The ghost says nothing but looks angry. Suddenly it makes a mysterious gesture and your chair dissolves; you fall towards the floor, then through the floor. You faint with fear. You awaken, alone, in a long narrow underground space. There is no wind. A faint light pervades the mysterious corridor.
You turn and walk toward the right.
You turn and walk toward the left.
This node abruptly pushes the reader over into the most important branch. If the reader follows it to the end and doesn't go back, the set of branches narrating events outside the house will be missed.
Both the inside and outside branches contain clues. We have to hope the reader will remember the choice to stay in or go out. That depends on the story the reader is telling about the act of reading. For hypertext narratives the reader's grasp of the narrative almost always depends on repeated rereadings. The reader develops a meta-story about coming to understand the overall structure. That's true of many linear prose narratives, too; they require rereading, and a story the reader constructs about coming to understand the text by, say, Jane Austen or John Updike.
Our story is very simple, only the branches make it hard to understand.
The effort required to grasp the structure differs from the effort to understand a single branched but complex narrative. But in both cases the reader develops a meta-story about effort and success.
It may branch, but our story clearly has one ending more important than the others.
Actually we have two important endings on the longest branch.
The reader is funneled into the maze and those endings from four different branches.
And one of those branches is a confluence of several others.
So the whole opens up and then closes down quickly.
But there are six alternate endings.
Still, in trying to make the point about meta-stories, we don't let the main story develop enough.
That's true, but the larger point of this essay is about writing and reading, and our accompanying meta-story.
I don't see our dialogue as a story; it's more a set of disjointed comments.
But we aren't done yet. We're still looking for how to find and express our own condition and our conclusion.