Togi Kayako (土宜草子)
Your first step off of the bus is heralded by a perfectly timed rumble of thunder. A drop of rain hits your bare arm, quickly followed by several more. There’s no shelter, of course, and your connecting bus won’t arrive for at least fifteen minutes.
The bus pulls away and you see a lit storefront across the street, one of the many second-hand shops that sprung up after a certain big box store rolled into town and destroyed the existing local businesses. It must have eclectic hours, because this is the first time you remember seeing it open.
A bell over the door jingles as you walk in. The wave of rain-scented air that comes in with you disperses quickly, leaving you to the mercy of the universal thrift store scent: layers of clashing perfumes and cleaning chemicals mixed with a heavy base note of dust.
The old woman behind the counter glances up at you and then goes back to the stack of books she’s looking over without saying a word. Suits you just fine, because something about her gives you the creeps. Her eyes look too sharp for the dark circles underneath them and the way her long, thin fingers drag along the book spines feels uncomfortably intimate.
You wander off to the far side of the shop, away from the incongruous sound of tinny death metal coming from an ancient tape player perched on a display case. Behind a rack of outdated prom dresses with puffy shoulders and missing sequins, you find an alcove crowded with mismatched, warped bookshelves leaning at odd angles.
A bare light bulb on a long cord hangs in one corner. It flickers once as you walk up and dims, but doesn’t go out.
Peeling labels on the shelves suggest there used to be an organizational system, but even a quick glance over the titles tells you it’s long since been abandoned. Dated fad diets are mixed in with murder mysteries and a bunch of books with Russian titles that seem to be circus themed. There’s one shelf exclusively full of Gideon Bibles, leaving you curious if they came from the work of a dedicated hotel thief or someone who lost their faith.
Your toe clunks into a plastic storage tub. Several books slide off the overflowing pile inside it and tumble down around your feet in a colorful and verbose avalanche. As you crouch down to start picking them up, something shiny in the tub catches your eye.
You wind up with about a dozen books awkwardly tucked under your arms, but you manage to dig up the one you saw. It’s a thin paperback with a holographic foil cover, titled Shivers and Chills!!! with all three exclamation marks drawn like they’re dripping cartoony blood.
In lieu of a cover image, there’s nothing but ominous whorls of fog surrounding an oval mirror. The mirror is made of some kind of foil, reflective enough for you to get a blurry, funhouse-mirror look at your own face.
Flipping to the middle, you discover it’s one of those “Turn to page 127 to hit the bear with a stick” sort of deals, except the choices available to you are “Give in to the darkness!” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” You have to admire the author’s commitment to both exclamation points and writing like an edgy fourteen-year-old.
There’s a small ink stain where the page number should be, but otherwise the book seems in excellent condition. It’ll be good for a laugh and some nostalgia if nothing else, and it’s only a dollar anyway. You take it up to the register.
The woman who was there before is gone and doesn’t turn up even after you ding the tiny bell several times in a row. You glance out the window, only to see your bus stopped at a red light one block down. Time to panic!
A quick rummage through your wallet turns up only a five, so you tuck it under the bell and sprint out the door, hollering an apology over your shoulder as you go.
If you see the place open again, maybe you’ll go back and explain. Shivers and Chills!!! gets unceremoniously tucked into your bag as you race across the street.
The bus pulls up seconds after you reach the stop. You relax back into your bus seat and watch the street lights start to turn on as you slowly wend your way home.
A few stops away, you try to rummage for your lip balm and remember the book. Couldn’t hurt to look it over a bit more now, while you have a few minutes.
To your surprise, in very angry red text in one corner is the phrase “Not for kids!” How had you missed that before? You turn it over to read the blurb on the back.
Job grinding you down? Love life gotten stale? Dreams too mundane? Let us bring you some Shivers and Chills!!!
You’ve always been a skeptic, secure in the knowledge that anything going bump in the night has a logical explanation. Then one rainy afternoon you wander into a seemingly ordinary local book store and find something that will change your life forever.
With over 30 possible endings, ranging from the tantalizing to the terrifying, your satisfaction is guaranteed!
Thirty endings seems like a lot for such a thin book. Must be one of those where you wind up dying for nonsensical reasons more often than not, but that’s okay. You’ve made worse choices as far as impulse buys go.
You spot your stop coming up and shove the book away again so it doesn’t get rained on. Your bag is waterproof-ish, but you wish you’d brought an umbrella anyway.
The rain picks up as soon as you’re outside again and you’re stuck at several intersections waiting for the painfully slow lights to change. It’s just one of those days.
By the time you get back to your apartment, rainwater is dripping down your face and you are so, so done with today. Your clothes are drenched and clinging to your skin in a way that looks great in movies but feels awful in real life.
A nice soak in the tub, fresh pajamas, and a cup of tea takes you down from fuck everything to a mere fuck, I’m tired. You have tomorrow off, so you decide to make an evening of it with the last of your frozen pizzas, a little bit of booze, and some fun clickbait debunking videos.
In the lull while you wait for one to load, you hear your phone buzz and get up to dig it out of your bag. You grab Shivers and Chills!!! as well, because it seems like the perfect kind of trash read to round off your indulgent night.
The opening page warns you not to try reading the book from cover to cover, as if any adult who bought this wouldn’t already know how it works. You flip forward to the story proper. It describes you entering a thrift store and being mysteriously drawn to the book section.
Wait, hadn’t the back cover said book store? No, you’re probably misremembering. Apparently the author suspected they were writing something destined for a bargain bin. You feel a brief pang of sympathy for them.
The protagonist is left mostly undescribed, though there are a few vague but flattering references to how attractive they are. Cozied up on your couch, tispy and full of pizza, you allow yourself to feel a little charmed.
Like many similar books you’ve read, you’re given an obvious choice for your first one: buy the book or leave without buying it. In a fit of contrariness, you go with the wrong answer and flip to the appropriate page.
Despite its many and obvious virtues, you decide you’re not interested in the book and toss it back into the bin like a brute. You go home and spend your whole evening trying to decide what you’d like to watch, only to fall asleep sitting on the sofa and wake up with a sore back.
But that’s not what actually happened, now is it?
You already have a finger bookmarking the page, so go back and answer honestly this time. We’ll never get anywhere if you insist on trying to lie to us, darling.
You catch yourself ducking your head toward your chest, as if someone was actually chiding you. Maybe the alcohol wasn’t a good idea after all.
Still, no reason not to do what the book says. It was pretty clever to include the call out there, since no one would wind up reading it unless they intentionally picked the incorrect option.
In no time at all, you’re turning to the right page to continue forward with actual choices. You fish a receipt out of your wallet — why do you even keep those? — and use it to mark the page for when you inevitably have to start over.
You buy the book and gently secure it in your bag where the awful, horrid rain won’t threaten its delicate pages.
Again, you have to give it points for personality, even if the writing is bordering on purple.
The book makes it unscathed; you aren’t so lucky. You’re soaked to the skin when you get home, poor thing. Still, nothing a nice warm shower or bath won’t fix.
To take a bath, turn to page 87.
To take a shower, turn to page 54.
You can think of one very famous shower scene that ended in death and you’re betting this one might too. Lucky thing you took a bath tonight! You roll your eyes at the thought, but obediently turn to page 87.
The tub is filled, your wet clothes are thrown aside, and you ease yourself into the near-scalding water inch by glorious, bare inch. Your eyes flutter closed while you submerge as much of yourself as possible.
Today, your entire body sinks under the surface, despite the fact that the cramped confines of your tub should make it impossible. You stretch out your arms and then your legs, but find nothing except more water, endless water, surrounding and supporting and caressing you.
Bit by bit, your flesh is heated to the temperature of your bath and the boundaries between yourself and the vast, warm ocean embracing you dissolve away. You can feel so much more than the limits of your body now.
To sink down, turn to page 41.
To open your eyes, turn to page 13.
What the fuck. You’re starting to wonder if this isn’t somebody’s weird arthouse project transformed into a cheap paperback. While it’s faintly disappointing that you weren’t eaten by sewer alligators or something equally cheesy, at least it’s not boring.
This one’s an easy choice. If you hear any hint of a weird noise while you’re in the tub, you have to peer around the shower curtain to check for axe murderers, even if it means getting soap in your eyes.
You keep your eyes locked on only the page numbers as you flip backward, to make sure you don’t accidentally spoil any of the endings.
As soon as the desire to open your eyes occurs, you can see. You recognize the familiar confines of your bathtub, though the angle is strange and your vision is hazy with steam and a faint but constant rippling distortion.
The scent of soap is everywhere, and in the background you can hear a steady drip.
A figure looms into view. It’s you.
This time you watch rather than participate as you shed your clothing. Had the wet fabric clung so like a second skin before? Did you peel it up and off your body this way, so slow and tantalizing?
Your hands, no longer your own, trail fingertips over bare skin with reverence, unflinching even as they stroke over spots you generally try to avoid thinking of, let alone touching.
If you want your hands to dip in to test the water, turn to page 19.
If you want yourself to step into the bath without hesitation, turn to page 85.
Is this meant to be creepy, erotic, or both? None of the scenarios give you an idea for which choice is the right one, so you arbitrarily go with what you, the actual you, usually does and have them step right in.
You watch your foot lower toward you, distantly wondering if you can be crushed as you currently are. Instead, your sight goes choppy as your legs breach your surface in two abrupt steps.
There’s no time to brace yourself before the rest of your body sinks in, mercilessly displacing you in all directions. You have no choice but to accept the intrusion, rough and sudden in a way that would leave you breathless if you still had the ability to breathe.
Lacking that, you also can’t let out the sweet, pained whimper you feel as your second self relaxes back. They let out a pleased sigh as they get every last inch inside you.
Their lips sink under your surface like a kiss, hair a faint tickle as it drifts in your currents, fingers and toes curling with an ecstasy felt by both of you.
You wrap around yourself, warming, softening, and little by little stripping away the flimsy barrier keeping you apart. Now you feel everything doubled, and both of you watch with rapt anticipation as you, for a third time, stand over a steaming bath.
Trapped in an endless and ever-increasing spiral of sensation, you forget trivialities like your life, your name, and your humanity.
An ending — but was it the one you wanted? Perhaps it’s time to sleep and try again tomorrow.
Sweet dreams, dearest.
You jolt out of your reading trance and close the book almost in slow motion. That was… sure something. Something you found more arousing than terrifying.
Shifting in your seat, you try to decide if you’re too unsettled to sleep or if the author’s right and sleep is exactly what you need.
A bird takes off somewhere outside your window and it sounds almost like ruffling pages, or distant laughter.
You brush, floss, and decide to go to sleep a bit early.
When you wake up, your blankets are cuddled around you in a perfect, cozy nest. If you dreamed of anything, you don’t remember it. In fact, it was the most restful night you’ve had in quite a while and you luxuriate in it until you absolutely have to get out of bed.
Your thoughts are fuzzy around the edges and your focus isn’t great, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for a day off. Muscle memory guides you through the process of making strong tea to ease the transition to the waking world.
There’s one final bagel left from the bag you bought last week. Sure, it’s probably stale, but it’s got too many preservatives to actually go bad, right? You turn over the bagel to check it more carefully. Aw, there was mold on the bottom. Eggs it is!
You manage to find some slightly wilted spinach in your vegetable drawer to add in. With a sprinkle of random dried herbs, a bit of sharp cheddar, and a ton of pepper, you’ve made yourself a very respectable omelette.
Well, almost. It turns into a scramble when you get impatient and try to flip it before it’s fully cooked, but it’s still delicious.
The couch welcomes you with open arms and there’s Shivers and Chills!!! on your coffee table, right where you left it sitting last night. You’re eager to try another path, though if there’s anything gory in there it might not be great breakfast reading. And you would hate to spill anything on the book! Probably better to wait.
Breakfast vanishes in record time and you toss back a few gulps of your tea with a smile. Now you’re finally awake enough to read some weird shit.
Okay, flip to the bookmark and… did you leave it on the wrong page? You would have sworn the first real choice was taking a bath or a shower, but this seems to be further along.
You have an important meeting today and now that you’ve showered, you need to decide what to wear.
Undergarments come first, fished from the depths of your dresser drawers. You opt for the nicer, special occasion ones. They fit perfectly enough that they’re comfortable, but they make you feel stronger, sexier, and confident.
Now you need to select the rest of your outfit… but from where?
To dig through the clean laundry basket, turn to page 64.
To find something in your closet, turn to page 33.
Your eyes guiltily avoid the half full basket of laundry by the couch that you are now one hundred percent going to put away today.
As much as you hate to send anyone into the closet, at least you can spare your literary counterpart this moment of shame.
You flick through the obvious options hanging at the front but quickly push them aside. They’re all boring, muted colors and unflattering lines that obscure the shape of your lovely body.
Nothing you want to wear. Is the closet a lost cause after all, or perhaps there’s something nicer tucked away in the back?
To go to the laundry basket instead, turn to page 64.
To reach further into the closet, turn to page 92.
It’s probably meant to be a warning to escape while you still can, but you are going to avoid the fictional laundry basket at least half as fervently as you’ve avoided the real one, damn it.
There’s no light in the closet itself, only in the room behind you, so you’re searching by feel as much as sight. You reach both hands past the first layer of hanging clothes without a flinch, even as they disappear from your sight into the darkness where there could be anything at all.
Each texture becomes a distinct sensation when you can’t see the materials. The coarser wools and cottons scratch every so slightly against the tender skin of your wrists, while the silks and satins wash over your arms like water.
The back of your closet seems to be further away than you remember. When you’ve stretched your arms as far as you can, you turn sideways and ease a shoulder through the curtain of fabrics.
Something black with a faint pattern across its surface curls down from the shelf above, thin and sleek as it drops onto you. It twines gently around your head and cinches tight over your eyes without tugging even a single hair.
The clothing around you rustles in anticipation.
To try to claw your way free, turn to page 23.
To push further into the clothing, turn to page 45.
Are you going to get murdered by living clothing — and not any old clothing, but literally your own? This definitely seems like a situation to run away from, since you don’t have any ambitions of becoming like… a skin suit tucked in next to the normal ones. But you’re so curious about what might happen.
It’s a terrible idea. You’re going to wind up super dead if you don’t get out. It’s only a story that you’re reading; it can’t hurt you.
Right, deep breath. If it’s something gross, you can put the book down or donate it to another secondhand shop if you really need it out of your life.
May as well satisfy your curiosity.
You spread your arms wide and relax, letting them droop. Sleeves close around your wrists, your forearms, and a final pair wrap snug above and below your elbows, gentle around the delicate joints.
Thick cotton socks slither under the arches of your feet, ticklish for the briefest moment. More trap your ankles, your calves, and then several lines of lacy and silken somethings cinch around the softness of your thighs.
It comes as no surprise when you are finally immobilized, fabric bonds around every limb pulling taut. There’s nothing left for you to do but stand and quiver and wait. You can hear movement nearby: the sounds of heavier materials shifting and readying in the darkness around you.
The faintest creak of leather is the only warning you receive before something almost but not quite a hand slides up along your bared throat to cup your chin. A thumb glides over your lower lip. When a second glove settles at your waist, one fingertip teasing at the edge of your underwear, you start to squirm in earnest.
If that’s all you want, turn to page 12.
If you want even more, turn to page 71.
At this rate, it looks like your curiosity isn’t going to be the only thing that gets satisfied. You catch yourself tracing your lips with one fingertip and are deeply grateful no one is around to see you getting lost in this strange book. Since you are alone, the choice is obvious.
Of course you want more, and your wardrobe is there as always to suit your every need.
A sturdy jean leg presses between your thighs as your bonds helpfully spread them wide. Behind you, a second pair grinds up against your ass, the front stretched tight over something that in any other situation would probably not be a pair of rolled up socks.
The starched collar of a dress shirt drags against the base of your neck while the smooth plastic buttons press cool dots down your spine. A second pair of gloves joins the fray, one twining with the fingers of your right hand and the other holding the back of your head steady.
You open your mouth instantly when the glove there presses between your lips, and your obedience is rewarded with two smooth fingers sliding in to caress your tongue. They push deeper, skirting the line of discomfort before pulling out. Another set of gloved fingers joins them and all four together stretch your mouth wide open.
The pace they set is slow, almost halting. Fingertips tease at your lips and the tip of your tongue for minutes on end, pulling away when you struggle to move into their touch. It’s only when you relax that they give you what you want, going deeper and fucking your mouth in earnest.
Denim hips push against you from all sides and one leg presses between yours, though never as long or as hard as you would prefer. Little by little, you force yourself to stop struggling and let the fabric surrounding you take your weight so it can move you as it sees fit.
You gift away your control and are gifted pleasure in return. A folded belt licks up your back, smooth and cool against your heated skin. The fingers in your mouth use you as roughly as you could ever hope for, the wet and filthy noises of it filling your ears.
Having brought you to a fever pitch, the jeans finally give you the pressure you need. You are allowed to roll your hips, grinding out a more and more desperate rhythm that reaches its inevitable crescendo. Your clothing presses tight all around you, leaving you breathless for one long moment of ecstasy.
One bond after another tenses against you and then releases, leaving you unmoored. As your racing heart slows, you sink to the floor of your closet. Every piece of clothing sits in its usual place, unmoving.
You’ve probably missed your meeting by now, and you definitely need to change your underwear. Not the most productive day, perhaps, but you find yourself with few complaints. You make your way to your computer, wobbling but happy, to write an apology email to your boss.
We’ve reached another ending, my dear. Did this one satisfy, or dare you try again?
Your face is warm and the dregs of your tea are stone cold by the time you set the book down. What on earth did you just read? If you think about it too much more, you’re not sure if you’ll wind up nervously laughing or getting yourself off right where you sit.
You decide to distract yourself by doing the dishes. That turns into cleaning the kitchen, followed by the rest of your apartment — with the notable exception of your closet. You take one look at it and close the door, then sheepishly push one of your heavier storage boxes in front of it.
At the end of the day, you’re pleasantly exhausted and the place looks amazing. You’ve done good work and you’re proud of it. Cooking is right out and you want something nicer than leftovers, so you mentally flip through your usual list of places that will deliver to you.
You pick one of your favorites, a little Thai place owned by a sweet older couple. Now comes the difficult part: what do you want to eat? You order something with lots of protein and vegetables, to restore your energy after a long day.
…And a little something sugary, as a treat. Hell yes, you can’t skip the Thai iced tea! You place your order and twiddle your thumbs for a few minutes, then go pick up your delicious food.
Whether it’s because you’re so hungry or because you got something different, everything tastes amazing. You’re happy you tipped generously.
You put on some science trivia videos while you eat and learn why Siamese cats have the coloration they do, then about a psychology test with words written in the wrong colors. A video on developing a growth mindset catches your eye. You don’t normally go in for the self-help stuff, but this one looks interesting and it’s not that long.
Drowsy as you are after your busy day, it feels less threatening than usual. You watch one, and another, and another, somehow spotting the perfect next video relevant to you at the end of each one. Somewhere along the line you start to fidget, probably from the caffeine that wasn’t a great idea this late in the evening.
You pick a video of bedtime stretches next. It should help you wind down and man does it feel nice after all the cleaning you did today. The video ends with some deep breathing and you flop back on your couch happy and more relaxed.
Still, you’re not quite sleepy yet, or at least that’s what you tell yourself when your eyes fall on Shivers and Chills!!! After all of three seconds of consideration you decide you want to reread a few sections from the comfort of your bed. But first, you take a moment to throw away your garbage and go brush your teeth.
Sitting on your bed, the shiny cover of the book still looks like it should contain cheesy G-rated nonsense rather than the surprisingly explicit weirdness it actually holds. You reach for your pajamas, then glance back at the book and hesitate for a really long couple of moments.
Maybe you’ll skip the pajamas tonight, actually.
You slip into your sheets and reorganize your pillow collection just so. The arrangement will last for five minutes tops before you roll over and have to adjust everything, but at least they’ll be five very comfortable minutes.
This time your bookmark has managed to stay in the right place and you can retrace your way through the scenes from earlier with no trouble. In the warm glow from your bedside lamp the rest of the world fades away and you have no qualms about enjoying your bedtime story fully.
You finish reading, set the book carefully aside, and fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The incessant blaring of your alarm drags you into consciousness. Your mouth doesn’t taste gross, score a point for thorough brushing, but your eyes are gritty and your whole body drags as you get out of bed.
You’d set yourself up to have three days in a row off, but a coworker had begged you to cover for them and you eventually agreed. So now your weekend’s split in half and it’s the worst.
By the time you’re dressed and ready to go, you have to hurry for the bus on an empty stomach. You grab a fast food breakfast and the inevitably terrible cheap coffee that comes with it, because there is no universe in which you could survive today on zero caffeine.
Work happens. Someone yells at you more than once. You spend the entire day waiting for it to end but don’t feel any relief even when you clock out.
The bus rides home are a blur as your eyes unfocus in the general direction of out the window and you try to ignore someone sitting behind you who’s wearing way too much perfume. Your head throbs as you trudge from the last stop to your apartment.
You fumble your keys into a murky puddle when you go to unlock the door and can only sigh. Time to write off today as a loss. At least you have a good book waiting for you. You’re not even sure you have the energy to enjoy anything, but you’ll get it a try after you get some food in you.
The final portion of leftovers you’d been counting on are blossoming with new and unwelcome life. You chuck the whole container into the trash with more than necessary force. At least you’ll have the extra day’s cash to take the sting out of ordering delivery, because you sure don’t have the energy to go out again.
There are a lot of tasty options, though nothing actually sounds good. You choose one of your favorites that isn’t so greasy it will upset your stomach. Okay, yeah. Probably a bad idea to add vaguely queasy to the list of today’s problems.
You sweep all of your anger and exhaustion under the rug of your Polite Phone Voice to call in your order. Time slips by in a careful contemplation of the far wall as seen from the sagging center of your couch until a knock startles you back to the real world.
Poorer in cash but richer in hot food you didn’t have to make, you return to your sunken spot. You don’t have the energy to pick something to watch, so you don’t bother trying. After a few mechanical bites, something in your brain finally registers hey, I like this thing and you manage a faint but genuine smile.
You clear away the trash and wash your hands. The meal perked you up a little bit, but you’re still tired down to your bones. You look at Shivers and Chills!!! where it sits on your coffee table, though you would have sworn you left it by your bed.
Are you awake enough to read more of it? You can always stop reading if you’re not enjoying it, so what’s the harm? May as well give it a try. Retreading the same early parts of the story doesn’t appeal, so you flip forward from your bookmark a page or two until you spot choices at the bottom.
You advance with silent steps toward the faint light, feeling your way along the tunnel with one hand on the wall. The sounds of pursuit have faded away, but you know they’ll realize you’ve taken a turning sooner rather than later. Speed is still of the essence.
The rushing of water ahead grows louder and louder. You turn a final bend in the path and freeze as the tunnel comes to an abrupt end inches from your feet. To your right is a waterfall and below, after a drop that makes your stomach churn to consider, is a lake with a river coiling away to your left.
Dark water turns to froth below the falls, leaving you no way to guess how deep it could be or what might lurk below the surface. You could risk turning back, but it’s impossible to know how close your former captors are or if you could evade them a second time.
To take a plunge, turn to page 14.
To take a chance, turn to page 29.
Now this is certainly a dramatic place to start! You sit up a bit straighter. Both options available to you are risky, but you’re pretty confident that neither one is going to wind up being a dull fatality scene.
If this book is going to kill you at all, you know it will be something totally unexpected, and you’re willing to take the leap of faith to prove it.
A few steps back turns into a sprint forward into the air to make sure you won’t hit any of the cliffs as you descend. You press your arms to your sides and point your toes, streamlining yourself so that you’ll knife into the water below.
The spray from the falls surrounds you in seconds, tickling against your skin and misting into your eyes. You close them and let yourself enjoy the brief drop.
At least, you thought it would be brief. Even with an adrenaline high making time seem to slow, you should have long since plunged into the water. You keep your form but cautiously open one eye.
You’re maybe halfway between the cave exit and the water below, hanging in midair. Everything you can see seems to be frozen: plants curled in a breeze you can’t feel, a pebble you kicked loose floating by your feet, and the waterfall itself looking like a fantastic glass sculpture. Water droplets sparkle in the sunlight as you turn your head to take it all in.
To try to wait it out, turn to page 46.
To try to move around, turn to page 88.
What would you do if time froze after you’d done an action movie worthy dive from a cliff? You have to roll your eyes at the thought. There’s no easy answer to a question that requires reality to break in a fundamental way, even if you were likely to jump off of any cliffs in the first place. But since you’re clearly a cool protagonist now, you decide to attempt to take action.
You stretch out an arm toward the water, wondering if you could somehow swim down to safety. The smaller drops you can brush aside, each one feeling like a cool glass bead. You’re not too surprised when you can’t even manage to press the tip of a finger into the waterfall itself.
So now what?
For one long moment, you indulge yourself with a bit of flailing, scattering the beads of water in every direction. Some of them seem to pick up momentum, spinning away at odd angles and then looping back in toward you.
One by one they start to gather, amassing into a vaguely humanoid shape in the air next to you. The figure has no obvious features on face or body, but it is defined enough that you can tell when it points a finger downward.
You look down and watch as dozens of identical figures coalesce out of the glittering spray, every one of them with arms outstretched toward you, waiting.
To fall into their embrace, turn to page 110.
To fall into the water and escape, turn to page 15.
With a sigh, you tip your head back for a long second. You want the idea of being ravished by… the semi-sentient manifestation of water droplets frozen in time to appeal, but you’re exhausted. After the day you’ve had, the idea feels ridiculous rather than compelling.
Is this is how you die, from trying to avoid the surreal sex scenes? You trust that the author wants you to enjoy all the possible branches of the story. It’s true that nothing outright bad has happened so far, so maybe this will be okay too.
Your head breaks the surface of the pond and you hurry to paddle to shore. Some trick of the light mixed with the rush from the dive had given you a strange vision, but you know it was nothing you need to dwell on now.
The afternoon sun above lets you orient yourself in no time and helpfully dries out your clothing as you retreat to the haven of your hidden cave safehouse. Your rations are intact and your bedroll was stored well enough that it hardly even needs a quick airing out.
While the conditions are sparse, the glow of excitement from a successful escape lifts your spirits. You watch a vibrant sunset slowly covered by the vast mantle of stars that are visible this far from any light pollution.
Tomorrow, you can call for assistance, whether that’s backup to clear out the hostiles or a swift evacuation. For tonight, you drift off with the comforting contentment of survival in the face of adversity.
Things don’t always work out, but a new day will rise and you too will rise to face its challenges. Perhaps next time you will be victorious, dear reader.
Huh. That wasn’t quite you’d expected, but it feels nice not to have hit a bad ending. You close the book with a faint smile. It’s still been a shitty day and you’re still exhausted but you turn in for the night feeling hopeful instead of downtrodden.
It’s the last day of your split weekend and you wake to an early alarm that you had meant to turn off. Because you’ve rigorously trained yourself to sit upright the second you hear it, you’re now wide awake.
The grocery store won’t be busy at this hour and you need to purchase food. Your fridge has gotten worryingly bare.
While you throw on some clean clothes and tame your bedhead, you make a mental list and transfer it to paper before you head out. You remember to bring your reusable bags. It takes a bit of hustling, but you make it to the bus stop less than a minute before one turns up.
The list keeps you from getting too carried away as you take your regular loop through the store. You spend more time in the produce section than usual as you realize there are plenty of places you could sneak more vegetables into your meals.
You’ve managed not to buy more than you can reasonably carry, and you even catch a bus home with near perfect timing. After everything’s put away, you cook yourself a lavish breakfast and enjoy every bite.
You feel very good to have accomplished something useful to start your day. And with no other big responsibilities looming, you really feel like you can relax.
Though by relax, you definitely mean read more Shivers and Chills!!! You’re happy with the ending you got yesterday, but maybe branching off from one of its earlier choices would be a good place to start?
You accidentally pull your bookmarks free when you go to pick up the book. So much for that idea. Starting from the beginning doesn’t appeal, so you pick a place at random near the middle and lucky for you, there’s a choice waiting at the bottom of the page.
The bell over the stationary store’s door rings as you walk in, though there’s no one behind the counter to notice your arrival. The building itself is plain, white walls and beige tile floors, but every direction is filled with an eye-catching splash of colors. Racks of stickers cap the ends of aisles of paper and notebooks; display stands of elegant pens sit next to massive shelves of rainbow markers.
It’s a treasure trove. You had only intended to browse to kill some time, but you can already tell you won’t escape without purchasing something. In a trance, you weave back and forth across the store, looking over everything from mundane lined paper to bejeweled fountain pens locked up in a glass case.
Your steps slow as you look over stationary sets. It’s been a while since you wrote to anyone on paper, but seeing all the options available makes you want to give it a try again.
One in particular catches your eye, an otherwise plain white paper with a beautiful silver foil border that looks like stitching. You lean in to peer at it and see tens of tiny reflections of yourself mirrored back.
A polite announcement tells you that the shop is closing in ten minutes. You’ve managed to pick up quite a few things in your browsing, but perhaps one more wouldn’t hurt?
To pick up the stationary, turn to page 127.
To leave with what you have, turn to page 57.
You take a long moment to wish there was any sort of stationary store near you, let alone one that large and interesting. Then you go for the page that lets you pick up the shiny magical stationery, because obviously.
In your hurry to tug free a set for yourself, you fail to notice how tightly packed they are and several come flying off the shelves to land in a semicircle at your feet. Little splinters of your face and body are reflected back at you from dozens of angles.
You manage to set the shelf to rights and scurry off to pay for your purchases. Most of them will be shoved to the back of a bookshelf within days and forgotten, though you do end up using one of the sheets of stickers to enliven your grocery lists.
It’s not until you’re changing out of your clothes that evening that you first notice something odd. A tiny, cold point presses against the inside of your wrist, neither sharp nor itchy. When you turn your arm to look at it, there is a small black dot of ink.
You stare as the dot extends into a line, curving gracefully up your arm to spell out the ornately written phrase “My Dearest.” Each letter is shaped with care and as they form you also feel the emotion behind the words, warm and longing.
The pen presses down again and the letter continues. Someone is writing to their wife about how much they miss her, which rapidly turns to reminiscing about their honeymoon and how much fun they had at the time. Even the secondhand, remembered sensations are nearly overwhelming.
By the time your arm is covered in a deeply explicit letter, you’re breathless. The unreadable flourish of the writer’s signature near your shoulder is passionate enough that you bite back a moan. You have no chance to recover before you feel several more pens being pressed to your skin.
To try to shower off the words, turn to page 102.
To watch the rest of the letters appear, turn to page 114.
Oh, there’s no chance you’re running away from this one. It seems a bit more hands-off than the sentient clothing so far, but you’re enjoying the idea all the same.
Two writers with very different styles start to cover your legs. On the right is someone who writes fast, sharp, and messy but is jotting down notes for the most tender romance story imaginable. On the left is someone idly expanding on a dream they had in untidy cursive. It involves them at center stage in a massive opera house, being taken by an endless parade of lovers in front of an enthusiastic audience.
Their imagined applause still rings in your ears as more words start filling in the bare spaces on your body. Fanfiction involving some rather unlikely plant pollen covers your back in increasingly excited scribbles as the author warms to the story. Someone working on an actual typewriter works through lavish character descriptions across your backside, each word a flurry of stinging strikes.
Before long, there’s almost no space on you without something inked onto it. Most of it is dark shades, black or navy, but there are brighter colors mixed in to liven things up. The cool, glittering gel pen running high up your thighs is a vivid lavender as it writes what starts as a note to a friend and ends as an enthusiastic confession of interest.
Too many different sensations vie for your attention. You flit from one to the next as the emotions peak or as the writing itself crosses a particularly sensitive spot on your body.
Then, in the tender space back and below one ear, you feel the shape of your own name and a warm compassion. You can’t see the letters, but the handwriting and the emotion both feel familiar enough that you’re sure it’s your own writing.
To wait and see what it says, turn to page 139.
To go write something down yourself, turn to page 27.
You’re not sure what you’d want to write to yourself in general, let alone with magic stationary that would make you feel your emotions as you wrote it. Something nice, you suppose. Given how weird the rest of the book has been, you can’t wait to see what your book counterpart has picked.
The other words across your body seem to fall silent all at once as this one starts. It is, in its own way, a love letter. Some future version of you writes, with trembling hands, how you feel about yourself.
They leave many of the details vague, but the overall shape comes out as the words twine down and around your neck, feather light as they cross your throat. No lottery wins, no sudden celebrity (wanted or otherwise), and many of the problems you have now are still there.
But you’re happy. It’s a quiet feeling, a single glowing birthday candle in a still, dark room. At some point one of the things you most dislike about yourself was simply gone, through some mysterious event you gloss over in your writing.
In the wake of this wonder, day by day, you took the wheel of your metaphorical ship and began to captain it in earnest. You found things you wanted to do and pursued them. There were setbacks and some outright failures, but you persisted and cultivated that delicate bloom of contentment.
Across your skin, the other writers add postscripts, all of them directed at you. “Congratulations!” arches over one of your knees while the other is circled by the phrase “You did amazing“.
On your back, “Hell yeah!” in huge block letters. The sharp but tidy typed “Well done.” is pecked out at the very top of the back of your thigh. Then more appear all at once, too many for you to take in the individual words, but you bask in the warm glow of happiness and pride.
Finally, at the nape of your neck, your own words again: “Thank you for getting me here.”
A very good ending this time, my wonderful reader. Take some time to reflect, perhaps, on what you would like to change in your own life. We wish you every happiness and, of course, hope you will join us again in the future.
It looks like the joke’s on you — you expected a cheesy horror story and got a self-help book instead. The idea of being able to magically root out a problem in your life is very alluring, though. It rattles around in your brain as you put the book down and get ready for bed.
You lay in the dark for a good while, sleepless as you imagine what you would pick and daydream of the future where you could write something so comforting to your past self.
You rise with the sun, well-rested and in an excellent mood. Not a normal feeling for a weekday morning, but you’ll take it. You cast a wistful glance at Shivers and Chills!!! but unless the book starts printing money, work is still a must.
Maybe if you’re lucky, you can find another book in the series after you finish this one, assuming it’s not totally out of print. Maybe the stars will even align and the secondhand shop will be open again. It’s possible that someone donated more than one.
Work passes by in a total blur of mundanity. At the end of the day, your least shitty manager says you did a good job, which bolsters your spirits long enough to survive the bus rides home. Your first bus pulls up only seconds before the connecting one and you can barely sneak in a glance toward the shops across the street before it drives off.
It can’t have been the one on the corner that’s all boarded up, right? You were in there not two days ago.
When you near your apartment, your steps quicken with your eagerness to come home and read more. You slot in your key with unsteady hands and then kick the door closed behind you without looking back.
A trail of clothing accumulates behind you as you walk forward: shoes toed off, shirt tossed aside and pants crumpled into a pile. Everything else gets dumped in or near your dirty laundry pile.
Unfortunately, taking off your clothes only makes you realize that you’re kinda sweaty and could use a bath… or maybe a shower this time. Showers are quicker anyway, but you will take your time and make sure you are clean and dry before you pick up the book.
You wind up taking the most methodical shower of your life, cleaning yourself from head to toe with an even balance between fast and thorough. You’re extra careful drying off. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to your current favorite!
Curtains are drawn, overhead light is off, bedside lamp is on. Naked, you stretch out on your stomach and pick up the book. Do you start from your bookmark again and make different choices, go back to the actual beginning, or pick randomly again?
You let the book fall open as it will. It shouldn’t work with a paperback, not really, but when you try it the pages obligingly drift open about two-thirds of the way through.
The final steps leading up to the temple fall behind you and you find one of its massive, gilt-edged doors left open, an invitation for you alone. Warm air trickles out, scented with paper and incense long since extinguished. Once you pass the threshold, the door swings shut on silent hinges to stand watch at your back.
Slowly, your eyes adjust to the dimmer light. There is nothing to suggest this is a space intended for worshippers to gather in: no pews, no cushions, no mats.
The only sign of use is the line worn smooth in the stone floor, running from the door to the far end of the echoing hall. You can see but not see some sort of altar or obelisk there, more of a flickering shadow than a concrete shape.
While the room itself is empty, the walls and ceiling are full to bursting. It is library and ossuary both, books and bones lining the walls up to the ceiling and stretching out across it.
Most of the bones are a familiar yellowed white, but the massive, arching ribs that support the roof are darker, silver with a slight pearlescent or metallic sheen.
You step further inside, turning to take it all in, and see the faint gleam of those bones weaving in and out of the entire structure. If they are all from a single creature, it was one of an unfamiliar shape and a size too massive for you to fully comprehend.
Whatever it was, it clearly had plenty of worshippers… or victims.
To continue forward, turn to page 103.
To examine the walls, turn to page 77.
In a horror story, you would expect the bones to leap out at you for a bad end or maybe even a book to fall on your head. With this one… well, skeletons are cool and all, but you don’t like like them and you’re happy to keep it that way.
A fluttering of pages and whispers follow at your heels as you trace the path made by countless others that came before you. The words both written and spoken are indistinct, but warm and welcoming.
You draw to a stop at the base of a squarish something you can place no easy name to. Shimmering, it shifts before your eyes. One moment a towering plinth stretching toward the ceiling, the next something closer to a casket standing on end, near your own height.
Once, very briefly, you think you see a figure in a hooded robe, fabric draping over an array of limbs that could not possibly be human.
Having set your eyes on the obelisk, you can look at nothing else. Behind you, the faint voices rise together in a choir backed by a soft percussion of closing tomes, turning pages, and clicking bones. The melody soothes your worries even as your pulse starts to pick up along with the beat.
On the floor at your feet you see the twin grooves where others have knelt, offering themselves in supplication to receive their gifts.
To kneel, turn to page 89.
To leave, turn to page 28.
What would be the point of leaving now? It’s nice to have the option, you guess, but you can’t imagine wanting to just… turn and walk away from something so strange and fascinating.
You could do what your book counterpart is doing, to immerse yourself. It only takes a second to shift around and kneel in the center of your bed while you flip to the correct page.
The stone is cool but oddly yielding as you sink to your knees and turn your face up to the ever-changing shape before you. It expands out around you, filling your field of view with a gleaming darkness as comforting and familiar as the inside of your own eyelids.
You know the moment it closes shut behind you, as the song of your predecessors fades away to nothing. In its place comes a slithering sound like heavy vines and delicate chains. A tiny cord of cool pressure glides over your foot and across your calf, twining up around your immobile form.
The words on the page seem to expand as well. You find yourself forced to focus intently on each word, one after the other, to fully grasp the meaning. A corner of your sheet is caught around your ankle, but it’s nothing you need to worry about.
It’s near impossible to tell if your eyes are open or closed, if the shifting form is physically in front of you or an image inside your mind. More cords creep over your body, covering you in a tight latticework of what must be the same starlit darkness around you. It has a faint sound to it, something deeper and more resonant than the call of whales, a hum that you feel as much as hear.
You open your eyes, or realize that they were never closed, and glance down. In your cupped hands you find a roughly hewn wooden bowl, empty and awaiting your offering. You know anything at all will be accepted, so long as it is something you no longer wish to hold onto.
To offer of your body, turn to page ⬛⬛.
To offer of your mind, turn to page ⬛⬛.
Sitting as still as your book counterpart, you consider what you might want to get rid of. There are plenty of options both big and small, some superficial and some potentially a permanent change to the person you are now.
All answers are correct; all changes, valid.
You take your time, or you think you take your time. It could have been an hour or only a few minutes as you sink down into yourself and then rise back to the surface with the knowledge you sought.
You’re confident in what you’ve chosen as you turn to the appropriate page.
The tendrils tingle as they lace tighter around your body. One delicate offshoot comes to a stop at the base of your skull, tapping gently against your skin. There is a pressure and a strange, painless burn of hot and cool, and then only numbness.
You think of an abstract nothing, black ink dripping into a pool of darkness, and you breathe slow and deep and calm.
The words are in the book, in your hands, but you think you closed your eyes and you can still read them. There is an odd pressure on your body and you feel both dizzy and detached from yourself. It does not hurt, will never hurt you, no matter how far into you it has to reach.
Before you can take more than a few breaths, it ends. The loops around your body pull tighter and then turn brittle and snap, crumbling away into nothing at all. An intense feeling spikes through you, a knife’s edge away from pain, the feeling of a splinter being tugged loose and the sharp jolt when a much-needed sob racks your body.
Through blurry eyes you see the bowl in your hands, full of tears. On their surface floats a single silver barb that you know will never again be able to lodge in you. You set down your offering and relax, reeling with a sudden lightness.
The star field around you fades out, leaving an afterimage of some strange being you have never seen. You rise to your feet, steady and whole.
Joyful music swells around you, countless souls blessing your journey forward and eagerly awaiting your future return, no matter if that comes in the space of days or the length of a lifetime.
You turn and leave, the seed of future contentment planted within you.
This ending, perhaps, is the last one but know that you are always, always welcome here, whenever you have the need. We will be waiting, beloved.
When you touch your fingers to your cheeks, they come away damp but you’re grinning so wide it almost hurts. Your heart is light. You set the book absently aside and get up to grab a tissue and a glass of water.
You sleep, you wake, and life continues, markedly better than it was before. You tuck the book away on your shelf and forget about it, for now.
A few weeks later, a friend comes over to visit you. They’ve been in low spirits lately, so you offer to lend them a book to help take their mind off of things. The shiny spine of Shivers and Chills!!! catches their eye. They laugh at the title and cover, but agree to give it a try when you tell them you enjoyed it.
You know you may never get it back, but you hand it over with a smile.