Story 1 image

A teacher's monotone voice drones on in the late afternoon heat.
Another joyous summer vacation has come to an end.
And for the children now set free of its grip, math class is impossibly dull.
A boy sits near the window, head drooped in gloom as his pencil travels lazy circles across the page.
The students around him are loud despite class being in session. They pass notes. Talk to each other.
Beads of sweat drop from the boy's forehead. Irritated,
he musters his courage and turns to his classmates.
"Be quiet".
But the mischievous children pay his order no mind.
Instead, they make fun of him, exchanging glances and giggles.
The boy bites his lip and hides his hands under the desk,
his fingers moving over an object that is not there.
He pretends to hold the controller of a game console.
He uses this trick to calm himself whenever something unpleasant is happening.
First, he pictures the character selection screen.
He always chooses to play as Levania.
Levania is the name of a character in his action game—one who looks the part of a gallant hero.
Only when Levania is slaughtering enemies in a dungeon
does the boy feel any sense of power in his own life.
He feel the possibility of becoming a hero.
Of his classmates ceasing their endless taunts.
For the boy, playing as Levania is the only time he ever feels peace.
The bell rings, signaling the end of the day.
Orange light pours through the halls as gaggles of children race by with heavy packs upon their backs.
The building is filled with the clamor of their voices.
As they talk and laugh about various after-school plans, the boy drags his feet, alone.
Suddenly, others boys from his class come rushing down the hall behind him.
As they are about to pass, they slam into him,
catching the Levania keychain dangling from his backpack on a bag of their own.
The boy is spun around and sent crashing to the floor.
He lifts his head in disgust.
The classmate that ran into him glances down, but offers no word of apology or concern.
Instead, he laughs and rushes away to join his friends.
"Are you okay?"
The voice belongs to a girl from his class⁠—one who has seen the entire event transpire.
She rushes over to him with concern on her features.
But the boy ignores her as he climbs to his feet.
She is a good student with excellent grades and a bright, cheerful personality.
The teachers love her, as do the other students.
She inhabits her own perfect world, far away from scorn or question.
The complete opposite of the boy.
And her worry only makes him more miserable.
He quietly moves to leave.
But⁠ then...
"Oh! Levania!"
The boy freezes.
The girl reaches out to touch the Levania keychain on his backpack, her wide eyes glimmering.
When he realizes she knows his game—perhaps even enjoys it—the
wariness with which he shields himself suddenly melts away.
"I'm home, says the boy quietly."
The rusty apartment door creaks open.
He slips off his shoes and steps into the house, followed by the cheerful girl.
The Levania keychain has proven a way for them to connect with one another.
After the girl proposed they play the game together, they both headed back to the boy's abode.
The apartment is quiet as death.
The boy's father works from early morning until late into the night, while his mother is in the hospital.
The home is empty save for the two children.
The boys flips on the game console.
He attaches two controllers and hands one to the girl.
When the character select screen appears, the boy chooses Levania, as always.
But the girl?
The girl chooses the monster.
It is a horrifying, eyeless creature clad in black armor and sprouting hideous insect wings.
It has no name. No identity. It is simply called "the monster."
"You really want to play as the monster? asks the boy."
He thinks perhaps she chose her character by mistake.
But the girl simply nods once and presses the start button.
"Wow. I've never met anyone who mains the monster."
"Really? I love Mr. Monster. He's so strong."
The boy hums. This is unexpected.
He assumed she would pick the hero. Or the knight. Or the princess. And yet...
Tense music drifts through the dusty apartment.
The afternoon sun is hot; the girl occasionally wipes sweat away from her brow with her long sleeves.
Together, hero and monster—their characters—proceed through a cave.
They must defeat all the enemies in the dungeon to complete the game.
As the screen flickers and a battle begins, they both grip their controllers tightly.
The boy's character, Levania, swiftly cuts down all of his foes.
Beside him, the girl's character—the monster—writhes and rampages,
obliterating its enemies in the most violent of ways.
The girl presses buttons with wild abandon.
She does not play with strategy.
She cares not a whit for the story or the adventure of the thing. She plays purely by instinct.
After a few moments, the boy stops.
His gaze shifts to look at the girl.
Her expression is frozen, her eyes transfixed as she slaughters her enemies one after the next.
The game on the screen is the same one he has long enjoyed.
But the girl's frenzied way of playing is something wholly unfamiliar.
The screen is soaked in crimson.
Wet chunks of flesh and viscera fly.
The eerie battle cry of the monster causes unease to stir in the boy's heart.
It is a terrible sight—one that could be either reality or fantasy.
The sky grows dark. The sun sets.
But the girl pays no mind to her curfew, instead focusing all that she is on the game in front of her.

Story 2 image

The bell rings, signaling the start of the midday break.
The moment it sounds, classmates swarm the boy's desk by the window.
The tallest among them takes a step forward, peering at the boy's drooping face.
The tall boy is known for being bossy and tyrannical, essentially ruling over the grade⁠ as their king.
He has brought several other students to the boy, causing him to tense in his seat.
"I heard about you," says the king.
A grin oozes across his face as he begins.
"You're good at games, right?"
"Uh, what?"
The boy looks up, surprised.
"That's what she told me," says the king,
waving to the girl sitting on the other side of the room. "Isn't that right?"
Sure is, the smiling girl chimes in.
She and the boy had hit it off the moment they discovered their shared hobby.
Every day since, they visited the boy's house after school to play the game.
And unbeknownst to him, she has begun spreading word of his skill to the rest of the students.
His classmates marvel as he tells them how to clear dungeons.
It is the boy's first time having anyone actually listen to him.
And though it's embarrassing, it's not nearly as bad as he long feared it might be.
From that day forward, the boy's life changes.
School transforms from a march of drudgery to something he actually enjoys.
The summer heat that enveloped the boy and girl when they first met fades into autumn,
and eventually the calendar on the classroom wall flips to an illustration of a snowman.
This morning begins as they all do.
The homeroom teacher calls out names as he takes attendance.
As the boy rubs his hands together against the cold,
his eyes drift to the girl's seat on the opposite side of the room⁠. The girl's empty seat.
Her grades are impeccable. Her absences few.
He cannot remember the last time she didn't attend class.
Guess we won't be playing today, the boy thinks to himself.
A voice comes as the boy's gaze drops in sadness.
It belongs to another girl who sits next to him.
"Did you hear the news?
She was arrested for shoplifting."
The boy blurts out the word in spite of himself.
The girl is so cheerful. So kind. So capable. Everyone likes her.
The idea she might engage in a criminal activity boggles his mind.
"Yeah, apparently they caught her stealing bread or something?
And when they questioned her, they found out all the games she owns were ALSO stolen!"
The boy falls into dumbfounded shock. He honestly cannot believe what he is hearing.
He then thinks of how she acts whenever they play together.
How quiet she is when she controls the ferocious monster.
How silent she sits as she slaughters foes without mercy.
The boy returns home and flicks on his console; it has been a long time since he played by himself.
With his father at work and his mother in the hospital,
the girl was his lone balm against the pain of loneliness.
But she is not here today. There is only him, the game, and the screen.
As the game flickers to life, he chooses the hero Levania for himself.
He then begins to play, losing himself in the action until well after sunset.
Suddenly, the doorbell rings.
The boy looks out the peephole and sees the girl.
She seems paler than usual, but still smiles at him through the glass.
Wordlessly the boy invites her in and they begin to play.
Hero and monster⁠ mow down foes together.
But the silence between the players is awkward.
Finally, the boy sharply inhales and turns to his friend.
"Is it true? What I heard about you, I mean?"
The rumors at school.
Stolen bread. Stolen games.
Was it true. Could it be?
His question is hesitant, as is the reply.
"...Yeah. It's true."
With a faint voice, the girl admits her guilt.
"My mom... She won't buy me anything."
A new battle begins on the screen.
The girl's thumbs fly across the controller.
Crunch crunch crunch.
She slaughters foes with perfect precision.
Chunks of flesh cruelly ripped away dye the screen red.
The crimson screen illuminates her face, showing a faint smile as she enacts her massacre.
And between gaps in her sleeves, the boy catches glimpses of skin covered in bruises.
He always thought it strange⁠ that she wore long-sleeved shirts at all times.
Even in the hot summer. Even in gym class.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew she was hiding something,
but a terrible feeling in his gut convinced him not to think about it.
So he always looked away from the occasional glimpses of skin beneath her hems.
But now, he must face it.
She wears long sleeves to hide her bruises. Bruises that have been given to her by...
The girl smiles every time the monster's claws and fangs rend her enemies.
A moment later, the game informs them they've completed their mission.
She stares at the screen, making a small, satisfied sigh.
"Isn't Mr. Monster great?"
Her voice is hoarse. Her smile fades.
"I wish I could be just as strong as him. I wish I could destroy everything."
Her eyes curse the very world as they fixate on the screen.

Story 3 image

Once again, the boy's classmates gather around his desk by the window.
They excitedly chat amongst themselves whenever the boy brings up strategies for games.
As he speaks, his gaze drifts to the seat on the opposite side of the classroom.
The girl sits alone, her head low.
Once, the boy had no place at home or school. But after meeting the girl, his life drastically changed.
Every day, they played video games in his room.
And once the girl learned of his talent for it, word spread among his classmates.
This is how the boy who was once an outcast suddenly became popular.
But the girl, on the other hand...
She has lost her place; switched positions with the boy.
One week prior, she stole bread from a shop, an act which brought to light a whole string of other thefts.
And though she has resumed coming to school, everyone now regards her coldly.
Just a week prior, she had been considered an exemplary student. But such times are gone now.
And yet, once school is over, the girl comes to the boy's house so they might resume their play.
She controls her terrifying monster with a smile.
By destroying everything in the game—violently,
viscerally—she relieves herself of her daily resentment.
All while bruises peek from the sleeves on her arms.
When the boy's father returns from work, gloom returns to girl's face as she departs.
Now alone in his room, the boy stands and thinks.
There must be a reason why she did what she did.
She'd said her mother buys nothing for her, not even food.
Add to that to the wounds beneath her clothes, and there is no doubt the girl is in a terrible situation.
"I wish I could be just as strong as him. I wish I could destroy everything."
The boy recalls what she said: how she wanted to be the monster.
I want to help her.
Her friendship is the only reason his life has turned around.
And now it is his turn to help her.
He cannot stand by and do nothing. So once the boy knows his father is asleep,
he slips out into the nighttime city alone.
Garbage is piled everywhere.
White fluorescent light illuminates a room so disorganized that there is no path to walk.
In the corner, the girl huddles against a wall, attending to her homework.
A woman languidly nurses a drink beside her⁠: her mother.
The room reeks of alcohol. Sadness. Regret.
When the girl coughs softly, the woman glares daggers.
She's going to hit me,
thinks the girl as she cowers instinctively from the blow she is sure will come.
But then, the bell rings.
The woman clicks her tongue and glares at the door. Who could be visiting so late at night?
She decides to ignore it.
But it rings again.
And again. And again. And again.
Unable to bear the noise, the woman flings the door wide.
Only to find the boy standing in the doorway.
Vexed, the woman narrows her eyes at him. Why has a child come to her house so late at night?
A moment later, the blood drains from her face.
For the boy carries a metal pipe in his hand.
Before her stands a child—his voice likely still unchanged. Yet with such a weapon,
even a child could very well have the strength to kill.
The woman takes a trembling step back.
The boy raises the pipe in an attempt to intimidate,
stepping on garbage as he follows her deeper into the room.
When he finally locates the dazed girl in the corner, he hurries to her side.
"Come on," he says. "Let's go."
He extends his hand.
"We'll be like the monster. We'll destroy everything."
She looks up in surprise for a moment—but only a moment.
Seconds later, a small smile crosses her face.
Together, they dash out into the midnight city.
Whenever they find something they don't like, they smash it with their pipes.
The car the girl's mother uses to bring mean people to their home.
The sign for the store that disparaged the girl for stealing bread.
The windows of the school, a place ruled by useless teachers
who did not even realize she needed help.
The girl destroys everything she hates, then gazes upon it and laughs wildly.
But it is not enough.
She lends herself to impulse, swinging her pipe at all she sees.
When the boy rolls up on a bicycle he found parked by the side of the road,
the girl leaps on behind him.
And then, they fly. The nighttime wind cools their feverish skin, and they scream in delight.
After pedaling for a long time, the pair eventually comes across a road they do not know.
"I think we'll see the ocean soon!" cries the boy.
But the moment he speaks...
The sound of a siren tears a hole in the night.
A red light flashes atop the car that rounds the corner, illuminating the pair in crimson light.
The boy's face pales; he knows the occupants of the car mean to arrest them.
We need to get out of here.
If they are brought back, the girl will only find more suffering at the hands of adults.
The boy pedals with all that he is.
But a child on a bicycle has no hopes of outrunning a car.
Before long, they are corralled into a dead end.
There is nowhere left to run.

Story 4 image

The boy's father works from dawn to dusk.
His mother is ill in the hospital. He has no parents. No friends.
But his gloomy life changes the day he meets the girl.
They hit it off over a shared love of a video game—one they begin to play every day.
The girl is a star pupil with a bright personality, liked by all.
Yet when a series of thefts come to light, the boy learns the true circumstances of her life.
Her mother abuses her to the point where she must steal her own food to survive.
Hoping to save her, the boy breaks into the girl's home and steals her away.
The race through the nocturne city, smashing everything with metal pipes.
The travel a seemingly impossible distance in the space of a single night.
They thought they were almost near the ocean—a distance far enough
away they would only ever see it on a field trip.
But when the adults catch them and throw them in the police car, understanding dawns:
They had not come far at all.
The car returns to the city in no time.
Adults pepper the boy and the girl with questions.
They ask why two children were playing so late at night. Why they were breaking so many things.
And though the adults appear sympathetic when they learn of the girl's plight,
this does not make them kind.
Instead, they only double down on their scolding.
When their teachers hear of it, they scold. When the boy's father hears of it, he scolds.
Part of the boy knows he deserves it; he ran through the city smashing things, after all.
And yet, frustration weighs heavy on his heart.
None of them understand him. None of them understand the girl.
But life goes on.
Though they attend school, no one speaks to them.
Once his classmates find out what he did, the boy becomes a pariah.
It is a familiar sort of existence, one he settles into easily.
Days pass. Winter vacation approaches.
The final homeroom of the day begins.
But then, a surprise: The homeroom teacher calls the girl up to the front of the class.
She stands before the blackboard, eyes fixed on the floor.
The boy has a terrible feeling, and his already frayed nerves begin to split even further.
The teacher announces that the girl will be transferring schools.
In that moment, the boy's world goes dark.
The bell rings, signaling the end of the school day.
The children bid goodbye to each other.
It's all so, so far away.
When the teacher and students leave, the boy remains in his seat.
Across the room, the girl waits in her own.
The boy sits by the wall with the windows; the girl by the wall against the corridor.
They are alone in in a cold, dark silence.
"I'm sorry."
The girl breaks the still first.
From her distant seat, she slowly explains.
After the incident, relatives learned her mother was abusing her and decided to take her in.
She is going to live in a city far away from her mother—and from the boy.
But the boy suppresses the swell of emptiness surging inside him and says:
"Good. I'm glad."
And he is glad, because now she can live a life without pain.
She no longer needs to steal. She no longer has to suffer at the hands of her mother.
But the girl feels differently.
"I wish...we could have run away together."
Her voice is a whisper.
She does not want to move. Because once she does,
it will mean the end of their time playing games together.
Deep down, they are of the same heart. Yet the boy knows there is nothing he can do in this situation.
They are children; they lack the power to go where they please.
The apartment is dark and cold.
Light from the TV screen casts the boy's shadow across the floor.
He plays alone.
On the screen, the monster rages.
Though the boy once always played the hero, he now chooses the role of monster.
The girl's favorite⁠ character. Her inspiration to grow stronger—and to destroy everything.
Sounds of slaughter burst from the speakers.
It gives him strange comfort.
He closes his eyes and imagines.
And now...
He stands in a darkened nighttime street.
But he is no longer human. He is the monster.
He has the power to destroy.
The boy⁠ wails. The monster wails.
Its voice causes the ground to shudder, rendering all to dust.
The school. His apartment.
Park fences. Cars.
Street signs. Distant buildings.
Everything he can see. Everything. Everything.
His scream destroys it all.
One after another, the lights in the city wink out.
Splatters of blood splash across the sky as the monster roars and roars and roars.
Bricks dance in the air, creating a storm.
The overflowing river swallows the city entire.
He takes everything in this world and destroys it.
Everything but himself and the girl.
When his screams have ruined all, this planet is rendered into nothing.
The monster leaps into the air.
His unsightly wings flap, carrying him across the ruined earth below.
And amidst the starlit wastelands, he finds the person he is looking for.
The girl is waiting for her monster with a smile.
Thus does he dream.
Alone in his dark room, thus does he pray.
If I am ever reborn, I want to be a powerful creature like the monster.
I want the strength to save the people that matter to me.