You find yourself in a wood.
(click: "wood")[It is nearing nightfall.]
(click: "nightfall")[You have been walking for several hours in search of shelter.]
(click: "shelter")[You are weary from hunger and the air is growing colder.]
(click: "colder")[You come to a [[tri-pronged forked path.|Crossroads]]]Clouds cover the moon. As you walk, your feet squelch in (link-reveal: "the mud.")[ The ground is bloated with recently-fallen rain.]
The trees grow sparser and sparser. The grass around you seems taller with every step.
You are no longer walking in a wood. This is an open plain. You are surrounded by grass. (click-replace: "grass")[long grass]
You bow your head against the wind, [[and keep going->The cottage]].
As you make your way down the path, (link-reveal: "the sky lightens.")[ The pine trees are haloed with sunlight. Warmth settles over your weary shoulders.]
[[You must have been walking longer than you thought.->Walk continues]]
You come to a green lawn where a house stands on posts. The walls of the hut look rough and ivory-colored from afar.
(click-replace: "house")[wretched little house](click-replace: "posts")[hen's legs](click-replace: "look rough and ivory-colored from afar.")[are made of bones.]
(click: "bones")[You feel compelled to [[get closer.|Door]]]You look up.
(click: "up")[Above each path is the dark plume of a distant smokestack.]
(click: "smokestack")[Hope swells in your chest.]
(click: "swells")[As the night grows darker, you have to [[make a choice.|Choose]]]The air grows colder as you start down the path.
(click: "air grows colder")[
You can see your own breath. You clutch your shawl tightly to combat the chill.
The frozen ground crunches beneath your feet as you hasten your pace.
The trees(click-replace: "trees")[birch trees] are barren.
As the smokestack nears, burning wood and hazy black smoke attacks your senses. You are desperate to find its source.
You follow the twists and turns of the path until the forest parts to reveal a [[pasture|Baba Yaga's house]].
Do you choose the [[left|Germany]], [[middle|Russia]], or [[right|Japan]] path?By the skin of your teeth, you've made it out of the woods.
A nagging, terrifying thought tugs at your conscience, and you wonder what would have happened [[if you had made different choices|Choose]].The hut's facade is turned away from the path which you came.
As you get closer to inspect, you are stopped in your tracks by a faint noise. (click: "a faint noise")[//Thump, thump, thump.//]
[[STRAIN TO LISTEN|She nears]]You crane your neck to listen.
The noise(click-replace:"The noise")[It] seems to be getting louder.(click-replace: "louder")[closer]
(click: "closer")[[[RUN AND HIDE|Hiding]]]You dive behind the treeline for cover.
The steady thumping is almost deafening now.
Birds scramble from the tops of trees, startled by the sound.(click-replace: "the sound.")[the thing.](click-replace: "the thing.")[[[//her.//|Baba Yaga revealed]]]A figure emerges from across the pasture.(click-replace: "A figure")[A wrinkled old crone](click-replace: "A wrinkled old crone")[Baba Yaga]
(click: "Baba Yaga")[She is squatting on a wooden post and navigating with a stick.](click-replace: "wooden post")[mortar](click-replace: "stick")[pestle]
(click: "pestle")[She propels herself forward as she drives the pestle into the ground.]
(click: "forward")[She is approaching the strange house you saw in the center of the pasture.](click-replace: "the strange house you saw")[[[her home|The riddle]]]You remain hidden(click: "hidden")[, for now].
You watch as the crone approaches her home.
(click: "approaches her home")[She lets out a thundering cry,]
(text-style: "shudder")[(click: "a thundering cry")[
<center>//Little Hut, little Hut,
Stand the way thy mother placed thee,
[[Turn thy back to the forest and thy face to me!|The house turns]]//
]]You watch, mouth agape, as the hut rises on two hens' legs and turns to face the old crone.
Before she enters, the old crone gazes out at the treeline surrounding the pasture.
In that moment, you feel your heart rise up to your throat. (click: "rise up")[//Has she seen me?//](click: "seen me")[
[[RUN FOR YOUR LIFE]]]You hold your breath, praying that she doesn't notice you.
Her sweeping, watchful gaze seems to pull apart the forest, and yet...
(click: "and yet")[You go unnoticed.]
(click: "unnoticed")[As the crone flies up into her home, its hen legs stagger a bit before returning to their seated position with a //thud//.]
(click: "thud")[You take a moment to grapple with the scene you have just witnessed.]
(click: "grapple with")[What was that thing?](click-replace: "What")[Who](click-replace: "that thing")[[[that woman|Good End]]]You run deeper into the woods.
(click: "deeper into the woods")[You aren't sure if she's seen you, let alone whether she is chasing you.]
(click: "aren't sure")[
[[STOP AND LISTEN]]
[[KEEP RUNNING, DON'T LOOK BACK]]
]You stop in your tracks.
(click: "stop")[A strange rustling in the canopy above you gives you a start. You look up, as--]
(click: "as--")[You see the old crone descending on you. [[Your vision fades to black as you hit the ground|Bad End]].]You don't stop to listen.
(click: "don't stop")[You keep running](click: "running")[ and running] (click: "and running")[ and running.]
(click: "and running.")[You run until you reach a frighteningly familiar sight.]
(click: "a frighteningly familiar sight")[You are back at the crossroads.]
(click: "the crossroads")[Disoriented, you wonder how it's possible you ended up back here.]
(click: "possible")[A more important question dawns on you:](click: "dawns on you")[ [[//am I still being chased//|Confusion]]?]You wonder if [[different choices|Choose]] along the way could have saved you.You strain to listen, but you don't hear anything.
(click: "you don't hear anything")[It seems you managed to lose the old crone.]
(click: "lose the old crone")[You heave a sigh of [[relief|Good End]].]Your eyes settle on the source of the smokestack: in the distance, there's (link-reveal: "a clump of trees.")[ No, not just trees! A cottage.] You bend your head against the wind, and walk towards it.
It's a (link-reveal: "small")[, miserable-looking] cottage.
The roof(click-replace: "roof")[thatched roof] has half-collapsed, and its posts are moulded. You are surprised it can still stand upright.
[[A place to rest.->enter]]You walk up to the cottage. The door is open; a strange, sweet smell wafts out of it. A small lamp flickers within. An old woman sits on a mat, and is spinning cotton.
You sidle closer still. The grass rustles beneath your feet.
The old woman stops spinning, and raises her head. [[Her eyes meet your own.->Greeting]]You explain yourself to the old woman. You tell her how you came upon her cottage.
You ask if you could stay there for the night. Her brow furrows.
"It would not be comfortable. I have no bed to offer you. I've had nothing to eat here for a long time."
You plead with her not to turn you away. You only seek shelter from the wind, and in the morning you will resume your journey.
"Very well," the old woman says. "You may stay."
You thank her endlessly, and [[take a seat on a spare mat.->Dialogue Japan]]The old woman sits across from you, and resumes her spinning.
"You are the first traveller I've met in a while. Do you not know this plain? Its stories? Its name?"
(link-reveal: " Stories...")[ What stories you've heard as a child have grown dim in your memory. You have outgrown stories of witches, demons, and spirits. Even if you had heard about this plain, you've long forgotten about it.]
[[You shake your head.->Dialogue Japan 2]]
"All right," the old woman says. "That does not matter."
(link-reveal: "Her fingers turn the spindle deftly.")[ Her hands are covered in liver spots, moon pale.]
"For as long as you are my guest, you may do as you wish in my house."
She stops spinning.
"But do not go in the back room. Do not even pull aside the screen."
With that word, she goes outside to gather firewood.
[[You are alone in the cottage.->Alone]]
What is behind that screen door that the old woman doesn't want you to see? What secret could your host possibly be keeping?
(link-reveal: "You are at war with yourself.")[ You do not want to betray the old woman's trust. She was kind enough to let you stay for the night. But what is behind that door?]
You do not hear the old woman outside. If you took a glance, she would never know. (link-reveal: " Should you look?")[
[[AVOID THE ROOM->No]]
]Out of the question. You are a guest in this house, and you will respect the wishes of your host.
You do not move from your seat, no matter how you wonder about the back room.
[[The minutes pass slowly, until the old woman returns.->Old Woman Returns]]Just a peep, you decide. Just a glance.
You reach for the screen door, and grip the edge of it.
[[The door slides aside easily.->Room]]The room is piled high with bones. Skulls, pulled-apart ribs, snapped and bent remnants of arms and legs. Human bones that have been picked clean of flesh, and boiled.
The old woman is not a woman at all, but (click-replace: "a cannibal.")[an onibaba.] You realize why she asked you if you knew of this plain.
(link-reveal: " If you do not find a way out, she might kill you.")[
[[HIDE WHAT YOU KNOW->You must hide what you know]]
[[RUN AWAY->You must escape]]
You shut the screen door quickly.
You can't flee; the onibaba is still outside, and you could run into her, trying to escape.
Maybe she only hurts those who defy her orders. If you act innocent, you might escape with your life.
[[You curl up by the doused fire, and shut your eyes. ->onibaba returns]] You don't even bother to shut the screen door. She could be back any minute.
[[You snatch up your belongings, and scamper out of the cottage into the long grass.->Fleeing the cottage]]The old woman returns with an armful of branches, and gets to making a fire at the center of the room. You scoot closer to it. She does not pick up her spindle, but places the cauldron over the fire, and begins to heat water.
"I will make supper," she says.
You are suddenly glad that you did not root through an old woman's belongings. This woman is kind enough to share what meagre food she has with you.
Before the water comes to a boil, you're yawning.
[[You curl up next to the fire, and drift off to sleep.->Wake up]]A strange sound stirs you from your sleep. (link-reveal: "Scraping?")[
It sounds like metal scraping.]
You rub your bleary eyes. Maybe there is something left of supper. You are still hungry...
[[You flip over where you lie, and look up.->True face]]
You bite your tongue to keep from screaming.
(link-replace: "The old woman—")[She's not an old woman anymore.
Horns sprout from her head; Her hair is a scraggly mane of black. Her mouth is set in a grimace, and great fangs protrude from her leathery jowls.]
She looks up at you.
[[KNOCK OVER THE CAULDRON->Knock things over]]
[[LEAP FOR THE DOOR->Too slow]]You grope for the cauldron, throw it at her, and make for the door.
Your aim was low. Her twisted feet stumble over the cauldron.
Her claws scrape your arm, but she cannot grasp you.
[[You run out of the cottage, and into the windy plane.->Fleeing the cottage]]You scramble to your feet, and run for the door.
The knife clatters to the ground behind you. The oni baba cries out.
(link-reveal: "You make it outside the hut.")[
You are too slow.
[[The oni baba grasps your arm, and yanks you toward her.->Japan "Worse" End]]]Pain shoots through your torso. You try to push yourself onto your feet, but you cannot move.
You hear the oni baba pick up the knife again.
Your vision blurs. [[You cannot move|Bad End]].You run as fast as your feet can carry you. Your lungs burn and your legs ache, but you run.
The fields seem infinite. You can't see any paths, or the edge of a woods.
There must be a way to navigate. You look up.
The clouds still float in patches across the sky, but you could find the pole star.
(link-reveal: "You hear the oni baba roar.")[
She's noticed you're gone.]
[[RUN BLINDLY ->Run blindly]]
[[FIND NORTH ->Run north]]
There's no time to waste - you keep running, heedless of stars.
(link-reveal: "Heavy, quick footfalls reverberate in the ground.")[ <i>Thunk-thunk-thunk.</i>]
You cut zig-zags through the long grass. Your side has begun to hurt.
"Stop!" cries a voice. It's not the voice of the oni baba, or of the old woman. It's a thin, high-pitched (link-reveal: "voice.")[ The speaker sounds like she's in pain.] "Stop! Please, I beg of you, stop! Please, help me!"
[[LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER->Look back]]
[[IGNORE THE VOICE->Keep going]]It takes a few moments, but you find the north star. You begin running in its direction.
After several paces, the plains take a downward slope. Maybe you've lost the oni baba.
Over the sound of your shallow breathing, you hear (link-reveal: "rushing water.")[
Then you see it: [[a stream.->Stream]]
]The water's too broad for you to leap across, but you could wade through, if you were careful.
Another roar sounds behind you.
She's still in pursuit. She's close.
[[MOVE QUICKLY->Move fast]]
[[MOVE CAREFULLY->Move carefully]]There's no time to measure every stride.
[[You practically dive into the stream, and wade your way across.->Escape]]You have to tread carefully: what slows you down will slow down the oni baba, as well.
You clutch the rocks that jut out of the stream, for balance. You take small, deliberate steps through the water.
Reach for a rock, take a step.
Reach for a rock, take a step.
(link-reveal: "Reach for a rock, take a step.")[
One of the rocks is covered in moss. Your grip does not hold; your hand slips, and you are thrust to the side [[with the current.->Streambank]]
]You feel a sharp pain in your leg. You cry out.
Grabbing another river-rock, you manage to keep yourself from being dragged down the current, and [[crawl onto the streambank.->Bad End]]You reach the opposite streambank, and keep going.
You run until your legs are numb.
[[Until the onibaba's shrieks fade into the night behind you.->Japan Good End]]
Your body is trembling, and (link-reveal: "heat almost radiates off your skin.")[ Sweat drips off your nose, runs down the nape of your neck.]
The onibaba is still prowling. You try not to think of any other victims she might lure in.
You bend your head against the wind and keep walking. You have escaped the onibaba - [[you are grateful|Good End]].You turn to look. The oni baba running after you, carving knife in one hand. She snarls with fury. There is no one else.
"Stop!" The desperate voice is coming from her fanged mouth. "Stop!"
[[You trip.->Bad End]]You can't risk a deception by the oni baba. You keep going.
[[You run until your legs are numb.->Keep running]][[Until the onibaba's shrieks fade into the night behind you.->Japan Good End]]You hear the door of the cottage open, and lift your eyelids. The (click-replace: "old woman")[oni baba] has returned with an armful of firewood.
She walks inside. You squeeze your eyes closed, and try to slow your breathing.
You hear her move the cauldron, and place the wood on the floor. Your hearbeat thrums in your ears. For a while, you only hear the thumps of her arranging the wood over the fire.
Then another sound.
(link-reveal: "The scrape of metal.")[
[[She's sharpening a knife.->Hear knife]]]Your eyes snap open.
The oni baba no longer wears the face of an old woman.
There's a carving knife in her (link-reveal: "long, clawed hands.")[
Horns sprout from her head; her hair is a scraggly mane of black. Her mouth is set in a grimace, and great fangs protrude from her leathery jowls.]
(link-reveal: "Her bloodshot gaze slides down to you.")[
[[KNOCK OVER THE CAULDRON->Knock things over]]
[[LEAP FOR THE DOOR->Too slow]]]Yellow flowers (click-replace:"flowers")[pansies] grow neatly along the sides of the path.
You lean down to pick one, when something else catches your attention.
(click: "your attention")[In the dirt, there are specks of pale brown.]
(click: "specks of pale brown")[[[Breadcrumbs.->Arrive at house]]]
Further down the path, you can smell freshly-baked bread.(click: "freshly-baked bread")[
You pass several switchbacks on the path, and reach the source of the thick smokestack. It’s the lone house on the path, squeezed between two great pines.](click: "lone house on the path")[
An entire house, made of bread.](click: "An entire house, made of bread.")[
[[How is this possible?->Enter house]]]You prod the walls of the house. (click: "prod")[You poke at its windows.]
The walls are sturdy, but they are bread. Your fingers stick to the house’s windows. (click-replace:"house’s windows")[spun sugar of the house’s windows]
You want to meet the person who lives in such a strange house. (link-reveal: "You knock on the door.")[
No one answers.
You knock again.
This time, the door parts.]
[[Curiosity stoked, you go inside.->Explore 1]](link-reveal: "From within, it’s a house like any other.")[ The walls appear to be wood. There’s a large furnace, wool-draped chairs and a table, white linens folded in a corner. A flimsy-looking stairwell leads upstairs.]
"Hello?" you ask.
[["Is anyone home?"->Explore 2]]A breeze rattles some roof panels.
[[No other sounds.->Explore 3]]You sit on one of the stools. You pace back and forth. You run your hands over the soft linen cloths.
The house still smells of bread fresh from the oven. And you’ve gotten quite hungry. (click-replace:"And you’ve gotten quite hungry")[Your stomach practically aches with hunger]
There’s nothing to eat in or around the furnace. All of the pots are empty.
[[Would the owner notice if a handful of crust was plucked off their house?->Eat not eat]]You open one of the sugar windows, and tear a handful of soft bread from the frame.
Just as you’re raising the bread to your lips, you pause. The roof panels rattle again.
[[EAT THE BREAD->Eat]]
[[PUT IT DOWN->Don’t eat]][[It’s only bread, you think, and raise the mouthful to your lips.->Forgetful]][[You let the piece of bread fall out of your hands.->Notice things 1]]How did you become so hungry, as soon as you stepped foot inside the house?(click-replace: "the house")[[[this bread-and-sugar house that stands mysteriously upright->Notice things 2]]]
[[You can’t trust this place, you decide.->Witch arrives]]You are about to tip-toe outside, when you hear a noise from outside the front door. A thumping. (click-replace:"A thumping")[<i>Tok-tok-tok.</i>] Like wood hitting wood, on the porch.
The owner of the house. And you’re inside, uninvited.
[[MEET THEM->Meet her]]
[[HIDE->Hide]]You wipe your hands on your clothing, straighten your back, and clear your throat. This is your only way out.
You could introduce yourself, and explain that you are a traveller.
You will not mention almost eating part of their wall.
[[The door opens.->Meet her 2]]You root around for (link-reveal: "a place to hide.")[ Is there a cupboard you could fold yourself in, even a set of curtains you could flatten yourself behind?
The stairs creak heavily when you step on them, and you cannot seem to make it upstairs.
[[You have no choice but to meet the owner.->Meet her]]]The owner (click-replace:"The owner")[The old woman] is smaller than you are. Her gray hair has been bound at the nape of her neck.
She walks with a cane, and her eyes are milky. She inhales deeply when she walks in.
You clear your throat to speak. She taps her cane on the floor.
“A traveller?” she says. “Poor dear. You must have come a long way. I live so far from any other town or village. [[Would you allow me to put you up for the night?”->Suspicious dialogue]](link-replace: "Why are you so uneasy?")[There is something about her that feels familiar... something you cannot place…]
[[TRY TO LEAVE->Try to leave]]
[[AGREE TO STAY->Agree to stay]]You circle around the old woman, and reach for the front door.
“I couldn’t impose,” you say. (click: "you say")[Something about this place raises gooseflesh on your arms.](click: "gooseflesh on your arms")[
You would rather take your chances with the forest.]
“Oh, but please,” the old woman says. (link-replace: "Her body blocks your way out.")[
She grasps your shoulder firmly. She is stronger than you thought.]
[[“I insist.”->Bide time]]She leads you up the creaking stairs, into a bedroom.
“Rest here,” she says. “I will make something to eat.”
Your hear the door’s lock twist behind you.
[[TRY AN ESCAPE->Try an escape]]
[[WAIT->Witch comes for you]]The bedsheets, the same white from downstairs, are too short to make a rope. The one window of the room has been boarded shut.
[[Maybe there’s a way to peel them apart...->Discovered by witch]]There is no choice but to wait for her return. You look around the room for a suitable weapon, should your suspicions be confirmed, but find nothing.
Nothing sharp. Nothing big. There are spare clothes in a drawer, made for someone much bigger than you.
You twist one of the bedsheets into a makeshift rope, stuff the bed with the clothing, and [[wait.->Struggle 1]]“I would be happy to stay here for the night,” you say.
You don’t trust her or her strange house, but you don’t want to arouse her suspicions.
[[She laughs, a warm, grandmotherly laugh of genuine delight.->Bide time]]Late in the evening, the lock turns again. You push yourself to the far corner of the room.
“Sweetheart?” (link-replace: "the old woman says.")[ She no longer carries her walking stick, and seems to stand taller. “Are you asleep?”]
[[She reaches for the stuffed bed, and presses down.->Struggle 2]]The old woman inhales again. She turns to where you stand.
“Sweetheart?” She smiles. “Will you follow me down the hall?”
The door is open.
[[You leave the tangle of bedsheets on the ground, and run.->Struggle 3]]
The old woman (click-replace:"The old woman")[The witch] chases you down the stairs.
You reach the front door, and shake the doorknob. Locked.
The windows, spun-sugar before, also look boarded shut.
(link-reveal: "You glance around for something to wield against her.")[ There’s a plateful of chicken bones on the table, some of them sharp-edged. A fire roars in the furnace. The hole might be large enough to push her through.]
She reaches you.
[[SHOVE HER TOWARD FURNACE->Shove witch]]
[[TRY TO STAB HER->Stab witch]]
(link-replace: "You grasp her shoulders, and shove her into the furnace with all of your strength.")[It doesn’t work. You can barely budge her off the ground. //What…?//
Her iron grip snakes around your wrists.
[[She pushes you, instead.->Fall into furnace]]]You pick up one of the chicken bones, one with a pointed edge, and swing it towards the witch.
She sways away from your first blow.
[[Your next swing buries your makeshift knife in her eye.->Good End]]
[[Embers spray, and fire crackles over your skin.->Bad End]]You pry at the unbudging wood for what seem like hours.
The lock turns. Your stomach drops.
“Sweetheart, what are you doing?”
[[You run for the newly-opened door.->Struggle 1]]Any reservations you had fade away, like a wisp of smoke.
What sweet bread, you think. What a pleasant house.
[[There is a thumping sound on the porch.->Witch walks in]]A kindly-looking old woman walks in. Her gray hair is bound back, and she looks about the room with pale, milky eyes.
How could you have ever been concerned about such a sweet-looking woman?
[[You want to speak, but your throat is too dry.->Sweet old woman 1]]“A traveller?” She smiles. “Lost in the woods?”
She limps towards you.
“Give me your hand, child,” she says. “I can’t see you.”
Poor woman, you think, and outstretch your hand.
She is stronger than you thought.
[[Her grip pinches your fingers.->Sweet 2]]“So skinny, my dear,” she says, tut-tutting as old women do.
Her voice is soft. You want to lie down. (click-replace: "You want to lie down.")[“You can barely keep your eyes open.”]
“That won’t do,” she says. “That won’t do at all.”
[[You feel yourself slide to the ground.->Locked in cage]]
[[When you wake, you are slumped on the floor of a cage.->Dinner]]The fog clears from your mind.
You realize what has happened.
The old woman (click-replace:"The old woman")[The witch] stands above you, outside the bars. She doesn’t have a cane. She holds a plateful of sugared apples, and more bread.
“Eat,” she says. “You must eat. You are too thin.”
[[She places the food near your cage, turns around, and descends the stairs.->Bad End]]
<div style= "font-family: 'New Rocker', cursive; font-size: 72px;">Forbidden Curiosity</div>
By Firozah Najmi and Sueda Bolukoglu