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A Chance Encounter with Christine Sun’s Interactive Novel

Read Wednesday, 24 Aug 2016

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Taiwan-born writer and translator Christine Sun worked on Chance Encounter – an interactive, ‘choose your own adventure’ novel. At each chapter’s end, you’re presented with two narrative choices; Sun expects that Chance Encounter will have a total of 127 chapters – ‘each serving as one-seventh of a storyline, but with its own twists and turns to prompt careful choosing by readers’.

‘Not only will Chance Encounter be an extreme reading experience; it also poses an extreme writing challenge to me as the author.’

Sun says: ‘Not only will Chance Encounter be an extreme reading experience; it also poses an extreme writing challenge to me as the author. In each of the 64 storylines, an independent tale needs to be told in exactly 4,200 words. The characters in each tale may appear somewhere along the other storylines, experiencing brand new adventures or acting as “fixed points in time”, so that readers get to appreciate the dynamic and complex construct that is human interaction – both in and beyond reality.’

In the novel’s (singular) first chapter, a young librarian – Alex – asks a woman named Emily for her phone number. Here, we present two chapters from further along in the story.

Illustration: Jon Tjhia
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Chapter Three (one of four)

‘Aren’t you glad to see me?’ asked Nancy. The last woman Alex wanted to see in this world now stared at him, her voice shrill and demanding. In sharp contrast to Emily Wyndham, who was fragile but endearing, Nancy Masterton was a fierce young woman enjoying conquest and domination. Now that he thought about it, Alex could not remember why he was attracted to her in the first place. Back then, he was only a college graduate hungry for success and fame. Surely he had mistaken arrogance as confidence.

They had met at one of those business dinners arranged by Alex’s father. A hard-working man who began his career as a bricklayer and ended up a billionaire, Peter Borgen clearly knew the importance of networking. He was also aware of how valuable Alex was as his only son – the ultimate successor to Borgen Enterprise, the largest and richest construction firm in the nation for two decades. At least in the eyes of those with daughters, Alex could be a convenient path paved in silver and leading to gold.

Tell them they’re dreaming, Alex smiled to himself now. Yet, back then, it was lust at first sight. Nancy’s fluttering eyelashes and pouting lips had dazzled him so much that it felt like sorcery. A mysterious power seduced him, drawing him to her backless crimson dress with slits so high on both sides that her smooth pale hips were clear for all to see. Her long legs rubbed against his when they danced, her slender arms around his neck, a passionate embrace mastered only by spiders. She whispered in his ear, an erotic curse, a tickling sensation stirring that unbearable itch in his body. ‘We could be so good together,’ she breathed.

‘Nancy’s fluttering eyelashes and pouting lips had dazzled him so much that it felt like sorcery.’

That was his foolish youth. For three long years he experienced dark pleasure and fervent consumption of all possible yet senseless luxuries any man could ever imagine, and was increasingly exhausted. It was almost like his life force sustained her, in the same way that decomposing corpses buried underground enriched the soil from which fields of green corn grow tall and proud.

Then one day, just like that, he woke up as if from a dream; as if Nancy’s wicked spell had finally worn off and lost its power over him. He moved out of her apartment to find himself a unit, a job at the library, a life that was both financially and emotionally independent. She was upset, yes, but not enough to break up with him. She kept being his girlfriend, if only for her father’s sake. Alex knew David Masterton was a powerful, almost tyrannical figure in her mind. He could tolerate Nancy’s existence just to shield her from her father’s violent abuse.

But that did not mean he had to be nice to her. He had run out of all pleasantness. Only irritation was left.

So Alex repeated his question, with as much impatience as he could muster. ‘Nancy, what are you doing here? I thought we agreed not to see each other for a while.’

‘Do you think I like being here?’ She burst out. Then, noticing that people in the library were now staring at her, she lowered her voice. ‘I have to see you. It’s important.’

‘Why? Do you need someone scratching your back and pampering you like a poodle?’ Alex’s voice was icy. ‘Forget it. Find someone else. Have fun.’

‘No, you don’t understand.’ There was a sense of urgency in Nancy’s voice. ‘It’s my father. He tried to kill me.’

Why does David Masterton want to kill Nancy?
1. So he can get to something important.
2. He doesn’t. Nancy lied.

Illustration: Jon Tjhia

Chapter Four (one of eight)

A terrifying image surfaced in Emily’s mind, slowly but menacingly replacing her vision. It was like darkness descending, flooding out all light and hope. She saw Alex standing in front of the photocopiers, a pile of books in his hands. Then, the books tumbled to the floor as Alex suddenly clutched his temples and cried out in pain – as if someone was squeezing his head so hard that his eyeballs might pop out at any minute. Other library staff rushed over to help, but they could only stand there in shock, helplessly watching him collapsing onto his knees and screaming, his voice coarse, his distorted face lifting upwards as that invisible hand, David’s hand, proceeded to wring out his soul. Someone called the ambulance as the patrons gathered to find out what was wrong.

‘To her horror, Emily saw a short beam of light being extracted from Alex’s eyes, inch by inch, like a rusty needle being pulled through leather.’

But it was too late. To her horror, Emily saw a short beam of light being extracted from Alex’s eyes, inch by inch, like a rusty needle being pulled through leather. Bright and burning like molten steel, the light trickled into the air as if being sucked out of a furnace by a demon’s straw. It shivered briefly above Alex, who was now unconscious on the floor, before being transformed into a solid golden ring that David placed, almost casually, on his index finger. The ring moaned, a hallow sound echoing within Emily as she stared at the two dark holes on Alex’s face that were once his eyes.

‘Well, you wanted me to leave him alone, so I obliged,’ David feigned innocence. ‘Under my control, he’ll never meet another soul…’

Emily clenched her teeth to stop herself trembling. ‘Unless … I obey you!’

‘That’s right,’ David grinned, twisting the ring around his finger to make it moan a bit more. Emily could see Alex trapped within that circular dimension, an endless corridor stretching across eternity, with her total submission to pure evil being his only way out. He would have lost all sense of time and memory by now. However, knowing David, she was certain that from now on, Alex’s universe would be filled with one thing only – the false image of her. He would be increasingly decomposed by fabricated thoughts of Emily that were forcibly projected onto his mind, fearing them spreading yet knowing they would eventually dissolve his own existence. How long would it be before he started seeing her as his personal hell?

‘If you willingly do as I say, I’ll not only release him, but also fully restore that miserable little life of his,’ David coaxed, his promise as flimsy as newly-shed snake’s skin. His thin lips parted to reveal a forked tongue as he tasted the night air. ‘It’s getting late, anyway. Why don’t you make up your mind, so we can take advantage of the forthcoming daylight to fulfil my wish?’

‘What’s the sudden rush?’ Emily spat out her hatred. It was bitter. Anger drifted through her veins like ice, but it did nothing to calm the boiling waves of the ocean that was all that remained of her heart. ‘You’ve let her be for so long. Why can’t you just wait until I’ve learned everything…’

‘I know you’ll never learn enough,’ David cut her off, fully showing his impatience now. His face became strangely vague, like a shrouded mirror. It reminded her of those handcuffs, shackles and padded walls in asylums to prevent patients from hurting themselves. ‘You’re just trying to delay the unavoidable, for we both know what’ll happen when you open your mother’s locket.’

What is inside Emily’s mother’s locket?
1. A tiny bottle of green fluid.
2. Her mother’s eyeball.

Through her website eBook Dynasty, Christine Sun has been helping emerging and established authors in both Chinese and English to translate, publish and promote their writings as Chinese digital and print books in the Chinese-speaking world. She also blogs regularly at Voices Under the Sun – and has written about the experience of reading her work-in-progress at the Wheeler Centre’s Next Big Thing.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.