Friday, April 4, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure #27: The Horror of High Ridge

Last time out a space adventure ended with total defeat and hopelessness after shooting a missile. Yeah, it was that kind of book. Luckily today's subject is one I fondly remember giving me many months of nightmares when I read it as a child. And not for nothing, it's full of morbid violence, gore, lovingly crafted illustrations of children dying horribly and an overall sense of being doomed. I don't think a book like this could be made today and even back in an era where "use your discretion" still meant something it attracted negative attention from the professional guardians of the right and proper.

This one is by Julius Goodman, author of Space Patrol. Some consider this a sequel to "House of Danger," because the same characters are present, but there isn't a single mention of those earlier adventures with supernatural evil, so it's at best a sequel in spirit. At no point does anyone say "remember when we did [x] in the house of danger?" or "I kinda assumed my deadly confrontations with pure refined horror were over after that whole 'house' thing."

Who will survive and what will be left of them?

I'm spending the summer in the western American town of High Ridge, wasting my days searching for a buried treasure that probably doesn't exist and spending my nights maxin' and relaxin' in a chair, reading books about the town's rather lurid history. Apparently prospectors and the native population engaged in a genocidal war where both sides lost, but have since regrouped in hell to continue the fight. Every fifty years there's an "incident" where they come back to resume their unwinnable struggle and the local population becomes collateral damage, disappearing or suffering "ghastly deaths."

Yeah, we're in for quite a ride. The book I'm reading, by the way, is called "High Ridge: An Oral History" which is a quality oxymoron.

It just so happens that this year marks fifty years since the last event and I'm hearing a horrible moaning. No, not that you pervert. We're going to earn that "R" rating just with horrible violence, thank you.

    Recommended for ages 8-12.

My danger house crew joins me. Ricardo is all "let's go out and get murdered by vengeful ghosts, it'll be fun!" while Lisa is takes the "anti" position on getting involved with undying killers. Naturally, I'm the tie-breaker and decide that it might be best not to do things that are actively stupid considering what we're up against.

The plan to stay inside and avoid trouble is quickly ruined by an arrow coming through the window and then disappearing after burying itself in the wall. I think a certain amount of freaking out would be justified.

Time to do the smart thing and try to get out of town in the jeep. Let's just pretend I'm not aware of the above illustration. This attempt to take the logical course of action is immediately defeated, of course, because this is the horror genre. A rockslide has covered the road, making escape impossible. Meanwhile Ricardo is having an episode, claiming to have seen "Indians." 

In fine "Aliens" tradition I decide to make "camp" here. Maybe roast a few marshmallows and sing some songs. The game is most certainly not over, we'll be fine.

"The arrow disappeared in the freakin' WALL, man!"

A fun night is spent huddling on the softer gravel and morning brings a trip to the hospital, a hospital already overflowing with victims. A news article wraps things up. Ten dead. Fifteen, myself and my friends included, lost in "fear comas," trapped in a state of living death. The town has been cordoned off and will presumably be wiped off the map by our federal government. Yeah, that's the end. 

This read-through actually featured what might be the most bloodless route through this book, but I still lost my life and soul to the evil. Most outcomes are even worse. 

This book is great. It doesn't pull any punches, the plot is actually rather thoughtful and the atmosphere never lets up. Choose Your Own Adventure always excelled at doing horror and this is arguably the best example. While The Mystery of Chimney Rock might have an edge in creepiness and unsettling imagery there's no denying this one is much more visceral. I'm still going to keep the lights on when I read it.

You and your friends are dead.

Check Out My Books!

Aaron Zehner is the author of "Posts from the Underground," now available in paperback and e-book. Read a free excerpt here.

His first novel The Foolchild Invention is also available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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