Submitted Date 02/12/2019

Patrick and his wife Rebecca Powers had wanted to take a vacation to San Francisco for a long time, and they were thrilled when the opportunity finally came. They had found an amazingly affordable vacation package with a hotel right in Union Square.


Their friends Thomas and Vanessa Smith actually lived in the Bay Area, just north of San Francisco in Napa Valley. The Smiths had met the Powers at a restaurant in Sonoma, where they dined on some excellent Pan-Asian fusion cuisine, and sipped a variety of wines that the waiter had recommended.


Over that very dinner Patrick had suggested a trip to Chinatown. The Smiths agreed to drive down to the city the next day; the four of them would meet in the hotel and walk over to the Lion’s Gate at the head of Grant Avenue, which marked the entry to Chinatown.


Patrick buckled his camera to his belt; he still preferred using an old-school camera to the camera that came with the phone. Rebecca encouraged her husband’s photography habit, and had actually bought the camera for him as a gift. Dressed in short sleeves in case the sun came out, but wearing an external layer of sweatshirts to combat the foggy cold of the city, they left their room and took the elevator down to the lobby to meet Thomas and Vanessa.


Thomas and Patrick had actually gone to the same college and been friends for many years. Occasionally they would even talk on the phone. Thankfully Vanessa and Rebecca hit it off as well—otherwise the daytrip might have been awkward and miserable. But the four of them were a solid group who were all looking forward to the day together, and they stepped out of the hotel and began to walk toward Grant Avenue.


“Wow, that’s so cool!” Patrick exclaimed, pulling out his camera and snapping a picture of the stone gate.


Chinese calligraphy was written on a dark panel that hung down from the top of the gate, and large stone lion-dogs stood guard on either side, looking like they would fiercely exclude unwanted pedestrians from entering the neighborhood. A pair of golden dragons danced above the green tiled roof that spouted like waves from the mouths of two ornamental fish on the end tips of the gate.


“Those dogs look like they could swallow you whole, and crush you with their great big stone teeth,” Vanessa joked.


They approached the gate and Patrick asked a friendly-looking stranger to take their picture.


“Do you know what that sign says?” Thomas pointed up wonderingly.


“It means enter at your own risk!” the stranger said laughing, as she handed back the camera and walked away.


Rebecca gave a nervous laugh and the four of them walked into Chinatown. Strings of lanterns bobbed up and down above the street. Shops displayed a colorful rainbow of different wares, from silk robes to small ivory sculptures. Restaurants and grocery stores showed off exotic items of food that eluded guesses about what type of plant or animal it was, or had been.


Suddenly an old lady was in front of them, muttering and pestering them with a menu.


“No thanks,” Patrick waved.


“No—look, Patrick,” Rebecca said, taking the menu. “She’s telling us about her restaurant.”


The woman nodded and said “come eat” in an accent that left those two words barely recognizable.


“I don’t know,” Thomas cautioned. “Sometimes these places are not safe joints to get food. We have no idea where or what this place is…”


“Oh come on, Thomas,” Vanessa smiled. “Let’s live a little!”


“What do you think, Patrick?” Rebecca turned to her husband.


Patrick thought about it. He wasn’t too hungry, but it was lunchtime. Maybe they should sit down for a bite to eat. It could be exciting, trying out an authentic Chinese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. On the other hand, he had heard horror stories about hole-in-the-wall places, and thought it might be better to try their luck at a place where they didn’t have to follow some mysterious old woman down the street...


“No, I’m good” Patrick said, thrusting the menu back at the old woman. She shuffled away down the alley, not seeming to be offended in the least.


“Well, there are places up the street,” Vanessa volunteered. “We can show you a few that we like. They’re clean and trendy, and definitely not down any side streets,” she laughed, eyeing the old woman as she walked away.


The four of them walked down Grant Avenue for a few minutes until they came to what looked like a brand new restaurant. Its glass walls revealed diners within sitting on tall chairs that were sprinkled over a teakwood floor. Overhead, white lanterns dangled randomly around the ceiling area, and large canvases of modern art were placed at even intervals along the wall.


“Soba,” Rebecca read the avant-garde looking signage above the door, “Japanese-Chinese Fusion Cuisine.”


They entered the restaurant and enjoyed a nice lunch of sushi, noodles, and seaweed salad.


“That place was good,” Patrick said as they walked out, “but it seems like the type of popular restaurant we might find at the mall back home. I want to see the real Chinatown. I want to feel like I’m in China,” he said, as the four of them walked past large store windows displaying a veritable three-dimensional rainbow of Asian goods.


“I know what you mean,” agreed Thomas. “Well, maybe we can check out the shops then. You’re sure to find what you’re looking for in there…silk robes, slippers, carved wooden boxes, and those little metal balls that clink like bells,” he suggested.


“What’s that up there,” Rebecca asked, pointing to a colorful-looking sign in Chinese characters that also bore illustrations of fireworks exploding into a colorful splash of flaming petals. The front of the store was almost entirely open to the street, and rows of plastic-wrapped firecrackers filled the display cases.


“That looks like a place to buy fireworks,” Vanessa replied.


“Real fireworks?” Rebecca asked incredulously.

“Well, not like the kind that you see on the Fourth of July,” Thomas reasoned, “although, maybe they have those in the back,” he added, smiling. “These are more like fireworks for kids, you know…smoke bombs, Roman Candles, even cool little tanks that move and blast fire out of the cannon,” he concluded.

“You sure seem to know a lot about this, Thomas,” Patrick smiled.

“What can I say…I have an inner child,” Thomas replied.

The street was full of similar looking shops, each one like a wide-mouthed creature spilling out the various prizes it had swallowed in an ocean dive into a sea of the bizarre.

“Hmmm…I don’t know,” said Patrick. “All these stores look so cool. Should we move down the street, or just go into this one right here?” he wondered, pointing at the store they were standing in front of.


“Let’s go in here, Patrick,” Rebecca suggested. “If this one doesn’t have whatever it is we’re looking for, we can keep moving down the street.”


The four of them entered the shop, which was called something-or-other Trading Company. The store was so packed with goods that it was barely possible to walk down the aisle without bumping into something and knocking it on the floor. Dragon kites hung from the ceiling, fiercely snarling at one another as they vied to be purchased. Small bamboo gardens, little ivory carvings, and porcelain tea sets filled Patrick’s range of vision.

“Honey, look at this,” Rebecca’s voice called from somewhere.

“Where are you, Rebecca?” Patrick asked, looking around. The cashier behind the counter was ringing up a woman and her son, who was buying some sort of gag novelty toys.

“Down here,” she replied. Patrick turned around again, and saw that some steps at the back of the shop led down to a basement floor. He put back the whoopee-cushion he was holding and walked over to the staircase. Descending into the basement, he was surprised to find himself surrounded by a jungle of fake plants in large porcelain pots.

“I’m over here, dear,” his wife called to him.

Patrick followed the sound of her voice until he found her. She was standing in front of a series of shelves which were covered in an army of those “lucky cats” with the waving arms. Their arms were all bobbing up and down, like they were fans at a ballgame doing “the wave,” only without any kind of coordination. Rebecca was holding her phone, and showed Patrick a video she had taken.

“That is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Patrick laughed. “Put that on Instagram.”

“Oh Patrick,” she said, slapping him on the arm.

“What’s back there, I wonder?” Patrick said, pointing to a beautiful silk curtain that depicted a flaming phoenix soaring over a pagoda by a serene-looking lake. Behind the curtain, Patrick could see a room that seemed to be filled with colorful fabrics. Above the curtain, a sign in red calligraphy letters was accompanied by an English translation that said “please no enter.”

“I think that’s for employees only, dear,” Rebecca said, grabbing her husband and giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Not for you.”

“I want to see what’s back there,” Patrick said.

Rebecca sighed. Sometimes it was best to just let men learn from their mistakes.

“Whatever you think dear.”

Patrick looked at the curtain. A sudden breeze strangely blew it open, as if the room were inviting him to step in...


If you want to read the rest of the adventure, check out my choose-your-own-ending story, Chinatown, on Amazon. There is one way out alive, and ten gruesome endings. Will you lead the characters to a happy ending, or will they...


...get turned into small jade statues by an ancient Chinese wizard?

...have their bones made into mahjong tiles?

...have their heads lopped off and turned into powder for long-life green tea?

...get chewed apart by magical stone lion-dogs?

...become slaves to a undead lord of the underworld?


Check out all the adventure today, and please leave behind a review! (copy and paste the link below)



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  • James D. 1 year ago

    Oh nice, I haven’t seen a choose-your-own story in a good while. And a horror no less! Cool stuff.

  • Miranda Fotia 9 months ago

    Great idea! I love "choose your own ending" stories! Very creative!