(set: $goats to 0)
(set: $pinecone to 0)
You are waiting at the corner. The [[bus]] is unusually late. You took this as a blessing at first — you had been running late this morning yourself — but it’s cold, and you’ve been out here for more than ten minutes, and you left your gloves at home as you rushed out the door.
You jam your hands into your coat pockets and play with the tufts of lint that hide in the corners. Your breath conjures phantoms that float towards the clear blue sky.
This being a Tuesday, and the morning getting late, it isn’t long before the [[goats]] come.A big yellow diesel schoolbus, with no seatbelts and salt-caked mudflaps. It should be here by now.
[[Go back->1]].You can hear their bells.
You have only seen them a couple of times before — they usually come after the bus has already left — but they were more numerous a generation ago, and your parents have told you stories about the goats and what a nuisance they could be while waiting for the bus. Of course, in those days, the kids were more numerous too. There were enough then to keep the goats at bay.
But now you have a vague sense of dread. You anxiously play with the lint in your pockets.
You can look [[down the road]], towards the sound of the bells, or [[up the other way]], where the bus should approach from.(set: $goats to it + 1) (if: $goats < 2)[You look down the road, towards where the goats come from. The bells are getting louder. You look [[up the other way]].](else:)[At last you can hear the hoofs louder than the bells, and can see the mass of horns rising over the horizon. You take your hands out of your pockets. You want to be [[ready->arrive]].]You look up the road, (either: "but there’s no sign of the bus.","to no avail.","and find only disappointment.") (either: "Without anything else to do, you look [[down the road]].","Bored, you look [[down the road]].","You turn your head and face [[down the road]].")At the back of the pack, out of your sight, the shepherd is coming, keeping the group in line. Five or six times already he’s had to whack stragglers with his staff to keep them up with the others, and five or six times he has kept the pack together. There is no cohesion anymore. They all just want to eat flowers at the side of the road at their own discretion. The shepherd can remember when flowers didn’t even bloom in the winter, when frost meant sleep or death for plants, but those days were gone now. [[Now we have it all.]]As the pack passes, you count the goats.
You try to, anyway.
They are huddled and braying, or baaing, or making whatever noises goats make, and their mess of horn and fur and hoof makes it so that you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins.
One of the goats seems about to [[try you]].You and the goat make eye contact, and you remember a particularly grisly story your mother told you.
Do you [[cross your eyes]] or [[stare at the ground]]?When you cross your eyes like your parents taught you, the goat sticks out its tongue and lets you alone. As the shepherd passes by, you and he wave hello to one another. Soon the pack is [[past]].You don’t want any trouble, so you stare at the ground. The herd passes very close to you, close enough to smell, their bristly little goat legs rubbing past yours, their bells a clanging cacophony.
After a minute or so, the pack has [[passed]].Once the bells and baas are out of earshot, you look again up the road. Still no sign of the bus. You are definitely going to miss your first class. But on the bright side, so will the whole busload. You can’t be singled out.
Waiting and moping, you stick your hands back in your pockets. You recoil. In your left pocket there now rests a large [[pinecone]].(set: $pinecone to 1)You grab the pinecone off the ground. You feel its scaly ridges, its sheafed layers, its smooth-rough texture, a grenade mid-explosion, a spacious, fruitless pineapple. What were the goats doing with it, anyway? You smell it. A [[normal pinecone]].Freezing and shaken up from your run-in with the mass of livestock, you decide not to leave your spot. You can hear the warm hum of the bus’s approach, and it’s just a [[normal pinecone]] anyway.Finally, the bus pulls up in front of you. You sigh with gratitude. Another breath-born phantom floats from your lungs and mingles with the diesel exhaust. The doors squeal open [[and you walk on]].Once the bells and baas are out of earshot, you look again up the road. Still no sign of the bus. You are definitely going to miss your first class. But on the bright side, so will the whole busload. You can’t be singled out.
You see a pinecone on the ground a few yards away. Do you [[take]] it, or [[leave]] it there?(set: $pinecone to 1) You take it out to study it, and barely register the warm hum of the bus’s approach.
You feel the pinecone’s scaly ridges, its sheafed layers, its smooth-rough texture, a grenade mid-explosion, a spacious, fruitless pineapple. Did the shepherd toss it here? Did someone sneak up from behind while the goats were there? Were your parents right? You smell it. A [[normal pinecone]]. In the driver’s seat there sits a goat. He looks at you expectantly.
(if: $pinecone is 1)[Do you [[stick your tongue out]], [[find your seat]], or [[give him the pinecone]]?]
(else:)[Do you [[stick your tongue out]] or [[find your seat]]?]You search your memory for whatever scraps of goatlore your parents taught you. They’re proud of the family’s agricultural background, but in this day and age, who really needs it?
You’re pretty sure you’re supposed to stick your tongue out, so you do.
Unfortunately, this was a misstep. The goat leaps from the driver’s seat and [[rams]] you through the open bus door.(if: $pinecone is 1)[You look down and try to make your way to a seat, but the driver leaps up and rushes towards you. “Baaa,” he urges. Do you [[continue to your seat]] or [[give him the pinecone]]?](else:)[You look down and try to make your way to a seat, but the driver leaps from his seat and rushes towards you. “Baaa,” he urges. Do you [[continue to your seat2<-continue to your seat]] or [[just go home]]?]You hold the pinecone out to the goat, who promptly eats it. He looks you in the face and crosses his eyes.
Do you [[cross your eyes2<-cross your eyes]] or [[stick your tongue out2<-stick your tongue out]]?You search your memory for whatever scraps of goatlore your parents taught you. They’re proud of the family’s agricultural background, but in this day and age, who really needs it?
The goat crossed his eyes, so you figure you’re supposed to cross yours.
Unfortunately, this was a misstep. The goat licks your head, endowing you with a shampoo of ruminant spit and half-chewed pinecone. Ashamed, you make your way to your seat.
But it isn’t all bad. You’re heartened to see that most of the other kids are sporting similarly goat-mangled hairdos, and at least you [[didn’t miss school->end]].You stick your tongue out and get to your seat.
The bus is warm and the ride is smooth.
It can be hard to navigate the finer points of goat-etiquette, but your family is proud of their agricultural heritage, and they were careful to pass this knowledge down to you. Fortunately, you’ve behaved [[impeccably->end]].Fifteen miles down the road a man scratches his head. A massive conifer had fallen across the street, and he left his vehicle to inspect it.
He soon found that the bus he was driving had left without him.
A shepherd had lost count.
Learn more [[about]] this game.You land hard, back on the sidewalk, and before you can stand, the bus loudly bounds away. [[end<-You’re missing school today.]]You make your way towards an open seat, but the goat follows you.
His snout finds the pinecone.
He snorts, stamps the ground with his forehooves, and lightly pokes you with a horn before backing away a few paces.
Do you [[give him the pinecone]] or [[toss the pinecone]] out the bus door?You find yourself a seat, and the goat marches back to the front of the bus.
“He seems really mad,” says Bess beside you. You wonder how she can tell. Aren’t goats //always// really mad?
At least it’s warm in here. The bus [[pulls away]] with a lurch.Warily, you back towards the bus door. As you begin to descend the bus steps, the aggravated goat [[rams]] you.Wanting only to be left alone, you toss the pinecone out the open bus door.
You envision the cone-hungry goat rushing out after it — you fantasize about leaping into the driver’s seat, closing the doors, and driving yourself and everyone else off to an amusement park. You would be the hero!
Unfortunately, you’ve violated rudimentary ruminant etiquette. The goat circles you, herds you towards the front of the bus, and [[rams]] you through the open door.Stressed and upset from the morning’s strange events, you fall half-asleep in your seat. You daydream of hay and horseshoes, pinecones and chestnuts. The [[worst->end]] is behind you.<div id="intro">
A hypertext flash fiction piece by <a href="https://jpentangelo.commons.gc.cuny.edu/" target="_blank">Joseph Pentangelo</a>.
Click the pinecone to begin.
[[<img src="https://i.imgur.com/42fs82f.png" width="280" alt="Pine Cone">->1]]
</div><h1>About the Pinecone.</h1>
This is an adaptation of a short story I wrote in January 2019 while conducting fieldwork for my dissertation. I turned it into a game using Twine on November 20th, 2019, and intermittently returned to it in August 2020.
There are four possible endings as far as the player’s fate is concerned.
This game has been playtested by my wife, Rebecca.
This game’s cover image features <i>Goat</i>, a painting made by the Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani around 1915.
Be good to goats.
© 2020 Joseph Pentangelo