Bill_Ingersoll, The Apprentice Scrivener

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Esteemed Architect



I am the author, coauthor, and publisher of thirteen books that I will broadly categorize as "regional non-fiction." Despite being a published writer--or perhaps because of it--I am well aware that getting ahead in this genre is an uphill battle. Therefore, rather than letting some of my story ideas languish or become forgotten, this seems to be a good format to share them.

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Earning 100 Points Earning 500 Points Earning 1,000 Points Having 2 Storygame(s) Featured Rated 63.8% of all Stories Given by Will11 on 02/19/2020 - For your fantastic stories, reviews and other contributions to the site :)


Marooned on Giri Minor

Giri TitleYou are a young recruit in the Astral Navy, serving aboard a minor transport vessel making routine personnel transport runs to Star Base Ishtria. When a malfunction requires the captain to drop the ship out of hyperspace, you find yourself in orbit above Giri Minor--a deserted world with a dark history and circled by uncharted asteroid clouds.

This is a story told in the classical "gamebook" format. This means that it is more narrative-driven and less of a game, and roughly the same length as many printed books in this genre.

Important Stats:

- 19 endings, including 4 "preferred" endings, and 1 epilogue

- 1 abandoned colony

- 1 alien with ambiguous motivations

- 16 passengers aboard the transport ship, 4 crew members, but only ??? survivors

- Thousands of sand-dwelling creatures with mind-altering properties

Can you survive Giri Minor?


(c) 2019 Bill Ingersoll

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Featured Story Secret of the Grass Planet

Grass Planet TitleIt's been four years since you were rescued from Giri Minor, and because of your heroic actions you have been commissioned as an officer in the Astral Navy. Your first assignment as a newly-promoted lieutenant aboard the Starship Orion: search for the noted xenoanthropologist Dr. Lori Munro and her husband Ander Dyo, who have gone missing on the planet Folvan. As you explore the so-called "Grass Planet," known for its expansive prairie environment and bronze-age civilization, you will find that not all is as it seems.

This is a story told in the classical "gamebook" format. This means that it is more narrative-driven and less of a game, with many unique storypaths resulting from the choices you make.

Important Stats:

- 45 endings, with 1 epilogue, told in 105,000 words

- 5 people assigned to your expedition

- 4 missing researchers

- 3 hungry teek-teeks

- 2 Iib Ch'iib raids

- 1 closely-guarded secret... and only 1 way to learn it.

Will you unlock the secret of the Grass Planet?


(c) 2019 Bill Ingersoll

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Previously in the Orion Chronicles:

1 - Marooned on Giri Minor

Vicious Moles of Nature

Vicious Mole Main Title 2As evening arrives on Thanksgiving Day, Hammie Dansker is still struggling with the recent death of his father — and the even more recent marriage of his mother to his uncle. After a tense dinner prepared by his mother and former girlfriend, Hammie steps out onto the porch of his late father's farm… and notices that the dogs, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, are dead. A familiar but unwelcome sound can be heard out in the pastures. This can mean only one thing: the Vicious Moles of Nature have returned!

This is horror story… based on a tragic misinterpretation of Hamlet.

Important Stats:

- 8 endings

- 1 night of terror

- ??? vicious moles


© 2019 Bill Ingersoll

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Featured Story Woban Island

Woban Island Title 3You have been hired to retrieve the Stone of Vul-Kar, a purple gem located in an ancient temple on Woban Island's highest point. But this mysterious and recently discovered speck of land in the South Pacific is inhabited by a fierce tribe of three-eyed cannibals who are determined to kill any and all intruders. And as forbidding as that sounds, the Wobans are just some of the obstacles that stand in your way to glory and avarice: greedy collectors, ruthless murderers, and scorned colleagues all await you on the adventure that lies ahead.

Will you be able to retrieve the jewel and bring it back to your employer safely? Or will you be just the latest victim of this deadly island?

A Brief Note about this Gamebook:

I first wrote Woban Island in 1988, when I was in the seventh grade. The story was inspired by "Fireball Island," a three-dimensional board game that debuted in 1986 and was reissued in 2018. The object was to be the first player to reach the jewel located on the highest point of the island, without being bowled over by the red marble "fireballs." In my story, I substituted the fireballs with the three-eyed Wobans because I thought they would be more interesting to write about, and less of a random force of nature. Otherwise, the basic premise remains the same: you are one of several adventurers vying to be the first to reach the jewel.

This version is a page-by-page modernization of my 1988 hand-printed original. It is told in the traditional gamebook format, similar to the classic Choose Your Own Adventure™ series I was reading at that age. But rather than just transcribing an otherwise amateurish work from my teenaged years, I embellished the story, fleshed out the characters, and added tons of detail. This CYS version of Woban Island is a new edifice built on an old foundation.

Accept Woban Island for what it is: a preposterous and fantastical adventure story written by a 13-year-old, adapted 31 years later for the momentary amusement of a 21st-century audience. If you dwell too much on plausibility, you're missing the point. I had a hoot writing this one. Twice.

Important Stats:

  • 29 endings
  • 3 main story paths
  • 2 potential "employers"
  • 1 objective: be the first to obtain the Stone of Vul-Kar


(c) 1988 & 2019 Bill Ingersoll

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The Saints of Kaitoo - PREVIEW VERSION

Saints Title 2Manuel Rodrigues dos Santos is a colonist living on KAI 222-d, an Earth-type planet orbiting a distant star. One of 37 travelers who endured many decades of cryosleep on the one-way journey to "Kaitoo," he and his wife escaped hit squads and rape gangs on Earth for an opportunity to forge a new life on this unknown new world. But upon their arrival, Manny emerged from his tube only to discover that Marisol had perished during the journey.

Now, many years later, Manny hunts the creatures known as the "saints" — an arboreal invertebrate that is the primary source of protein for the Newfoundland Landing colony. As he leads a multigenerational group of his fellow colonists on an annual hunting trip into a remote mountain range, he struggles to control his secret desires for a certain beautiful young woman who reminds him of his dead wife. By day she seeks to learn his craft; by night she seeks a more intimate kind of connection.

Is she who she seems to be? And as their encounters become more intense, is it worth hazarding everything he has built for himself by pursuing a forbidden romance?

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The Gambler broke even on 4/2/2020 2:04:04 PM

Also Kenny Rogers. Lebowski fans will enjoy this.

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Corona Tag! on 4/1/2020 7:24:37 PM

Well, in that case.


The next morning, you find Thyos Kokkinopole and Cosmo Hamaritus in the company break room. This used to be a place of levity, where the members of your workforce would come to momentarily escape equipment breakdowns and order fulfillments. Now your skin crawls at the thought of the two most malcontented people on Chhota Chandrama.

You can hear Kokkinopole's voice all the way down the hallway. In this 0.48-G environment even a gentle step could send you bounding down the corridor, so it takes tremendous self-control to merely creep closer to the entrance to the room. If only Dad had installed handrails. You know that if you burst into the room, they will likely change the conversation or stop talking altogether. Kokkinopole never says anything to you directly anymore except to bitch and complain, so you recognize an opportunity to hear his thoughts unedited and unfiltered.

"Men weren't meant to live like this," Kokkinopole is saying.

"I hear you, brother," Hamaritus responds.

"And I didn't sign up for this bullshit. I came here to make money. I don't give a rat's ass what happens on some planet full of towel-heads. I have a family back on Kaitoo that depends on the deposits I transmit to them."

"Same here, same here."

"This place hasn't produced a gram of titanium since the attack. We've been sitting idle for three months. And our Boss Lady won't let us leave — too afraid to stay, too afarid to go."

"So long as Tello's got her back, there's not much we can do about it."

"We'll see, Cosmo. We'll see."

By that point you have reached the entrance to the break room, so there is no point in hiding. You turn the corner, finding only the two occupants. Both men look up when you enter, and both make eye contact. But then both return to their conversation.

"Now the Old Man, there was a great boss," Kokkinopole says. "Artor Crident knew how to take care of his people. I was just a drill operator when he took me on twelve years ago, before he put me in charge of the machine shop. We made money hand over fist back when he was alive."

"This place is lucky to have you, brother," his sidekick Hamaritus says. "Most outfits would probably pay you twice what you make here."

You go about making your breakfast, allotting yourself just a pathetic amount of the remaining powdered egg mass. There may only be a couple weeks' worth of food left in the company stores, and only if everyone rations their usage. Not surprisingly, you noticed that both Kokkinopole and Hamaritus had helped themselves to generous portions before you arrived; both still have uneaten portions on their plates.

"No need to tell me," Kokkinopole says. "I know what I'm worth."

It's like listening to a well-rehearsed skit, scripted and performed for your benefit. For all the bragging that he does, your machinist sure has mastered the art of passive-aggression. It's almost comical in a way, because back in your office you have an employee file 5 GB in size devoted to this character, courtesy of your father's diligent background check and subsequent record-keeping: Thyos Kokkinopole, aged 45, not currently married, owes child support to two different women, neither one living on Kaitoo now or in the past. There is an indication of a criminal record on that planet, although that portion of the file is encrypted and unreadable. Fired from his last three jobs, hired by Dad only after agreeing to a significant pay reduction; assigned to the machinist position only because he sucked at operating a mining drill.

Therefore you, too, know exactly what this arrogant airbag is worth, perhaps more accurately than he thinks. The question, then, is whether to confront him or ignore him.

You decide to confront, if only for the entertainment value.

"Mr. Kokkinopole, Mr. Hamaritus. Good morning," you say.

"Mrs. Ureste. You are looking fine," Kokkinopole says. "Heard from your husband lately?"

Hamaritus loses control and laughs at the joke, practically spraying the table.

"Careful there, brother," Kokkinopole says. "That's my breakfast you just contaminated."

"I can't help but notice that's an awfully large breakfast, Thyos," you say. "Are you going to finish all that?"

"I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach, Ma'am."

Ma'am. Cripes, you're not even thirty yet. "You do realize we're completely cut off, and that we're running low on supplies, right? I've explained the need to ration."

"It's not ringing a bell. Maybe you should explain to us again what we're all still doing here."

The Reconstituter dings when your synthesized scrambled eggs are ready. You take the hot plate to their table and sit down, hoping that you are showing no sign of intimidation.

"You are optimistic in our chances of sneaking past the Iib Ch'iib armada, Thyos?" you say.

"I give us better odds than if we stayed here," Kokkinopole says, a bit of egg snared in his brown beard.

"The system has been swarming with hive ships. That doesn't impress you?"

"They aren't looking for us. They'll never notice."

"And if they do?"

"Gods, woman, grow a pair of…. Look, it's a simple process of elimination. Can we stay here? Not unless we can learn how to eat rock. Is there anything for us on Chodry? I wouldn't know, because I can't speak cricket."

Cosmo, who has been watching from the sidelines, cracks himself up with laughter again. "Maybe we should give Diden a call. I bet he's fluent in 'cricketese' by now!"

Kokkinopole laughs so hard his belly heaves with convulsions. "Maybe he can broker a supply run for us. Cheeb cheeb cheeb cheeb cheeb!"

You can't afford to let these bastards under your skin. "You were saying, Thyos?"

"What? Oh yes, the process of elimination. We can't stay, we can't return to base, so what does that leave?"

"We need to get the flock out of here, is what it means," Hamaritus says.

"Right. And we need to do it now," Kokkinopole says.

It's time to shock them both. "I agree, we need to leave."

"No need to thank me for being right," the machinist says.

"I told Mr. Tello first thing this morning. He's preparing the transport as we speak. If you fat slobs weren't in here stuffing your face, you might've been down there helping him."


"Better get packing."

Both men quickly rise from their seats, with Hamaritus quickly stuffing the last of his eggs in his mouth. "Say no more, Ma'am," Kokkinopole says. "We're on it. This is the first reasonable thing I've heard in a long time. Come on, brother, let's go see Rufus. I was packed weeks ago."

The two grown men look silly bounding out of the room, sped along by the low gravity. But they leave their dirty plates behind them on the table, as if it were your job as the only woman in the room to clean up after them. Screw it; let the Iib Ch'iib deal with the dishes, if they ever find this place.

With the break room now empty of testosterone, you can finish your synth-eggs in peace. Yes, it's true that you decided early this morning, while sleep was eluding you, that you needed to abandon the mine and allow your people to try and seek safety. The only reason you had hesitated this long was because of all the Iib Ch'iib traffic surrounding the two planets. Instead of declining, the amount of dun-colored vessels has only been climbing. This probably means that the optimal time to sneak past the alien fleet had passed weeks ago, and that waiting any longer would only make the odds worse.

So much for your six employees. What about you? This is where you feel split to your core. The rational course would be to join your crew on the transport and try and escape to Tyuu, despite the high likelihood of getting shot down by the Iib Ch'iib.

But that would mean abandoning Diden and Ihon, your lover and your baby boy, who for all you know are living in fear down on Big Chodry. If not for you, they will have no other hope of salvation. There are two cargo haulers here at the mine, small pods intended to pull containers full of materials and equipment. On its own, without being hooked up to a boxy freighter, either one of these pods might be small enough to make it to the planet's surface undetected. The invaders may very well dismiss the pod as a chunk of falling debris.

Either option is risky, and full of unknowns. Nevertheless, the time has come to decide.

Corona Tag! on 4/1/2020 7:06:05 PM

Again?!? I just contributed one a couple weeks ago.

OUTBREAK FEVER: Apocalyptic Reading on 3/20/2020 6:29:17 PM

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is actually pretty timely. I haven't read it recently, but it is a book I enjoyed so much that I've read it twice.

There is a plague that wipes out most of humanity, although in this case the disease was evented in a lab. The story is told by someone who assumes he is the last surviving human, Jimmy "Snowman." He is not entirely alone, though: he shares his post-apocalyptic world with the "Crakers," genetically engineered beings crated by the same corporate scientist who unilaterally decided that Homo sapiens (himself included) had to go. The world is also inhabited by the feral populations of other genetic experiments, including the pigoons, which are (as I recall) described as intelligent pigs with human organs. Much of the novel is told as a flashback, with descriptions of the declining civilization that "Crake" decided it was best to wipe out.

This book inspired two sequels, although the other two books were told from different perspectives and struck me as being more satirical in nature (i.e. someone's solution to saving polar bears from the thawing Arctic Ocean was to send helicopters filled with garbage north and unload the contents over the tundra).

Corona Tag! on 3/16/2020 10:04:51 PM

The place was on the shore of a frozen lake south of the Canadian border, abandoned after a band of Federalist militia took over the compound that had encircled it just a few weeks earlier. You had no quarrel with the Federalists; you were just passing through their territory. But the fact that you and your wife spoke Spanish, with corresponding accents in the way you spoke English, made you tempting targets among their hit squads, who were incapable of appreciating the distinctions between Argentinians and Mexicans.

Raquette Lake, it was called. The entire place had been fenced off for the private use of whichever megacorp owned the compound. Then the Federalists "liberated" it, but had no further use for it, as it was but one of many such lakes in a region studded with them. The snows were deep here, the nearest settlements many miles away. It was the perfect place to hide.

Marisol wasn't very talkative that year. Her hair was still shorn after that incident down on the coast, and whatever she had experienced had been too painful to share, even with you. But she was physically strong, and bore the journey well. You had come up in November, before the worst of the snows, following an abandoned autocar highway through the endless ranges of small mountains. The pavement was ribbed from many seasons of frost heave and root growth, and the years' worth of leaves that had drifted in from the sides had rotted into soil and now sprouted plants and small trees of their own, like a small ecosystem floating over the ancient asphalt. Only the rusting guard rails bore witness to the original edges of the road.

Many of the buildings that you had passed along the way were too dilapidated to be of much use to you, and they had long since been looted of any useful provisions. They were nothing more than rodent shelters now. You passed through places that had once been towns, later converted into shopping outlets filled with useless boutiques, making them veritable deserts for your purposes. These had been abandoned too.

This would have been an unlikely environment to seek refuge for the winter, except for the news you had heard about the recently liberated compound. The militias were nothing if not predictable, and having driven out the corporate security forces they would have quickly retreated themselves back to the comfort of their own encampments in the surrounding lowlands. They were raiders, not occupiers. You figured you would get a solid three months of peace there, four if spring didn't arrive too soon, deep within the former American state but in a part no one cared too much about.

You knew you had arrived at the right spot when you came to the busted-down chain-link fence. MERCorp had built a checkpoint straddling the old highway, but the former guard station was now a charred ruin, with bits of wood and sheet metal strewn across the pavement. The lake was just beyond, not yet frozen but gray and choppy under the clouds and wind. There was a marina nearby, and boats that appeared to be in working order, but the water looked wild and restless. So instead you walked.

The heart of the compound was not hard to find, although the way was long. A narrow road led along the western shore, past narrow bays and out onto a hook-shaped peninsula, to the sprawling main lodge near the tip. Large pines still graced the shoreline, probably holdovers from when all this had been a wilderness preserve in a bygone era. The building itself seemed to be laid out like a bird of prey, its wings extended forward in a symbolic show of power for anyone viewing it from above. It matched the MERCorp logo itself, as stamped on all of the directional signs you had passed. The entire structure appeared to be constructed with unpeeled logs, but upon closer inspection this was just a facade meant to evoke a frontier memory; inside, the structure was steel and glass and plaster, as sanitary and elegant as such a place needed to be to flatter the executives and board members who vacationed here.

The militiamen had been relatively gentle with the place, leaving few signs of damage. There was a busted-down door to the manager's office, a string of bullet holes in the wall behind the desk, and knocked-over flower vases in the main lobby. Most likely, there was nobody here at the time of the liberación other than the staff, and after the manager was subdued (executed?) the rest of the employees fell in line. Otherwise, the lodge was empty. Nevertheless, you rejected this as being the place you wanted to spend the winter, as it was too ostentatious, too cold and impersonal to spend so long a time. But it was well stocked with canned food, and so you set Marisol up in some modest staff quarters near the main kitchen while you continued to explore the compound.

An offshoot of the main service road led around the tip of the next bay to a cluster of smaller cabins on the northwest shore. These were far less showy, probably intended as rewards for mid-level managers who had been smart enough to hide their resumés — lest they appear disloyal to the company, ready to jump ship and go work for a more lucrative position at a rival corporation. MERCorp had not been one of the bigger megacorps so far as you knew — at least, you had never heard of it until you came to this place — and so as big as this compound seemed, it was middling compared to others you'd heard about.

Much of America had been partitioned off just like this, with the megacorps brandishing their wealth as a form of unassailable power. The Federalists claimed to be a populist movement intent on restoring the old republic, but no one outside of the militias believed in their ability to do anything other than play with their arsenals from time to time, capable only of mischief. A remote compound like Raquette Lake would have been an easy target, but New York? Illinois? The California Coast? Fat chance. The version of America fetishized by the militias had long since been bought and paid for. E pluribus nihil.

Once you had found a cabin that suited your needs, you returned to the abandoned lodge to retrieve your wife. Marisol was silent as she walked beside you to the cabin you had chosen. This one was genuinely made of wood, and its walls were weather-tight. A good supply of firewood had once been laid up, and although some of this was starting to rot around the edges most of it was still in perfect shape for fuel. Some mice had taken up residence on the second floor, but you had already put out traps for them. There was not much for food, but you could fix that problem later by hauling down supplies from the main lodge. And at any rate, you had already figured out these woods contained deer, moose, hare, and pheasant. You would get by quite well in a place like this.

Your wife flashed a weak smile when she first saw the place. Before returning to the lodge to fetch her, you had lit a fire on the hearth and set two propane lamps a-glowing in the front room, and so even in the dim late-afternoon light the cabin had a homey appearance. Neither of you had ever known such a place; back in Argentina the options for most people were either cramped apartments or crumbling shanties, and ever since you fled South America it seems like the two of you had never slept in the same borrowed shelter for more than two nights in a row.

But this looked like a home; even if you would be lucky to last the winter here, this was more personal space than either of you had known since your marriage last year. Marisol stepped through the doorway first, spun around in the cozy den, and then buried her face in your chest as she embraced you.

You did well, Manny, she said. It was the most she had spoken in a month.


When the snows came, they accumulated incrementally: a few inches there, a brief thaw and a retreat to rain, then a day when it stormed for thirteen hours and left several feet of powder in the woods. Fortunately there was a pair of antique snowshoes hung as ornaments above the fireplace, with what looked like vinyl stretched across a thin steel frame. The rubber bindings were rotten and shot, but you were able to rig a satisfactory replacement with some cord that you found. With the snowshoes you were able to trudge for miles through the surrounding wilderness, where there was no further development beyond the lakeshore.

MERCorp had stocked their fenced-in compound with not only deer, but also elk. The perimeter may have been breached, but the herd had yet to figure that out, and so supplying your little household with fresh meat was turning out not to be a problem. Maybe the cabin wasn't well-stocked in terms of non-perishable food, but it was a boundless source of useful implements. One such item was a brown knife with a solid, six-inch blade you found in a random drawer. On those days when you were able to take down a deer or an elk — which for the first few weeks was any day you wanted to — the knife got a lot of mileage as you field dressed each animal.

It had never been your intention to take anything from the cabin. After all, this had been somebody's personal retreat, and in the back of your mind was the distant notion that whoever had once summered here would someday be coming back to the lake, as if the militia raid had never happened. But this was such a good knife that you kept it close to you at all times. After a while you forgot that it wasn't yours.

Marisol was content to spend her time in the cabin, availing herself of the stash of novels she found in a trunk in the upstairs bunkroom. They were in English of course, and for both of you this was still a language you were struggling to learn. Speaking it was one thing, reading it was quite another, but your wife set to the task in quiet contemplation. Her favorite spot was at a small table that had been set up in front of a picture window overlooking the lake, where light was plentiful. The cabin was not very big, and so no spot in the main room was more than a few meters from the fireplace. Every day when you left, you made sure there was an ample supply of wood stacked up beside the hearth, and more on the front porch just outside the door.

Yourself, you were too restless to remain in one spot all day long. Unless the weather was howling outside — and it did seem like there was at least one day of horrific weather every week — the lure of the woods compelled you to don those silly snowshoes and go exploring. Perhaps it was in your nature to do so. Maybe it was because you knew of no other lifestyle, having recently been on the run to evade those who would try to enslave you in debt. Just as likely it was because you found it difficult to believe that you wouldn't be discovered, even here. Rather than be caught by a Federalist patrol while napping in a warm bunk, you would rather be outdoors on your own two feet, struggling to take down your would-be captors before they found Marisol.

Always as you wandered, your rifle was close at hand. But so too was the knife; much better to slit the throat of an attacker in silence than to blow his brains out and attract all his buddies. If it came to that, of course.

But after a while, this paranoia of yours seemed like just that, an irrational fear. You wandered the shoreline of the bay, never seeing other tracks, nor any movement down the lake. You explored the perimeter of the compound, finding most of the fencing to still be intact. The enclosed area included not just the big lake, but an area of about fifty square kilometers, give or take. On one point you found a cluster of log lean-tos, a type of shelter that until that winter you had never seen before. To the east of them was a large, round pond that you assumed must have been a favorite fishing place.

The most intriguing place on the compound, however, was a small mountain to the northwest of the lake. A trail began not far from your cabin and led to a steel watchtower on the summit. You had no idea it was even there until one of your wanderings across the frozen lake, when you saw it gleaming on the near horizon. The mountain had a few small patches of bare rock, but no natural views. From the top of the tower, however, you could see for miles in every direction. Raquette Lake was at the heart of a vast forest, with a range of larger peaks to the northeast. Dozens of smaller lakes and ponds could be glimpsed here and there in almost every valley.

What did you find today? Marisol asked one afternoon when you returned to the cabin, just days after you had first climbed to the tower.

More snow, you replied.

Comedy doesn't suit you, my husband.

She stood up and entered the kitchen, returning with a steaming kettle. I made some coffee. Would you like some?

Very much, please, you said.

Marisol turned over a white porcelain cup from the table; it had been rinsed, but not cleaned. It was just the two of you here, and it was just coffee, so why waste soap after every use?

Did I miss anything here? you asked after the first sip warmed your throat.

Let me see. Your mother stopped by, said she misses you. Then my friends Loísa and Esmeralda came and took me shopping. There was a cute puppy and I almost bought it! But of course I couldn't do such a thing without asking you first.

I'm afraid comedy suits you no better, my wife. But in reality, you were heartened to see that her shell was softening, and that this time alone was doing her good. Yes, you had saved her life a few months ago in New Jersey, but you had been afraid a large part of her had died anyway.

Then I guess it's a good thing that neither of us are comics, she said.

You will be happy to know that I climbed the mountain again today, and there is no one else for miles around. The same as yesterday.

And the day before, Marisol added. You tell me this like it is good news.

Isn't it?

I don't really want to be alone, Manny.

You mean you don't want me to go off and leave you during the day?

No, it's not that. I mean, I don't always want to live in a place with no people in it.

You stood up from the table by the window, then took a seat with your coffee beside the fireplace. Even if there were people here, they would not be friendly, you said.

But imagine if they were. Imagine they were like us, sick of running all their lives, from one place that has nothing to another place that people say is better only because it has a little bit less nothing.

In Canada—

Yes, I know, Canada, she said. But imagine if they were here. During the day, when I want a little exercise, I explore this little cottage colony. None of the doors are locked, and I look around inside the other houses. I imagine that there are people living in them, and that we are all eating the food we grew in our own gardens, and the meat that you brought to us from the woods.

You listened intently, but you had no idea how to respond. Any expression of your pragmatic side would have almost certainly crushed this first expression of hope she had shown in a long time.

You're going to tell me this is impossible, she said anyway. I admit I have no idea how to make it work. But aren't there people setting off into space every year to do just what I am daydreaming about, on some new world?

Other people, yes, you said. Corporate employees, loyalists, investors. Even if we could get hired by an outfit like Tyuu-Amcorp, I would be cleaning the toilets and you would be stuffing empanadas in the cafeteria.

So what is our plan, then? How do we get to Canada, and what's waiting for us when we get there?

Those were good questions, and ones to which you didn't have a ready answer. In terms of getting to Canada, the easy answer was to go north, as the land border was not far from the northern foothills of these mountains. And there was always the possibility that this part of the border might get shifted south, as Canada was eager to expand its territory and there was now nothing to block its military progress but a band of barely regulated militia outfits. The country you were seeking to enter may very well have been coming to you.

Let's have this discussion another day, you said.

Marisol set a level gaze into your eyes from across the room. All right, another day, then. But we will have that discussion. Spring will be here soon, and I assume you will want to be on the move again.

Her assumption was correct. Except that before spring could arrive, there was a mid-February freeze that you had to endure, with temperatures dropping down to -40° three nights in a row. By day, the warmest thermometer reading was -15° Celsius, or 5° Fahrenheit on these American instruments. Trees popped in the woods as if entire branches were snapping off in the cold, and the joists of the cabin shifted and moaned, making it seem like the cabin might violently shatter and tumble around you as its component parts expanded beyond their design tolerances.

On the second night of this cold snap, there was a distant sound of thunder. It was not a jetdrone, as you knew well enough what those sounded like, and it was not actual thunder, because there could be no such storms at this time of year. When the sound persisted, you were drawn from the warmth of the covers to look out the windows.

What is it? Marisol said from the futon you had placed in front of the hearth, a generous stack of wood between it and the fire.

I'm not sure, you said. The sky to the northeast was glowing bright orange, as if the sun were rising on the wrong part of the horizon, at 1:30 in the morning.

There was no further information you could glean from the window, so you bundled up and trudged down to the lake. The view was no more conclusive there, and you couldn't bear the cold for more than a few seconds. But even in that brief time, you were able to postulate a disturbing theory: there had been an explosion. A big one, in the general direction of Canada.

The distant but thunderous sound took many hours to fade away; even in the embrace of the futon you could hear the noise lingering in the mountain like a trapped beast. In the morning the sound was gone, and so was the orange glow. In its place was an enormous black smudge rising high into the sky.

I need to see what that was, you told Marisol as you stood side by side on the frozen bay.

From the tower? she said.

Yes. I'm not sure what I'll see, but the view is a little more clearer up there.

The climb up the mountain was invigorating, as it pumped your body full of warmth. But the cold was stinging when you ascended the steps of the tower. The day was not clear — it rarely ever was here — but the clouds were high, obscuring none of the distant peaks. From this additional elevation, the black smudge you had seen from the lake was now more clearly seen as a massive column of smoke, as if a volcano had erupted from the midst of the frosty wilderness. The source was somewhere just beyond those high peaks, out of your field of vision, but the smoke seemed to rise straight to the stratosphere.

The only likely explanation was that someone had detonated a nuclear warhead. Militias could only dream of being so well armed, so this was clearly a military campaign. Canada versus… some well-funded corporate security brigade? Maybe. But who had nuked who, and why there in the mountains?

Frostbite would have been forthcoming had you remained on the tower, so you dashed down the mountain back to the cabin. But as you sat on the edge of the futon to be near the fire, your imagination ran wild, envisioning troops dispersing into these same hills as the skirmish expanded, or simply to escape annihilation. So later that same afternoon you climbed the mountain a second time, frustrated that the landscape still appeared unpopulated. Was it really that way, or was it just concealing potential threats as well as it was concealing you?

The weather broke the next day, with the temperature climbing to something that seemed far less life-threatening. You were able to linger on the tower for a longer period of time, but still you saw nothing.

On the third day, a front was moving in from the west, promising a new wave of snow. You could see it like an approaching plague of locusts, fifty kilometers long and just thirty kilometers distant. Ahead of the front, low clouds were descending like fog over the range of high peaks. Therefore it was easy to miss the column of smoke that was rising from one of the neighboring lakes, maybe twenty or twenty-five kilometers away — nothing on the scale from the other day, but a simple plume of grayish-white, just like the one emanating from your own chimney. It would be an ordinary sight, except that months had recently passed with no evidence that anyone had been dwelling in that direction.

Being February, with winter still very much in control of the wilderness and several feet of snow to contend with, you were not quite sure what you were supposed to be doing with this information. Ignoring it, however, could prove fatal.

Once again you rushed down the mountain, trying to devise a plan as you followed your snowshoe trail through the woods. Fleeing seemed impossible, so the only other option was to make yourself invisible: extinguish the fire in the cabin, close the curtains, never turn on any lights — not until you could verify you were alone again, or that the other party was content to stay put on their own lake.

How are we going to keep ourselves warm without a fire? Marisol said when she saw you were serious about dousing the life-sustaining blaze in your fireplace.

This cabin is full of winter clothes. Just be thankful the cold snap has passed.

Your wife acted as though she wasn't convinced there was a threat, but that didn't prevent her from assisting in your efforts that morning. And if she needed proof that she was wrong, she didn't have to wait long.

What is that sound? she said, cracking back open the curtains covering the picture window.

It sounded as if a horde of banshees had descended on the lake, but you recognized it immediately as the high-pitched whine of motors built for speed. You joined Marisol as she peeked out the window, seeing a column of snowmachines zipping across the lake. Dozens of them, operated by people wearing the same drab-green parkas.

Federalists, you said.

Where are they all going?

Getting out of the mountains, I imagine. That nuclear blast was more than they could handle.

Your wife tensed at your side; the gang that had cornered her in Newark had claimed to be Federalists, although to you they just looked like punks with chips on their shoulders. Not that the real Federalists were any less loathsome; they claimed to be idealists, but were really just opportunists not above destroying things they didn't own, and killing people they didn't know.

You were right about putting out the fire, Marisol whispered. I don't think they can see us.

Not directly, no, you thought. The militia column seemed to be heading down the length of the lake, toward that highway you followed into the mountains back in November. If they kept to that course, they would pass you by at a safe distance. However… however. No smoke may have been rising from your chimney, but you had been leaving tracks across the lake all season long as you explored its far-flung parts. Some had been filled in by drifts, but others were still comparatively fresh. And of course, all those snowshoe tracks led back to one place: the cabin.

So it came as no surprise when a squad of four snowmachines slowed to a halt on the lake, the riders disembarking their noisy mounts to examine something in the snow. Then you saw what looked like one man pointing in your direction.

A moment later, the four riders got back on their sleds and steered themselves into the bay, away from the main column. As you and Marisol watched from the picture window, they zoomed across the ice straight toward you.

Interesting Comments 5 on 3/12/2020 6:30:53 PM

Um... yeah.

Hello. When I found this I started balling. I was shooting those hoops so fucking well you won't even believe how good I was at basketball. After learning about the secret of the grass planet, (A twist to be sure!) I went hope and drank 2 liters of gin and vodka. I sentenced myself to 3 episodes of my favorite show, desperate housewives, before heading off to bed with fear in my mind and an ache in my soul. Reading this was like reading my great grandfather's obituary, except I learned that I didn't actually inherit anything from this story. Thanks for the vase, the government is a lie. And post.

-- Alfred the Great, son of the G on 3/12/2020 1:18:06 PM with a score of 0

Boardgame Thread on 2/21/2020 5:32:17 PM

Glad you enjoyed it. Admittedly, the one time I was able to play the new version there was a time constraint, so there might have been aspects I missed. But there were three of us playing, and most of the time when a fireball rolled not much happened because the board was so big and it was easy to miss all the players.

To be honest, I remember very little about the original... except that it impressed me enough in 1988, apparently.

Highlights of the Past Year on 2/4/2020 4:55:15 PM

You forgot the nose ring...

And congrats to Gower!

Recursion Theory: [UPDATE] on 1/25/2020 2:30:59 PM

I spent several hours reading/playing this story game today, making it all the way to the end of the preview version. The majority of that time was spent cycling back through that third day over and over, wondering where the missing clue was... only to realize (with the help of the "Heavenly Hints") that I had misinterpreted the one clue I thought I had deciphered!

From a writing perspective, there is not too much that I can say. Your grasp of the language is pretty firm, and the only punctuation/grammar issue I noticed on a repeated basis had to do with dialogue:

"Where did you get that key from, dad?" Your eldest queried.

Should be:

"Where did you get that key from, dad?" your eldest queried.

Otherwise, I encountered no coding issues.

Could the story be improved? Maybe, but this has to do with whether your intention is to write a story or a puzzle. And in what you label as "chapter 3," this very much becomes a puzzle.

As a story, I can see that you made very good use of your initial feedback, as the initial page did a better job at getting my attention as well as setting the stage for the recurring time loops. I still think the individual members of the family could be a bit more sharply drawn -- by which I don't mean the addition of oodles of exposition, but maybe three lines per person to describe what each family member means to me. This could be the brief remembrance of some little personality quirk, or perhaps a little anecdote of something the person did that illustrates that quirk. Otherwise, all I really pick up now is that there is a wife, two daughters, and a brother who chauffeurs everybody around. The women come close to being vivid characters, but the presence of the brother seems odd; did my wife and I lose our driver's licenses or something?

You seem to be a detail-oriented writer, noticing all the little nuances of daily life -- who made what for breakfast, and who prefers which brand of coffee, for example. I very much appreciate this, but it does make it stand out when some details get fudged.

One example is the reference to the baseball game on TV. I believe the time of day is 11:00 AM, and the game is already in the ninth inning. Elsewhere, a detail on the Philosophy Club poster leads me to believe the story is set in the month of October. The problem I had with this otherwise nice addition of detail is that professional, televised baseball games are never played that early in the day, unless there is a time zone discrepancy. In October, any game would be a playoff game, and none would begin until 1 PM Eastern Time. Given the average length of a baseball game is 3+ hours, that Giants game that is wrapping up at 11 AM would only make sense if the game was being played somewhere on the east coast... and this story was taking place in Hawaii.

Second, as I mentioned above, George's role in the story so far is... odd. Maybe his presence is explained in the unpublished part of the story. However, it would be highly unusual for a nuclear family of four -- where even the kids seem old enough to drive -- to be so dependent on the bachelor brother to drop them off at the seminar and then pick them up later. This detail had me asking questions that were never answered. Maybe there should be some salacious reason, revealed later in the story, why Mom and Dad can't drive anymore.

Finally, the seminar on physics, which seems to be such a key element of this first act, is glossed over a little bit too much in my opinion. Prof. Ratburn (interesting name!) steps onto the stage without introduction, asks a question, and then rapidly disappears. Liam seems to black out during the rest of that episode. And I find it hard to believe that no one would notice a cup of green goo placed at every seat.

A small number of choices seemed to be not in keeping with Liam's character. The one that really comes to mind is the "sneak around / pull a prank" option in the third chapter, which to me made sense only from a game perspective, and not because of anything intrinsic to the story. Liam, the character, is only vaguely aware that he's repeating the same horrible day over and over again, never retaining more than a slight sense of deja vu. The reader, however, is looking for ways to break the loop, so after a certain point I was playing more as Bill than as Liam, looking for keys and passwords. At one point, the entire family is breaking into a room, guessing a 5-character password, and obtaining a useful object. "The family that snoops together, loops together," I suppose. Later it's Liam doing the snooping on his own, even though he knows so little about what's happening to him at that point. I am pointing these out not as criticisms, but as places where the game elements are overpowering the story elements. Perhaps Liam needs to retain more memory between loops, so that he too realizes he needs to find the answers that are behind those locked doors.

As for the puzzles, I did ultimately need to cheat on both. The text one, I admit, was quite clever, and I did a virtual face-palm when I figured out where I went wrong. However, I think the clues for the numerical puzzle could be tweaked. One in particular was very abstract, and I'm not sure I ever would have gotten that one on my own.

Overall, I think you are on track to publish a stellar story-puzzle, or puzzle-story as the case may be. Not only are you seeking help and feedback, but you seem to be taking good advantage of that feedback. Having read your prior concerns about the on-page scripting, potential issues with the "go back" feature, and your use of items, I did have some reservations about what to expect.

However, now that I've read the story / played the game to the point where you have locked it down, I understand much better what you are trying to do. The "go back" button really isn't necessary, since there are no false endings to avoid. I expected the gray text to be distracting, but I learned that it was actually helpful in determining my progress through the loops. And the use of items works well here. None of it was buggy.

I am looking forward to reading more or the story! I just don't go changing the passwords on me.

MRROOOW! *hiss* *spit* on 1/16/2020 8:43:55 AM

I don't recall having any issue with you until recently. As I recall, I enjoyed DF2 and rated it highly when I helped judge the lone hero contest. I am here to write, to talk about writing, to offer feedback on other people's work, and help people improve if I can. But if people are going to engage in middle school pranks, I'm prepared to stand up for myself since I realize it's every man for himself here.

I am looking forward to giving a full review of "Music" in the near future.