one didn’t hurt.

All it did was . . .

Her clothing had changed. More than just a shirt and pants, it was everything. She had a green hood, a white long-sleeved shirt, trousers and belt, and black shoes made of some sort of leather.

She grinned.

It’s like magic!

And everything fit perfectly. She was a wizard, destined for House Hufflepuff. Now she just needed one of those bright and colorful, cool-kids-only scarves.

Heavy breathing wrenched her attention from the small miracle of dressing herself with a mere thought.

She sprang toward the bone club and snatched it from the ground, whipping around to face the direction the sound was coming from. It wasn’t like she wanted to kill anything else, but anything wanting to kill her had to be fair game.

She drew in a settling breath, reinforcing her will to stand her ground. This was all very new, untried, alien behavior on her part. But this was heaven; she was dead. If that wasn’t cause to make changes in her life, then nothing would.

Twigs snapped, and leaves rustled. Then it appeared, wild and frenzied.