I open my eyes and look around at my pitch black bedroom. I thought I heard something. A voice.
Yep, no denying it now. Someone else is in my room. I just hope it's not who I think it is.
“Yeah, can one of you just turn on the lights?”
Ramsey’s the one who hits the switch. At least, I think it's him. After all, he looks just like my mind’s eye imagines him, right down to his green and brown eyes. Really, all the faces around the room look exactly how I think they should look except for Syrena, who's currently posing as a not-so-inconspicuous armchair. But she can shapeshift, so she doesn't count.
I rub my eyes to clear the sleep from them. “What's this about? Actually, how do any of you exist?”
Eric rolls his eyes from the corner, looking perfectly like the average teenage delinquent, when really, he’s anything but average. “Now you know how I feel.”
“Quit your whining, Eric,” Martha admonishes. She’s in dragon-golem form, despite the fact that I haven't even finished writing the transformation sequence. “Plenty of people would kill to have reality manipulation.”
“Reality manipulation? Is that what Eric has?” I ask, still unsure of what’s going on.
“There aren't very many other options, now are there?” Ronald pipes up. He then turns back around and restarts his conversation with some scaly demon lady.
“Seriously, what is going on? I was half expecting Syrena to have showed up the the rest of the freak show-”
“Now, that's just rude,” Syrena pouts.
“But instead, everyone's here. Even- wait. Transgenomics is missing. Where’s Dave?”
Zeke shrugs. “We don't know. Actually, I don't even know why any of us are here. But there are a few others not present.”
I look around. “Like who? I don't see… Are you talking about that Medusa story?”
Rachel suddenly pops into existence from thin air, a tired expression in her eyes. “You just can't leave an old, forgotten story alone, now can you?” She sits down on Syrena, apparently ignorant of who the chair actually is. “Just leave me alone. You’re never going to pick me in the first place.”
“Um. Pick you?” I finally get enough strength to swing myself out of bed. “Is no one going to explain anything?”
Rachel raises her eyebrows (Seriously! How does solid rock move like that?!). “You haven’t told him yet?” she asks the rest of the characters.
“We’ve been too busy bickering and answering trivial questions.” Kate unfolds her arms from across her chest and crosses the room to stand right in front of me. She grips both of my shoulders firmly and looks me straight in the eye. I can't say I'm not intimidated. “Sam, I’m going to be blunt with you. We’re here for revenge.”
“Rev- what for?! Why-“
“Because none of us like the situations you’ve put us in. How’d you like to be forced to lose all your memories and turn into a cat-person? How about killing billions of people? Maybe a snake draining the soul from your body would be preferable.”
“Jeez, I get it. Nobody here likes me. So what are you going to do about it?”
“We’re going to make you feel what we went through,” Ramsey interrupts. “Well, maybe not what I went through, but whatever you choose, it won’t be pleasant.”
“I- what am I choosing? Different ways to die?”
“No, no. Different ways to live. It’s an old trick, really. Giving the audience what seems like a choice, when really, you’ve got them under your thumb the whole time.”
“What? Come on,” I groan. “Is no one capable of telling me stuff cut and dry?”
“Fine,” Eric says. “You choose one of us. You get to experience what it's like to be in the main character’s shoes. Done.”
I blink. “Oh. Okay. That’s… huh. Well, I guess… I’ll… choose one of you, then.” Rachel groans and puts her head in her hands. “Martha, what are you planning for me?”
The crystalline dragon snorts. “Planning for you? Obviously, you’ll turn into a golem and help me destroy the abomination that is the Society. What else?”
“Okay, okay. And you’re doing the same thing, Ramsey?”
“Of course. But naturally, you get to choose your form. Please refer back to that trick I told you earlier.”
“Sure, fine. Um, Zeke. I’m just going to turn into a Mewtwo?”
He nods. “Plus you’ll stay in the Pewter City Zoo, helping educate the next generation of trainers. May I add that we have-“
“Lots of stuff that Pokémon like, got it. Next.” I turn to the duo talking about what sounds like gibberish. “Ronald, I’ve got. But who are you?”
The demon lady bows. “Mina’hut, daughter of Lord Talon-Kor, the King of Dragons. And what we were discussing before you interrupted us was just why we’re here when we shouldn’t be at all.”
“No, no, I most definitely am supposed to be present,” Stiltskin adds. “The initiative for my story has changed. But you don’t even have any ideas for Mina'hut, and are most definitely not writing anything that contains her.”
“Mina’hut? Are you…” I frown. “Decent Prelude, right?”
She nods. “Oh, and by the way, I’m not supposed to have scales.”
“You- what? But, but you're a, a dragon. Don't they, um, have scales?”
“Of course, but I'm not in dragon form, now am I? Instead- ah. Much better.” I stare as Mina’hut’s scales instantaneously disappear and are replaced by skin, just as I made that picture in my mind. “Really, you humans need to stop assuming-“ Suddenly, the scales are back. But only for a second; then the skin returns. Mina’hut’s body starts flickering between the two, and she looks at me with a glare so hard, I literally take two steps back. “Just choose one, you fool! It's not that hard!”
“I, uh, what?”
Stiltskin shakes his head. “You have conflicting images of her. Fixate on one, and the problem will go away.”
It takes a few seconds before I actually try to do what he says. I end up going with the scales, if only because of familiarity. “Okay, can we move on now?”
Mina’hut stares at the back of her hand. “Hmph. Couldn’t even be bothered to fix your mistake.” I pinch the bridge of my nose when I hear that. “Now, if I could choose your fate, I think you would make a very nice tiger. Yes, you’re on two legs,” she adds before I’ve finished opening my mouth. “Would you really have any use if you were on all fours?”
I turn sheepishly away. “Kate, you’re up.”
“There’s no need for me to say anything, you realize that, right? You’ll just have your soul merged into the collective consciousness of whatever you’ve named that snake.”
“Um, it doesn’t, heh. It doesn’t have a name.”
Kate facepalms. “Good job. Quality work, right there.”
I lie back down on my bed spread eagled. “You really don’t like me, do you? Okay, I can deal with that.” I turn my head to look at the products of my imagination. “Uh, Syrena.”
“Well, first, I would introduce you to Master-”
“Oh, Syrena, I’m sorry,” Rachel apologises to the chair. “I had no idea that was you!”
“No, you’re fine. So, how’s life going, girl?”
“Oh, you know, I just want to die. Oh, wait!” She scowls at me. “I can’t!”
“Okay, guys, let’s get focused again,” I interrupt. “Syrena, keep going.”
“So, I think Master would want to have a nice, long chat with you before you experience the most painful moment of your life.”
“Oh, yeah. That.”
“And then you get to spend the rest of your life with me!”
I shudder. She might be an armchair right now, but usually when I’m picturing her in-story, she has a terrifying personality. Not because she’s psychopathic or something along those lines, but because she’s way too, uh, amorous. Ha-ha! Clean language for the win!
“Um, uh, okay. That’s a comforting…” I swallow hard. “Thought. E-Eric?”
He looks around, shrugs, and begins talking. “You commit the largest mass genocide in history. Need I say more?”
“Not really. Rachel?”
Her little hair-snakes hiss menacingly at me. “Saving the worst for last. Nice. Personally, I don’t really have any control as to what happens to you, but I assume you’ll have to pick a patron, whatever that means. Did you really think through my world at all?”
“Yes,” I growl, my hand itching to slap her in the face. “Yes, I did.”
“Well, you didn't do a good job of it. Hey, Luke. You want to say anything?”
“Wait, what?” I crawl to the edge of my bed and look down. “When did you get here?” There's a kid sitting on the ground, completely focused on the book in his lap. He doesn't even acknowledge my question.
“Lukey here has been on a reading binge ever since you put him through ‘Journey Under the Sea,’” Martha explains.
“Don't call me that,” Luke mutters.
“So I'll just be ‘reading’ a Choose Your Own Adventure book, right?”
“Yep,” five people say at once.
“Um. Okaaaay. And I can choose any of them?”
“Eh, sure. I suggest the Lose Your Own Adventure book, proudly published by Despair, Incorporated.”
“Man, Rachel. You really are depressed.”
She shrugs. “Your fault. Deal with it.”
I sit up on my bed and look around at the “choices.” None are any good, of course, but none are actually bad, at least not in my opinion. I began writing transformational stories to help myself understand how it would feel to be released from my human body. But what fun would it be if the transformation hurt? So I have my characters ease into their TFs painlessly, or at least with some form of anesthetic.
Okay, maybe not for Syrena’s story. I’m pretty sure I have Matthew screaming in pain in that one. But otherwise, I should feel fine. The problem is, I kind of want my transformation to be temporary. Living the rest of my life in servitude to a dragon literally made out of diamond isn’t too high on my bucket list. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone out there wants to let me get back to my normal life. The real decision now is which one gives me the most autonomy. That eliminates all the ones with hypnosis, since literally all of those are going to turn me into a slave. So now I’m left with Zeke, Eric, Luke, Rachel and Stiltskin. Taking out the two world-destroyers out seems to be a good choice. Neither of them seem particularly happy, both in-story and out. Zeke would be interesting, since few people actually realize how overpowered Mewtwo is. But then again, isn’t being captured by a Pokéball a form of hypnosis? Darn, I guess he’s out, too. Stiltskin is probably going to give me “immortality” by putting me on the carousel forever. Sure, I’ll be happy, but I’ve got no freedom whatsoever.
So what about Luke? I have to choose a book for that to work, so I’ll get a little bit more leeway there. But in practically every book, you can die horribly, so that’s no fun. Especially the Lose Your Own…
Wait a moment.
Rachel said I could potentially choose that one. But that’s not even part of the actual franchise. So that means any CYOA book is fair game, even if it's just a cheap knockoff.
And doesn’t my situation depend on a single choice?
“You know, normally, I would love to be in this situation. The only problem is that none of these are reversible.”
Kate snorts. “Wouldn’t be much point if we were going to undo it.”
“But what if I made them all reversible?”
“No, no, we make the rules, not you,” Ramsey counters.
“Wait, I think I know what he’s getting at,” says Stiltskin.
“If I just turn this into a Choose Your Own Adventure story, I’ll be able to relive this moment over and over again, choosing a different transformation each time. You guys get what you want, I get to live out my daydreams-“
“Or in my case, nightmare,” Rachel grumbles.
“Or... or nightmare, if you want to call it that. But in any case, everyone wins.”
Everybody thinks about this for a moment before Luke sets his book aside and says, “Sure, go ahead.”
Eric’s jaw drops. “But… But, you were…”
“You guys give me too much credit.” He shows us the cover. “This is a thesaurus. Just how dull do you think I am?”
Mina'hut claps, clearly impressed with his guile. “Well played, Luke. That is quite impressive acting. Lord Talon-Kor could use a human like you.”
“Ah, no thanks.”
“So, what do I do? Like, touch you or something?” I ask.
Luke thinks about it, picks up the thesaurus, stands up, and hands the book to Stiltskin. He accepts it wordlessly and presses it between his hands, a slight yellow glow emerging from the pages. After a few seconds, he gives it to me.
“Just read it,” he tells me.
I open it, then look back up. “See you on the other side, guys!”
“I’d rather not.”
“Rachel! Stop it already!”
I roll my eyes and start reading the second-person narrative of the last ten minutes.
You open your eyes and look around at your pitch black bedroom. You thought you heard something.