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Journey through Nowhereland: a choose-your-story (Ch. 2)


Art by Grace Gill

1

You are in darkness. For a few moments, you think back to where you woke up just a few hours ago, in an unidentified building with no memory and only the clothes on your back. But quickly, you remember the events leading up to this point. You remember a creature - human-like, but a monster. You remember running, and you remember your fear. Slowly, you open your eyes and see a fading sky above you. You realize slowly, too slowly, that you fell asleep.


You sit up, looking around yourself. You’re on a park bench, surrounded by a paved floor and trees. An empty fountain stands a few feet away. Before you stand, you hear a strange whisper. Likely the wind whipping past your ears. You swing your feet off the bench and push yourself standing. Then the whisper comes again, and this time you recognize it. It’s a familiar hiss. A monster. One of those things.


You turn around and see two at a far end of the square, turned away from you. As quickly as you can, you survey the area. A space between two buildings provides a dark exit, but a gut feeling tells you there are certainly more in that direction. The only other option you have is to hide in the fountain, under the lip, and wait for them to leave. But how long would that take? You’d be trapped. Do you:


  1. Hide in the fountain - it would be better to be trapped in hiding than be caught by anything beyond the alley.

  2. Run for the exit - you can’t be trapped here. If you come across more, maybe you can outrun them.


If a, read section 1A. If b, skip section 1A and read section 1B.


1A

You run as fast as the wind will allow. You leap over the edge of the cracked, dried-up fountain and lay sideways, pressing your body against the edge so the lip hides you from the light of the sky. The unnatural hisses and eerily even footsteps of the creature get louder as you release all the air from your lungs, flattening yourself against the side of the fountain bowl. Just before the sounds feel as though they’re right on top of you, they stop. You wait, a minute, five, thirty. The sounds don’t come back. They left.


Surely they left.


Still, you wait. What feels like an hour rolls by, and still no sign of them. Slowly, you roll into the base of the fountain and sit up. You see the two figures once again, but far away - though this time, they see you. Their glazed grey eyes are fixed on you.


Panic sets in. You pull yourself standing but before you can step over the edge of the fountain, you feel a presence behind you. A coolness. A third, behind you. The hisses get louder as the creature behind you places a hand on your shoulder and its grip tightens. The other two walk towards you. Before you can wriggle free, the hisses form words, strange words, words you know but do not understand. You can’t feel your limbs. Your peripheral is swallowed by blackness. A grey haze tints your vision.


Wrong choice. Dead end.


1B

You sprint for the eerie gap between two apartment buildings. It’s dark but the light of the hazy sky guides you around dumpsters and abandoned pieces of furniture. You hear hisses but they’re distant - the two creatures must have seen you. You run faster, stumbling over rocks and sticks and garbage bags. The hisses get louder - they’re catching up. Once you’ve made it through the alley, you can hear their loud, rhythmic footsteps. In the street, a figure dances. You can’t stop because you know they’re behind you, but it takes a few seconds for you to process the sight.


“Hello?” You yell. Dancing? Her arms are above her head, her left foot pointed out. She’s spinning. At the sound of your voice, she freezes and catches sight of you. Grey eyes. You keep running. She follows, along with the two others. The hisses are like fingernails running up and down your spine. Almost more disturbing, the three sets of footsteps soon sync up with one another as they run – like a machine.


Soon, you find yourself being chased through a residential neighborhood. The trees rush by, their shadows giving the illusion of night. Perhaps the sun has already set. Everything’s moving too fast for you to be able to tell. You turn into the space between two houses. You loop around one house, sprinting through the backyard and back around to the front, and in through the front door. You close it quickly and quietly behind you, then quickly slide to the floor and press your ear to the mail slot. You hear the hisses die down as the footsteps come to an abrupt and in-sync end in front of the house. “Back to work,” one of the things says.


You deadbolt the door and slowly step away. What are those things? The more you see of them, and the more you hear, the less you know.


You turn your attention to the house that you find yourself in. So as not to risk any other encounters, you stay quiet. You’re in a small room with hooks on the walls and coat hangers in the corners. In front of you, a staircase leads upstairs. A door beside the staircase must lead to the rest of the house. Before risking either, you take a look out the window in the front door to make sure the creatures left - in case you need to run. Thankfully, they’ve gone.


You reach for the doorknob, and turn it slowly. Locked. You turn to the staircase and shake off the unease that settles into your bones when you see the darkness seemingly creeping down the stairs, threatening to spread to where you’re standing. Though your mind seems to want to fight you on it, you trudge up the stairs.


Thankfully, there are lots of windows upstairs. Doors are open and you hear no shuffling or hissing. There’s a stillness in the air. You peek into multiple rooms and see a few bedrooms with mattresses propped against the wall and dressers on the floor in multiple pieces. There’s a child’s room with pink walls and clouds painted on the ceiling. A stuffed animal is propped on the bed against the wall, positioned to be holding a small brown leather book with faded stickers of cartoon characters from an age long gone. Despite the sadness of the empty room, you step into it and reach for the book. You open the first page.


Dear Diary…


So it’s a journal. The handwriting is big, clumsy. It belonged to the child who used to be living here. You pocket it. As much as it feels like an invasion of privacy, it seemed like it wanted to be found. You turn to leave, and, confirming your gut feeling, a note on the open door reads - in the same handwriting as the small book - my family and I left to go find Grandma and Grandpa. If you find my diary, I hope one day it can be used in history books.


After searching the rest of the upstairs, you return to the front door. It’s all been raided. You decide to try once again the door that leads to the rest of the house. You’ll need pretty much anything you can get your hands on. You twist the knob again, but it won’t budge. It seems like a chair is keeping it closed from the other side. You try to shove it open, still to no luck, and before you’re winding up to kick it down you hear a familiar hiss from inside. You leave.


Walking through the residential street, you can’t help but continue thinking about the journal you picked up in the bedroom. The weight of it in your pants pocket has your curiosity grabbing at you. It might have an explanation for how this all started, what those things are, or anything like that. But you might want to keep walking first. Then again, where are you even trying to go? Will you:


  1. Don’t read it yet - something might sneak up on you and you want to make as much progress as possible with the little light that you have left.

  2. Read it now - what good will it do to keep moving if you have no destination in mind? It won’t make a difference, and it might give you some much-needed answers.


If a, read section 2A. If b, skip section 2A and read section 2B.


2A

You continue walking. The story in your hands can wait, your survival cannot. It’s almost completely dark now, only a few rays of eerie sunlight remain casting shadows familiar to the witching hour.


You find yourself repeatedly looking over your shoulder. Any twitch of a leaf or a whisper in the wind worsens your paranoia. Your eyelids are growing heavy and your feet ache. After hours of walking through a midnight blue haze, you allow yourself to take into account the exhaustion that your first hours in this strange new world has cast upon you. You stop and look around; you are once again surrounded by abandoned stores and cars flung across the street, as if they’re toys just used by a frightening, chaotic toddler god. With what you’ve seen, even in your short memory span, you wouldn’t be surprised.


You could find a small, empty store to camp out in - if it had a door to a closet or something of the sort, that could lock. Then again, what if you were caught off guard by something or someone? The horrifying creatures in this barren world would do god knows what to you if they ever catch you. The people, if there are any left, could be even scarier. It could be unsafe. But now could very well be as good a time as any to rest. The less awake you are, the less alert you are - it’s safer to be rested. Do you:


  1. Camp out now - you need to get rest regardless of where you are. There isn’t going to be anywhere safer than this for a long while.

  2. Keep going - maybe you’ll find somewhere more well-hidden; plus, there could be a creature hiding in any one of these places.


If a, skip section 2B and read section 3A. If b, skip sections 2B and 3A, and read section 3B.


2B

You sit down on the nearest curb and reach into your pocket. The small leather book is worn at the spine and the corners. It feels like the stickers on the front should be familiar to you, and yet you can’t place any of the animated characters or bubbly words.


You open to the first page. Something about the first day of third grade. You flip through to the end. The last entry is about a quarter of the way through the notebook.


Dear Diary,

I’m leaving you here so that if someone finds you they can read this and put it in a history book. Maybe I’ll get famous. To someone reading this, please keep my diary safe. It means a lot to me.

Love, Alice


You flip to a few pages before it.


Dear Diary,

Dad is acting weird. He hasn’t talked to me all day and when I asked him to read me a book he just looked away. And it seems like his eyes are a different color. It’s a little weird, but Mama just says he’s sick. I believe her. I’m going to sleep now. I hope he feels better in the morning. Tomorrow is Saturday and we’re going to the county fair.

Love, Alice


The next page reads,


Dear Diary,

Dad is even weirder today. He’s on his computer but he isn’t saying anything, just staring at an empty screen. He’s talking to himself, I think. Maybe he’s on the phone with someone but I don’t think he has headphones. Mama tried to interrupt him and he hit her. She said we’ll go to the county fair next weekend.

Love, Alice


The next;


Dear Diary,

Dad is still on his computer. He didn’t go to sleep last night. Mama came and slept in my room because she says she misses me. I think she’s scared. I’m scared too. I kind of want to leave Dad here. I think me and Mama and Liam should leave to go somewhere.

Love, Alice


The next;


Dear Diary,

We went to visit our neighbor Paula but she’s just like Dad. We knocked on the door and her husband answered and told us it wasn’t a good time. Mama didn’t see but I could see her in the other room on her phone. She was holding it really close to her face and her lips were moving. It looked like her eyes were white, but they were probably just closed.

Love, Alice


The next, dated a few weeks later;


Dear Diary,

Mama and I and Liam are all leaving. Dad won’t stop saying things like “back to work” and he’s really mean to everyone. I think it’s because of his computer. Liam says it’s robots but Liam’s just my little baby brother so I don’t think he’s right.

Love, Alice


And that’s the last entry. You hope Alice and her family are safe.


You put the book back in your pocket. You stand and start to lose your balance, your eyelids are drooping and dizziness overcoming you. Exhaustion is sinking its teeth into your skin. But you keep walking. You aren’t sure what you’re looking for, if you’re looking for anything. Maybe Alice.


The blue haze of night creeps over your vision. Soon the only thing you can discern is the moonlight shadows of the witching hour. Your feet drag and it becomes difficult for you to continue on. You really should camp out. Then again, you’ve only reached another street covered in abandoned shops. Surely there’s somewhere safer you can find. Do you:


  1. Camp out now - you need to get rest regardless of where you are. There isn’t going to be anywhere safer than this for a long while.

  2. Keep going - maybe you’ll find somewhere more well-hidden; plus, there could be a creature hiding in any one of these places.


If a, read section 3A. If b, skip section 3A and read section 3B.


3A

You step into the nearest store. It’s full of seemingly useless things, like tiny clocks and porcelain animals. Souvenirs and cheap watches line the walls. The cash register is on the floor, flung open and empty. There’s an open door at the back of the small main room, so you yell a frightened “hello?” before approaching. Nothing stirs. The door has a keyhole, so you enter the side room and find a deadbolt on the other side. Lucky.


You examine the pitch-black room by feeling around the walls with your hands. All there is to be found are empty shelves. In the corner, half of a broken broom is propped against the wall beside an empty bucket. At least the door has a deadbolt. You close the door, lock it, and slowly lower yourself to the ground in an uncomfortable dark silence on uncomfortable cold marble. You find something cold and sharp on the ground beside you. It’s a nail. You flick it away.


Now your past decisions will come into play - if in chapter one, you chose to go to the grocery store before the clothing store, skip section 3B and read section 4A. If you chose to go to the clothing store first, skip 3B and 4A, and read section 4B.


3B

You continue walking. Still, the street stretches on with seemingly endless and possibly repeating stores with signs faded by sunlight and fallen off the walls. The darkness stretches on, continually depleting your vision until all you can see is blackness. At some point, you trip over a crack in the asphalt and realize that there’s really no reason for you to go on like this.


You step into the nearest store. It’s full of seemingly useless things, like tiny clocks and porcelain animals. Souvenirs and cheap watches line the walls. The cash register is on the floor, flung open and empty. There’s an open door at the back of the small main room, so you yell a frightened “hello?” before approaching. Nothing stirs. The door has a keyhole, so you enter the side room and find a deadbolt on the other side. Lucky.


You examine the pitch-black room by feeling around the walls with your hands. All there is to be found are empty shelves. In the corner, half of a broken broom is propped against the wall beside an empty bucket. At least the door has a deadbolt. You close the door, lock it, and slowly lower yourself to the ground in an uncomfortable dark silence on uncomfortable cold marble. You find something cold and sharp on the ground beside you. It’s a nail. You flick it away.


Now your past decisions will come into play - If in chapter one, you chose to go to the grocery store before the clothing store, read section 4A. If you chose to go to the clothing store first, skip 4A and read section 4B.


4A

Before you’re able to properly fall asleep, your stomach churns with hunger. You sit up and reach into your pocket for the can of peaches from the grocery store. You stare at the faded label, the word in green cursive, and the photoshopped image of a peach tree on the label. You examine it, thinking briefly about all the things you don’t have that would come in handy in opening the can. Then you remember the nail. You run your hand across the cold, dusty floor and find it, pricking your finger in the process.


You get it upright and push as hard as you can the pointed end into the top of the can where normally a can opener would break the seal. With a satisfying pop, the nail breaks the metal and after a few more minutes of wiggling the rusty thing, a hole big enough for sweet sliced peaches to slide through has been made.


You lift the can to your lips, drinking the syrup and eating the sugar-filled preserves eagerly. Once you’ve had it all, which doesn’t take long, you set the can aside and lay down, not fully satisfied but with a sweet taste on your tongue. A chill runs over you.


***


You slowly wake up, an unfamiliar sound filling your ears. A bell? And a creak. You sit up slowly, allowing your memories from the day prior to rush back to you gently. Something just opened the door. The bell rings on its opening.


You kneel beside the door you’re behind, pressing your ear to it. You can’t hear much but footsteps. One of those things again. You stay hidden. You’ll wait. As long as you need, you’ll wait. You’re locked in and you just ate so surely you can wait for at least a few days. And they’ll be gone before then anyways.


The footsteps grow nearer. The doorknob moves, but it’s locked. The door shakes, but it remains shut. You let out a breath. Then, the creature speaks. You’re not surprised, you know they can speak, but this one is different. Its inflection is too natural. “This door’s locked.”


It’s a person. A real person.


End of chapter.


4B

Your stomach rumbles. You stifle a groan as you roll onto your other side, your exposed arm (where a jacket sleeve should be) covered in goosebumps. You remove the torn jacket and set the knife in its pocket to the side. You cover your torso with the fabric, proving it’s more effective as a blanket than as a piece of clothing. Slowly, you’re warmed by your body heat and are at least remotely comfortable on the hard floor.


Still, your hunger nags at you, and you wonder what you might have found if you’d gone into the grocery store instead, earlier today.


***


Slowly, you wake up. You can see light seeping through the crack beneath the door. You reach for your jacket and pull it on, re-pocket the knife beside you, and slowly stand up. Your knees and ankles ache, and your neck is stiff. You stretch your arms above your head, sighing loudly. Then a sound startles you, and you freeze.


The bell rings - the bell that goes off when the door is opened. You hold your breath. Footsteps. One of those things. You pull your knife out of your pocket and reach for the handle of the door. The thing sounds far away, but just before you wrap your hand around it, the knob shakes violently. There must be another.


Then it speaks. At first, you aren’t surprised - you’ve heard them speak before. But this one is different. The inflection, it seems too natural. “This door’s locked.”


A person. A real person. You grip your knife tightly and reach for the deadbolt.

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Reda Rountree
Reda Rountree
Jun 03, 2023

The illustration really grabbed my attention, and wow, this story doesn‘t disappoint! I *love* this!!! Dying to read the next chapter!!

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