The year is 1986. In elementary schools across the nation, the Read Around The World program has been gaining popularity as a way to get children to read more books. Young boys and girls check out books, read them (supposedly), and count up the pages in their monthly tallies. At the end of the year, those with the most pages read are recognized for their fortitude and love of the written word.
You are one of those lucky few.
"Forty thousand pages!
Parents, I have to say that this has got to be some kind of record--just imagine how many books this young prodigy must have devoured to reach such a mark. As a principal, this kind of aptitude is not something you see ever..."God, assemblies are so boring.
Forty thousand pages, so what? You read fast. The homework at this place is laughable--you have it done by the time class ends--and you probably know more than any of the stupid teachers here, including that rambling principal. There would be something wrong with you if you didn't
get first place. You even read all the way through those dumb choose-your-own-path books, the ones with the 'turn to page 94, oops, eaten by a grue, back to page 45'. You couldn't sit and read them once, though--oh, no--you just had
to go through and try to find every path. In every book.
Some people would find this weird. Obsessive. To you, it's just another attempt to stave off boredom.
Then, a few weeks later, your parents get a letter in the mail.---You are dreaming.Before you, the suggestion of a palace squats monstrously in your path. Its spires, its towers, the mere profile of the thing work ceaselessly to offend the part of your brain that recognizes the work of human hands. Mere mercy, then, that no sign of the builders remains to your eyes; however, you know that you cannot contently wait here. Not with the past dangers still so close behind you. Not after so many deaths.In your dreams, yes, your men die--never quietly, never simply not-existing in the imprecision of dream/reality; they fall under blade and beast, succumb to horrors which elude the reckoning of man, and fall beneath the elaborately mundane ends which claim so many on expedition. You remember them all. You
used to grieve. Were this the first time you had dreamt this, your voice would be screaming into the empty air.But it has been too long--too many times--and the mind has become jaded to the terror and the sadness. It is what-has-gone-before, a recollection which becomes blunted in the face of fresh, imminent danger. The castle is there, taunting you through the driving waves of...of......it's always the same. Tonight is no different. Then why does it
feel different?This place is why you are here. It is why your companions are
not. Your hand grabs at your chest, at the secret kept safe there. No, it's different this time. Perhaps it's no longer a dream. There is a way forward, if you can only see it. Inside. Into the depths. It must be done. You no longer have any other purpose that matters in the eyes of man. The dream begins to recede as you step forward. Awareness pulls you up and away, hiding the castle once again--like every other time, except for the sense that this time, you will finally see this scene again with your waking eyes. You stare down into the depths, seeking to remember the place, recall its location--look! Think! Remember! Don't let them die!But always...always below you...you see nothing, but the...
If you see the stars
, fill in 'A'
along with your consent form.
If you see the sands
, fill in 'B'
along with your consent form.
If you see the seas
, fill in 'C'
along with your consent form.---
Your parents look at you strangely, holding up a blank consent form attached to the excerpt.
"Do you know anything about this?" asks your father. "It says it's an in-school activity, some all-day reading workshop in the auditorium, but I've never seen anything like this before."
"It's a little scary," Mother confides. "Even if it's a story, all this talk about death and killing..."
"Anyway," Dad continues, turning his attention back to you, "Do you know anything about this? We'll sign it if you want, as long as it's for school."
All you can do is nod. As your parents write their signatures on the forms, the wheels inside your head are already at full spin. Reading workshop? In the auditorium? Not a chance. What could this really be? Is it about the contest?
The question resounds inside your mind all through dinner. You take the form up to your room, and mull over your options. A, B, or C? You think about it for a minute, considering what this introduction could be about, and scribble in your choice. That's that
, you think. We'll see what this is about tomorrow.