“What Nightmares are in store for you?!”
That’s the (lame, I admit it) tag line I would have written for the cover of this “Plot Your Own Horror Stories™ ” book I found while going through old boxes in the basement today.
[TL;DR – I found an old CYOA-style book from the 80s about a haunted store. I’m going to read it and post a summary to Twitter.]
Being 40 now I was, of course, there back in the 80s for the onslaught of Choose Your Own Adventure ™ books and all the various alternatives that followed the premise of a free-form story with multiple options and endings along the way. The reader was prompted to choose between two or more possible paths from each page in the book, which meant they could be read again and again many times and still feel fresh. In a way, they were one of the precursors to the modern RPG video games where the player takes on the first-person role of the antagonist, and must find their way through the adventure. (If you aren’t familiar with these books, you can read about CYOA, the “grand-daddy” of the genre, here: http://www.cyoa.com/pages/history-of-cyoa )
The Plot Your Own Horror Stories™ series (hereafter PYOHS), however, is a new revelation to me. I suppose I was so enamoured with CYOA and the amazing Fighting Fantasy™ books from Steve Jackson & Ian Livingston that followed, I never noticed these ones. This one that I found must, it seems, have belonged to my wife, or one of her siblings.
“Nightmare Store” is number 2 in the series, which spans eight books that were published in North America and the UK between 1982 and 1985. All eight books were written by Hilary Milton, born in Jasper, Alabama in 1920. It seems he was a prolific author specializing mostly in children’s and Young Adult stories, and who seems to have lead an interesting life, having worked for the U.S. Air Force, the University of Alabama, NASA, and as a speech writer in Washington D.C.  According to one source Mr. Milton died in December, 2002,  however I have had difficulty finding much about him, or this particular series, online, (though I must confess my research to this point has been cursory at best).
The cover for “Nightmare Store” depicts the back of the head of what is likely a young boy with tousled brown hair, his arms thrown up in his face, as he stands before a group of tall mirrors. The mirrors are showing various monstrous faces, some with clawed hands reaching out from the glass. The monster in the center mirror has a look of fright on its face, its own arms thrown up before it like the young boy, and I believe we are meant to suspect that the center mirror is showing us our own reflection (as we are the protagonist of the story).
All of the North American covers for PYOHS are white bordered, and it would have helped the theme of the genre if they’d been black, or a dark midnight-blue instead. (The covers for the UK versions are very different, with black borders and darker artwork.) All of the US covers were drawn by Paul Frame, who illustrated more than 300 children’s books. Mr. Frame also served in the Air Force (did Milton and Frame know each other during that time?) and died in 1994 at the age of 80. 
The back cover has a lengthy description of the story, and how you should read it, as well as an illustration of a monster peeking through what might be flames.
Had you only known of the horrors the night would bring… Wallenbergs is a huge, magnificent department store and it’s going to be a lot of fun picking out a gift for yourself and your little brother. But it’s tiring too, and before you know it, you’ve fallen asleep in front of a TV set in the electronics section.
Hours later when you awake, the store is closed, not a soul is around, everything is dark… and your blood begins to run cold. Sensing intense danger, you desperately search for a way out.
This isn’t easy. Along the way you’re faced with the decisions that seem to promise terror no matter where you turn. An alligator travels at speeds you hadn’t thought possible, a mannequin dressed as a hunter suddenly comes to life and tracks you down as prey, and a robot is programmed for only one thing… your destruction.
These and other horror-filled attacks will leave you trembling with indecision. Whether or not you survive the night depends completely on the pages you choose.
And remember, for better or worse, YOU ARE THE MASTER OF YOUR OWN FATE! PLOT-YOUR-OWN-HORROR-STORIES™ A book of Countless Terrors!
My initial thoughts reading through the synopsis are, uh, hello? Where are this kid’s parents!? And the horrors described seem a bit cliché, but then it was the 80s, and these books were for kids. I suppose, in retrospect of my own youth, the thought that I might get left behind anywhere by my parents was probably pretty terrifying.
I’m going to read through “Nightmare Store” now, and post a summary of each page/choice to Twitter as a I go. You can follow me on Twitter at @mjsoctober and read along by following the hashtag #pyohs2. If you have this book yourself, consider reading it with me, and see how you fair compared to my fate.
Tell me in the comments, or via Twitter, if you ever had any of these or other “choose your path” style books you preferred back in the day. Do you think kids today would even consider reading something like this?
You can see covers from all eight PYOHS books on my Horror Book Covers Pinterest board here (cover photos came from Demian Katz’s “Gamebook Web Page” see below): http://www.pinterest.com/mjsoctober/horror-book-covers/
If you want to read more about the PYOHS series, head over to Demian Katz “Gamebook Web Page” here: http://gamebooks.org/show_series.php?name=Plot-Your-Own+Horror+Stories and you can follow him on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/demiankatz
I just finished my first reading of “Nightmare Store” and it was, I am afraid, disappointing. You can read it here: https://twitter.com/hashtag/pyohs2?f=realtime&src=hash
The story started out promising, if a little implausible. You are visiting you Uncle Jerry and Aunt Louise in Atlanta, and even though they spent the day doing all sorts of cool stuff with you, they’ve sent you to Wallenbergs department store by yourself because your Uncle Jerry has a meeting, and apparently your Aunt Louise doesn’t want you around (she only likes your little brother). You sit down to look at some TVs in the electronics department and fall asleep, but for some reason no one bothers to wake you up. Now it’s the middle of the night, all the lights are out, and the doors are locked, and some creepy stuff is happening.
The choices started out well enough; go looking for an exit or sleep the night, and lead to a few good creepy moments, like mistaking a mannequin for a person standing in the dark (something that scares the crap out of me irl, like tonight when I came out of my bedroom and my 3.5 yo son, who should have been in bed, was standing in the dark at the top of the stairs. Scared me for real), and hearing strange noises while you try to find your way through the dark store by following the wall with your hand.
After finding a stairwell that seemed to have walls that closed in, however, it ended unexpectedly quickly as a I pushed through a green door and found myself on the street. Went home to my Aunt & Uncle’s house and heard on the news the next day that a wall had collapsed at the store. Really rather anti-climactic.
Without reading through all the other choices and mapping them out, I don’t know if the ending I got was the only “safe” one, but I would prefer a book like this, especially if it is supposed to be horror themed, to last a bit longer and really make me sweat about my chances of escaping. I’ll give it another read, but I won’t broadcast it on Twitter this time.
Let me know in the comments if you read along and had a different outcome.