Zylorg sat in his weeping tree, throwing stones into the bubbling waters of Deadman’s Bog below. Zylorg and Athena had once been classmates, back in the days when humans and bog people learned side by side. But that was a long time ago. Before the great war.
“What’s wrong, Zylorg?” Athena asked, keeping one hand on her warrior stick and the other on the base of the tree. They said setting one foot in Deadman’s Bog was fatal.
“I want to marry Baldrin,” Zylorg replied and wiped a tear from the vestigial eye in his thorax. “But the Village elders forbid it. They say it is unnatural for bogmen to marry bogmen.”
“I’m sorry, Zylorg. I saw you two on Gathering Day. You both looked very happy.” She looked out to the horizon barely seeing the outline of the Great Deasey Castle. Athena hoped to get there some day to make things better for people like Zylorg and her other friends.
“We were! We are. We’re in love, Athena. What could be more natural than that? There is to be a vote tonight. The elders shall debate whether to allow bogmen to marry bogmen. Will you come and speak on our behalf?”
WHAT DO YOU DO?
- If you go to the elder debate and support gay marriage because all members of your village should have the right to a love that’s recognized by the State, close the book now. You will not impress the elders whose support you will so desperately need on your journey. Instead, your bravery will be met by an angry horde who throws you into Deadman’s Bog.
- If you oppose Zylorg’s marriage until a more politically opportune time — perhaps, after several gay bogmen sitcoms become popular — then congratulations, advance to page 38.
There was no denying it, Athena was lost. She had walked the road to Deasey Castle for many years, but now, no matter what road she took, the glorious castle spires were no closer.
Suddenly, she heard a voice from the shadows of Petrol Forest. Athena turned to see a figure emerge from the darkness. A man, it seemed, but still dripping with the black of night.
“Why can’t I see you even in the light of Hadron’s three moons?” Athena asked.
“Because I’ve been gathering black life,” he said. “The substance that makes our cities run. Our society work.”
Athena knew the substance well. It had once flowed freely from the refinery where her father worked, but that was before the world caught fire. “You lie,” Athena said. “There is no more black life!”
“Of course, there is. You just need to know how to look for it. I’ve developed a new kind of drilling with a silly name. I call it ‘thwacking,’ but I have grown old and weary. You are young and strong. I bet with your warrior stick I could teach you how to thwack for more black life!”
“I know that technique,” Athena said. “It turned my friend’s river home into Deadman’s Bog!”
“Well, what if you only thwack like, a little. On certain days. Under set conditions. If you’ll thwack then, I’ll make it worth your while,” he said and held out a map to Deasey Castle.”
WHAT DO YOU DO?
- If you fundamentally stay committed to not thwacking but agree to the conditions whereby you will allow thwacking, congratulations, take your map to Deasey Castle and turn to page 79.
- If you say, “I won’t thwack! It profits one nothing to gain all the black life and loseth one’s soul,” then turn to page 71 where you will slip on black life and accidentally impale yourself to death on your warrior stick.
The map from the shadow man did not lead directly to Deasey Castle, but it did take Athena high atop the golden hills. As Athena climbed higher and higher she saw the hill was literally covered with millions of giant golden nuggets. Thousands of bog people were working the hills, filling sacks with gold, and carrying them to a conveyor belt that brought them inside a giant factory surrounded by a great wall. A beautiful woman emerged from door in the wall. Her silk dress glistened with ornate golden buttons. “My, you seem quite the mighty warrior,” she said. “You headed to the Castle?”
“I am,” Athena replied
“I have no doubt of it from the looks of you,” the woman said. “Come inside. Tell us of your adventures.”
“I have no time for speeches,” Athena said. “I must find my way to the castle.”
“Oh, you can see the way from up here,” the woman said, gesturing to the very road that lead right to the Castle gates. “But you will pass many tolls. It helps to have sacks of gold for your trip. It’s the only way anyone can get to the Castle.” The woman pointed to a wagon filled with gold.
“You’ll give me all that just for giving a speech. What do you get?”
“Nothing comes to mind,” the woman replied “But if I think of something when you get to the castle, I’ll let you know. Now come inside.”
WHAT DO YOU DO?
- If you remember that your father once told you there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but then remember he died destitute in a black life refinery fire so you take the money, then turn to page 144.
- If you just take the money turn to page 144.
Athena lifted the last golden nugget from her wagon and paid the final toll on Deasey road. After years and years of hard work, she was almost at the castle. But just as she was about to approach the gates, she heard a giant rumbling. It sounded almost like a wave, but that was impossible. All the remaining oceans had dried up years ago after a disastrous thwacking accident. Still, the sound grew and grew until Athena discovered it was the pounding feet of millions of bog people marching towards the gates. They had taken a side road not on the shadow man’s map. A road not pointed out by the princess of the golden hills. It was a side road to the castle known only to the bog people who carried their own warrior on their shoulders, and passed him one by one until he also stood before the gates.
He was older. He wore a simple Knight’s armor, stained with the working hands of all the bog people that had brought him here.
“Stand back,” he said to Athena. “I must enter the castle to help the people.”
“I cannot,” Athena said. “I must also help the people.”
“Which people?” the Knight asked. “I don’t see any people with you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Athena replied. “I got people,” and then she took out a golden key that had been smelted for her behind the wall on the hill. The key clattered around inside the rusty old lock, but did not succeed in opening the gates. Just then, a tiny brown sparrow flew from the forest, a key in its beak, and landed on the knight’s shoulder.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
- If you beat the sparrow to death with your warrior stick, and steal the key, turn to page 165.
- If you beat the knight to death with your warrior stick, and convince his bog people to form a human ladder for you so you can climb up and over the castle gates, turn to page 170.
Wayne Gladstone’s funny novel
Agents of the Internet Apocalypse
is available at all fine bookstores.