Pick Your Own YA Fantasy

PYO-LogoHere’s the deal, folks. I’ve been writing long enough and off the cuff enough that I feel fairly confident in being able to spin a yarn with just about anything that might come my way. One of my favorite kind of books growing up were the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I loved being able to play an active role in the story telling. The other day, I had an idea. Why not do a sort of CYOA-like series on my blog? After thinking it over some more, I decided to go for it. Here’s how it’s going to work:

Each Wednesday (starting today, in this post), I’m going to write a part of a story. At the end of each submission, I’m going to give 3 or 4 choices for you to select. You pick the one you like the most, and let me know which one it is. You can vote by posting a comment here or on Facebook, Tweeting me a vote, sending me an email. Calling me. I don’t care how you let me know, but I will limit it to one vote per person. (Got a family? Everyone in the family can vote. Honor system here.) Votes need to be in by Sunday at midnight, because I’ll be tallying them up on Monday so that I can write the next bit and get it posted for Wednesday.

Make sense? In the event of a tie, I’ll choose between the tied choices at random. In the event that no one votes at all, I’ll choose at random as well. Realistically, I don’t think many people are going to participate at first, but if it proves to be fun, maybe it’s something that will grow in time. Unlike traditional Choose Your Own Adventures, there’s not going to be any re-dos on this. I’m not writing a whole slew of branching story trees. Nope. You and I are going to tell a story together. It should be an interesting way to plot something. I have no idea how it will turn out, but the main goal here is to have some fun.

So without further ado, here’s the first part of the story:

John and the Djinn

Something made a noise downstairs. A big noise, like a heavy thump. The noise a body might make when it dropped to the floor, or the sound a kidnapper might make when he stumbled over the couch in the dark.

John was awake at once, eyes wide and ears perked. Because it was possible he’d imagined that noise. He’d been asleep, after all, and his parents were always complaining to him that he listened to his imagination far more often than he listed to his common sense. In this case, common sense would say the odds of a body dropping dead in his downstairs living room were just about as remote as the odds of a kidnapper stumbling over the couch.

But the trouble with common sense is that it gets much quieter late at night, especially when you’re in your room alone, and have just woken up by a something making a big noise downstairs.

John felt the seconds tick away, and with each tick, his common sense got a little louder. Dead bodies needed people around to make the dead, after all. And kidnappers who have stumbled over couches generally fumble around a bit more as they try to stand. He’d imagined the noise. He must have.

And then the refrigerator door closed.

Common sense started booking it for the hills, and John was left alone with his imagination. It could be his dad, of course. Up for a midnight snack at 3 in the morning, even though his dad could clearly be heard snoring two doors down from John.

His mom, then. Mom’s got hungry too, right? Of course they did. His mom might have gotten up from bed, gone downstairs for a little nibble, and then fallen over the couch in the living room. And if that was the case, shouldn’t John go downstairs and find out if she needed medical attention? Because by the sound of Dad’s snores, there was no way he was coming to her aid anytime soon. If his mom died, and John knew he could have done something to save her, and he hadn’t because he was too afraid of a kidnapper or a dead body, how would he be able to look at himself in the mirror every day?

So he did the only sensible thing he could: got out of bed, shuffled into his bearclaw slippers, grabbed his slingshot and a particularly hard looking marble, and ventured out into the hallway.

The nightlight outside his door had gone out, leaving the house draped in black, except for a dim light coming from downstairs in the direction of the kitchen. His dad’s snores were even louder now, long and grating, with plenty of snorts. Strong, but not strong enough for the door to be open. Had John’s mom shut it on her way out? This was silly. He was making too big of a deal of this. Mom probably couldn’t sleep with all Dad’s snores, so she’d headed downstairs. That made the most sense.

But John was still extra cautious as he padded down, step by step, to the first floor.

A rattle of a jar lid being put back in place came loud and clear from the kitchen, along with the sounds of someone humming and singing tunelessly to himself.


Because unless John’s mom had become a baritone overnight, that was definitely a man’s voice. John didn’t have any older brothers. He didn’t even have any uncles that lived in the same state, leading him to one unavoidable conclusion: a strange man was making a sandwich in his kitchen.

John paused, thinking over his options. The sensible thing to do would be to sneak back upstairs and wake up his parents. Midnight intruders need to be dealt with, regardless of their sandwich-making proclivities. But the man was being so nonchalant about things, John couldn’t help but second guess himself. If he went upstairs and got his parents, and it turned out this was just some big misunderstanding, he’d be embarrassed. Susie wouldn’t let him hear the end of this for months. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tiptoe until he could see who was in the kitchen, and then be sure of his story when he went to his parents?

More sense or not, that’s what John decided to do. He pulled the slingshot back into the locked and loaded position, then inched his way forward, being careful to avoid any rogue couches or dead bodies that might have been placed in his way.

The man was inspecting the cupboards. Not making a sandwich, after all. Judging by the mixing bowls on the counter, he was shooting for a chocolate cake, instead. It didn’t make sense. He couldn’t be a burglar, unless he was completely, utterly incompetent.

The man sighed, but didn’t turn around. “I’m not incompetent, John. I’m also not a burglar, and I’m not here to kidnap anybody. But I am looking for the cinnamon. Does your mom have any?”

He turned around, and the second he did, John yelped in surprise and fired his slingshot, his fingers releasing of their own accord. Because the man? The man who was making a chocolate cake at 3am in John’s kitchen? That man wasn’t a man at all. He had the whole upper body thing going, but from the waist down, he was nothing but mist.

The man-thing snapped his fingers the moment John fired, and the marble came to a rest in midair, hovering there. “A slingshot?” the man said. “Really?”

The marble dropped to the tile floor with a tiny plink. John tried to backpedal out of the kitchen, but an invisible force kept him from leaving.

“This is going to be simpler if I just explain it all at once, John. So I’m going to keep making this cake, and you’re going to stand there and listen. Okay?”

John couldn’t move a muscle. He said nothing. Did nothing.

“Good,” the thing said. “And I’m not a thing. I’m a Djinn. A being with almost infinite power, and I’ve been hired to give you a birthday present.” The Djinn snapped his fingers, and a small bottle of ground cinnamon appeared in the air next to him. He plucked it up and began shaking some into the mixing bowl. “A gift from your great uncle. I know, it’s kind of strange, but you’ve got to admit, old Urville’s a pretty strange guy, right?”

And still John couldn’t move, although he could think, and the biggest thing he could think was What kind of a Djinn hires himself out for birthday parties?

“Hey,” the Djinn said, “did I come here and start insulting your choice of footwear? Let’s be a bit lighter on the judgement thing, okay? I may have infinite power, but that doesn’t mean I can’t lose at cards, right? And a bet’s a bet. But you don’t need to know about all that.” He picked up a wooden spoon and started mixing the batter. The oven was already getting warmed up.

“It’s like this. I’ve brought three different items with me. Magical items with long, complicated histories. And each one of them is going to lead you on an adventure beyond your wildest dreams. I can’t guarantee it won’t be dangerous, but I’ve agreed to tag along with you. You get to pick one–only one!–of the items, and unlock the adventure inside. I’m not going to tell you anything about any of them. You have to choose based on your gut instincts alone. Is that clear?”

Suddenly, John could move again. He managed a nod, and he said, “Do I even have a Great Uncle Urville?”

The Djinn shrugged. “He’s pretty eccentric. But he certainly thinks he’s got a Great Nephew John, so it’s kind of a moot point, right?” He put down the bowl and snapped his fingers again. A puff of smoke appeared on the table, slowly dissipating. “Here they are. Remember, one choice, and one choice only. No backsies, and you don’t get to ask questions. So make up your mind while I get this cake into the oven.”

John glanced over his shoulder at the dark living room behind him. Was this a dream? Shouldn’t he be worried about getting his parents? But the Djinn hadn’t tried to hurt him at all, and the thought of an amazing adventure was more than a little appealing. He turned back to look at the table. The smoke was gone now, leaving the three items open and ready for examination.

The first was an old, leather-bound book. Yellow and dusty, with gilded pages and a prominent triangle with an eye in the middle of it on the cover. The eye blinked as John inspected it. He shuddered, and moved to examine the second: a steel dagger with a midnight blue hilt. It was tarnished, but the steel rippled slowly in the light as John moved for a closer look. It might have been his imagination, but it looked like the blade was burning on the inside: the ripples caused by a slow moving flame.

The third item was a lifelike heart made out of what looked like lava. Glowing brightly, but trapped in some sort of field that kept it contained. The heart pulsed in time, as if it were still inside of whatever beast or creature it had been cut from. It looked more than a little sinister.

“Well?” the Djinn asked. He’d closed the oven and set the timer for a half hour. “Made your choice?”

“Is the adventure only going to take a half hour?” John asked, secretly a tad disappointed.

“What part of ‘near infinite power’ didn’t you understand?” the Djinn said, waving his hand in front of his face in dismissal. “What kind of a Djinn would I be if I couldn’t manipulate a little time and space. Why else do you think your family hasn’t heard us down here? The cake will bake, we’ll go on our adventure, and I’ll make sure to have you home before the cake burns. Make sense?”

“What’s your name?”

The Djinn smiled, a smile that showed a few too many teeth. “Manners? How thoughtful. My name’s Khalid. Pleased to meet you. Now make a decision so we can get a move on, eh?”

Make a Choice

So, dear readers, the choice is up to you. Does John choose the book, the dagger, or the heart? Vote by Sunday, and tune in next week to find out what happens next!

3 thoughts on “Pick Your Own YA Fantasy”

  1. Bryce, have you thought about doing this on Wattpad? Seems like it would be a good fit for the readership there.

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