Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Flight To Remember

Apple's iPod, while a hugely successful portable mp3 playing machine, has carried with it some unusual and intriguing functionality under the hood. Of interest to the hyperfiction enthusiast is its "notes" capability, a slightly reskinned HTML allowing short texts to be displayed and navigated -- presumably the intent was for software documentation and help files, but it didn't take someone long to realise that it made iPods portable gamebooks (and, ostensibly, a potential portable library of all gamebooks ever written! MP3s compress down small, but raw text is still peanuts compared to that!) In 2004 XO Play sold a series of three brief hyperstories by an uncredited George Horton, distributed as "notes" data files intended for play on iPods. The $15 price point was a bit steep for the brief works and roughly no one was seen trying to sell them thereafter (... giving them away, however, was a different story, and amateur authors cranked out iPod hyperfiction -- or iStories as they were fashioned -- by the bale. Popular response was tepid.) though that hasn't kept people from putting dollar values on (admittedly larger and more substantial) eBooks for PDAs and personal computers.

In the meantime, ChooseCo relaunched (and incidentally airbrushed the significant contributions of Edward Packard out of the series history) the venerable Choose Your Own Adventure line of gamebooks in 2005 and tried to spin the product as hip and contemporary by making software versions of milestone CYOA books (the first such programs since Bantam produced video game adaptations of two of the books in 1985 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II) -- first The Abominable Snowman in 2007 for the iPod classic (including not only voice narration by the author but illustration presentation as album artwork for silent mp3s) and then Return to Atlantis in 2008 for the iPod touch, its touchscreen still denying players the option to mark their place with a fingertip.

This week's belated blog contribution isn't one of the official CYOA stories (still for sale -- go find them!) but rather a free iPod story spotted in the wild, being sold in the Apple store for "free". It was originally written in 2005 and shared with the iPod-owning world just now in 2009 -- where it has languished in the meantime, possibly in the typical amateur-gamebook intermediary formats of MS Word .DOC or .PDF, remains unclear.
(Edit: the author weighs in and clears up the mystery -- "To clear up the mystery, 'A Flight to Remember' was originally published on the iStory Silver website in 2005, but since this website did not really become main-stream, or common public knowledge, the story didn't gain much recognition. About a year later, the website stalled, and faded into oblivion.

I was browsing through my old works on my computer one day - four years later - and I've read through and revised this story. Shortly after, I took a chance, and sent it to Apple, to see if they would be willing to publish it on their website; and sure enough, they did! The result is that a number of interactive fiction enthusiasts - like yourself - finally got to read it for the first time. I feel it is a good story, and it probably deserves the attention.

A Flight To Remember:
A mysterious story about the horrifying experience of a special journey, taken and told by an old pilot, who flew a private Fokker aeroplane in the 1920s.

Written by Bojan Seles
First Published in 2005
Revised in 2009
Hyperlinked and converted from iPod Notes to HTML in 2009 by A_Gamebook_Fan.

I thank my family for their patience with my - at times difficult - quirky habits.

I hope you have enjoyed the story. Feel free to share your thoughts, and write to me.

Author's Email:

Copyright © 2005-2009 Bojan Seles
All rights reserved.



The year was 1921. August the 5th, if I can remember correctly. It was a bright and sunny afternoon. I was warming up the engines of my canvas-winged, one passenger aeroplane on a tiny airport near my home town, Ravenna, in Italy; when my long time not seen good old friend from high school, John Miller approached me.
I cannot explain the surprise I felt when I spotted his familiar face on the friendly airport that I used as my private flying circle. What followed however, was not nearly as pleasant as that. A few steps away from me, he suddenly stopped - I can still clearly recall the expression on his face - and stared at me as if into a hollow void.
It froze the blood in my veins; how stern his figure seemed to become at once. I tried talking to him, but I heard no answer from his tightly pressed, colourless lips. His eyes kept coldly staring into mine.

  1. Leave as fast as possible. That is, wave politely and take off. (Read on.)
  2. Get out of the plane and greet John Miller.



I started up the engine and pulled on my safety goggles, as I made a single slight waving gesture with one hand and my aeroplane started running on the path, passing the stone-cold figure of the familiar, yet strangely hostile man. He followed me leave with his icy gaze, but never took a step forward.
I lifted into the air, and still uncertain, looked back at the tiny black shape on the ground of the airport. Still startled I shook my head in disbelief, and headed towards Beyon Airport to the west.
The journey should have taken about two hours; however I found myself still flying in the third hour of my planned route. I checked the map many more times, and every time I had to confirm that I made no mistake, and I am heading in the right direction. But still, Beyon was nowhere to be seen.

  1. Continue going until you find a familiar spot that is located on your map. (Read on.)
  2. Turn back and scan the area that you've passed one hour ago, for Beyon.



Another half an hour passed before I spotted an open clearing that I thought was more obvious to locate. As I lowered the plane I also saw a small airport, that was placed way past the spot of Beyon on my map. I had no idea how, but I have missed the destined airport.
I signalled, landed with the aeroplane and turned off the engine. I was indescribably disappointed with my navigation skills. Not to mention that by now, I also doubted my flying skills.
Some people were moving in a busy fashion on the airport. I walked up to the closest steady person, who happened to be a middle-aged man, next to a private aeroplane that was situated not far from mine. He was testing the rotation of his propeller. I showed him the map and asked him if he knew where I have made a mistake in heading towards Beyon. He looked at me strange, and replied it was in the plan itself. He said Beyon had been deserted for ten years, and eventually cleared by the government. It existed no more.
I turned to face the man, shocked. I looked at the year my map was published, and I found it was the year before. I looked up at the man. "Could it be a mistake in printing?" I could not believe so. I noticed that I had not seen the type of clothes he was wearing, before.
He asked me what I wanted to do there anyway, with curiosity. I said that my father used to visit it in his younger days, and that today I had decided to go to the airport, myself. The man shook his head sorrowfully. "It must have been a long time ago, that anyone had visited that place," he said.
I thanked the man for his help, packed my things, and left.

  1. Return home. (Read on.)



To my surprise, I made the journey back home much faster, than on the way to the other airport. The weather did turn rainy, and eventually the clouds started roaring.
I almost flew through the stretching crossways of the powerful wind, afraid for my own life. I made it to safety, by passing through the opening of a large group of clouds; and then it happened:
The weather suddenly turned clear and bright, and I felt the sunshine warming my face. Looking back, I still saw the enormous, dark clouds, but they swiftly reached a border with the clear sky, not daring to cross into this bright field. I had never seen such beauty in nature, before.
It was at that exact moment, that I remembered my father's words, back in the days before he headed towards Beyon Airport. When I asked why he was going, he said, "I will be visiting your aunt. She's very ill. Take care and make me proud," with an encouraging smile on his face - referring to the argument we had had the day before.
My dear aunt, Elise died that year. It was 1913; eight years before the day I had decided to head for the first time to Beyon. After that year, my father had never been the same. Sometimes it still causes trouble for me to comprehend, if that place had ever existed.

  1. The End. Return to start?



Disappointed, I took a quick turn in the air, and started heading backwards on the route I came. Very soon the weather changed. Dark clouds blocked my way, and heavy rain started pouring suddenly. It was dangerous to fly, but even more danger posed the threat that I could not see my current position. I dared not to risk landing the aeroplane on just any surface; the impact of the landing could have killed me easily. And this high in the pouring rain I was unable to make out anything on the ground. Neither could I use my map.
It was the right time to worry. I decided to lower my flight, but as I passed a few dark clouds to get closer to the ground, at the next curve I found a large block of enormous, densely electrified clouds. I did not have time to wonder. A lighting struck and passed my Fokker's wing, by an inch. It startled me greatly, and I pulled suddenly to the right. I thought I was going to have to enter the electric cloud in front of me, when I spotted a small opening in the surrounding darkness, and suddenly directed my aeroplane downwards, falling through it.
When I pulled up into a horizontal position again, just hardly from the rain in my face, but I made out the shape of a tiny airport in front of me on the ground. I took a circle around it to signal my intense desire to land there. I received no answer to if I had permission to. I took another circle with still no response. I decided to take my chances against the authorities. I had found I had much more to fear in my current situation.
Slowly and cautiously I landed the aeroplane on the path. I noticed, that my wheels kept bouncing violently against the ground, as if the road was not clear. I managed to land safely, despite the attack however. I struggled to spot a shed to safely hide my aeroplane in the terrible weather. I could see none. In fact I could not see much at all, because there was not a single light at this airport. It seemed as if no-one had been on duty here.

  1. Stop the engine and jump out to have a look around. (Read on.)



I shut the engine down and left my double-winged, as I looked around the dark airport. "Could this be Beyon?" I wondered.
The place looked deserted. I saw the door leading into the watchtower swing open with the wind - not far before me - and the shut, large wooden doors of the sheds to my left. The airport really wasn't big at all. I spotted no other aeroplanes in the open.

  1. Have a look inside the watchtower. (Read on.)
  2. Go to the sheds.



I walked through the open door and up the stairs, just to see that the place looked like it had been deserted for years. Everything was old, dirty and worn.
I had reached the top of the stairs and stepped into the small, dark and round room. There was nobody. But when I moved closer and touched the lamp, I felt it was still warm. On closer inspection, I had found that it was put out only a few minutes earlier.
An eerie feeling came over me, as I shivered to the contrary warmth of the lamp, in the chilly temperature of the unlit room. I looked out the large windows into the horizon, but I could see no-one in the vicinity of the airport.
I walked slowly down the stairs and stepped out the door again, into the rain.

  1. Go to the sheds. (Read on.)
  2. Start the engine, take off and head home.



Trying to open the shed doors, I had found that they were tightly shut. It indeed looked as if the place had been bolted, and deserted for a long time.
Then, at the corner of my eye, I spotted a small stool with a cup on it. I walked to it and picked up the cup. It was coffee, and it was still warm. But as I looked around the empty airport I could see no-one in sight. I had searched the place thoroughly all around, and by the time I was done I was looking like a wet rag lied upon on a broom stick, in the pouring rain. I had been feeling quite uneasy.

  1. Have a look inside the watchtower.
  2. Start the engine, take off and head home. (Read on.)



As I walked up to my aeroplane, I noticed that the weather had calmed a bit, and the storm had softened into a steady rain fall. There was not much left of the thunders, lightnings, and the wild winds that raced heavily in all directions, and had been a great danger to my life, earlier.
Again, I decided to take my chances. I was not too keen on spending the night here. Just before I leapt over the body of my aeroplane, I spotted that the reason for the bumpy ground was obvious now. Wild plants had grown over the road, and no-one had taken care to fix it for years. And yet it seemed as if someone had just now left the place...
Suddenly I shuddered from the chill on my back. I started the engine, and along a softer path of the bumpy road I lifted from the ground. Taking another quick turn, I flew across the tiny airport and headed out of the dark clouds, towards my domestic airport, along the way that I had originally come.
After less than an hour of travel the weather turned bright again and I - to my great happiness - spotted my little airport ahead. I had returned home. However, as soon as I landed, I forgot what had happened to me earlier.
A few years later, a friend of mine informed me that he needed to go to Beyon Airport, and asked me if I could take him there. Reluctantly - and reminded of my adventure - I decided I would try to fly him there, despite our disagreement about the nature of the destination.
What I had found was a rich and clean, but tiny airport, two hours from my home one. It was not the place I had originally visited; my friend was right.
I guess I will never fully be able to understand the events of that mysterious, stormy evening; but I do know now that I will never be able to truly forget them.

  1. The End. Return to start?



I stopped the engine, quickly stood up and leapt over the wall of my aeroplane's body. I halted and looked at the man questioningly. He kept his ice-cold posture straight towards my face; not an inch of movement.
"Hi, I'm Robert Wolf. Do you remember me?" I started. The response did not seem encouraging. I took a few steps forward.
"Don't you remember? We used to go to the same class, back in high school," I felt my words drift away with the afternoon breeze.
The man leaned forward, and for a moment I thought I recognized John's eyes in the stranger's face. I hardly made out the silent words:

"Don't go. You'll suffer."
I could not understand what the man was talking about - how could I? But it felt very hostile - what more, it was threatening. I took a large step back, still weighing up the man's intentions. His face had turned cold again, and I recognized the incredible terror in his eyes.
  1. Start the engine and fly to Beyon. (Read on.)
  2. Put the plane away - into the shed, under protection - and go home.



"The man has gone mad," I said reassuringly to myself. I hopped into my aeroplane again, and started the engine. I took one last look at the stranger. He was still frozen, his eyes fixed on me.
I left him behind and headed for my chosen destination. But I didn't even make the first mile, before I sensed something had gone wrong. A moment later my left wing began to moan painfully against the harsh wind, as its upper layer tore off and sent me spinning towards the ground.
I still regret the moment I ignored the warning words of a man I never saw anymore. I could never fly again.

  1. The End. Return to start?



Who knows what could have happened that day, if I had not given up on my plans to go to Beyon. I never saw the stranger again. John Miller disappeared as I was preparing to safely cover and store my aeroplane.
I did suffer an accident years later, so the warning might have served right. I am still glad I didn't fly that day however.
My son occasionally takes me flying in his new aeroplane. It is a father's deep pride that delights me so much, to see him manoeuvre it so wonderfully.

  1. The End. Return to start?