Our team of seven this week was asked to write a complete Choose Your Own Adventure story. More time was spent planning this one than actually writing it as our team went for high concept drama. Our entire story is below. I wrote Page 2.
You park the car, glad to have made it home. Hands shaking, you pop a stick of mint gum into your mouth and stumble out of the driver’s seat. You make it inside and find yourself in a mostly dark living room. As your eyes adjust, you notice soft blue light spilling in from the kitchen.
On the kitchen table is your laptop, screen open. Squinting, you begin to see the outlines of your suitcase on the floor, papers spilled everywhere. Your face goes deathly pale.
“Honey?!” Your head hurts.
You rush down the hallway and see the bathroom door slightly ajar. Light cuts across the floor at sharp angles, revealing several small white pills scattered across the tile.
You reach out.
If you choose to open the door, go to page 3.
If you choose to grab your suitcase and leave, go to page 2.
Life is good in Taipei, if a bit lonely. The Athena Mansion is a gorgeous, secluded home in the Shilin District where Marie often fantasized about retiring. You could hide in the states, but you can just as well grieve in Taiwan. Money and alcohol go a long way in suppressing guilt.
For a while, anyway. If it were just the SEC you could deal; Taiwan has zero interest in extraditing such a valued guest. But the media (and your damned bathroom) is a regular reminder of Marie’s suicide, and soon the booze isn’t enough.
Today is particularly rough. Finding another vodka bottle above the stove, you eye your prescriptions on the counter. Next to them, a business card for an expert on survivor’s guilt.
If you choose to call for help, go to page 5.
If you choose to take a Vicodin/Xanax cocktail, go to page 4.
“Marie?” Your head is throbbing. You lurch into the bathroom and slip on the wet floor. The smell of sweet tarts and bile stings your nostrils. Retching, you grab the toilet with sticky hands. An empty pill bottle is floating there.
“oh God oh God oh God”
She’s crumpled against the tub, a white, statuesque arm bent backwards beneath her. Anguish climbs from deep in your belly, an animal’s howl. It echoes off the tile walls and dies.
The papers. The laptop. The suitcase. You turn your face from her voiceless, accusing mouth.
“I did it for you, Marie.” You grind at your aching eyes with your fists, rubbing out the tears, rubbing away her judgment.
Slowly, you will yourself to your feet.
If you choose to call for help, go to page 5.
If you choose to take care of it on your own, go to page 4.
Another bottle of pills is in your hand, but you can’t feel it. You haven’t felt anything for months. Your memory is a confused whirlpool of unrelated events eddied by the downslide that comes with every dose.
The edges of your vision blur and a distant you tries to explain that you’re dying. You imagine your life flashing in front of you, but what comes instead is a series of images of white-haired, red-faced men yelling and pumping their fists. You watch, perplexed, as the floor rises to meet you. You hope to see Marie’s face one more time.
The last thing you see is your own face, broken and bloodied, reflected, superimposed on the vista you sacrificed everything for.
YOU ARE DEAD
You fill out the paperwork and answer questions, letting the mundane tasks dull the grief.
“You should consider cognitive behavioral therapy to help deal with the trauma,” says the doctor, a dour woman with her hair drawn back in a severe valkyrie braid. “You need to talk about what happened before you can move past it.” You start to shake your head, but freeze as your memory slips- white skin, so still, the crumpled paper in her fist– and suddenly, it all spills out. The words are incoherent sobs by the time you finish.
Her hand on your shoulder is surprisingly comforting. “Shh, it’s okay.” You nod, strangely not embarrassed. She looks you over, noting your condition. “Have you been sleeping?”
If you choose to take the sleeping pills the doctor offers, go to page 4.
If you choose to get on with your life, go to page 6.
With a sigh of relief, you shut your eyes and the door behind you as firmly and quietly as you can. Another successful, profit-riddled day has passed… without the slightest sign anyone is aware. No one here knows who you really are.
You breathe in quickly after you are startled by the silence in your home.
Your new girlfriend should be here, right?
There is a light on in the bathroom. The door is slightly ajar. She is here.
Then you feel them: as if heavy, silent footsteps are coming down the hall toward you. She is here.
What was that? Did you just hear something?
Aghast, you feel cold sweat on the back of your neck. You are not alone.
She is here.
If you choose to getthehellout of there, go to page 2.
If you choose to forget this happened, go to page 4.
You pause for a moment outside the door, staring at the new stains on the cuffs of your shirt. Shaking hands and styrofoam cups don’t mix. At least the police station coffee had been cold.
You half-expect her to be gone, but Marie sits in the dark at the kitchen table staring at the sheaf of photocopies you had left with her as insurance.
Tears slide down her face, occasionally catching the sharp light escaping from the bathroom door, slightly ajar. She seems to shrink into herself as she sobs, “I was so worried. Promise me this is over now?”
“I told them everything. They’re arresting everyone tonight.”
You reach out.
K: Well, this one took the idea I had in my back pocket if I ever play (a “happy” ending that cannot be reached). This story had some ideas but lacked some specificity and identity along the way. The idea was better than the execution, but it was a decent descent into darkness. Individual GOLD to #3 for the stark depiction of Marie’s suicide, SILVER to #1 for setting a tense stage and BRONZE to #6 for the intriguing (but ultimately somewhat unsatisfying) setup of “SHE is here.” Silver for the story.
DK: In a different context I’d spend a lot more time deciding how I feel about a dangling section like this last one. In this case my initial instinct was to give this BRONZE for that choice(?) and move on. But I found a lot of this story the most engaging and emotionally interesting, and the connections through the rest of it are solid. My favorite sections are 4, 5, and 3 in GOLD/SILVER/BRONZE order for their strength of descriptions and imagery. The death scene in particular, especially since it was used so well as the terminus of several paths, was very strong.
MG: I admire the choice of the story’s subject and how it approached the idea more than the execution, I have to say. It’s probably unfair to look for some kind of impact, some immediacy and sympathetic sense from a choose your own adventure story. But as it was, the whole thing felt very abstract. That said, I liked the fact that the only (semi-)happy ending was unreachable by choice. Hard to get a fix on this one. OVERALL – Bronze INDIVIDUAL:GOLD – Page 6 SILVER – Page 2 BRONZE – Page 8
So the results were not what we hoped for, but it’s hard to argue with the judge’s commentary. At least I got one silver medal out of the deal. Thankfully, despite our poor showing, our team was saved by Big Brass…Band, who had a member of their team fail to submit her part of the story. Thus, she was given the boot, and the mighty Walrus maintains its membership of seven.
Next week is another team challenge, 20 Questions, where we mostly try to outfunny the other teams.