Category: Pick Your Own YA Fantasy

Pick Your Own YA Fantasy: A Reassessment

PYO-LogoOkay, folks. Let’s get real here for a moment. Today should be part 15 of this ongoing web story. It’s been a strange experiment, and I’ve enjoyed parts of it and disliked other parts of it. Writing a story 1,000 words at a time with input from the readers has been less than ideal. I loved the input, but the haphazard pacing hasn’t been very fun.

And then there’s that bit about “input from the readers.” Part 14 has been viewed once. One time. That might even have been me looking at it. Hard to tell. But suffice it to say that the audience has sort of jumped off a cliff, in terms of numbers.

I don’t generally give up on projects. And I certainly would be willing to continue to give this the old college try, but in this case, it looks to me like it’s time to admit the experiment was fun while it lasted, but it has stayed past its welcome.

I could end the project easily enough: “John and Liese took a few steps into the library, put down the Tome of Ra, brushed their hands, nodded to each other, and Khalid teleported them back to their respective homes in a twinkling of an eye. John got his bear claw slippers back on and went straight to bed, exhausted.”

And that would be that. Perhaps that will be that. If anyone’s particularly fond of the idea of continuing this, let me know. Otherwise, I think I’ll shift my Wednesday posting schedule back to its original “whatever I feel like talking about” routine.

Thanks for playing, peoples.

Pick Your Own YA Fantasy: Part 14

PYO-Logo[Welcome to part fourteen of my continuing blog series. I write the book, you pick the plot. For earlier parts, see part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9part 10part 11part 12, and part 13.]

In the end, of course, everyone went through the door. John swung it wide, and it revealed a midnight black nothingness, almost as if he’d opened a door onto a piece of black velvet. Not that it was just a dark room: it shimmered around the edges when you weren’t looking at it, and made you frightened to turn your back on it at all, as if something might jump out from it at any moment.

The four of them eyed it all together, with no one speaking up or volunteering to go first.

“On second thought,” Harvey said at last, “maybe I don’t want to go in so bad. I think I left a rotting leg somewhere back a ways. I could really go for a little nibble right about now, and I don’t–”

“Don’t be a baby,” Marvin snapped at him, then stared at John. “We’re coming in.”

And while Harvey moaned and complained a little, he followed through on the commitment.

It was a tight fit for Marvin, but the sphinx turned out to be quite flexible when it came to doorways. The fact that it was a passageway into a different dimension probably also had something to do with it. John let Liese go first. He wasn’t sure if that was the gentlemanly thing to do, since the phrase “ladies first” might not exactly apply when you were heading into what could turn out to be a deadly situation, but he’d hesitated before going through, and Liese didn’t wait for him at all. Once she had gone, Marvin and Harvey ended up shouldering their way ahead of John as well, so he turned out to be the last person to enter the portal.

The first step was the worst one.

The moment his toe touched the darkness, it felt like someone had taken that toe, strapped it to a rocket full to the brim with explosive fuel, and launched it to another planet. Instantly. It was as if he were in one room and his toe was in a different galaxy, but still attached to him.

“Painful” would definitely describe the experience.

But once his toe had gone on for the ride, there was nothing he could do to stop. For one thing, who wants to end up down a toe for the rest of their life? For another, that toe was still affixed to his foot, and it dragged his foot after it. The foot took the ankle, the ankle took the leg, and then the whole body sort of launched into it at once.

Having half your brain in one area and the other half in another isn’t something most people would enjoy. John certainly didn’t. So he can’t quite be blamed for being a little out of it when he showed up on the other end of the portal, his eyelids fluttering, his muscles twitching, and his toe wondering what took him so long.

After about a minute, he was recovered enough to look around and see what he’d gotten himself into. It was a room, identical to the one he’d just left, except for a few minor tweaks. The exit was on the opposite wall, the place was well-lit with at least twenty torches, and the only other person in the room was a knocked out Liese.

John blinked and rushed over to her side. “Liese?” he said as he knelt next to her. Had it been something about the teleportation process? Where were Marvin and Harvey? Maybe they’d gotten lost. Maybe John was the only one who was supposed to have gone. Maybe–

Liese groaned and sat up, holding her head. “When I catch those two, they’re going to wish they’d stayed behind.”

John frowned at her. “What?”

“Marvin and Harvey,” Liese said. “The two of them showed up when I was still twitchy, and Marvin knocked me to the ground before hurrying off with Harvey to who knows where.”

“Wait a minute.”

The two of us looked up, surprised by the new voice. It was Khalid, the djinn. He had popped into being in midair, and now was scowling down at us. “Did you say Marvin and Harvey?” he asked.

We nodded. “Is that bad?” I asked.

Khalid shook his head. “The job was for you to come here alone, John. It’s one thing to bring a girl with you. But to bring the two most notorious grave robbers in Egyptian history? What were you thinking?”

John sat down on the ground, more than a little stunned. “The two of them were guarding the entrance,” I said.

“Wrong,” Khalid said. “The two of them were waiting for someone like you to let them through. I purposefully trapped the door so that it would kill anyone other than someone I had approved if they tried to open it. Those two clowns have been there for centuries waiting to get in.”

Liese got to her feet and stepped toward the djinn. “And you only thought to mention this now?”

Khalid shrugged. “I’d been baking a cake when John interrupted me. Cut me some slack.”

John stood as well. “So what do we do?” I asked. “Why are they here?”

“To loot the Library, of course,” Khalid said. He took a deep breath and stood straighter, clearly trying to put a better spin on things. “Though they’ll have to deal with the mummy horde as well. It’s just one more thing for you to worry about. I’m sure you’ll manage it. Besides, now that we’re here, I can help you more.”

“How?” John asked.

“By giving you a superpower.” Khalid smiled broadly, spreading his arms wide. He didn’t say anything else. Just stood there looking happy.

“Which one?” John asked at last.

“Anything you ask me for. But it’s the only one you get. That was the deal with your uncle.”

John thought about it for a moment. “Anything? So if I want to be able to turn invisible . . .”

“Then that’s what I’ll let you do,” Khalid said. “But consider it carefully. You only get one shot at this, and I won’t let you switch it back. Remember, you’ll have a mummy horde, a conniving sphinx, and a very hungry crocodile to deal with, not to mention a slew of booby traps and unexpected surprises. Try to pick something that’s versatile.”

In the distance, something shuffled. Not just something, somethings. Many of them. There might have been a few groans in there as well. The noise sent shivers down John’s spine.

“What was that?” Liese asked.

“The mummy horde,” Khalid said. “Sounds like they might be coming this way, so you’d better make that choice snappy.”

Make a Choice

Nominations welcome, popular vote wins. Have at you!

Pick Your Own YA Fantasy: Part 13

PYO-Logo[Welcome to part thirteen of my continuing blog series. I write the book, you pick the plot. For earlier parts, see part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9part 10part 11, and part 12.]

Imagine you’re standing in front of an electrified door going at full volt, crackling with energy and lightning, and you’re told you have to touch the chair. What’s the scariest result you could imagine? As John reached out for the door knob, several scenarios flashed through his mind. The electricity jolting through his body. The room exploding with some unknown energy. The door opening to a scene from the underworld, full of fire and demons.

What he wasn’t expecting was for all the electricity to vanish the moment his hand touched the knob. It was as if someone had turned off a switch somewhere.

“Great.” Harvey the mummified crocodile sounded put out. “We don’t even get a good grilling.”

“Quiet, Harv,” Marvin the sphinx told him. “We’re side characters. Let the kid have his story.”

John glanced back at the two of them and frowned. Having someone having a chit chat while he was trying to do important things was distracting and inappropriate.

“Sorry,” Harvey said. “Didn’t mean to be inappropriate.”

John’s frown deepened. Was the crocodile a psychic too?

Marvin shrugged, his enormous leonine shoulders rippling in the torchlight that might or might not have been there last time. “He was just conversing with the narrator, is all. Harvey likes a good narrator.”

“They taste like chicken,” the crocodile explained. “And I ain’t even sure if I should even know what a chicken tastes like, anachronistically speaking. Also, did I have an accent last time?”

“No,” Liese said, confused. “I don’t think you did.”

The croc sniffed. “Always wanted an accent. One of them Cockney ones like Dick Van Dyke pretended he had in that movie with the parrot umbrella.”

Marvin sighed. “I loved that umbrella. So witty.”

John turned to face the two of them. “Do you mind?”

Harvey’s eyes widened. “Not a fan of children’s movies, are you? More of an action connoisseur?”

“No,” John said. “It’s just the two of you are completely distracting this story from what it’s supposed to be about. Me. An adventure for me. Did your uncle win a djinn in a poker game?”

“No,” Marvin admitted.

“And were you tasked with returning this book thing to the library place?” John asked.

Harvey sighed. “No.”

John nodded. “Okay then. I’m glad that’s settled. The two of you are just supposed to be here as a temporary obstacle I have to overcome so that this story feels appropriately difficult.”

Liese shook her head. “I don’t think that’s quite right. I mean, I can see where Marvin came into play. Sphinxes and riddles. It makes sense that he’d be an obstacle. But Harvey just came out of nowhere.”

Now the crocodile was almost crying. “Out of nowhere, says she. As if I haven’t had an entire afterlife full of rotting dreams and desires. As if I’m just some flat thing that don’t even deserve to be in this story at all.”

Marvin bowed his head and patted the crocodile with a paw the size of a dinnerplate. “Don’t let it get to you, Harvey. Side characters have rights too. People will see that. Someday.”

The crocodile shrugged off the pat. “I don’t want to wait for some la-di-da someday in the future. I want a story of me own. You and I could do this, mate. All we have to do is return the book, right. And the little blighter admitted last episode he didn’t want nothing to do with this story. He could give us the book, and we could do this adventure all on our lonesome.”

“Listen,” Liese snapped in, her voice sharp and demanding. “The two of you aren’t derailing anything. John and I are going through that door, and we’re having this adventure. I’m the voice of reason in this story. John’s supposed to listen to me and take my advice.”

“You’ve been wrong before,” Marvin said.

“I heard tell you almost ended up being a French bloke,” the crocodile added. “Seems a mite bit uncertain to me.”

“Yeah?” Liese said, hands on her hips. “Well you’ve got names that don’t even fit the plot. Harvey and Marvin? Where did you come up with those? They’re not Egyptian.”

“No they ain’t,” the crocodile said. “But let’s just say their former owners weren’t using them no more.” He and the sphinx chuckled softly and even tried to give each other a high five. It didn’t quite work. Harvey had trouble turning his foot around properly, and it ended up being more of an awkward fist bump than anything else.

“Can we be quiet?” John called out, his voice echoing through the room. The door behind him gave a small crackle, almost as if it was a bit put out that everyone had forgotten about it. Liese, Marvin, and Harvey turned to John and studied him, but they didn’t say anything, which was nice. “Thank you,” John continued. “Now. I have to get home. The only way home is to get that djinn to show up and alakazam me there, unless any of you has a plane ticket and taxi fare stashed away somewhere? No? Well, the djinn said he’d meet me in the library, so that’s where I need to go. I’m going to go there. Liese will come with me. Marvin and Harvey, you’re welcome to come too. What do I care? The more the merrier, if you can fit through the door.” He eyed Marvin’s bulk skeptically. “But look at us. We’ve gone on for almost a thousand words, and we haven’t advanced the plot at all. We’re at the exact spot we left off last week. So could we please stop arguing about anachronisms and who’s doing what, and start actually doing things? This story’s turning into a complete mess.”

Everyone thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “An entertaining mess, though,” Harvey added.

“As opposed to what it was before we showed back up,” Marvin muttered.

“Excuse me?” John said.

“Nothing!” the sphinx called out. “Just agreeing with your plan. All for one. One for all. Good thing I have my own personal library down here and that I subscribe to books by mail, or people might start wondering how in the world I just made a Dumas reference.”

“Whatever,” John said. “Anyone who’s coming, come on.”

Survey Says?

So, dear readers, is John going with just Liese, or will Marvin and/or Harvey join them on the adventure?

Pick Your Own YA Fantasy: Part 12

PYO-Logo[Welcome to part twelve of my continuing blog series. I write the book, you pick the plot. For earlier parts, see part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9part 10, and part 11.]

John looked at the Tome of Ra, looked at Liese, checked the electrified door one more time, then said, “You know what? I think we should get out of here.”

Liese blinked, startled. “What?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he explained. “I went to bed last night just having a normal life. I woke up in the middle of a dream by the sounds of a djinn raiding my fridge, and the next thing I knew, I was trying to get this stupid book into some dumb library. Why am I even doing this? What’s the big deal if the book doesn’t make it there?”

Liese folded her arms across her chest. “You can’t just give up.”

“Why not?”

She sputtered as she tried to find a reason. “There’s no way out, that’s why not.”

John shrugged. “We don’t know that. All I’m saying is that I want to try giving up before I try that doorknob, because you can’t tell me anyone who touches that isn’t going to turn a little Kentucky Fried Chicken. Electrified doorknobs? That’s like textbook ‘don’t touch’ territory. I don’t think anyone really cares if this tome makes it back to its library or not. I certainly don’t. It seemed important at first, but now that I’m looking at it, I could really go with a nice game of Monopoly right now, instead. Or maybe slamming my fingers in the door. That sounds better than this too.”

Liese checked the door as well, then nodded. “When you put it that way . . .”

The two of them turned to leave the room, then jumped in surprise when they saw the Sphinx had come to stand behind them. For a thing that massive, it was pretty light on its toes.

“Seriously?” it said in its low, booming voice.

“What?” John asked.

The Sphinx shook its head. “I stand guard here for thousands of years, and you two are the first two humans to waltz down here in like nine centuries, and you’re not even going to try to go through the door?”

It didn’t sound nearly as somber and majestic as it had before. In fact, it sounded more than a little put out. “We just–” John began.

The Sphinx interrupted him. “I mean, I even worked on some new riddles for this. I worked hard, dang it. When the knight came through nine hundred years ago, he didn’t even let me finish my riddle. So I worked and worked on that thing, and then the two of you got it without blinking. Not only that, but you figured out my other riddle, so you didn’t end up getting devoured by the mummy crocodile. Do you know how disappointing that is to Harvey?”

“Harvey?” Liese asked.

A rotting crocodile poked its head through the Sphinx’s front paws. “Hey guys,” it said, sounding more than a little disappointed. A bit of its nose dropped to the floor to accentuate the effect.

“Not now, Harv,” the Sphinx said. “I’m yelling at them. Where was I?”

“Harvey?” This time John was the one to ask.

“Right,” the Sphinx said. “Harvey. He’d been looking forward to a good devouring ever since the wicked priests put him down here with me. He missed out on the last one.”

“I can only run so fast,” the crocodile explained. “I’ve got bunions.”

“Bunions?” John asked. “Crocodiles don’t get bunions.”

“Tell that to my feet,” Harvey said.

“Stop!” Liese yelled out, holding her arms up for extra emphasis. “Hold on a minute. What’s going on?”

Everyone took a moment to think things through, staring at everyone else as if to make sure this was really happening. “I think,” Harvey said after a moment, “that the two of you are either going through that door right there right now, or . . . ”

“Or you’re volunteering to let Harvey devour you,” the Sphinx finished. “He might be slow, but I’ll hold you down so he can catch you.”

And when you’re faced with a decision like that, what other option do you have, really? John took a look at Harvey’s rotting mouth and wicked smile. The thought of having that thing chomp down on his head was enough to make him sick to his stomach. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll go with the door.”

Liese nodded in agreement.

Harvey sniffled a few times, clearly saddened by this choice. “It’s okay, Harv,” the Sphinx said. “I think they might have left the door to up above open. Maybe we could sneak a tourist or two, just like in the old days.”

“Really, Marvin?” the crocodile asked.

“No one would notice,” the Sphinx continued. “There are so many of them these days, and–”

“Stop!” Now it was John’s turn to hold his hands in the air dramatically. “Wait a minute.”

Everyone looked at him. He stared at the Sphinx. “Your name is Marvin?”

The crocodile and Sphinx both growled in response, and John lowered his arms. It’s important to know when you have to stop talking and start going through electrified doors, after all. “Fine,” John said. “We’re going.”

He and Liese stepped up to the door and paused in front of it. This close, he could feel the hairs on his skin standing on end, and the air practically hummed with energy. The doorknob had hints of purple lightning just under the surface. Touching it was going to be one of the worst choices John had ever made. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that only other option (getting devoured by mummy crocodile) was standing right behind him with an impatient look in its eye and blocking the only way out of the chamber, he might have still made a break for it and hoped for the best.

As it was? He took a deep breath, reached out his hand, and turned the door knob.

Make a Suggestion

Have any ideas for what happens next? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves and reach a consensus. Otherwise you end up with whatever comes to me. Thanks for playing!

Pick Your Own YA Fantasy Part 11

PYO-Logo[Welcome to part eleven of my continuing blog series. I write the book, you pick the plot. For earlier parts, see part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9, and part 10.]

“The sphinx speaks in riddles,” John said. “There’s no way the answer is to just go down the passage on the right for 210 steps and then turn. It’s too simple.”

“But what else could he be meaning?” Liese said. “There are four seasons. There are seven days in a week. I don’t see any other way to interpret them.”

“But what if the Sphinx was talking about a different calendar?” John asked, then slapped the wall in frustration. “If we had an internet connection, we could just zip online quickly and check it out. I’m sure it’s on Wikipedia or some other website.

Liese shrugged and unslung her conveniently not mentioned until now backpack. “I’ve got my history book on Egypt,” she said. “Do you think that will cover it?”

John blinked, then narrowed his eyes at Liese. “You don’t happen to have a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak in there too, do you?”

She gave him a blank stare. “Is this some sort of American humor?”

“Never mind. Check the book.”

John would have peered over her shoulder to get a glimpse of the answer sooner, but the entire thing was written in German, so he had to content himself with watching Liese as she skimmed through the pages. “It’s only general things,” she said. “I don’t know if they . . . Wait! Here it is! Ancient Egyptians had a calendar that was separated out into 3 seasons, and their weeks had ten days.”

“Strange,” John said. He could understand wanting to cut out summer. That was a beastly season. But who in the world would want ten day weeks? That would mean 8 days of school with only two days off for the weekend. It was like some teacher’s dream schedule. But he barreled through that thought and did some quick calculations. “So we need to go down the passage behind us for 300 steps, and then turn and take that fork. That should take us to the library entrance, right?”

Liese checked the math and nodded. “That should do it. Do you think we missed anything else? It would be a shame for the two of us to meet some grisly fate just because we were too quick with the riddle.”

John couldn’t agree more, but he also didn’t have the luxury of having the riddle written down in front of him. Was it possible the sphinx’d had some other tricks in there? Yes. But this was the best he could come up with for an answer for now. And that was assuming the sphinx had been trying to trick them. It was always possible the sphinx had kept up to date with current calendaring methods, and that by studying this problem so thoroughly, he and Liese were making it far harder than it was supposed to be. “It’s going to have to do,” John said at last. “Let’s go.”

So the two of them set off down the passage, the light of their cellphone illuminating the path in front of them. Have you ever tried to count to 300 as if your life depended on it? It gets more difficult the higher you go, especially when one of you is counting in German. Were you on 160 now, or already at 170? Did you skip the 220’s entirely? There was a branch to the right at 275, and then a branch to the left at 302.

That was when John and Liese both realized that using any measuring system that relied on something as arbitrary as steps was really about as foolish of an idea as you can come up with. “How tall were ancient Egyptians?” Liese asked.

John shrugged. “You’re the one with the book. What does it matter?”

“If they were really short, then maybe their steps wouldn’t be as big either.”

“But what if the sphinx was talking about its steps, and not our steps?” John asked.

The two of them exchanged a long glance, then shrugged. “We could keep debating this for ever,” Liese said. “I don’t think we’ll come up with a clean answer. I say we go down this passage here. The one it took us 302 steps to reach. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong.”

John was about to give up hope as well and just go with the easiest path, but then he remembered he had the Tome of Ra to consult. He took out the book, stared at the cover, and asked, “Which passage do we go down?”

The Tome gave an exaggerated eye roll, then stared unblinking down the passage they were standing next to right now. “It’s this one!” John yelled, his voice echoing down the corridors. “We were right!”

With a smile and a much lighter feeling in their steps, John and Liese rushed down the passage as fast as they could, looking forward to being free of this interminable maze at last. Labyrinths were much cooler when you were thinking about them than when you were actually stuck in one.

The passage led down and then down some more, going on for longer than John expected. As the approached the bottom, it appeared some sort of light was emanating from something ahead of them. They slowed down and shut off their cell phone flashlight, then approached their destination with caution. Now wasn’t the time to lose their heads, after all.

The passageway led to a large chamber, at least fifty feet square and twenty feet tall. In the middle of the chamber stood a single stone door frame, unattached to any walls or ceilings. Lightning arced around the stone in a continual arc, making the whole thing look like it was being permanently electrocuted. It gave off a furious crackling noise, like a bonfire on a lonely night.

“We’re supposed to go through there?” Liese asked.

John shrugged. “If we’re going to get into the Library of Alexandria, I think we are.”

“Great,” she said. “But how?”

That was the question of the hour, certainly.

Make a Suggestion

How will they try to get in, and what do you think will happen when they do? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves and reach a consensus. Otherwise, I’ll take the suggestion I like the most and run with it next week. Thanks for playing!

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