2021 - Spring

Before Dark

Image: “Worm’s Eye View of Green Trees” © Felix Mittermeier on Pexel

Author: Emilie Badoux

About the story

This is a story where you make the choices. In order to win, you have to get out of the woods before dark.

This story was written for the MUSE Challenge 2021. The underlined words are those which were part of the challenge.

Start Here

First, you hear sounds — birdsong, and the faint rustle of the wind in leaves. Second, a sweet, fresh smell tickles your nose. Third, you feel the warm, pleasant sensation of the sun on your face. Then you open your eyes, and that’s when the thoughts come in. What the…? You sit up fast, too fast, and now your whole body — without waking up from its stiff, sluggish state — remembers pain; sharp stabs through your head, quiet aches in your back, but none of it is surprising after sleeping on the ground in a — you look around — meadow? In any case, none of it is more intense than the confusion, and the feeling that something very, very strange is going on. Lush and green grass, still wet with dew, fills a modest area, bigger than a garden, smaller than a field, before shrubs mark the border with the forest of tall trees that surround it. You are situated on a slight slope: on one side the forest goes up, and on the other, down. Sun-kissed wildflowers are strewn around the meadow — their scent was what you smelled before, still entranced by sleep. Despite the discomfort, you almost want to stay here now that you’re fully awake and lucid. Something is reassuring, charming, almost mesmerising about the place…

…Which rekindles the eerie feeling from before: this is too strange — and how did you get here anyways? You have the sudden certainty that if you stay one moment longer, you might never leave. You get up slowly, careful not to provoke your (suspicious) headache, and try to find a path into the forest. And sure enough, you see two paths, one going up, one going down. Both are dirt tracks disappearing among the trees; they look identical, as if one was the continuation of the other, going in and out of the strange stretch of grass. There is no way for you to know which would be the best way for you to get out of here quickly, but you have to decide.


Which path will you take?

  • If you’re taking the path that goes down, click here.
  • If you’re taking the path that goes up, click here.


Passage 2

Among the evergreen trees, you hear the sound of running water and, soon enough, you find a river. Can a river be useful for getting you out? You wish you knew more about getting out of mysterious forests. The river is about 10 metres wide, and its flow seems pretty strong. To your right, a little further down, you see an old suspension bridge, an indicator that at some point, people must have walked through these parts. Clearly, this bridge has not been used for years, though, and its wooden planks are scant and rotting. An attempt to cross might very well end up as an unexpected swim — and you’re not that good of a swimmer. Looking around, you see a track going nearer the riverbank: it seems like it would be passable, so another option would be to walk along the river.


Where will you go now?

  • If you’re too intrigued by the old bridge and what you might find on the other side, click here.
  • If you decide to go up the river, click here.
  • If you want to try the way down the river, click here.


Passage 3

After walking up for some time, you find a small stone house. The well-maintained garden in front, as well as the smoke escaping the chimney and the faint sounds coming from the inside, indicate that it is inhabited. After your nap in the grass, the house feels inviting, its windows embellished with pots of colourful flowers, stone steps leading to the front door. It is a relief to find that there are other people here — you are immediately tempted to knock and ask for directions. Still, you cannot help but doubt whether or not that would be wise, given that you do not know who is in there.


So, what do you do?

  • If you decide that knocking at the door is the best way of determining who is in there and if they can help you, click here.
  • If you would rather try to go around and investigate through a window, running the risk of being discovered sneaking around, click here.
  • If you think all of this is too suspicious and you’d rather trust yourself to get out of the woods on your own, you can go back down through the meadow and take the path that goes down, which will lead you to click here.


Passage 4

You venture onto the bridge, and, despite your misgivings, you make it to the other side safely. The path continues, and you tread through tall trees, thankful that the sun is still high in the sky. After some time, you have to stop your progress: the path has started to resemble an animal track more and more, and now it seems to stop completely, a fallen tree barring the way, which then gives way to thorny bushes. It must have led somewhere at some point, but now this path is impracticable. Turning around to go back, you notice something strange in the corner of your eye, next to the path, sparkling blue. You take a closer look: it is a bright, blue mushroom. Not only is its colour unusual, but it also seems too bright, phosphorescent. Its light is clearly not coming from the afternoon sun. Surely this mushroom must not be edible. It looks similar to those toxic, the ones that are dangerous even to touch — which leads you to believe you should probably leave it and be on your way. But you are also tempted to take it, out of curiosity: you’ve never seen anything of the sort, and you like owning special things…

Decide whether you take the blue mushroom and keep it in your pocket.

Then, you go back on your way across the bridge.


Passage 5

You knock at the door of the stone-house and hear some racket inside before the door opens to you. A woman in her sixties, with long grey hair and a brown apron, opens the door. She looks you up and down, staying silent until you politely ask for help. Her answer comes in a matter-of-factly tone:

‘You know what? I think you could help me. Why don’t you come in?’ She lets you in without giving you much of a choice, and you start wondering whether coming here was a good idea.

You are in the stone-house with the woman.

  • If you have the blue mushroom, click here.
  • If you don’t, keep reading.

Sorry, dear traveller, but the adventure ends here for you. The woman — the witch — decides to take her in as her minion, binding you to serve her through a spell, and you do not get to walk out of here free.

The story ends here, and you lost. Don’t hesitate to start over at the beginning if you want to try again.

Passage 6

After walking along the river for a while, you notice more light through the trees, a little way up. You climb up, and find that the trees end there, giving way to a field, yellow wheat dancing in the wind and shining gold in the late afternoon sun. Beyond the field, you see a road, leading back to a village. You are out of the woods.

The story ends here, and you won. Don’t hesitate to start over at the beginning if you want to discover other paths.


Passage 7

You walk around to the side of the house to spy through the window. When you get to the window, you find a dark grey cat sitting on the sill, its bright blue eyes watching you with an eerily clever, and, you could swear, judgemental, look. Still, you try to get closer, making your way through the bushes that surround this side of the house.

‘Oh, you’re a bold one’, the cat remarks. You let out a sigh — nobody likes talking cats. You ignore her, and try to find a human on the inside. Cats are not known for their helpfulness to lost travellers… or for their helpfulness in general. This one, however, does not let you look past her.

‘Be careful, you don’t want her to see you’, she warns. ‘The witch, I mean’, she adds after letting the mystery float around for just a second, with an intense gaze that makes you uncomfortable. ‘She’s old, she’s cranky, and she does not like intruders’. The cat lets out a feline laugh which settles your dislike and distrust of her for good. ‘But if you want to look, look. It’s your life you’re risking, not mine…’ She finally jumps down the windowsill and strolls away, leaving you perplexed.

When you look through the window, you see a homely and cosy room, which seems empty. There is a fire burning in a fireplace, a book open on a wooden table, and pretty paintings of country scenes decorating the wall — in other words, nothing suspicious. Yet, if there truly is a witch, can you trust looks to tell you whether you should go in?

What will you do now?

  • You do not trust the cat’s word, and although looking inside the house did not indicate much about its possible inhabitants, you did not see anything suspicious either. If you decide to knock at the door, click here.
  • If, despite your doubts about the cat, you decide not to take chances about your safety and to find your way on your own. you can go back to the meadow and take the path that goes down; click here.


Passage 8

Suddenly, you remember the mushroom you picked up in the forest earlier. Thinking the suspicious woman may be interested in trading it, you take it out of your pocket and show it to her. You ask her to let you go and give you directions in exchange for the mushroom.

‘Hm… that is a nice specimen’, she declares upon examining it. You immediately feel relief that she is interested in the bargain.

‘…but why should I let you go?’ she asks.

Nice try. The woman — the witch — is thankful for your gift, but still takes you in as her minion, just because she can. You are bound to serve her through a spell, and you do not get to walk out of here free.

The story ends here, and you lost. Don’t hesitate to start over at the beginning if you want to try again.

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