Shelter for the Night

a Horror by Bill_Ingersoll

Commended by mizal on 11/8/2020 8:12:53 PM

Player Rating6.08/8

"Too few ratings to be ranked"
based on 29 ratings since 11/17/2020
played 223 times (finished 17)

Story Difficulty3/8

"trek through the forest"

Play Length6/8

"It'll be a while, better grab a Snickers®"

Maturity Level6/8

"I'll need to see some identification"
Some material may be inappropriate for persons under age 16. If this were a movie, it would probably between PG-13 and R.



Shelter TitleGeorge and Amy are one day into a forty-mile backpacking trip in the Adirondack Mountains — tired, hungry, and discouraged by the threat of rain. Their path has brought them to Shingle Shanty Lake, the site of a dank cabin that by all appearances hasn't been inhabited for many years. They are reluctant to camp among the debris and mouse turds, but the rain is falling hard and darkness is coming fast.

As the shower begins to ease, Amy steps outside saying she'll be gone for just a minute. This leaves George alone inside the cabin, waiting impatiently — not realizing his night of torment is only just beginning.

** Updated November 2020 **

This storygame was originally published to meet the 2020 Halloween Writing Jam deadline, but there hadn't been time to complete all of the intended branching. This version includes a second primary story branch as well as 4 additional endings, satisfying my original ideas.

Note that both branches are intended as independent stories, with abundant inconsistencies between the two. Each stands on its own. Exploration may be required to find where each branch diverges.

Important Notes:

  • Contribution to the 2020 Halloween Writing Jam
  • 11 unique endings spread out across 51 total pages
  • Individual storypath lengths range from 8 to 16 pages

© 2020 Bill Ingersoll

All photos by the author

Player Comments

This is a well-written and interesting story that was well worth reading.

Language is used very effectively and evocatively. The main character is very observant which greatly adds to the earlier pages, although during some of the action scenes his internal meta-commentary sometimes breaks the immersion a bit. I would expect that being jumped by a monster would put his mind, and therefore also the style of writing, in a more primal mode.

In terms of structure the story beats many on this site but one thing that put me slightly off is that it breaks basically into two parts and based on their choices readers may not find the second part at all. The first ending that I got lead to a relatively quick death, and with this ending it does not feel much like a story. Too many questions are left open. Perhaps already one page of aftermath events could have fixed this by providing some closure.

The story is much more powerful when you find the second part. But at least for me this required some degree of searching as I found one of the decision that needs to be made to get there was counter-intuitive. Furthermore, I felt a bit cheated because some decisions seem pretty pointless as they lead to the same quick demise (e.g. the rake). In retrospect it feels arbitrary which particular decisions lead to survival while others lead to death.

The flow of the story is good, there is isn't much time to catch your breath, which benefits the action, but then I would have appreciated a bit more time to be scared. For me what would have made this truly exceptional is if the parts would be tied together through foreshadowing, e.g. giving some pointers to the main action already in the introduction (admittedly, the bite marks are there), and maybe letting the guys from part 2 make an earlier appearance, even if only at a distance.

In summary, this is a nice story and I strongly recommend playing it. It is good to see this level of writing on this site.
-- Northwind on 11/3/2020 8:53:23 AM with a score of 4
Did I read that correctly? The images of the cabin were taken by you, Bill? I was going to comment that Shelter holds my favorite cover photo from all of your stories. It's even more impressive that they are original. I would encourage you to keep doing that as much as the story permits. It's noticeable from someone who's read most of your storygames (getting to Creatures next). The "Based on" comment is super spooky too, especially with a black backdrop.

The first page holds an excellent example of descriptive writing in the interactive format. Due to the interactive need and quick plot advances as a result, there isn't as much space for "pause and describing" in the storygame format. Here is a picture-perfect example of what that looks like, the short succinct descriptors pulling weight of a paragraph far more lengthy. Storygame writers should learn from this section:

"This is hardly some rustic old log cabin of the kind Abe Lincoln might call home, though: it is sided with evenly-cut lumber, painted a mineral shade of red, with square cinder blocks forming the chimney. It is a humble but otherwise modern structure, made with materials bought from a lumberyard."

There is a nice bit of backstory when you first arrive in the shelter. The entire time, Amy is being a typical woman, complaining, complaining, and complaining. Learning that your past extends more than a few years helps put things in perspective as well as creates a deeper bond. Yes, she's a tad annoying of late, but it wasn't always so. There's the hope of returning to that pre-bitch state. Still, it brings the question of *why* you're together. But I suppose that's not the point of the story.

Once Amy goes missing, the story speeds up in both plot advancement and entertainment. Plus, it's a solid break from all the nagging, the only cost being spreaded gear and a possible dead girlfriend. Running into the beast for the first time was movie-like. "You" were expecting someone else, certainly someone human, but the sudden appearance of something non-human (and the build-up) is jolting.

The ending in which this review is posted (as will show up on my score) had a nice little surprise, a warning that there is much more to discover in story. Neat trick. I wonder if that will raise the overall rating of the story. An experienced interactive reader will go back and read through branches. The common person passing through would have likely stopped there and possibly rated it lower. I like the idea, even if it's expressed in a slightly passive aggressive manner.

Since I'm posting the review here, I'll discuss this "ending" a bit. Amy is more affectionate now, speaking through her italicized voice than ever before. This makes me think her compulsive complaining attitude was a result of the beast within. It would be a nice explanation to the reason WHY she's changed so much in six years. Here at the end (one of them at least), her true self pokes through. It's right before she tears your body to pieces, but hey, it's something.

Now, I have more endings to find. And you, surveyor of story comments, have a thrilling story to read. 8/8.

P.S. I just discovered the image gallery at the end. My encouragement in the first paragraph still remains the same. I'd like to see more original photography. Blow Your House Down is another where this would have been extremely effective. Maybe a few of Dr. Bolt in Woban, too.
-- ninjapitka on 11/1/2020 1:05:35 PM with a score of 7
As always with reviews, look at the rating number and read the story before spoiling a well-crafted piece with, well, spoilers, for this is one of them.

With the first warning out of the way, I want to start my ramble with my appreciation for the elegant presentation. The larger than usual pages supported by the custom font(-size), the bloodred choices, and the illuminated initials all showed great care went into the story before the first word was read. However, the medieval initials didn't find a home in this modern story as well as the other personal touches. Later on, this first favorable impression was supported by the clear effort that went into proofreading the horror; my reading wasn't disturbed by a single spelling error or faulty sentence.

The opening sequence was also very well done. Thus far, many entries into this contest, as well as into the genre tried to take the spotlight, outshining each other, in an arms race of bizarre settings and supernatural events. The peace and familiar quiet of an abandoned lakeside was a nice and much-welcomed contrast to the more popular hauntings and high-action settings. The abandoned cabin at dusk (which kid did not face his first fears in something alike when trying to impress his peers) and the incoming rainstorm only furthered the ambiance already established.

This setting was supported by wonderfully livid descriptions, courtesy of actually being in the physical location you're describing, and a nice back-and-forth between the two characters that formed the basis of something I often find often missing in horror, the subtle buildup of dread before the shit hits the fan. I enjoyed the disconnect between the reader and George, where we are primed and vigilant due to horror expectations and George is simply a bit too naive hiker more worried about his relationship. If anyone wants an example of well-implemented dramatic irony, this is the story to look out for.

As for the horror itself, the ingredients are all there. The first hint of snakes, a question I wish had been more implemented and answered further down the line, and the isolement and consequent abandonment of the only company you had, all served as a solid foundation. I further enjoyed how the danger was kept mysterious and unclear. This unknown I felt was the highlight of the story, as it kept me at the edge of my seat. Consequently, I enjoyed the paths where the reveal was put off for longer more than where I was confronted early by something I could only imagine coming out of the 2009 Cats movie.

Where the start was a perfect 8/8, from the reveal onwards was where this story started to crack a little. First, I thought the chasing scenes were a weird mix of philosophical rumbling, deep strategising, extreme observation, and finally the expected high-adrenaline running for your life.

Also upon rereading every path, I found most of them too alike, all of them safe for one looping back to the same generic ending. While it was clear the author deemed them all dead branches, I'd appreciate a little variation in how I met my end, either braving the beast in the wilds or cowering in the little shack I deemed my shelter.

There was also internal inconsistency, as the one path leading further didn’t differ from the others in the actions you undertook. Why didn’t the miasma affect you when hiding inside instead of venturing out in search of Amy? The two hunters also came out of nowhere, like a deus ex machina, and only in a single path. Their consequent arrival and comical conspiracy theories detracted from the careful mood set up in the first half, rather than adding to it. They felt more like a crutch saving the plot from growing inert than a crucial and supported piece.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed this piece and find it among the best in its category, wholly recommended for featuring.
-- enterpride on 11/13/2020 10:12:32 PM with a score of 5
A really well-written character story with a great character personality portrayal. Really well-done paragraphs and I love the professional style of the night mode and the chapter capital letter image.

My major criticism is the almost lack of interactivity in dialogues and the linear feel the overall story has.
-- poison_mara on 11/10/2020 3:34:59 PM with a score of 2
Nice story. A bit on the linear side, with some clearly right and wrong paths, but it was very descriptive. I could really envision the location and scenery, even without the images at the end. Speaking of, the drawing is pretty adorable.

Not really a fan of the black on red headers and links because it kind of hurt my eyes, but it did indeed set the tone. It was used in the right places also, unlike some stories where the whole thing is like a storygame on the Virtual Boy.

All-in-all, nice story about how sometimes the truth is pretty abnormal. 6/8.
-- Tim36D on 11/7/2020 2:13:29 PM with a score of 5
A bit long, but it was a good read, well written and you feel like you are with the protagonist at the scene, I just wish the ending had a little more contents and back-story on the cabin. The pictures were a nice addition.
-- Carmelle on 11/6/2020 10:38:52 AM with a score of 6
In the beginning I can't decide if the girlfriend is an annoying bitch or if the main character is reading too much into every tiny thing. But that was just the setup and didn't matter. For the game I just did everything as logically as I could and still died. Good Halloween story, I'll come back later and try more to win.
-- Blackstarr on 11/1/2020 11:32:49 AM with a score of 6
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