Sunday, July 21, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #5: The Mystery of Chimney Rock

After an unfair, deprotagonizing and generally ungood voyage to a land of swords and sorcery it's back to the Choose Your Own Adventure series and some relatively modern horror. Make no mistake, this was definitely an area where this series excelled. While my parents were just glad the moron box was off, I was experiencing refined nightmarium. They probably would have been less happy about all that reading if they knew it was generally stories where you die a horrible and meaningless death at the hands of supernatural evil.

This one opens with a fair amount of back-story, well at least more than most early entries. I'm visiting my cousins in Connecticut and we're checking out this "large stone house." It looks abandoned, but instead of becoming the center of a thriving squatter-based heroin industry it's also uninhabited, on account of a curse. People go and in and don't come back out, basically. Like most problems, a cat lady is involved. Apparently this old woman, who may or may not have been a witch, placed the curse so that people wouldn't bother her cat. Yeah, really. Others theorize that she isn't actually dead, but the bottom line is we've got this creepy haunted house ruining the local real estate market.

Places curses, ruins property values, throws cats.

There's also a creepy caretaker who lives in a nearby shack and presumably spends his days writing anti-technology manifestos, when not fulfilling the classic horror movie "insane prophet who is totally vindicated by later events" role.

Like any true friends, my cousins immediately suggest that I enter the cursed, haunted, roach motel for humans. I'm all "let's do this stuff." We get some nice descriptions of the general unpleasant aura of the house and I'm having second thoughts already, but the desire to not to look weak in front of second tier relations is a powerful, powerful thing.

Inside I enter a kitchen that is not exactly of the "dream" variety. Mister "It's got a death curse!" never goes into the house itself, which explains both the many chipped tiles and why "caretaker of cursed property" is the best job in the world.

In classic horror movie style I head up the stairs to investigate, say "Who's there?" at unexplained noises and generally blunder around wasting time before the inevitable. There's dust and cobwebs everywhere and the railing is falling off, which I'm sure is in no way telegraphing a possible horrible fate. I enter a room filled with various mismatched items, like an old radio and some rope. There's a closet in back. Go in? Of course.

Before I can complete that process, a mouse runs at my feet and I'm all set for a death struggle against two pounds worth of vermin. However, before I can "kick it away" it dies on its own. Well, all right. This prompts a mild freak out and I run out of the room. You know, maybe this whole witch house thing wasn't the best idea. I did notice some keys next to a police officer uniform hanging on the wall prior to my embarrassing battle with a self-destructing rodent, so I decide to go back and get them. I must properly honor the memory of Officer Van Halen.

Please type in your home address and what hours you're not there.

I get the key ring without incident, but heading back to the stairs a big black cat is hissing and generally looking unfriendly. After that whole mouse thing I can imagine how poorly this is going to turn out. Recognizing that I'm totally outclassed by an animal that regularly chokes on its own fur I bolt for the kitchen. Here someone is calling for "Melissa" and sure enough, it's the witch! Suddenly all crazy brave I stare her down and she runs off down some stairs. I try to follow, but end up going back outside instead, wondering what all this nonsense means. 

Got scared by a mouse, ran from the cat, then I "ethered" a witch.

The next day I go back and encounter the caretaker. I fear the worst, but instead of being all "look on this omen and despair!" or whatever he claims I freed him from the witch's curse. Man, if sitting in a shack all day ranting about the United Nations and inhaling booze counts as a curse I must be under the direct wrath of God. Either way, good for you, dude. "She died yesterday," he explains. "For the last time!" Oh, shocker! Bum bum bum BUM!!!!! Please do not ruin this incredible surprise ending by telling your friends.

I liked this book. It's got some nice atmosphere and builds tension, even if nothing that happens made any sense in hindsight. What were those keys for? Who did that uniform belong to? Why do mice just tire of life and die? Why did the old woman running off somehow result in her final, real, no take-backs this time, death and the lifting of the curse? There aren't any good answers and there probably shouldn't be. It's just supposed to scare you and based on all those childhood nightmares, mission accomplished.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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