“Rules for Killing Monsters” by David Sklar
Jim loves getting lost in the virtual world of LandsBetwyxt. Friends, battles, and being someone else are the only things he really needs. When he takes on the character Ursula, things begin to slide into place inside Jim’s adolescent head. Things are so much simpler as a woman, and he wants things to be that simple outside of the virtual reality. His good friend Amy helps him transform into the confident young woman Ursula outside of the game. Things quickly become complicated as Jim has a difficult time separating real life from a computer screen.
About the Author
David Sklar has spent the last 2 years under siege, but his stories still seem to find an audience. His works include fiction in Nightmare and Scheherazade’s Facade, poetry in Ladybug and Stone Telling, and humor in McSweeney’s and Knights of the Dinner Table. David lives in a rental house in New Jersey with his wife, their two barbarians, and a secondhand familiar; they are seeking a house of their own, with better battlements.
Jim and his two best friends Amy and Jerry love spending their days battling mythical creatures within the game LandsBetwyxt. Jim doesn’t like playing as masculine warlocks or warriors, and he decides to create a female character, Ursula. He loves playing as the beautiful, red headed elf ranger. It just feels right, but he decides against sharing his identity with his gamer friends. Amy is the only person to discover him, and he uses his anonymity to flirt to with men online.
When Ursula dies one day, Jim is confused by his overwhelming sense of loss. “She took me with her when I watched her fall.” Her death drudges up memories of his father spanking him as a child for wearing his mother’s clothes. He goes to great lengths to save Ursula from the deadlands. Once she is safe again, Jim begins to feel a connection to her in real life. He is no longer afraid to hunt with his father as he taps into Ursula’s ranger instinct. He actually accomplishes an entire hunt alone from start to finish and wins his father’s approval as a man.
The hunt helps Jim understand himself a little better, and he confides in his friend Amy. Telling her that he identifies as a woman. She is very loving and offers to help in any way she can. The two create costumes of their online characters to use as disguises, and Jim is able to attend parties as a girl- as Ursula. The boys from town are all completely taken with the mysterious Ursula. Jim’s good friend Jerry is so smitten that he comes to Jim for girl advice. “What you like in her, find it in yourself,” Jim offers.
The jocks around the school take an interest in Jerry when discovering his infatuation with Ursula. They all want her, and Jerry is a nuisance to them. Jim comes to his aid one afternoon as the bullies are on Jerry’s case. After a close call with the larger boys, Jim goes home and takes his anger out inside LandsBetwyxt leading to Ursula’s second death.
Jim has a party that evening. As he is on his way dressed as Ursula, he sees the school jocks harassing Jerry again. This time he intervenes as Ursual, and he is able to stop the bullying. Jerry tries to kiss him. Jim shoves his friend off, and “he looked at my face and he recognized me.” The boys all recognize Jim, and they beat him within inches of death.
He awakens in the deadlands and fights his way back to life. There is almost no one in the hospital as he snaps out of his coma, and he sneaks out of the hospital on a warpath. His intentions are clear as he prepares to hunt the bullies who injured him. He breaks into Amy’s house to collect his Ursula gear, and he collects his bow and arrows. Perching in a tree he knows is on the way to school for his victims, Jim’s waits patiently. The boys finally arrive, and Jim takes aim shooting the first bully through the hand. The group panics with confusion as Jim drops from the tree and shoots a second boy in the butt. They question his identity knowing his should be in the hospital, and Ursula responds. “Jim’s dead…You killed him.”
Ursula/Jim harasses the boys torturing them with countless wounds. As he is hurting them, Ursula condemns them for their cruelty to Jim. He continuously repeats, “I’m dead. You killed me.” He murders two of the boys and accuses each of them of being monsters. “You are a living person with free will, and you chose to kill me.” The last boy living calls Ursula a monster, and Ursula laughs.
Jim begins to come out of maniacal stupor, and the world becomes a real place around him. “It was coming back fast. But it wasn’t there yet.” The ghost of one of the bullies stands before Jim, and he asks the apparition if he regrets what he’s done. The ghost appears remorseful, and Jim sucks the spirit into his own body before the breathing the soul back into its owner. Jim whispers in his ear, “I’m a woman inside, but I still have to work at being a lady. And you, you’re not a monster. You have a choice.” The boy is alive once again, and Jim heals the other two boys before walking off into the snow.