We’re celebrating Halloween with all things spooky, creepy, thrilling, and of course, bookish—starting with a Choose-Your-Own-Path horror story where you get to choose your moves. Find links to all of today’s themed posts at the bottom of the page, hand us your bags, and check in to Haunted Riot!
This reader’s horror story is sponsored by Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley.
Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up, to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter. Legend has it that over a hundred years ago, the Devil himself attacked John’s town, leaving thirteen dead and the survivors terrified.
Each year, the townspeople redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper but also through song, dance, and rituals, which keep the sheep safe from the Devil. But as the farmers of the Endlands prepare to gather the sheep, they begin to wonder whether they’ve let the Devil in after all.
Happiest of Halloweens! For the season, I wanted to give a little homage to that kitschy little art form, the Choose Your Own Adventure™ story! These later gave way to hyperlink novels and have mostly gone out of style outside of children’s literature with the advent of video games. These books are unique in that they allow the reader to partake in the storytelling process. The reader has to embody the character, and then deals with the results of their choices as they go on.
We’ve seen a limited resurgence of the genre, including Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography. R.A. Montgomery is a mainstay of the genre. For something seasonally appropriate, check out House of Danger.
For this Choose-Your-Own-Path, we’re going retro! If this is your first time, what you do is read through the passage then make a selection. Then scroll to the selection you’ve made to continue the story. As this is horror, there are no happy endings.
A Reader’s Nightmare: Choose-Your-Own-Path Horror Story
It is a dark and stormy night…
Which is fine! Because you are sitting cozy in back of the library with a book off the shelf and your snuck-in cup of coffee. You are engrossed in a terrifying ghost story collection as the rain pounds against the large back windows. The library is still, quiet, even for a library. Quiet enough as to be unsettling, only breaking when someone lost in the bookshelves craves a noise and coughs or scuffles to provide it. As you take a sip from your coffee, scoffing at the “No Food or Drink Allowed” sign posted, a bolt of lightning flashes and the power goes out! The library is plunged into darkness for a few moments, and you jolt at the blood-curdling scream coming from the shelves.
As the lights flicker on you hear a small drip…drip…drip. Looking down you see that your coffee has spilled all over the library book.
What do you do?
Go up and admit your accident to the librarian. (Choose A)
Try to hid the book back on the shelf and pretend it never happened. (Choose B)
With the coffee stained book in your arms you make your way past the stacks and the slowly meandering library patrons to the front desk. You approach the librarian(1) as she determinately stamps the back covers of a new shipment. The steady pound of the stamp creates a rhythmic clop that echos at the front. Tentatively, you place the book on the desk, waiting for the librarian to acknowledge you.
She keeps stamping the books, ignoring you. You clear your throat, but it fails to catch her attention. You clear your throat again, and again she stamps books, long, blood red nails clicking against the stamp with each movement.
“Excuse me?” You say, the coffee leaking from the book in little droplets on the counter.
She looks up at you, slamming shut the book she had been stamping with a loud thump. “How can I help you?” She says, venom dripping in her tone.
You explain what happened to the book as a look of distaste spreads across the librarian’s face.
“You have two options. You can pay the fine or try to find a replacement in the special collection. Either way it’s going to cost you. What will it be?”
Offer to pay the fine. (Choose C)
Climb the attic to get the special collection. (Choose D)
You close the book, wiping up the remainder of your crime with the sleeve of your sweater. Holding it close to your chest, you creep to the back shelves, trying to locate the one you got it from. In the now flickering lights, the towering shelves cast moving shadows. You see something scurry. Was it a rat? You hear the creaking of a library cart with a faulty wheel as it screeches a few shelves down.
With your heart pounding, you find the spot where you think you got the book. Slowly, you part the shelf ready to place the damaged, leaking item between two large tomes.
“What are you doing?” Comes a croak from behind. You whip around to see a library assistant with long, dark hair covering most of her face. She is pale, and you can see one large eye visible from the partial part. She is unnervingly pale, like a corpse. The creaking cart at her side, swaying on its own.
What do you do?
Lie like your life depends on it. (Choose E)
Run as fast as you can. (Choose F)
You offer to just pay the fine. Pulling out your wallet, you notice your cash and credit cards are all missing, replaced instead by due date cards.
“That’s fine,” the librarian says. A sinister smile scrawls across her face. She raises a large knife from behind the counter. “That book costs an arm and a leg.”
Suddenly you are surrounded by the other other librarians, their hands grabbing you and tying you to the closest display table, knocking over all the Halloween book recommendations. As they saw off your limbs, telling you to quit your screaming as “this is a library,” you realize you should have just obeyed the No Food or Drink sign.
You think to yourself that retrieving a book from the special collection can’t be that hard. You offer take that option. She leads you to the back of the library to a hidden staircase covered in cobwebs. She hands you a flashlight, letting you know that the lights no longer work in the special collection, and that to locate the book, you’ll have to use the old card catalog at the back.
The stairwell is such a long way up that you cannot see the end, which is blackened with shadow. She sends you on your way with a foreboding “Good Luck.”
The stairs take forever to climb, with seemingly no end in sight. The flashlight grows heavy in your hand. Just when you think you’ll be climbing the stairs forever, you blink at a loud crash of thunder and the door suddenly appears right in front of you. The door hinges, long rusted, creak as you open it to a dust and cobweb filled room.
There are no lights and the windows are small and up high, darkened by the storm. Critters scramble just out of eye shot, and you can hear an almost imperceptible hiss that you hope is the air conditioning. The door slams shut behind you. You try to not panic as you locate the card catalog. As you approach, the flashlight begins to flicker until it dies. Opening up the back of the flashlight, you notice that it does not have batteries inside.
Groping your way through the darkness, only able to see when lightning strikes, you open the card catalog draw. As your fingers touch the inside of the drawer, it slams! Shutting itself and cutting off your fingers!
You scream! Then look around for something the staunch the bleeding, when you notice iron-tasting tang in the air. Blood, viscous red blood is pouring from the walls. You run back to the entrance, noting that the door has completely disappeared.
When you turn around, you see it, a skull-faced apparition making its way towards you. As you scream you can almost hear it say…“No Food or Drink…”
“Oh, I, uh, I found this book on the shelf and I was going to give it one of you.”
The library assistant takes the book in her hands, hands that you notice end in claws. She sniffs the book and looks at you, noting the coffee stained on your sweater and your shoes. She runs a tongue across her fanged teeth.
“Liar…I hate liars…Liars must be punished…”
To your horror, her teeth lengthen, dripping venom. Her claws grow further out of her nail beds and her pupils turn into dark slits. You are frozen in fear, but when you turn to run, she pounces. Claws slashing and jaws unhinging.
As you fall, you can see a sign on the corner: No Food or Drink.
You throw the book at the library assistant and she hisses. You run down the maze of stacks, zig-zagging your way towards the front. You pass shelf after shelf, but seem to make no headway. Your breath comes out in ragged coughs. Behind you, you can hear the scraping of the library assistant’s claws across the book cases.
The lights go out and you are plunged into darkness. You stop to get a sense of your position.
You hear a slow rusty creak…
Followed by another.
You start running again, fear coaxing a second wind. Only to be stopped by a wall of book carts moving on their own. They surround you, closing in as the shelves part to reveal sharp metal teeth.
As they chomp and snap at you, you see the library assistant crawl towards you with a sign: No Food or Drink.
(1) Librarians, library assistants, and volunteers are perfectly lovely people who rarely partake in the activities described in this story.