Remember Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books? This year, I got my students to create their own: a short story with multiple story arcs and multiple endings (a.k.a., hypertext fiction). In doing this assignment, students practised their nascent writing skills as well as their web development skills.
I hope to take this assignment further in my upcoming subject on advanced e-publishing by getting a student to prepare some of these stories as a .epub ebook.
So… here are this year’s stories! I’ve pasted (in order):
- The first node (or introduction) of the short story
- An example of the choices the reader can make, and finally
- One of the short story’s possible endings.
Story sections are separated by ellipses (…).
Warning: May contain violence and coarse language — like many other stories do (including Hansel and Gretel, for that matter). Also, the hyperlinks don’t actually work, since I’m not hosting these stories online. I kept the links to show how students made their stories interactive.
If you’re interested in contacting one of the students, let me know.
1. John Williams
“Work brakes, work!” He felt the brake pedal moving beneath his feet but the car wasn’t stopping. He knew something was wrong when he saw the black Range Rover behind him this morning. Suddenly the decision to take on one of the biggest criminal organizations in the country alone did not seem so smart.
120km/h normally feels slow in his BMW M3, but at this moment, speeding down a pass heading who knows where, he’s scared beyond belief. A bump in the road beneath him ripped him from his thought. He will need to make a decision, and soon too. The cliff on his right is a vertical drop of about 30 meters, a certain death. On his right side the cliff makes a vertical wall, hitting it at this speed will be fatal as well.
In the distance he can see a dam, will it be possible to attempt a typical Hollywood stunt and go off the side of the cliff hopefully hitting the dam? There is also a small patch of grass approaching, a gap in the cliff on his right. He calculates the gap at about 9 meters, he will certainly get hurt but may just make it.
“John Williams, you are not a killer. But this is survival.” The last words he hears himself thinking before he heads back to the cellar. He exist the door and runs towards a nearby bush. His second pursuer is crouched behind a bin with his back towards John. He lifts the rifle and walks towards the man. “Put your weapon down so we can talk”.
The man spins around and lift his pistol, John realises this and take his shot. His attacker falls to the ground, blood already staining his shirt. John feels heat creeping down his body, he looks down and see that he has been shot. He feels a sharp pain in his chest and feels for the source of the blood. His legs give in under him, and he falls towards the ground. John feels him self drifting in and out of consciousness. “John Williams, you are…”
2. The Hiking Trip
“Turn around! I’m telling you, we missed the exit.” Shaun tries to convince Warren. Amy wakes up from all the boys’ arguing but she keeps her eyes closed while she listens to hear what the argument is about. She sighs silently as Shaun carries on nagging Warren, and starts dozing off again in the backseat. It is only when her head bumps against the car door that she realises they’re on a gravel road. This time she sits up straight and sees Warren’s face light up when the Magaliesberg hiking route sign finally appears around the corner. “I told you I know where I’m going.” Warren says smugly to Shaun, who uncomfortably organises the printouts of directions on his lap. “Wakey wakey Amy!” Warren chants cheerfully to the back of the car as he switches off the engine.
“Which route should we take, George’s Gorge or Peter’s Peak?” Amy instantly realises she’s just stirred without meaning to. Warren entertainingly points to the sky, “to the peak we’ll climb!” Shaun speaks again for the first time since Warren gave him the I told you so. “George’s Gorge sounds more adventurous to me, not that anyone listens to me anyway” Shaun looks at Warren accusingly, and then Warren quickly turns to Amy, “Which one do you want to take, Amy?” Both the boys are not even blinking as they stare at her, waiting for her response. She doesn’t know what to do. Which route should Amy choose?
George’s Gorge or Peter’s Peak
“You have a point Warren, it does sound like a story someone would make up as a prank. We’ll camp here tonight and then head back tomorrow morning.” Shaun says and looks to Amy for approval. “Yeah, okay, I guess you two are right. We cannot leave our car here in any way.” Answers Amy. The sun begins to set while the helicopter takes off. They watch it fly off, becoming smaller and smaller. Just as the tiny dot finally disappears into the orange sky they hear gunshot and men screaming and look at each other in terror.
3. The Temple of Tiers
Bashier Kulgan sat astride his mobile palace, drifting through the sands of a never ending desert at glacial speeds. It was built atop the back of a creature akin to a tortoise, but with marked characteristics of a camel as well. He had been searching for the boy for a long time, but Bashier did not mind. Time was all that he had left. All else had been lost to him, lost so long ago.
As he approached the temple a door suddenly materialised where no opening had been before. Bashier hesitated for a moment, then resolutely walked through it. The light faded around him as he cleared the threshold. Looking behind he saw that the door had disappeared behind him. There would be no going back the way he came.
As you step through the door, a blinding pain shoots through your head. You hear a cracking sound, and realise it was your skull. Disoriented, you fall to the ground. A gigantic ogre brandishing a club falls on top of you. The last words you hear before the creature tears out your throat are “Mogg eat good tonight!”
4. Road to the Final
7. Name Game
“Awaken unconscious soul”, a distorted voice says. And with that a young man wakes up. He observes his surroundings only to find that he is in a small blue room that is clustered with broken computers and lab equipment. “What is this place… and who am I?” he utters under his breath as he dizzily looks down towards his hands.
In the distance he sees an open door that has been partially blocked by a couple of big white boxes. As he stares at the door he feels a cold chain around his neck and notices that he is wearing a chain, with a key and a tag hanging from it. The tag has the word “Emanon” written on it, “Em-A-Non, could this… be my name?” he utters wearily.
“Is this my bedroom?” Emanon asks himself as he scans around the room. He then hears a female’s voice say, “Hey, dude. What happened?”
Looking at his computer screen Emanon sees a game screen that displays the words “CONGRATULATIONS YOU WIN EMANON!!”
Upon further investigation he realises that he is currently online with Vi and Psypher, playing a multiplayer online game named Name Game.
“Could it be? Was it all really a game?” Emanon asks himself.
“Ah man, you won again.” A deep male voice says, as Emanon stares at his screen and realises that “Vi” and “Psypher” are two people talking to him. “Emanon” glares at the screen as a smile creeps up on his face.
“Hey guys want to play again?”
8. Dangerous Times
Detective Roberts was running, as fast as her legs would go. She had just seen the man in front of her kill two police officers with violin strings. It was brutal. And she had to catch him. But she was getting so tired, her coat tails flipping in the wind, and then she felt the street under her boots, she knows London well. Very well. She knows that there is an alley to her left, and she knew in its darkness were the same thugs she arrested yesterday. She knew they posed no danger, they were the ones who told her where to find this mad man. They were scared of him. They wanted her to take care of him.
She could just shoot him. That would be easy. Everyone knows that’s what he deserves. But she couldn’t, it had to be done right. Proper. If she didn’t, if she just shot him, she would become a little more like him. That’s how it starts, she believed that. She had seen it. You take care of one, and before you know it you’re killing police officers with violin strings. Well, maybe not violin strings. The man in front of her turned sharply to the right. She knew if she kept going straight, she could cut him off. But if she takes her eyes off him, then he could kill and she wouldn’t be there. Just like she wasn’t there before. When he killed her back up.
She slowly got off the cart, and started walking towards the back to open the cart for the agents. Just then, she remembered the voice clearly. It was Baptiste! Alarm bells started going off in her head, at that moment she saw him on the other side of the cart, getting closer to her younger self. Smiling.She knew what would happen next. She tried to stop him, she lunged forward, cried her name, but he stabbed her younger self, right before her eyes. The girl yelled in pain and surprise. He giggled as he watched her disappear into non-existence.
9. The Most Beautiful Dog in the World
At the parlour, Lady is chewing on a delicious bone that was given to her by Stephanie, the doggie parlour owner.
It is time for Lady’s bath.
Is Lady obedient, or is she a naughty dog?
As soon as Stephanie comes back to the parlour, she sees that Katherine, Lady’s owner is already there, with Lady in her arms.
Katherine is angry. Lady is dirty and was found in the street. She does not believe Stephanie when she tells her that Lady is a very naughty dog. Katherine will not be paying Stephanie.
10. The Hunter and the Deer
Once upon a time in a forest far away a hunter was stalking a deer. He had it in cross hairs but couldn’t seem to take the shot. You see, this hunter was a bit of softy and tended to sympathise with his prey. Every time he was about to kill an animal he would look into the animal’s eyes and his body just wouldn’t make any move to kill the animal. On this occasion the hunter had decided to not make any eye contact with creature, he needed to be able to kill it.
He had been tracking this deer for a while now. Everytime he got close something would scare the deer and it would run away. This had been going on like a dance between him and the deer. At first he quite enjoyed it but now he was getting frustrated and tired. As luck would have it the deer had finally stopped long enouugh for the hunter to get proper shot. He took a deep breath, aimed and let go his arrow. It flew straight at the unsuspecting deer. He quickly closed his eyes not wanting to see what happened next.
He knew why he didn’t kill them. He didn’t sympathise with them and he definitely wasn’t soft. He just didn’t think it necessary to kill them and he was quite fine with that.
“Sometimes it’s okay to just appreciate the beauty of the animal, dont you think mister? You don’t need it on your wall when you can come here and see it live.”
Those words blew through the breeze and carried the hunter as he walked home.
Wild ducks are near the end. Few know the impact that their actions have on the delicately balanced worlds of others. We are all guilty of bringing worlds to an end even though we will never know or see them fall in front of our eyes. That is where I am different. My slowly decaying world has been poisoned by my polluted Kingdoms, yet little did I know that their toxins would poison the very stars in my sky, beautiful galaxies not so far away. There is no greater sadness than seeing the brightest stars in your sky slowly fade into the darkness, their lights flickering and dancing in the distance could be mistaken for a dances of joy yet in reality they are writhing in pain calling for a swift end to their torment. The torment your world has so unknowingly sent it, the gift of life placed in your hand corrupted by the unseen ills of your Kingdoms. I am Amala.
My little star shines brightly once again! I know it is only possible because someone else out there lost a star of their own, but the gift they have given is irreplaceable, from death comes life and my star is alive once again! Her Kingdom restored, her mother’s riches shining brightly in her. A smile returns to my face once again. God, its been years since i have smiled. It feels great to bathe in the warmth of a beautiful star once again. She is mine to protect and her world rests on my shoulders. The wild ducks fly once again. Spacedust is no longer part of our galaxy and never will I allow it to corrupt, stain and destroy my Kingdom and my star.
As he regained consciousness, Caleb could hear the thump of footsteps fade away into the depths of the castle. As his eyes regained focus, he stared at his empty hand outstretched before him. His map – and his only way out – was gone.
Slowly, he rose to his feet. It was hard to make out his surroundings in this poorly lit hallway. On the carpet however, he could see the faint shimmer of blood on the carpet. His blood. This was no mere accident. The sharp pain in the back of his head agreed. Someone else was lost in this castle and someone else needed a map.
The rush of anger needed to wait. Every second that passes gives the thief another second to escape. He needed to decide on a plan of action. Up ahead in the corridor he could make out a stairway, faintly lit by a nearby torch. He was sure that the thief had gone in that direction. But his memory of the map did not include anything about the staircase up ahead.
He noticed a slight breeze coming from the corridor to his left grazing his arm. Far in the distance he could hear the unmistakable rattle of a door, or perhaps a window.
He could feel a breeze spilling from the lower levels. The staircase did not look the sturdy type. He carefully tested each step with the weight of one leg before using it. After a slow decent into the bowels of the castle, he reached what he assumed must’ve been the dungeon. There were chains bolted to the walls in some places and torn from the walls in others. There were several holding cells.
He spotted the source of the noise he had heard earlier. I was not a door to freedom but rather a cell door that repeatedly slammed against the prison bars. A rush of excitement rushed through his body as he spotted the source of fresh air – a tiny, barred window near the ceiling of one of the cells. He approached the cell, wanting to feel the slightest of sunrays piercing the darkness through the small window. He came to a halt in the centre of the cell. He looked around for something that might help him reach the window. There was nothing useful inside the cell. Perhaps somewhere else in the dungeon, he thought. He turned back to the cell door which was, to his surprise, shut.
He tugged at the bars of the door, but not only was it shut. It was locked. He looked up past the bars of the door and saw the faint glimmer of eyes and the tight clench of a fist around what looked like his map fading into the shadows of the dungeon. The thief had robbed him of his map and his freedom.
13. Magician’s Kin
As we were standing there on the corner of a busy city block it seemed as if the square had lost all of its magic. What once was a concert of colour accompanied by the rattling of cartwheels on cobblestone has become monochrome and mundane. I held in my left hand the coin which my father so eagerly commanded to dance between his fingers as we’d prepared for a show and in my right, the far more delicate hand of Sue. The pleasant waft of freshly baked bread from the bakery up the street broke my train of thought and thawed my nose, reminding me of our current situation.
Sue: “Where did he go?” Her auburn hair makes her look like a little candle. It is a pleasant illusion on such a chilly winter morning. “Well, he went away for a while” It was hard for me to explain that he would not be re-appearing any time soon after this disappearing act. The last I saw of our father was the back of his head sitting in a police wagon. “We are opportunists” he would say, pulling his coin from behind my ear. “I give them a show that they marvel at, and you my dear assistants make a donation from their pockets.” It seems the people did not take too kindly to our way of accepting payment and the passing of new law did not allow for much tolerance. Our cornerstone was gone and we would have to make do on our own.
The winters came and went and we became more adept at surviving on our own. We devised new ways of distracting passers-by to take what we needed to survive. We became crafty and cunning. By the age of 18 I had become a spellbinding street magician and Sue had the slightest of hand.
On the autumn morning of Sue’s 16th birthday we passed the local pub on our way to the bakery. “Join the cause!” a man chanted. It was quickly echoed by”Get rewarded for doing your duty”. The table with the sign-up sheet was droning with young men and woman that were eager to quench their thirst for adventure. “Do you think we should sign up?” I could see Sue contemplating the thought. Even though we were tricksters by trade, Sue could never manage to hide her emotions. She was used to rejecting my left wing notions but it seems like this time she took some time to think about it. “I don’t see how joining the army can be any worse than continuing to con for spare coin.”
The day finally came. We were prepared and itched for freedom. The guard came patrolling around the corner. “We’re up” I thought to myself, acting disinterested as usual. As the guard passed our cell father threw his cup at the guard. We chose this particular guard because he had a very foul temper and would not let it slide. He walked closer. As he did, father grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him across the hall. I latched my clasped hands around his throat, eventually bringing him down to the ground. I looted the keys and unlocked our cells.
The feeling of freedom came rushing back into our veins, urging us to run. And we did. I tried to convince Sue to come with but she would not budge. We ran around the first corner, the second and the third. Our final stretch to freedom was a long service hallway to the outside observation post. I turned around to see if someone was following us. In that instant a figure appeared from behind the corner. That figure quickly replicated into two more. They had caught on to us.
I heard the boom of a rifle. Father plummeted to the ground with a loud thud. My heart sank and so did the rest of my body. Lying there on the floor I could not believe what had happened. I took the coin that he left me as a child and put it in his pocket just before the guards were standing over me.
I was dragged all the way back and locked in father’s old cell having to face Sue’s blank stare. She turned her back to me and went to bed.
14. Hypertext Story
You are awaken by a constant beeping next to your ear. You slowly open your eyes and above you, you see a sea of stars. Up here they seem much brighter than they ever were on earth. You turn your head to the source of the irritating beeping, a small orb like alarm clock next to your bed, pulsing a blue light with every beep. They are supposed to wake you up at the optimal time in your sleeping cycle, but somehow you also seem to wake at the worst time possible. You suddenly get the urge to smash the small round device to bits!
You burst into the storage compartment where the enemy has boarded the ship. Before you is a group of strange, vicious-looking aliens you have never seen before. As one alien jumps towards you, you reach for your pistol, and kill the alien just before it reaches you.
You and your squad destroy every alien on board, just as the ship hyperjumps to a safe solar system.
15. End of the Road
“Why the long face?
Have you been waiting long?” he asks me.
“I suppose. It hasn’t been a great day, but things can get only get better right?” I say.
“You could be surprised” he says.
“Are you going somewhere close?” he continues.
“I am headed to the 3rd district, so I still have to catch another bus at Prophet Station. I wonder if the military march is slowing the buses today” I say.
“Oh, my friends are coming from there now. I need them to give me my stuff. They will get here soon, so I am sure they can help you out. I will ask them to give you a lift” he says.
Moments later a vehicle appears. It stops in front of us.
Grungy people come out of the pickup truck and approach the guy next to me with a bag.
The driver of the car starts speaking in sign language.
They look at me and continue their conversation.
Eventually they turn and smile.
They ask me to come with them.
Why are they looking around?
Are they looking for something?
I swap seats with the next to me guy.
I grab one of their guns and shot the radio.
The guy I just switched places with gets shot and dies immediately.
The car tires bows and the car flips over.
I am the only survivor inside the car.
A bus drives past slowly.
Moments later when an ambulance eventually arrives, a report on the police scanner says that a man on a bus has just been arrested after a failed attempt to detonate at a military march.
- The Legacy of Hypertext Fiction and how Steven Johnson Gets it Wrong (ryantrauman.net)
- Short and to The Point | Understanding The Short Story (storycraftchat.com)