Choose-your-own pep talk from Caiknbake!
You are a traveler; a visionary and a pioneer. You’ve been on a journey for a story, something uniquely your own, to share with your family and friends when (and if) you return home. In your travels, you’ve suddenly discovered a time machine that whirs and boops, flashing orange and green and fiery red. It appears to be the beginning of a big adventure, perhaps bigger than any you’ve undertaken before. This may be the key to your quest! You step inside, stooping your head low; the dial is set to November 1, 2013…
Nov 1: Stepping out of the time machine, you’re careful to duck your head under the edge of the capsule door. A warm, soft wind hits your face, something like a gentle convertible ride on a late fall day. Your hair blows in the wind and on the horizon you see a monolith with the number 50,000 embossed and glowing faintly. Its allure is irresistible, so you pack up your time machine (luckily it’s a portable model), strap it to your back, and begin taking confident steps in that direction. Go on to Nov 2.
Nov 2: Your feet are tired today. On the plus side, you’ve walked far enough that you can barely see the grassy patch where you landed yesterday from the scrubby desert vegetation you’re currently standing in; however, the monolith seems no closer. You consider your options – stay on the path where you’re still definitely going in the right direction, or take your chances with the time machine to see if you can get closer to your goal more quickly? If you choose to keep walking, go to Nov 3. If you decide to try your luck with the time machine again, go to Nov 15.
Nov 3: Traveler, you are hardy and tenacious. Although each step has been a struggle, you continue putting one foot in front of the other, and for that you should be applauded. Until this point, that is the only virtue you’ve needed.
Today, though, you find yourself ambushed by a pack of ninjas. You can’t count how many there are, but there seems to be one in the lead, who is taking the time to show off his ninja-ing skills. You’re pretty sure you couldn’t take him – although you did take that one karate class when you were nine, so…
You glance behind you; they haven’t quite surrounded you yet. If you ran like the dickens, you might be able to escape them. You glance back, and you see a glint in the head ninja’s eye, something like mirth. You find yourself thinking that maybe you and the ninja have some stuff in common, and wouldn’t it be cool to have a ninja as a friend? You could probably impress him with your time machine.
So many decisions! If you decide to fight the ninjas, go to Nov 4. If you attempt to flee on foot, go to Nov 9. If you decide to be nice and invite the head ninja into the time machine with you, go to Nov 23.
Nov 4: You fool! Everyone knows that ninjas can’t be beaten by fighting, especially by a bookwormy, writerly type such as yourself (even one who took a karate class when they were nine). Shuriken fly, limbs blur before your eyes, and before you can say leapin’ lemurs, your butt is soundly kicked. You lose consciousness – go to Nov 18.
Nov 5: How many different landscapes have you crossed? This looks a lot like a forest-swamp, and you feel the inherent gloom settle over you.
There seems to be a moss-covered boulder just near the large fallen tree across your path ahead. As you approach, though, the boulder moves – it’s an old woman, perhaps even a witch by the look of her.
“So you seek the monolith, eh?” she croaks at you. “You’re not the first. Many travelers have passed through this wood.”
You nod, saying, “Yes, but my goal is different. Many may have reached the monolith, but that changes nothing about my quest. I have an important story to tell, just as important as all the other travelers.”
“Ah, and this one’s well-spoken, too, eh? Well, my itinerant friend, I may be able to help you. I have a few potions that will change your journey, and you by extension, but you must only choose one. Would you like to try my wares?” Her smile cracks her face in half as she gestures to the fallen log, on top of which three small beakers have appeared. If you would like to drink the clear potion, go to Nov 8; if you’d like the brown potion, Nov 28; if you’d like the red potion, Nov 18. If you choose not to drink a potion, go to Nov 6.
Nov 6: “Very well, my young friend,” the witch says in a raspy voice. “If you don’t want my help, you need not take it. But beware the dangers of the swamp forest. Few are the adventurers who make it to the monolith on the other side.” As she speaks, she gradually disappears, her final words echoing as if from far away. You look at the boulder – it is now, in fact, a boulder – where she stood, and you wonder if her wisdom could have helped you. But now it’s too late. You keep walking as the sky darkens further – go on to Nov 7.
Nov 7: It seems as though you’ve been traveling for years, decades, eons, and yet the monolith appears no closer to you. Your body feels weary, and your brain even more so. Each step closer to 50,000 feels like it could be your last without sustenance.
And yet, on the horizon, you see a column of smoke. Your steps hasten; this may be just the respite you need. As you approach, an inn gradually comes into view, the windows bright and cozy and welcoming. You know you should be continuing, that your goal is beyond this inn, but your strength has been tried to its utmost, and you need a freakin’ break. You step inside.
People jostle around you with tankards of opalescent liquid – is this really what ale looks like in this land? You can just barely hear the musicians in the corner playing a lively reel over the dull rumble of chatter and laughter. Stepping as carefully as you can through the throng, you approach the bar and order an ale. The bartender cracks a crooked smile – did his eye just twinkle at you? like, for real? – and slaps a tankard of the opalescent liquid on the bar. You sniff it gingerly, and it doesn’t smell that bad, but it’s pretty unfamiliar. You think maybe you should just get a room first, then calm down and have your ale in privacy, so as to avoid the locals giving you strange looks if you end up not liking it.
If you decide to drink the ale, go to Nov 18. If you want to get a room in the inn first, go to Nov 22.
Nov 8: You choose the potion that looks like water. Hydrating is always good, right? But the witch cackles, and begins to grow larger and larger. In fact, everything around you is growing larger and larger, or perhaps it’s you who is shrinking.
“Now every step you take will be half as far as it was before,” she shrieks through her laughter. “Good luck getting to the monolith now, traveler!” You look around you, and sure enough, the forest has faded, and it appears as though you’re right back where you began. How is it fair to lose so much progress in such a small amount of time? But you won’t let that stop you – if you need to start over in order to reach the monolith, that’s exactly what you’ll do. Go to Nov 1.
Nov 9: You run for days, and finally manage to lose the horde of ninjas on your tail (let’s be real – they let you get away. Your pesky monolith means nothing to the majestic ninja). Unfortunately, you’re not completely sure which direction you’ve run in by the time you’re able to stop and catch your breath – you could be days behind where you thought you’d be by now. Take a moment and center yourself. Listen for the low hum of the monolith. Look to the setting sun. Go to Nov 5.
Nov 10: Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to lick foreign objects?! Luckily for you, it tastes like a popsicle – just as sweet as you imagined it would. Go to Nov 30.
Nov 11: So it turns out that Boogie Monsters are pretty damn good at throwing dance parties! Who knew? You dance ’til you can’t feel your feet any more, and when you return to your journey you realize that maybe the mixture of enthusiasm and reckless disregard of limbs was exactly the recipe you needed for reaching the 50,000 monolith. Go to Nov 30.
Nov 12: Stepping out of your time machine you find yourself in the distant future – flying cars, hoverboards, the works. The landscape is so different from your own familiar one that you feel a sudden surge of ideas. Certainly something or someone in the future can help you reach the 50,000 monolith. But ideas are fleeting, and you’re having them now, so you’re in a conundrum – talk to the locals to find out more about the future and possible routes to the monolith, or jot down your ideas immediately? If you stop to record your ideas, go to Nov 24. If you decide to talk to the people of the future first, go to Nov 26.
Nov 13: The scientific community has announced that time travel is, once again, impossible. Beautiful Carlos explained to me that it’s because time does not in fact exist, but is merely a social construct necessary to stave off a crushing fear of the void, much like the delusion of consciousness itself. For those of you time travelers out there, you will need to register your name, date of birth, blood type, dimensional origin, and animal guardian with the Sheriff’s Secret Police. Don’t worry, though – they almost certainly won’t kidnap and ransom your family as punishment for disobeying the natural law.
Nov 14: The plot ninja (for such he, in fact, is) is all-knowing. He whips and twirls with ideas so fast you can barely keep up jotting them down. The time machine flits through so many places it’s hard to keep track, until finally the door swings open, the ninja bows, and takes his leave of you. The glorious monolith glows just within your reach. Go to Nov 29.
Nov 15: So, the good news is that your feet are much less tired than they were when you got back into the time machine. The bad news is that through the small capsule window, you can see that you’ve landed in the middle of what appears to be a farm full of dinosaurs. You double check the time settings for your trip, and it wasn’t set to the Mesozoic era, so you’re not sure how this happened, but the evidence outside your window is pretty irrefutable.
It occurs to you that since you’re supposedly not in the Mesozoic era, perhaps these dinosaurs are different from the bloodthirsty beasts with which many children are intimately familiar. And since you happened to be one of those dinophiles, once upon a blue moon (or will be one of those dinophiles, if you are in the past – silly paradoxes!), you think about how cool it would be to see a real dinosaur up close. Almost immediately, however, you think of a certain movie where people saw dinosaurs up close, and you remember what happened in that movie. You could just stay safe in your time machine and try to get a little further in the future.
If you decide to stay in the time machine, go to Nov 12. If you decide to get out of the capsule and walk around a bit among the dinosaurs, go to Nov 16.
Nov 16: The dinosaurs are talking to each other as you step out of the time capsule. As in conversing. In English. And having pretty banal conversations, if you were pressed to repeat them. They don’t notice you.
You clear your throat and summon your courage. “Excuse me,” you say, trying to sound bold but achieving something closer to teenager-going-through-puberty. “I’m looking for a monolith, in the shape of a 50,000. Would any of you happen to know where I might find it?”
One by one, the five dinosaurs sitting in a circle turn their heads and you find yourself the focus of ten gigantic, reptilian eyes. You feel a warm wetness run down your leg, but you stand your ground. Finally one of the dinosaurs speaks.
“Isn’t that the place that Ethel took that nice young girl just a few weeks ago?”
“Oh yes, it’s quite lovely there. You know, my niece was just saying she’d like to find a lovely place like that. I wonder if that might work for her?”
“Oh come now, Edna, don’t be silly! Your niece should build her own monolith, just like the rest of us have to do. It will show her the value of hard work.”
You clear your throat again.
The one closest to you, who had been silent throughout this exchange, says, “I think it might be easiest if I just take you there, traveler. Let me get you a clean pair of pants from the house, and then I’ll give you a ride.”
Riding a dinosaur is even more thrilling than you could have imagined, and the best part is that you can see the monolith rushing toward you on the horizon the whole way. Plus, Myrtle isn’t bad company at all, as it turns out. She runs incredibly fast, doesn’t ask you any awkward questions, and hands you biscuits when you get hungry. Before you know it, you’re sliding off her back, thanking her profusely, closer to the monolith than you ever dreamed possible. Go to Nov 29.
Nov 17: You take off your traveling cloak, slowly and sensuously. The alien cocks an eyebrow at you, suspicious at first.
“I thought I told you to tell me a story,” it says in its velvety, androgynous voice, raising the gun ever so slightly. “I will shoot you if you don’t, you know.”
“Yes, I realize that,” you say slowly, “but I was thinking maybe I would use a different kind of language to tell you a story. Like, maybe, body language…” A smile steals over the alien’s face, and you think perhaps this is precisely the kind of story this alien wanted to hear, which is lucky, since it’s one you want to tell.
You remember days later, however, that this wasn’t the story you wanted to tell. You got distracted from the monolith. It was a beautiful distraction, that’s for sure, but it was a distraction, and you’ve lost all momentum and direction by now. When the alien finally leaves you, you realize you want to get back on the right path, but you’re going to have to start again. Go to Nov 1.
Nov 18: You wake up somewhere unfamiliar. What just happened to you? Your head aches vaguely, like a stray eyelash permanently intruding on your peripheral vision but always just out of sight.
Sitting up, the headache becomes much more insistent. You hear a voice in your head whisper “monolith.” Glancing around the horizon, you realize you can’t see it any longer. A heavy weight settles on your chest, and you flop on your back, wondering if you can ever make it.
Just then, you hear a low buzzing. Is that the glow of the monolith? It’s coming from just over the hill to your right. The weight on your chest inflates like a balloon, and you decide – this is no time for defeat! You are going to find that monolith no matter how many headaches or incidents of mild amnesia you have to work through. You pull yourself up and begin walking as fast as you can toward the low buzzing – go to Nov 20.
Nov 19: “Sir, are you okay?” you ask.
“Please!” he says. “Don’t listen to her! She’s–” Before he can finish telling you what he thinks she is, she bludgeons him over the head with a slick, futuristic baton.
“Looks like you’re a liability now, too,” she says, coming at you, and before you can get away you feel a dull crack on the back of your skull. The lights go out. Go to Nov 18.
Nov 20: Finally, your headache has subsided. But, more importantly, you’ve caught sight of the monolith on the horizon once more, and it’s even closer than you expected. You cry, “Huzzah!” with abandon, because no one is there to laugh at your use of the word “Huzzah.” And in the grand tradition of the advice, “dance like no one’s watching,” you can’t help but to start doing a little victory dance. And when I say “little,” I mean you are seriously getting down and funky. Do your victory dance all the way to Nov 21.
Nov 21: Ah yes, the victory dance – one of the most coveted steps on the journey to the monolith. But what no one told you about this step is that victory dances almost always conjure Boogie Monsters, and you see four of them appear next to you. You can’t decide which is more horrible – their fearful visages or their arhythmic, stilted attempts at dancing. You are hardy, traveler, but nothing prepared you for this horror. So what will it be – run in fear from the Boogie Monsters, or keep dancing and see if you can shake them off? If you run away, go to Nov 7. If you keep dancing, go to Nov 11.
Nov 22: You pick up the ale and ask the barkeep about taking a room for the night. His eye does the strange twinkling thing again, gesturing with his head for you to go up the stairs. You sniff the ale once more, but go up the stairs and into the only open door along the narrow hallway.
Before you realize what’s going on, you drop your ale. An alien is standing in the room, one knee perched on the bed, and you feel utter confusion. “What gender is this alien?” you ask yourself in your head. “And why do I find it so incredibly attractive? And why is it pointing a gun at my head?” These and many other questions rattle around in your head in the brief moment while you’re dropping your ale.
“So, you’re here at last,” the alien says, its voice slippery-smooth; you feel a shiver run down your spine at the very frequency of the voice. “The fabled storyteller-traveler, on a journey. Well, storyteller, I need something from you.”
You gulp sandpaper, hoping that what this alien needs is what your hormones are shouting for you to do immediately, and damn the consequences. “Anything,” you say hopefully.
“I need you to tell me a story.” You laugh, politely you hope, but the alien’s face turns even more serious. “If you don’t tell me a story, I’ll kill you. It’s as simple as that.” It raises the gun level with the tip of your nose and closes two of its three eyes, as if in aim.
Telling stories is something you are good at, so it seems like it would be easy to get out of this alive. And yet what your body tells you it wants has nothing to do with the gun or the stories. Perhaps if you seduced the alien, it would spare your life, and that could be way more rewarding than just telling a story.
If you decide to succumb to your attraction and seduce the alien, go to Nov 17. If you decide to tell it a story, go to Nov 27.
Nov 23: The quarters are cozy for two people in your little time capsule, but the ninja seems much friendlier than you would have imagined. You take a moment to congratulate yourself on shedding your preconceived notions of whether ruthless, trained assassins are necessarily evil.
The ninja interrupts your reverie, however. He claims to be a plot ninja who has been to the monolith, and knows a shortcut you can take. All you need to do is trust him to control the time capsule, and he can get you there. You remember your preconceived notions, which you thought had shattered only moments ago – is this ruthless, trained assassin trustworthy? If you decide to let the ninja show you the shortcut, go to Nov 14. If you hedge on your new personal growth and decide to remain in charge of your fate, go to Nov 12.
Nov 24: You hastily pull your notebook out of your traveling cloak and begin scribbling ideas. If you looked up, you would see the futuristic world whizzing past you as if in a time-lapse photo, but you barely pay attention. The more you write, though, the more you realize that the path you’re on is not the path that you wanted to take to get to the monolith. Perhaps you could get there this way, but it just doesn’t feel right. And if time travel has taught you anything, it’s that you always have to be willing to go back and start over to reach your ultimate goal. Go back to Nov 1.
Nov 25: You decide that whatever is going on between those two future people, it’s their business, and you may as well take the coordinates from the woman to see where they end up. You punch them in as the other two walk away slowly, and the familiar blur passes by the capsule window. When you emerge, the futurescape is gone, replaced by something that looks more similar to where you originally came from. You’re not sure if that’s a good thing, but you still step hopefully out of the time machine and look around. Go to Nov 5.
Nov 26: You wander the streets of the future for quite a while, but most people seem cold and uninterested in you. Unlike elsewhere, your portable time machine attracts no attention at all; in fact, you see at least three people with similar models on their backs. Finally you catch the eye of a woman sitting on a bench next to a man, so you walk over to see if they’ll speak with you.
“I take it you’re not from around here,” the woman says bluntly. “You need directions or something?”
“Well, I was hoping to find out more about the culture here – you see, I’m on this journey, and–”
“You need DIRECTIONS…or something?” she repeats impatiently. The man looks up at you like a puppy who’s just been beaten.
“Um, yeah. I’m looking for this monolith. Shape of a 50,000. You know it?”
“I’ve got contacts,” she hedges. “Here, let me write down some coordinates for you. Gimme your notepad.” You hand her the notepad and she begins writing. In the meantime, the man is mouthing something at you, fear plastered all over his face. It occurs to you that maybe this woman isn’t to be trusted, but then, she’s not that much different from most of the other people in this time, and if you can’t trust her, who will you trust?
As she hands you the coordinates, you debate whether it’s worth trying to find out more about the woman. If you decide to ask the man what’s going on, go to Nov 19. If you take the coordinates and just walk away, go to Nov 25.
Nov 27: You sit down on the bed, aware at every moment of both the gun trained on you as well as the sexy alien holding it. “Okay, I can tell you a story,” you say slowly, and you begin. “Once upon a time, there was a…”
It’s the story that you were hoping would carry you to the monolith, that would be the companion on your journey, and so you know it well. Before you realize it, you’ve forgotten about the gun and the sexy alien, the spilled ale and the rowdy common room downstairs, the sore feet and travel-weary body. It’s just you and your story, and you’re in it – you’re living it – and it’s wonderful.
By the time you reach the end, the gun and the alien and the room and the inn have all disappeared, and you’re standing in front of the monolith itself, basking in its glow. Go to Nov 30.
Nov 28: You take the brown potion as the witch smiles. As you take the first sip, the aroma washes over you – it’s coffee! Suddenly the light breaks through the trees and the witch transforms to a beautiful queen who looks strikingly like Bernadette Peters. You take another warming sip and smile back at her.
“I am Bernadette Peters,” the witch says. (Well spotted, traveler!) “You have chosen wisely. Use this potion to speed your journey toward the monolith. Oh and by the way, it’s over there.” She points at a space through the trees that you hadn’t noticed before, but through which you can see the monolith clearly, much closer than it had appeared before. You down the coffee and run off in the direction of the monolith, yelling back, “thanks, Bernadette Peters!” Go to Nov 29.
Nov 29: The monolith is closer than you imagined now. You can feels its buzzing glow on your skin through your cloak. You feel like if you reached out, you could just about taste victory. A flurry of emotions run through your body, which you want to indulge, but you’re not sure if you should stop now.
If you decide to take a moment to feel your triumph with a victory dance, go to Nov 21. If you decide you can literally taste victory and lean in to lick the monolith, go to Nov 10. If you decide you’d better keep going beyond the monolith, go to Nov 30.
Nov 30: Congratulations, traveler! Through sheer perseverance and a dash of blind luck, you’ve reached your goal. Perhaps it was harder than you thought it might be. Perhaps it was easier! Perhaps you’ve even forgotten a few days along the way. But you’ve made it to the 50,000 monolith, and you deserve to bask in its glow.
And the best part is that if you don’t like the path that you took to get here, you can always try again. The time machine is still here – and you can still go back to Nov. 1. That’s the beauty of this adventure – no matter what the outcome, the monolith is never the end. It’s just the beginning, and there will always be a story to accompany you on your journey.
by Caitlin (Caiknbake)