Choose Your Own Dad-Venture!Nov 08, 2023 06:00AM ● By Matthew Jones
It is the year 3023. You are a father of two. You and your kids are whizzing through space towards the fourth planet in a solar system you can’t even remember the name of. Your in-laws just moved here and you needed some backup for the weekend while your wife was on a business trip to Neptune.
You crane your neck to check out the back seat of your 3019 Honda Odyssey (with power airlocks and extra cup holders). Your kids are still safely strapped into their car seats. Michael (6) is happily playing games on his holo-tablet. Gertrude (3) is trying to pull off Galactic Overlord Barbie’s head. Luckily neither of them gets hyperspace-sick (though you’re feeling a little queasy).
Suddenly, your ship lurches and sputters. You glance at the fuel gauge, and it’s sulking at zero. Darn. You knew you should have bought more than twenty bucks’ worth of plutonium at the last service station.
You grab ahold of the controls and guide your ship down towards the planet. As you slice through the atmosphere, you can see a couple likely spots to land with the fumes you have left in the tank. To the left you can see a rocky plateau jutting up from some dense forest. To the right you spot a sandy expanse amongst some lake-strewn hills.
To head for the hills, go to page 12
To steer towards the forest, go to page 19
You scope out the likeliest way down to the swamp: a steep path littered with pebbles and dust. You don’t want the kids to fall, so you hoist Gertrude onto your shoulders and hold Michael’s hand. You shuffle your way down, your back twinging and spasming the whole way.
You get down to the base of the slope, and are soon walloped in the nose by the fetid stink of the swamp. Gertrude whines, “Stinky!” Michael states, “It smells like Daddy’s breath in the morning.” Oof. You take a look around. Beyond the hill you’re standing on, everything is trees and mucky water. You’re not going to be walking; you’ll need to think of some other way to get to that structure you saw.
There are lots of vines and logs lying around- maybe you could put together a primitive raft. You also note that the trees’ branches are pretty low and large- maybe you could traverse the swamp across the trees.
To build a raft, go to page 4.
To climb the trees, go to page 6.
You start for the hill, but after about 5 seconds realize that Michael and Gertrude have run off to the lake. “Come on, guys! You’ll be in trouble unless, um…” You realize the futility of getting between kids and a mysterious body of water.
Pick your battle and go to page 14.
You spend some time cobbling together sticks, logs, and vines. Michael contributes by making a flag out of a twig and a leaf. After an hour, you wind up with a rough bundle that, if you squint at it, still doesn’t resemble much of a raft. By your judgement, it could fit maybe one adult or a couple kids on it before falling apart. Seeing as you’re not a sociopath (you’re not, right?), you instruct the kids to gently climb on. You wade into the murky, muddy water, glad now for the round of immunizations you got for that trip to Ganymede last year.
You squelch through the shallows and awkwardly doggy-paddle through the deep parts as you push the raft through through the swamp. You try not to think about the slimy things that keep brushing up against your legs. You also try not to think about the feeling like you’re being watched. The kids seem to be in high spirits, all least.
You’ve made it a few hundred yards through the swamp when one of those slimy thing decides to stop messing around and try for a meal. A set of gnarly jaws latches onto your leg and yanks you off the raft. You thrash and yell it but it’s too strong; it pulls you under. Weirdly, you feel it letting go just as you black out.
Go to page 27.
You scramble into the Odyssey and wrench the pacifier out of the carseat’s cup holder. You do a diving roll away from the sinking ship and immediately regret it. Your back did not appreciate that.
Gertrude immediately latches onto the binky. You’re trying to wean her off it, but now is definitely not the time. Michael scowls at you and crosses his arms as tight as he can. You’ll be hearing about this one for a while.
Go to page 17.
You clamber up the nearest tree, and the kids follow you. They both love climbing trees, so luckily they’ve had plenty of practice. You have to help Gertrude a bit, though. The three of you carefully make your way out across the branches of the current tree, and are pleasantly surprised that it’s quite easy to cross over to the next tree.
You make good time through the canopy, and soon come into sight of that structure you saw earlier. It looks like a big warehouse of some kind, though you can’t speak to what it’s doing out here. The trees get you close enough to jump down onto a dock-like structure at the front of the warehouse. You help the kids down from the tree and look around.
You see a big sign over the entrance to the place- it’s pretty filthy but you can make out “Bufonian Outreach and Employment Center.” There’s a cartoon of a smiling frog-like creature giving a thumbs-up. Whatever this place was, it looks like it hasn’t seen much love lately. You push open the front double doors into the wide-open space within. Pretty quickly, you see a good reason why this place was abandoned- a gargantuan swamp crab seems to have decided to set up shop here. It’s lurking in a nest amongst some couches and pallets, but immediately spots you. It heaves its minivan-sized carapace into motion and starts scuttling towards you, claws clacking menacingly.
To try to fight the creature, go to page 18.
To run deeper into the building, go to page 24.
To throw Gertrude to the monster, go to page 9.
You spend precious seconds digging the pacifier out of a pile of blankies, then scramble around trying to grab the tablet and get it untangled from Michael’s headphones. Success! You have both in hand. You turn around to see, too late, the sand quickly climbing the windows. You’re trapped. Oops. THE END.
You think quickly - you know your OmniPhone doesn’t have any signal, but Michael’s tablet has a ton of videos downloaded and great battery life. You whip out the tablet and make a big show of turning it on and choosing a video. You pull up “Snorklepuss visits the aquarium” and let the ants see. The creatures wiggle and chitter and all gather ‘round to watch Snorklepuss getting his big nose pinched by a crab. You show the ants how to watch other videos when that one is done. Michael starts whining at you about it, but you hiss, “do you want to get eaten by ants?” The jewelry-laden ant gingerly takes the tablet and heads off deeper into the colony. The other ants step aside and leave a trail for you, and you and the kids follow.
The ant leads you to what appears to be a treasure trove: shiny rocks, twinkly pieces of metal, and colorful flowers lie carefully placed in a circle. It gently places the tablet in a spot in the circle, and gestures to the other items. It looks like it wants to trade! You scan the cache of items, then your heart jumps with hope: there’s a beat-up old MultiPhone sitting there! That brand is a fierce competitor of the OmniPhone, and you know that their network covers lots of places that the OmniPhone doesn’t (except Nebraska, weirdly.) It must have come from some other less-lucky traveler. You grab it and flick it on - five bars! Yes! You dial a local cab company, and within the hour you and the kids are on your way back to civilization. You did it! THE END.
Congratulations, reader! You have been reported to the FBI as a recklessly psychotic child endangerer. Please stay in your home and several black SUVs will be by shortly to pick you up. THE END.
You do your best to explain to the frogs what happened to you, and where you’re trying to go. They gather up and discuss in croaks and grunts, glancing over at you occasionally. One of them approaches you and gestures to follow. They bring you over to a proper raft, which puts your little wad of sticks to shame.
You and you family board the raft, with your waterlogged diaper bag carried along. The frog guide pushes you through the swamp with a pole, singing an oddly pleasing croaking song. The frog easily navigates the waters, and soon a large structure appears out of the swampy mist. This must be that structure you saw earlier. It looks like some kind of warehouse, but you have no idea why it would be out in this swamp. You gesture to the front of the structure, but your guide shakes its head and steers you around to the back.
It puts its finger to its lips, and points to a rusty door in the back. You nod thanks to the creature, and head inside. Once your eyes adjust, you see stacks of boxes and crates, and an old vine-covered forklift. In the corner, you see a little office, where shockingly the lights are still on. You immediately spot a phone on the wall of the office, and… yes! There’s a dial tone! You place a call in hushed tones (since the frog said you should be quiet), and soon a ship swoops in and rescues you and the kids. Whew! THE END.
You slowly and non-threateningly tip the diaper bag onto the ground. Pull-ups, wipes, extra clothes, and snacks rain down. You show the stone-adorned ant how to open a package of fruit snacks, and show it you can eat the contents. It appears to make a decision, then waggles its head, and some other ants come and gather up the spoils. This apparent boss ant flicks its head in a pretty clear “follow me” way, and leads you and the kids deeper into the colony. Eventually, you come to a place where three primitive sleeping-bag-looking things have been hastily set up, with some small piles of food. Looks like the diaper bag was an acceptable gift, and they’ve invited you to stay. You consider your predicament, and decide that living with freaky giant ants is better than starving in a forest.
You get into a good rhythm staying with the ants. You are able to help by gathering food that’s higher than they can reach; the bigger ants let Michael and Gertrude ride them. You’re not sure how long you’re going to be here, but hey, it’s not that bad. THE END.
You guide your Odyssey down to that strip of sand by a lake in the hills. You just barely touch down before the ship shudders and dies. You, Michael, and Gertrude pile out. The lake is placid and beautiful. You pull out your OmniPhone to call Triple A, but before you can start dialing, the ground lurches and the ship starts sinking into the sand. You lose your grip on the phone and it slips into the sand too. “Quicksand!” Michael hollers. (Apparently this is a planet of cliches.)
Your kids shriek: “My tablet!” “My binky!” The tablet and pacifier are going down with the ship. You leap through the door as it descends. You think you only have time to grab one; what do you go for?
To grab the tablet: go to page 20.
To snatch the pacifier, go to page 5.
To scoop up both, go to page 7.
You kick the fancy ant. The rest of the ants eat you. That was dumb. THE END.
You traipse on down to the edge of the lake. Your kids are already a bit ahead of you. “Stay back- you’ll fall in if you get close,” you warn. “I’m just touching it!” Gertrude shouts. Of course, she immediately falls in.
No sooner than her little obstinate frame hits the water, the surface begins frothing and foaming, sending showers of water every which way. You see what’s causing the disturbance- dozens of tree-thick tentacles writing and flexing beneath the water! You desperately try to catch sight of Gertrude amongst the commotion.
Suddenly, a massive, slimy squid-like head bursts out of the water, showering you and Michael with cold muddy spray. Its leviathan maw flexes and chitters at you menacingly, before it ask in a surprisingly erudite voice, “Is this yours?” You see Gertrude gingerly held aloft in a massive tentacle, clapping and giggling.
Go to page 15.
“Oh my God, Gertrude!” You run to her and grab her up in a sopping wet bear hug. She looks confused as to why you took her away from her favorite new ride.
You chat with the beast (who’s actually quite the conversationalist). He invites you back to his home in a cave by the lake- it’s quite tastefully furnished, if only to twice your scale.
As you sip tea sitting in a pickup-truck-sized armchair, your host tells you that he lives alone here in voluntary contemplative solitude, though he does enjoy visitors when they happen by. You tell him of your predicament.
“Well,” he says, “I’m quite well versed in the electronic arts. I don’t have any communicators, but I could whip up something if you happen to have some sort of computer on your person.”
If you rescued Michael’s tablet, go to page 22.
If not, go to page 26.
You wait for the ant to leave, and follow a few yards behind it. Maybe it will lead you to something worthwhile. “Worthwhile” in this case being “anything other than a tree.” You trail the thing through the woods for half an hour, dragging the kids along and watching the ant nibble at various leaves and berries. Eventually, you come to a clearing and are shocked to see a small ship at the edge of it. “Cool,” Michael declares. Looks like this thing crashed here sometime in the last couple of years. It doesn’t look too beat up. There are some supplies scattered around it, and the ant wiggles its antennae over the various piles to no avail. Seems like it’s already been picked clean of food. The ant wanders off.
You go up to the ship and look it over. Just like you thought, it doesn’t seem to be in too bad shape. The landing gear is all messed up and there’s a branch punched through the viewport; it’s not spaceworthy but that’s fine for your situation. You tell the kids to wait outside - they busy themselves playing with the various bits of detritus. You look over the inside of the ship; things are likewise jumbled about but generally intact. You get a nasty surprise when you find the skeleton in the pilot’s seat, with that branch sticking through its chest. Yikes. Better not let the kids see this. You surreptitiously de-bone the ship while the kids play. Once the ship is clean and the family is inside, you hold your breath and hit the ignition. Success! The ship roars to life, and you take off. You have to stop and ask for directions a couple times, but you make it to your in-laws’ house by nightfall. What a trip! THE END.
Well, your ship is gone. And you’re running out of time: you just have half a granola bar in your pocket to split between the kids. That’s about 30 minutes until a hangry meltdown. Without a ship or a phone, your best bet is to look for help. You could climb the nearest hill to try to get a lay of the land. Or you could check out the shore of the nearby lake to see if there’s some kind of settlement. The kids shout, “we wanna touch the water!” You know what they’re voting for.
To climb the hill, go to page 3.
To head to the lake, go to page 14.
You grab a long, heavy pipe from nearby and start waving it around. You rush the crab, full of child-protecting adrenaline. You swing once, twice at the crab, but your blows merely bounce off its hard shell. Unfortunately, in this case your emergency dad strength is not enough to overpower the giant crustacean. It makes short work of you. At least you put up enough of a fight for the kids to get away and maybe find some of those “Bufonians” the sign mentioned. THE END.
You swoop the Odyssey down low and fast over the forest. You settle it down on that big rocky outcropping you saw jutting up through the forest. The kids get themselves out of their car seats while you grab the diaper bag. You don’t know how long you’ll be stuck here; good thing you’ve got plenty of snacks and juice boxes.
You pull out your OmniPhone to call someone for help. You don’t know where on the planet your in-laws live but they could probably give some advice on who could assist. Predictably, though, your phone doesn’t have any signal. Of course.
You take a gander at your surroundings. The rocky plateau you’re on is pretty unremarkable, with some scattered grasses and rocks here and there. There’s a biggish stick that Michael and Gertrude are already fighting over. Most of the forest floor that you can see looks wet and swampy. Off to the east, you think you can make out some sort of structure among the trees. Might be worth checking out. Westward, it looks like the ground is a little more solid. You consider whether you want to check out those buildings or to keep your feet dry.
Go to page 2 to check out the structure to the east in the swamp.
Go to page 21 to go west across dry land.
You leap into the foundering vehicle and snatch Michael’s tablet, jumping out seconds before the sand slurps it down. You hand it to Michael, assuming that he’ll wait at least a couple minutes to acknowledge the tragedy of the ship.
Gertrude reaches for you, pointing to her mouth. “Binky?” she asks. “Sorry baby, Daddy didn’t have time to grab it.” She looks aghast at you, then spits out, “I hate you, Daddy! You are a poop Daddy!”
Go to page 17.
You adjust the diaper bag on your back and head west. You hold Gertrude’s hand in your right hand, and in your left hand you hold Barbie, because OF COURSE Gertrude couldn’t POSSIBLY help during a time of crisis by carrying a small plastic object and God FORBID Barbie go in the diaper bag because that’s UNACCEPTABLE to Gertrude but it’s fine, it’s fine, you’re the adult here and need to stay calm.
Michael tags along.
You find a relatively easy path down the rocky escarpment heading west, and start trekking through the woods. There is surprisingly little whining. You make good progress, but after an hour you still haven’t seen anything resembling civilization.
You and the kids sit down on the forest floor for a snack break. You dole out granola bars to everyone and munch tiredly. “Daddy, are we going to die?” Michael asks, shooting bits of granola from his mouth. You choke for a second, and try to mumble something reassuring, when you’re interrupted by a scrabbling from the underbrush. (Yikes. But also, whew.)
You grab a thick branch and attempt to brandish it menacingly. The kids hide behind you. The bushes rustle and shake, and out pops a black, chitinous head with twitching antennae. “Monster!” Shrieks Michael. “Puppy!” Squeals Gertrude. A giant ant the size of a schnauzer crawls out. It doesn’t appear to be aggressive. It skitters past you and starts gathering up the bits of granola littered across the ground.
To befriend it by giving it more food, go to page 25.
To leave it alone and follow it, go to page 16.
Your host takes the tablet in three of his smaller tentacles, and does something that elicit sparks and hurts your eyes. But soon enough, the thing hums to life and picks up a signal from a cab company a mere hundred miles away. They send a ship and pick up you and your kids, carting you over to your in-laws on the other side of the planet.
You made it, congratulations! THE END.
The creatures seem dismayed when you ask for your raft back. But you insist; you want to get to the building by your own power. You set out the same way as before, and same as before you get eaten by a swamp alien, but with nobody to save you this time. The swamp frogs raise your kids, and they grow up to be upstanding members of frog society. THE END.
You hurl the diaper bag into the crab’s slavering maw. As it tears the bag apart, you yank the kids after you and sprint the twenty yards to a solid-looking door at the back of the room. You slam the door behind you and frantically push some filing cabinets and desks against it. The whole building shakes as the crab slams against the door, and starts clawing at the frame.
You run through another door to put distance between you and the beast. You find yourself in some sort of boathouse- there are some of those flat-bottomed boats with big fans on the back here, sitting in fetid swamp water. You jump on the nearest one, twisting the ignition knob and praying. It turns on! The kids jump on right as the crab crashes through the wall. You crank the throttle and roar off through the swamp, leaving the crab waving and clacking back in the ruined boathouse. You weave your way through the swamp and eventually come to open water. Following the shoreline, you eventually come across a small coastal town. From there you catch the daily commuter bus back to civilization and, eventually, your in-laws’ house. THE END.
You fish another granola bar out of the diaper bag, tear it open, and toss it to the ant. The bar clunks against the ant’s…face? Unperturbed, the creature scoops it up into its mandibles. You hope that with a full stomach, it will go away. It does not go away. It chitters quite loudly, and within a few seconds, a dozen more ants are scattered around you. You try throwing a couple more granola bars away from you, but that just makes them more interested in you. Looks like these ants aren’t as dumb as you hoped.
They grab you and drag you through the forest. Your kids follow, concerned but not as concerned as you think they ought to be. Soon enough, you’re back at their colony, a teeming mass of ants and dirt mounds. A bevy of nasty-looking warrior ants surrounds you. After a few minutes, a couple of the warrior ants move aside and a smaller ant wearing some polished stone jewelry steps forward. It wiggles its antennae at you and waits expectantly.
To give it the food, go to page 11.
To try to impress it with something shiny, go to page 8.
To kick it and make a run for it, go to page 13.
You think regretfully back to Michael’s tablet lying at the bottom of the sand pit. Oh well, there’s nothing to be done for it now. Your host welcomes you to stay with him until you figure something out. You have no idea where you are or how to get home, but at least you have another adult (of sorts) to talk to and help with the kids. Beyond that, you’re stuck here for the foreseeable future. Though as far as Lovecraftian horrors go, this one is quite pleasant. THE END.
You wake up, pleasantly that you are not inside an alien swamp monster. Less pleasantly, you appear to now be surrounded by alien swamp monsters. A half dozen giant frogs carrying nasty-looking spears surround you, looking curious and not particularly impressed.
“Daddy’s awake!” You see Gertrude, Michael, and a small aliens frog sitting on the back of one of your… captors? “They saved you,” Michael announces. “You were dead.” You shakily get up and thank your rescuers. They nod seriously. Well, you narrowly avoided death; now what?
To request your raft back, go to page 23.
To ask for help getting to the building, go to page 10.