Deep beneath the teeming mass of fans, cosplayers, and gamers visiting San Diego’s Comic Book Convention, a game is underway. The winner is crowned the Multidimensional Game Master, but what kind of game asks players to sign a contract in blood?
Twelve-year-old Tom Hock, professional gamer, is thrilled to get an invitation to play Monster Realm, alongside his brother Joey and a mysterious pro gamer named Dark Pixy. Tom doesn’t take the contract’s blood-stained signatures and strange wording seriously. He should have. The game is a trap, cutting the players’ souls off from their bodies. Only those who win break free.
Battling hordes of monsters, Tom heads toward a confrontation with Tarbarous, the game’s final boss, but the players aren’t alone as they try to escape. Something within the game wants out. If it makes its escape, San Diego won’t host next year’s convention, because San Diego won’t exist.
Targeted Age Group:: all audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 2 – PG
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The main thing that inspired me to write Combat Boy and the Monster Token was my love of Teen and Young Adult books. However, before I began writing it, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of popular Teen and Young Adult books were very dark. Like The Hunger Games, where kids kill kids for sport, or Twilight, a hundred-year-old vampire hot for a teenage girl. You know what I mean. Well written books, but pretty dark stuff in my humble opinion. Not only that, but at the time, the world was in a very dark place too; two wars, natural disasters unlike anything we’d seen before, and a huge economic meltdown. All that negativity made me want to go in the opposite direction and write something lighthearted. For me, writing is like meditating, and I didn't want to meditate on dark, negative stuff for hours, days, weeks, months, and years. It would have made me miserable. No. I wanted to escape into a fun, exciting and humorous world where I’d find some happiness.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My muse, Dark Pixy, a spunky little thing who's always buzzing around in my mind eager to give me creative advice came up with my characters. And because Pixy is so awesome, I insisted that she be one of the main characters in Combat Boy and the Monster Token. Reluctantly, she agreed. You see, despite the fact that she is feisty and opinionated she’s also quite shy. However, the moment she embraced the idea, she was all for it.
Working with Pixy is great! When she has an excellent idea, she’ll flare up like a red, hot, firecracker in my mind, and there’s no ignoring her. More often than not, she sparks up when I least expect it; in my dreams, on walks, when I’m cleaning the house, cooking meals, driving the car, reading an interesting story, watching movies, T.V series, or enjoying Youtube videos. Like me, she loves the strange, random, and weird stuff the best. Anything that is about psychology, or related to it, we are on it like a couple of sponges sucking-it-up in no time flat. All that psychology helps with developing characters who have depth, emotion, and of course, a few psychological issues that make them interesting and relatable. Another fun fact that I find interesting, but pretty odd about Pixy and I: one of our favorite things to dig deep into is science and math, even though we probably couldn't do a higher math equation to save our butts. That being the case, somehow we understand the big and complex concepts as we watch documentaries that deal with Quantum Physics, String Theory, time travel and a slue of other brain twisters. In truth, those subjects are the perfect elements to sink our characters into to test and challenge them. Well, that’s what Pixy tells me. And of course, I agree with her one-hundred percent.
Calling All Heroes
Before the mysterious game creator selected me, I was standing in line outside the San Diego Convention Center without a care in the world. I was feeling totally excited because it was my first time going to the world-famous comic-book convention, whose fans simply call it “The Con.”
Even though I loved the comics, I was dying to find the beta video-games section. That’s where you can play unreleased video games, and if you’re lucky, you might just meet a pro gamer or two. As you would expect, waiting for the convention center’s doors to open was no easy task. To pass the time, I figured I might as well bug my older brother, Joey.
Excited, I poked at Joey’s back and said, “Move, move.” But he ignored me.
Joey is two years older than me. He is fourteen, but most of the time, he acts immature because he is hyper and impulsive. Seriously, you never know what ridiculous or embarrassing thing he might do. At the moment, he was shaking his hips and bobbing his head to music that only he could hear and enjoy. As far as I was concerned, his awkward dancing had to stop, so I shoved him.
Angry, Joey turned down the music on his iPhone. Then he gave me a harsh look and said, “Stop pushing me!”
I was about to push Joey again when I felt a hefty hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw my dad. He is a big guy—about six two. He has salt-and-pepper hair and light-brown eyes. Annoyed, he said, “Tom, you need to calm down. They haven’t even opened the doors.”
I shrugged and tried to wait patiently, but when I got fidgety, I turned around. That’s when I saw the cosplayers: the people who dress up as comic-book or video-game characters. And from what I could tell, about one out of ten people in line were dressed up, everything from store-bought spandex outfits to homemade—odd and out-of-this-world costumes. When I finally stopped gawking, I turned back around, and that’s when the convention center’s doors swung open.
“Get your tickets out,” Dad called over his shoulder.
I dug into my pocket, pulled out my ticket, and held it up. After a moment, a short man dressed in a Spiderman costume who was working at the door tore my ticket. Then he handed me the stub, and I immediately shoved it into my pocket to keep as a souvenir.
Once we entered, it was like walking into an exciting futuristic world. To our right, a motion-sensory life-sized Iron Man statue greeted us as we passed in front of it.
I laughed and said, “I love this place!”
“Me too,” Joey replied, putting his arm over my shoulder as we roamed into the main lobby.
I turned and pointed up. “Oh, look at that poster. A video-game tournament is happening today. Oh man, I’d love to enter it!”
Even though my head was spinning from all the sights and sounds, the Feats of Strength booth caught my attention. I wanted Dad to see how strong I was, so I dashed over to the booth. Using just one hand, I picked up a fake but very real-looking sports car. For added pizzazz, I did my very best superhero pose. Of course, Dad snapped a picture of me.
Because Dad was in a hurry to check out classic comic books, we headed toward the DC Comics booth. Flipping through comic books was a problem for me, though, because I wasn’t in the mood to read. I begged Dad to let us go to the beta section without him.
Dad said, “No way; the convention is a madhouse!”
“Please,” I cried. “We have our phones, and you can call us any time you want.”
“Well,” Dad grumbled.
Joey promised we’d stay out of trouble, and he was very convincing.
At the same time, I put my arm around Joey’s shoulder and begged, “Please!”
Dad shook his head and said, “Well, I know you really don’t want to sit through all the sci-fi lectures that I want to go to, so go on and have fun.”
We thanked Dad and headed off to find the beta section, and almost immediately Joey needed to go to the bathroom. Fortunately for him, a men’s room was nearby. He took off in a mad dash, and I reluctantly followed him.
To my surprise, in the narrow hall, standing in the corner next to the men’s room was an arcade game. As far as I could tell, there was nothing unusual about it, except it looked like it might have been out of order because it wasn’t lit with dazzling lights. When I stepped in front of it, though, music began to hum from it—the type of music you’d expect to hear at a carnival or a freak show. It was calming yet unnerving at the same time.
The music was odd, but the thing that raised the hairs on the back of my neck was a serpent with two heads. Its sleek black body snaked down and around the game’s cabinet until it was right below the screen. One of its necks bent to the left and the other to the right, dipping down to line the sideboards. A final sharp twist and the serpent’s heads were nearly touching, nose to nose on the lower front section of the cabinet. One head had a large silver ticket dispenser for a mouth. The other had a big green glass button for an eye.
To start the game, I needed to push the serpent’s eye. The problem was that I hated snakes with a passion. It didn’t matter if they were real or not. They sent a shiver down my spine. As I gazed at the evil gleaming eye, I wanted to push it. I wanted to poke its pupil, but I didn’t.
I heard a voice whispering words I couldn’t quite make out. At first, I believed it was the snake telepathically speaking to me, inviting me to play. The soft, slithery voice echoed in my head until I felt myself slipping into a trance. After a moment, I shook off the daze and told myself to stop being dumb. Then I raised my hand and pushed the serpent’s eye.
Instantly, I heard a loud hissing sound and saw a flash of white light that pulsed across the screen. The light was so bright I had to shut my eyes. When I opened them, a troll filled the previously dark screen. He had green bumpy skin like a horned toad and large pointy ears that twitched when his eyes blinked. At that moment, he was looking at his wristwatch, and with great excitement, he said, “Oh, lizard bellies, the players are nearly out!” In a swift but jerky motion, he looked at me. “Oh, you’re not what I’d call a monster killer…You’re a little on the wimpy side, but who am I to judge? You exist, so you at least deserve a chance to play, right?”
For a long moment, I just gazed at the troll, filled with surprise and curiosity.
The troll suddenly tapped the screen with his finger and said, “Boy, I’m talking to you.” Tap, tap, tap. “Hey, kid, what’s your problem? Wombat got your tongue, or are you one of those stupid humans?”
Amused, I smiled and said, “Oh, this is great! This program is amazing! Joey will flip out when he sees it.”
“Oh, yes, he’ll lose his mind and maybe more,” the troll said with a snicker.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get this game going!”
“Boy, only the best players are selected to play. So tell me the truth—are you good?”
“Um, yes, I want to be a famous pro. Seriously, I plan to be the greatest gamer in the world.”
The troll looked doubtful. “Really?”
“Hey, I’m not crazy,” I said with an angry tone. “Three months ago, right after I turned twelve, I became the best gamer in San Diego. I beat out some of the most competitive twenty- and thirty-year-olds for that title! And between you and me, it was totally easy.”
The troll suddenly shushed me. At the same time, his eyes darted up, and his ears wildly twitched as he struggled to listen to a faint voice.
I wanted to know what was going on, so I eagerly asked, “What’s—”
The troll shushed me again and said, “Okay, calm down, kid. I am being told that you have been selected. Yes, if you pass the test and accept this call to adventure, you will have an amazing opportunity. You will be competing for the title of Multidimensional Game Master, but make no mistake, boy—this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play the most thrilling game ever created.”
I yelled, “Cool! I can’t believe it!”
“Oh, you must believe—you simply must, or you will not have the slightest chance to play.” Instantly, a keyboard appeared on the screen, and the troll said, “Speaking of chances, the odds of winning the game are about a trillion to one.”
My mouth dropped wide open.
The troll instantly mimicked the stunned expression that was on my face. Then he said, “Don’t look so worried; there’s a chance, a glimmer of hope that you can win.”
“Yes, but first, you must enter your name.” The troll pointed at the keyboard. “That is, if you dare to continue?”
I quickly touched the letters that spelled my full name.
“Tom Albert Hock,” the troll muttered as his eyes looked me over. After a moment, he gave me a half grin and said, “To begin, we’ll need to establish your game IQ.”
“Um, how will you do that?”
“Good question! We will pin down your game IQ by giving you a few tests.”
“Tests? I hate tests!”
“Tom, it’s the only way to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are.” The troll flashed me a sly grin and added, “Don’t worry; these tests will not take too long. Honestly, any gamer worth a gigabyte can pass them. The idea is to track your limitations and transitional states of being, all of which will be integrated into the game. Okay?”
“Um, okay,” I said, not exactly sure what he meant but excited to find out.
At that moment, the troll vanished, and the arcade game started. It was clear that the game I was playing was not “the game” because there was nothing amazing about it. It was the first test, and it was simple enough. My player was in a strange, swamp-like setting fighting trolls, and in no time, I killed countless trolls and closed in on the first token. But before I could get the token and beat the level, the game froze.
Suddenly, the troll appeared on the screen and announced, “Congratulations, you passed the first test. You’re one step closer to competing for the title of Multidimensional Game Master.”
“Awesome! Now what?”
“Use your permission slip to become who you were meant to be. It’s a simple tool. Just remember: believing is seeing.”
Immediately, the troll vanished from the screen, and I heard a deep guttural growl. Then a red, tongue-shaped slip of paper darted out from the serpent’s mouth. Thrilled, I grabbed it and held it up, excited to learn where I needed to go to play the game. But when I saw that the slip of paper was blank, my heart sank to my feet.
“Hey, is this a joke? What do I do with this worthless piece of—”
The game’s response was insulting and rude. First, its screen went dark, and then its music skipped like a warped record. Furious, I punched the serpent’s snout that dispensed the ticket. Then I hit it again, hoping another slip of paper would dart out, but instead of ejecting a new ticket, it shut off with a startling—pop.
“What? No…I got robbed!”
“Hey, what’s with you?” Joey asked as he strolled out of the bathroom.
“This game,” I grunted. “It was supposed to give me a permission slip. I mean, a ticket to play an amazing game, but instead, it gave me this useless blank slip of paper.”
Joey took the paper. He looked at it and laughed.
“Joey, this isn’t funny…What am I supposed to do with this lousy piece of paper?”
Immediately, Joey crumpled the ticket up and attempted to toss it in a trash can that was about five feet away. The paper ball hit the rim, wobbled, and then fell in. Pleased, Joey cheered with his arms raised high.
“You’re not helping,” I growled. “Joey, an interactive troll told me I was selected for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play the most exciting game ever created. I’m one step closer to competing for the title of Multidimensional Game Master.”
“Multidelusional Game Loser is more like it,” Joey said with a laugh. Then he watched as I tried hitting and punching life back into the dead game. “Jeez, this is boring…Let’s go already!”
“No, I need a minute to get a new ticket, so I can prove I was selected. I mean, how else will I get to play the game?”
“Come on—let’s find the beta section!” Joey demanded. Then he pulled me away from the machine and added, “I bet someone there will know something about this sneaky snake game you’re so obsessed with.”
Joey made sense, so I didn’t feel the need to argue with him.
As we turned, a big guy who looked like a video-game character blocked us. He was in his late thirties, with dark hair and eyes. This comic fanatic was wearing a futuristic cowboy-meets-monster-slayer outfit. I looked up at the man and smiled.
Instead of smiling back, he gave me the worst stink-eye ever. Then he asked, “Was it you? Did you do it?”
“Err, it wasn’t me.” I pointed to Joey. “He used the bathroom,” I explained.
Joey grabbed my arm and whispered, “Come on.” Then he tugged me toward the lobby. “It’s really stupid to make a villain mad.”
“What?” I laughed. “He’s just a guy in a costume; he isn’t going to shoot us because you took a dump.” I glanced back toward the bathroom, convinced the man would be in the men’s room, but he wasn’t. He was looking at us and not in a friendly way. When our eyes met, his lips pulled into a snarl.
In a cold tone, the villain said, “Listen to me, kid.”
“Huh?” I pointed at myself.
The man gave me a disgruntled nod and said, “Do what I say, and maybe you’ll see another day.” At the same time, he reached for his holster, which had an arsenal of unusual and deadly looking weapons hooked on it.
“Let’s go!” I yelled, fearing he was more than a fanatic.
Without slowing down, we ran aimlessly through the crowded lobby, desperate to get away from that creep. Once we felt we were safe, we stopped. At first, we wanted to call Dad and tell him about the menacing madman. After we thought about it, though, we changed our minds because we knew Dad would insist we stay with him, but there was no way we were going to do that. We wanted to explore the convention on our own.
On our way to find the beta-game section, we stopped and watched the new Elastic Man movie trailer. When it was over, I felt a hard tug on my sleeve. Standing next to me was a short, portly guy dressed in an amazing monster costume. He gazed at me with a fearsome green face and sharp boar-like tusks protruding through his mouth. Suddenly, he forcefully waved a slip of red paper at me, making me flinch.
The monster dude grunted and said, “Waste not, want not.”
At first, I just stared at the paper, baffled. It looked familiar, like the ticket from the arcade game. Yes! It was the one Joey had wadded into a ball and tossed into the trash.
The monster said, “You were selected. Take it! Take it!”
I snatched the wrinkled piece of paper from his beastly fingers, but before I could open my mouth and ask him a question, he was on the move. He jumped, spun around, and scurried away.
“What was that about?” Joey asked.
I held up the ticket. “This!”
Joey’s eyes got big. “Is that the ticket from the arcade game?”
“Yep.” I grinned. “Now do you see why I have to play this game?”
“Totally,” Joey said.
When I looked up, my smile faded, and I gasped.
Standing across the lobby, only fifty feet away, was the villain. When he saw me holding the ticket, he pointed at me and then began to navigate the swarm of people in the lobby.
Joey and I didn’t wait for the crazed man to reach us. We turned and ran.
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About the Author
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