Title: Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike
Summary: Returning home one day, Roxanne and Pepper find their small town – and surrounding towns – empty. Finally they find three other teens and realize that all five are each connected through the death of Betty Sue, the plain, shy girl who committed suicide only three months before. Betty Sue had written stories about them, stories of hate, revenge, and death… in a dead world.
Tagline: They returned home to a dead world…
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
Dove Warning: Just a fair warning — there are mild references to rape in this. Nothing graphic or detailed, but still, worth a mention so nobody gets blind-sided by it.
I’ve read this one before, but not for a long time. Christopher Pike is my favorite of the PH-esque authors, but this book is weird. Really weird. Deeply weird. Brace yourselves.
Note: I am deeply angered and terrified by the political climate in the USA. That may bleed into this recap, as our politics bleed into our lives. I may also be even more bitter and critical than ever, though I am trying to keep to the light-hearted fun of the recapping.
[Dove: I had never read this before, and my only thought was, “This had better be more interesting than the last Pike Wing recapped. It was.]
[Wing: Updated 29 Jan 2017: One of our readers recently introduced us to the Teen Creeps podcast, which also recaps teen genre books. Where applicable, I will link their episodes from our recaps so you have another viewpoint on the books. We are not affiliated with their podcast. Teen Creeps does Whisper of Death.]
Opening line: All the people had vanished.
That, Pike, is a good example for all the other PH-esque authors of how to start a book. Though due to formatting, I’m not actually sure if this is an opening prologue or if it is a blurb somewhere other than the back of the book. Still. Good line.
All our characters go to school in Salem, Arizona, a desert town.
Roxanne Wells: Our main narrator. Roxanne likes Pepper because he’s that combo of romance and sex mentioned below. Smokes weed (at least that is a strong implication) but not cigarettes. Drinks. Works part time as a seamstress in a clothes store, every day but Sunday and Tuesday. Long red hair, bright green eyes, too thin with no tits, great legs, doesn’t smile enough, has crooked teeth.
Pepper: Paul Pointzel. Roxanne thinks of him as a babe. He’s new-ish to the area, and picks up a reputation fast: both that he’s just out for sex and that he’s terribly romantic. He wears jeans, has messy brown hair, stubble, dark blue eyes. Drinks, prefers beer. Works as a flower delivery boy, drives his motorcycle to work, then switches to a van for the flowers.
Betty Sue McCormick: A plain, shy, quiet, brilliant girl who committed suicide recently. She wrote stories about the five teens — stories about hate, revenge, and death in a dead world. She committed suicide by dousing herself with gasoline and setting herself on fire. That is an intense way to do it. [Dove: I’ve seen this method used several times in this kind of story.]
Stan Reese: Short, chubby, eighteen, child prodigy, thick glasses, dirty blond hair. If he doesn’t know a math or science answer, that means there is no answer. Very cool, too, never acts superior.
Helter Skelter: Real name Helter Skater, because “Helter” is totally a normal first name. (Helter skelter means disorder and confusion, but this reference ties to Charles Manson’s racial war plans.) [Dove: A helter skelter is also a very tame winding slide in England.] Tattooed, violent, big smoker and drinker, desperately wants to be a bad dude. Blond hair, “plowed down to the roots” (I assume this means buzzcut), deep tan, either attractive in a crude way or just plain ugly, according to Rox.
Leslie Belle: Beautiful and successful, good grades, great actress, absolutely glows. The kind of girl someone like Rox is supposed to hate, but Rox has never been able to, and actually likes her a lot. Nice subversion there, Pike. Blonde hair, blue eyes, great body. Not a snob at all. Talks about herself a little too much.
I love that some of these teens actually work as well as go to school.
Rox and Pepper’s first date is to a horror movie called The Season of Passage about the second expedition to Mars; Rox finds it terribly sad. They then break into the school to get a telescope, and then head out to the reservoir to look at stars. I’m pretty much in love with them both already.
Rox’s dad is never around, but not because he’s flitting around Europe. He’s a long distance truck driver, working to keep them taken care of, and her mother left when she was only two days old. My dad was a long distance truck driver when I was growing up, too.
Rox loses her virginity to Pepper in the barn of his aunt and uncle’s place. Pepper has a horse named Shadowfax, after Gandalf’s horse. Oh my god, you nerds. Everything is great, except that Rox nearly impales herself on a pitchfork while they’re making out. Not a great start, Rox. They have sex, Pike describes it in way too many words (not pornographic, but he has a way of talking around things on and on and on — this whole introduction is taking forever because he tells stories in circles and metaphors and strange descriptions), and Rox doesn’t think about contraceptives until after. Not a great time for that, woman.
Two weeks later, she starts to think she’s pregnant, not because she’s skipped her period but because it feels like something inside has changed, like she has changed too — like a part of her has died. That — is an interesting way to talk about pregnancy, Pike.
She goes to a doctor to confirm things, and he talks to her about her options, including abortions. He tells her it is her choice, and she shouldn’t let anyone else make the decision for her. This is surprisingly straightforward considering when the book was written. But then, knowing what I know about where this story is going, it is also a terrible metaphor of abortion.
Rox tells Pepper, he reassures her they’ll get through it together, Rox asks what he wants to call her, because she just knows it’s going to be a her. Then she suggests that they call her Pebbles after the baby in the Flintstones. Pepper asks if she is serious about wanting to keep the baby. Rox does want to keep the baby, because it would be theirs. Pepper does not. Rox, you are only eighteen. Think about this more.
She is sad, not because he said it, which she thought he might, but because he didn’t need to take any time to even consider having a baby with her. YOU ARE EIGHTEEN, ROX. YOU ARE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL. OH MY GOD.
She thinks that she is no better than him, though; she’s a mother, and all she cares about is staying his girlfriend. Jesus, kid, you are not a mother yet. It is a bundle of cells. Pike, you are on notice.
Rox thinks about the savage debate going on in the USA between the pro-life and the pro-choice factions, and how she thinks both are wrong, no one should ever take away another person’s right to choose and no one should kill an unborn infant. Oh, Rox. I’m not even going to start on this debate, which is, unfortunately, still raging in the USA.
Rox tries to console herself by thinking that their child would probably be retarded because Pepper did so much worse than her in school. I no longer love you, Rox. That is some deep, deep bullshit ableism crap. We don’t even have a counter for this shit.
Rox heads in to have her abortion, gets a bunch of shots from a giant needle that freaks her out, and then when the doctor comes in to do the procedure, he mutters and leaves the room in a hurry. Rox’s thoughts turn to Betty Sue, and thinking about how she threw away her life (also kind of a shitty commentary on people who commit suicide, Pike), Rox suddenly doesn’t want to go ahead with the abortion. She still feels numb inside, and is terribly, terribly dizzy, but doesn’t think it is too late, and tries to leave.
Despite all the dizziness, she manages to make it out to the waiting room and takes the keys from Pepper, because she wants to drive. She tells him she didn’t have the abortion, and she doesn’t want to argue about it. Eventually, Pepper says they should talk about it. Rox agrees they should talk, but says she’s going to have the baby, and she won’t come after him for child support if he doesn’t want to be a part of it.
Pepper agrees to see her through it, and then falls asleep. Rox drives awhile through the desert, until after sunrise, and then sees a hitchhiker with long, bright red hair, wearing a dark cape. Rox normally stops for hitchhikers (not something most people do anymore thanks to fear and murderers), but when she looks again, the hitchhiker is gone.
Rox stops to get gas, but when she tries to pay, there’s no one inside. She immediately jumps to worry that the place is being robbed, and goes to wake Pepper. Rox wants to leave immediately — I’m not sure why she didn’t just go, considering she’s driving and he was asleep! — but Pepper thinks they should try to help. Pepper checks everywhere, but there’s no one around. They find this weird, but then keep arguing about other things.
Rox drops him off at home, then goes home herself, makes some coffee. Tries to listen to the radio, but there’s only static. Her house is plain, but comfortable; her dad does oil painting in his spare time, when his back doesn’t hurt too much from his driving, and his work covers the walls. (He favors mountain scenes. I like him.) She tries the tv next, but it is also static. She makes a bunch of calls, but no one ever answers (though she does get an answering machine when she calls an old friend who moved to Florida).
She’s scared, and starts going house to house trying to find someone, but there is no one anywhere, not even a corpse or a skeleton. People just flat disappearing is even scarier to her than them dying where they stand.
Eventually, Pepper comes to join her, and asks where everybody is.
And we just now hit chapter three. Oh god, Pike, we are both too wordy for this. [Dove: On the other side: abandoned town! This is so much better than Weekend already.]
They talk for awhile, trying to come up with an explanation. The only one that makes even half sense is that there was an evacuation, but as Rox points out, there should be roadblocks then. They break into an electronic repair store to make more calls, but no one answers anywhere. They start fighting over whether they are truly alone when they’re interrupted by someone saying yes, they are alone.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss us the hell off.)
It’s Stan. He confirms that everyone in the world seems to have disappeared, even though there’s been nothing like a nuclear war to cause it. (Not that nuclear war causes people to just flat disappear.) He tells them that he talks to friends via short wave radio every Saturday, and none of them have been in touch today. France, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, India — nobody.
After a bunch of talking, they decide to try to find more people in Salem before they go looking elsewhere. They logic out that anyone getting ready to leave would get a car and cash, so they hit the banks first. At the second one (Security Pacific), someone starts shooting at them. Rox’s leg is grazed by a bullet. Once the shooter hears them talking, he calls out to them. It’s Helter.
He invites them into the bank, and he’s back near the vault, stealing money. He has a rifle and a Colt .45 revolver. [Dove: As we established in the last recap, Wing’s real name is Colt.]
Stan snarks at Helter and then takes the rifle away from him, because Stan is kind of an unexpected badass here. They all head to the drugstore next door so he can bandage Rox’s wound. They finish up and go exchange stories with Helter when bam, Leslie shows up looking for aspirin, wearing only blue pajamas and no shoes.
Leslie starts to cry eventually, Pepper comforts her, and Leslie talks about not being able to find anyone. They all head to Baskin-Robbins to steal some ice cream. Helter has his rifle again, and wants to go to Los Angeles. He’s always wanted to go there, and he thinks that there will be more survivors in a big city. Not that he knows survivors of what. Leslie tells her story, which is pretty much the same as everyone else’s.
Stan starts compiling information. Roxanne was the only person awake when it (whatever it is) happened. They’re all the same age, they all go to school together. They keep talking about everyone else disappearing, but Stan points out that it’s possible they are the ones who have gone somewhere else. Rox notices there are no birds. No dogs, cats, or even bugs. Stan doesn’t think there’s even any bacteria left, because all the living things have vanished, minus a few exceptions — or rather, that they have vanished.
Leslie latches onto the idea that they are asleep and tries to pinch herself awake, to no avail. Stan goes back to the hitchhiker, focusing on the long, bright red hair and the black coat (swore it said cloak earlier, but I don’t care enough to go back [Dove: it did.]). He is the one who points out that it sounds like Betty Sue.
They argue awhile over this, Helter calls her a bitch, because Helter is a dick, and Stan defends her because they were friends. Leslie grew up next door to her. Pepper thinks she was an unusual girl. Rox barely knew her, but Stan points out all the rest of them are really freaked out by the mention of her name, and wants to know why.
Stan keeps pushing, asking how many liked her, other than him. No one answers. Then he asks how many hated her. Pepper is impatient, says none of them hated her, but Helter says he did because she was a bitch to him. Leslie says she was spooky, but won’t go into details. Stan admits that he thinks that Betty Sue may be the common denominator between them all.
They decide to drive around honking and looking for more people, and then they will go to Betty Sue’s house and see what is there. Rox realizes that Stan is hiding something, and hopes that it is nothing bad.
They don’t find anyone in the hour they drive around. Finally, they go to Betty Sue’s house. It is small and plain, but seems to be in deep shadows, and makes them uncomfortable. Leslie doesn’t want to go inside and admits she and Betty Sue had a falling out years ago.
Inside, they see that her mother is a religious fanatic (shades of Carrie here, I suppose), and they move on to find Betty Sue’s room, which is ultra modern and neat. Stan is subdued, and says he hasn’t been there since the day she died. Rox asks how she was that day; Stan says she was happy.
There is a diary and some loose papers on a desk, and Stan starts to read through them. One entry has Leslie and Betty Sue at ten, and how they had a party for Leslie, but she wouldn’t tell anyone her wish. Betty Sue writes about how she knew Leslie would tell her later, and Fat Freddy would make it come true.
The others, like me, want to know who the hell Fat Freddy is.
Leslie whispers that she doesn’t know when they ask her, and they all know she’s lying.
In the next entry, Betty Sue talks about boys starting to look good, their mouths and their legs. Her mom tells her most boys are bad, but Betty Sue likes Sam Douglas because he talks to her and always uses her full name; she hates to be called just Betty. Steve Kinder would call her Betty to annoy her, but he’s moved away, and she thinks he died. She’s happy about it. (Stan confirms he was an old friend who moved to Colorado when they were twelve. And he died of cancer right after leaving. Leslie admits she knew him, but that is all she’ll say.)
In the next entry they read, Betty Sue writes about being angry at Leslie because Betty Sue made her what she is and now Leslie is kissing Sam. Betty Sue wants to write harsh words about her, and make her feel them, make her feel like her lips are bleeding whenever she thinks about kissing a boy Betty Sue wants to kiss. She dreamed of a rat eating a dead man’s hand.
Sam, it turns out, was Leslie’s first boyfriend. He moved away, too, but she thinks someone happened to him, because it usually did.
They keep reading. Betty Sue grows up into something unusual — she thinks dark thoughts and feels warm, she devours Fat Freddy because he thought he was bigger than the god who created him. She dreams. She’s still hungry.
Leslie begs them to stop because it won’t get any better, but Stan keeps reading.
Helter took Betty Sue for a ride in his car, yelled at a boy on a bike that got in their way, would have killed him if she let him. She is growing tired of Helter, but he thinks wicked things for her, and she wants to see what it is. Pepper calls her, and she will let him kiss her.
Pepper snaps the diary closed, demands they leave her alone, she’s dead. Rox wants to read more. Pepper says he didn’t kiss her, just went out with her once. Helter says the same. Stan calms them down, says they won’t read any more of the diary, but they’ll read her papers. Leslie is worried they are about all of them; Stan says they are just a bunch of short stories.
“Lati Ball Puts on a Mask”: Lati Ball dresses for a costume party, the mask fits tight to her face, no one recognizes her but everyone loves her. There is a birthday cake for her with twelve candles; she wishes to always be the best, better than the rest (way to rhyme), and blows out the candles. The cake is wood and catches fire, burns her mask, burns her face, and she looks like death.
Leslie freaks the fuck out and grabs all the papers from Stan. She runs downstairs and burns the story of Lati Ball on the gas stove. Pepper stops her from burning the other stories, but she gets the diary and burns it instead. She fights them off, gets the papers again, and runs out into the back yard. Leslie tears the papers into squares and lets them blow away. She tells Rox that they’re safe now, Betty Sue can’t get them.
Rox points out that Betty Sue is dead and couldn’t get anyway. Leslie says that’s just what Rox thinks, not what is true.
Stan maybe managed to save a few pages of the diary, and Pepper has been injured by Leslie fighting him off. Stan asks why Leslie destroyed the stories, and Leslie says he was her friend too, he must know what she was. Stan says he didn’t know her as well as Leslie thinks, and wants to know why the Lati Ball story made her snap.
Leslie says she’s going to leave town, and asks Pepper to go with her. Pepper asks Rox if she wants to, and she says no, but he has to make his own decision. Pepper stays with her, and Leslie is shocked. She then asks Helter, tells him they will go to L.A. and have fun. Stan asks, again, why the stories scared her so much. Leslie says he’ll find out.
Leslie and Helter prepare to leave; they stock a new Ford Bronco (a small SUV) with food, guns, and clothes.
Rox basically calls Stan on keeping secrets (and the others, too), and asks why he took them to Betty Sue’s house. Stan says he had a dream the day Betty Sue died. He dreamed he was walking around the deserted town at night, and the sand slowly buries the streets. He couldn’t find anyone, but kept feeling like he was being watched. The dream never ended, it just felt timeless. When he woke up, he learned Betty Sue was dead.
Stan tells them that she was a wonderful writer, much better than what she showed in the Lati Ball story, and very interesting and creative. He says the Lati Ball tale was strange, short, and repetitive, like a song. Or, Rox offers, a chant.
Helter comes and says his good-byes, and it’s all pretty decent. Stan tries to stop him one more time, saying that something is wrong. Helter laughs this off, and walks back to the Bronco. Leslie only now stops filling the gas tank, and Rox thinks it should be overflowing. Leslie is also smoking while she does this, because Leslie is an idiot. Leslie coughs, drops her cigarette, and sets the gas on fire — then everything explodes.
Stan manages to save Helter, and the shock wave knocks Pepper and Rox down (“like the hammer of Thor”. Thor can come hammer me any day).
Stan says, very quietly, that Lati Ball blew out her candles. Yes, thanks, Stan, we never would have connected that otherwise.
They go back downtown, sit in shock. Stan’s trying to read through what’s left of the diary, but there’s not much left. Stan really wants to read the rest of the stories on the loose pages, though, because Leslie died like Lati. Stan talks about Leslie as a kid, how she wasn’t nearly as cute then until later. Helter agrees, remembers that she was ugly when she was little, and he used to throw rocks at her. [Dove: Isn’t Helter a charmer?] Pepper argues that Betty Sue had nothing to do with Leslie getting pretty; Stan disagrees. He thinks Betty Sue has the power to make things happen. Pepper thinks it is all ridiculous. Stan says that sometimes, he would go see her for no reason at all, and she was always waiting for him, saying she brought him to her.
Stan doesn’t like to talk about things now, because he thinks it might be dangerous, but he finally tells them that one day, he found her gathering butterflies in big glass jars. There was air in the jars, holes in the lids, but she would leave them in the sun and watch them die as the air inside the jars heated up. Betty Sue told Stan that butterflies are dumb, they don’t even know when they’re in a glass jar, because they can see things just the same, think they can fly wherever they want, but they can’t. METAPHOR ALERT.
Stan says they should find all the pieces of paper and put them back together. It’s a puzzle quest! [Dove: This would play well as a Silent Hill game.] They start at Betty Sue’s house, then spread out. Rox sees Betty Sue first, in a window, bright red hair sweeping across glass. Inside Leslie Belle’s house. Instead of screaming, she goes off and investigates on her own, because of course she does. She makes it all the way to the bathroom where she saw Betty Sue’s hair, sees it again in the mirror, and finally screams, drawing the others to her.
They go looking for her. Helter is determined to shoot her. He believes she’s a witch. He’s starting to look wild eyed and vacant. Helter and Pepper run off to find her. Stan and Rox follow more slowly. Stan thinks Betty Sue wrote them into the empty town, because they must have done something to hurt her. Stan tapes together some pieces of paper, and believes he has found Helter’s story. Before they read it, though, Stan says he thinks he learned more about Helter and Betty Sue’s relationship from the remnants of the diary — Helter raped Betty Sue. Considering everything else that has happened, Rox wonders if Betty Sue was in control of him even then. Stan thinks that she taunted him for awhile, but that he went through with it surprised her. She was angry in her diary. Rox thinks this means she’s not very powerful, because she couldn’t control Helter.
Stan says she couldn’t control the butterflies, either, until she put them in her jar. That is deeply creepy (even as it is terribly obvious at this point — Pike does not do subtle here).
“Holt Skater Takes a Walk”: Holt Skater climbs a wall trying to escape a life of toil in the mud and dirt. Once he sees the other side, though, he sees there are thorn bushes at the base and he can’t just climb down; he decides to walk the length of it instead. Eventually he turns around, because there is no safe way for him to get down, but instead of getting back to where he began, the wall narrows until it becomes sharp like a razor. He falls, one leg on either side, and cuts himself into two pieces even as he begs for Jesus to save him.
Betty Sue would fit in well with the torture porn horror genre.
Rox believes Stan’s theories now, and thinks they should all stay together. Stan wants to find more of the scraps of paper, but Rox wants to get the others first. They catch up with the guys, who think they’ve got her inside the school. They follow footprints back toward the gym, where they split into two tracks. Slick trick there, Betty Sue. One goes to the back of the gym, the other to the girls’ showers. Helter wants to split up; Rox agrees as long as she goes with him. Stan thinks it is a mistake, but they do it anyway.
Rox and Helter go into the gym. Helter says he can feel her, like he felt the evil at the gas station before Leslie died. Rox doesn’t hear anything, but Helter hears wood bumping against wood and thinks she’s inside the equipment cage. Rox tries to stop him, but he keeps going. She stays still for a moment, scared, then goes to the back of the locker room, afraid that if she follows him directly, he might accidentally shoot her.
Rox then has a memory of Betty Sue. The only time she ever really encountered her was during a gym class, even though Betty Sue wasn’t in her gym class. But in the showers, after, Betty Sue handed her a bar of soap that was carved to look like a crying baby. Rox had been pregnant then already, though she didn’t know it. Betty Sue would be dead in less than a week. Rox followed her to ask about the soap, and found her drawing on the mirror with another bar of soap, this one dyed red, so it dripped like blood; Betty Sue was soaping her reflecting in the area of her stomach. She drew a jar around her belly’s reflection. SUBTLE.
Helter starts screaming, and Rox runs after him. He’s shooting the rifle wildly, and Rox realizes he scared himself by seeing his reflection in a mirror out of the corner of his eye. He shoots the rifle until it is empty, then grabs his revolver, but pulls the trigger too soon and shoots himself between his legs. Helter begs them to put him out of his misery.
Rox sends the others out, then talks to Helter. He says Betty Sue would get inside his head, and he couldn’t get her out. He thinks he did rape her, but he wishes he had killed her instead. Am I supposed to feel sympathetic toward a rapist? Because I don’t. [Dove: This is something I’ve seen more than once by male writers – that a powerful psychic/whatever, makes a man to rape them — for example, in the book Ringu, and, I’m fairly certain, anything by Richard Laymon. I am not a fan of this. This is one of those things that makes my skin crawl.] Rox talks to him, then finally shoots him dead. She walks out of the room with her eyes closed, hoping she’s taking the right door.
Stan is still obsessed with finding the rest of the stories. They get flashlights, fresh batteries, Rox changes her shirt but leaves her bloody pants. They keep looking and keep looking, and eventually, Stan stops them and tries to put them together.
Rox wonders if they only give the stories power when they read them. Stan says he doesn’t think her earlier victims read their stories. They talk a bit about her powers, how hopeless they feel, and then finally Stan reads them another story.
“Soda Radar Goes to Sleep”: Soda Radar was a court jester for Queen Beetle; he was sometimes disrespectful, and his stories had no rhyme, no sense of time, and that is the worst crime. She sends him out to find a story or she would tickle him with a feather. Soda thinks she is not smart, and he will tell her an old story. He tells her the story of Salt and Pepper and the plate of late dinner, the story of kids, the end of time, and cold winter. He thinks she is happy, but she pokes him with needles, then makes him poke himself until he bleeds, so she can then give what’s left to someone with needs.
Stan admits that he used to think of her as his queen because she was so powerful. Stan goes to the pharmacy to get painkillers; Rox wants to go after him, but Pepper says that the last story has his name all over it. He’s piecing the last story together. He asks Rox why she hates him, and she says she doesn’t; he says she’s been mean, and she says it has been a bad day, and he hasn’t been nice either. He reaches for her, but she asks about his relationship with Betty Sue. He finally admits he went out with her a few times, and he found her fascinating because of her mystery. They did kiss. They didn’t have sex. They didn’t go out after he started dating Rox.
Rox leaves Pepper behind, goes to check on Stan. He’s sitting in the pharmacy, holding a newspaper. It’s tomorrow’s newspaper, and the main article is about tragedy striking five local teens. It’s only the first half of the article, but basically, all five died in separate incidents, but the authorities aren’t dismissing the possibility of a group suicide pact. Leslie died in her garage when the gas tank of her car exploded. Helter died from gunshot wounds in the high school. Stan died in bed, both his wrists slit, no suicide note. Pepper died — and then the article ends.
Stan is starting to act weird, tired and dreamy, and he tells her the story of Betty Sue’s last day. She called him over to tell him she’s pregnant and she wants to get rid of it. Stan doesn’t know who the father was, but thinks the father knew about the pregnancy. Stan says she was and wasn’t pregnant; she had already started to get rid of the baby, had done something to her insides. She then started bleeding, but wouldn’t let him take her to the hospital. She was happy. She said she had an exciting evening planned.
Eventually, Rox says they need to go, but Stan says he can’t. She then realizes there’s a big dark puddle, and Stan has slit his wrists. He asks her to put him in his bed after he dies, says that he always had a crush on her. He’s dead before she tells him that she always had one on him too.
Pepper takes it hard, wants to run immediately. Rox is adamant that she’ll fulfill Stan’s last wish. Pepper tells her he read the last story.
“Salt and Pepper for Supper”: Salt and Pepper are a happy couple, but they were only spices, all they had were flavor and a few miserable vices. Fat Freddy takes them to Queen Beetle, who is sewing in her secret chamber with her needles. Queen Beetle says she knows Pepper, he kissed her and then left and wrote no letter. Pepper is afraid and doesn’t tell Salt it is his fault. Queen Beetle hates them and puts them on her plate for dinner. She says it is not hate, it is more honorable, it is fate. Salt is so angry at Pepper that she pushes him into the Queen’s meat, where he is caught by the Queen’s fork and dies.
Rox asks if it was all his fault, but Pepper doesn’t know, or pretends not to know, what she means. They put Stan in his bed, and then head north out of town. They talk about what they’ll do in LA, but the wind gets worse and worse, and the sand gets thicker and thicker. Eventually, they go back, and decide to spend the night at Pepper’s place. Rox thinks Betty Sue makes them choose it. They go into the barn. Pepper lights a lamp, while Rox thinks. She asks again if he slept with Betty Sue. He says no. She thinks he is lying. She screams at him that he’s lying, that he got Betty Sue pregnant, and he finally admits that yes, it happened. He claims it meant nothing. He didn’t care for her at all. Pepper, how the fuck haven’t you figured out how to use contraception yet? [Dove: Seriously. One pregnancy scare should surely make him a bit more savvy for next time.]
He also finally admits that he and Betty Sue fucked after he and Rox got together. She pushes him off the loft and into the soft hay below. She thinks it will be fine, because Rox is an idiot. He slams down into the pitchfork that almost stabbed her their first time. She goes to him, comforts him, tells him she’ll be with him soon and they’ll go together into the stars.
Rox buries him in the straw and then walks to Betty Sue’s house. She lights a candle, sits down to empty paper, writes. Apparently the story we’re reading. She’s tired, but she’s afraid to sleep. Then she hears footsteps coming closer. Betty Sue joins her, tells her to write everything she says. They talk a bit about life and death, and then Betty Sue says that she was the one in Rox’s womb, and she came back for her. Rox asks if she came back to kill her, and Betty Sue says yes, but Rox had to kill her first. Rox’s choice opened the door, sealed the lid on the jar (because again, subtle), and Rox says that she stopped it.
Betty Sue says that she saw Rox and Pepper in the barn that night and felt such pain. So … she was in love with her own dad? ALWAYS WITH THE FUCKING INCEST.
Incest is relative: 1 (+1) (Yeah, so his dad is dating my mom, but I would totally give him one.)
Betty Sue tells her she changed her mind too late, and now she is hemorrhaging, and the doctor is afraid he will lose her. He is right.
Betty Sue says she will stab her in the belly if she stops writing. Rox says she can’t keep going, and Betty Sue is amused. Rox only has one story. Betty Sue has millions.
She keeps writing. Betty Sue stabs her anyway.
Pepper sits in the waiting room, worrying about Rox. He can’t believe his bad luck, getting two girls pregnant in two months. That’s not bad luck, you ass, that is you not figuring out contraception. Fuck.
Back in the room, Rox thinks about her dream of the end of the world. She thinks that life is precious. She doesn’t think there is any peculiar about life being precious and her aborting a fetus. BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING PECULIAR ABOUT THAT, PIKE. WHAT THE FUCK.
Rox gets up, changes into clean clothes, leaves her broken body behind. She could go take Pepper’s hand, return to Salem, see people die again, people Betty Sue hated. Or she can go into a void, leave Betty Sue’s wicked reality. She says good-bye to Pepper, walks into the void. She feels like she has stepped into the center of all things, light and stars and joy.
Pepper mourns, leaves. Sees a hitchhiker on the side of the road, long red hair, black cape. He doesn’t want to stop, not while he’s mourning, but he worries she will be in danger once the sun rises and it gets hot. He stops. She asks him for a ride. There is something familiar about her. She’s going to Salem. Her car caught fire. She barely got out alive. She introduces herself as Beetle. She pulls a cigarette, two bullet shells, an open razor, and a stainless steel fork out of her bag. She asks him if she can make him dinner to thank him. he says no. She tells him she’s quite certain she will be able to change his mind. [Dove: Also, she pokes him with a fork. No, really.]
This story gets weirder every time I read it. I would like it, I think; I like the futility of the cycle, and writing stories to life, and twisted magic, but it also is such a terrible anti-abortion parable. Fuck off with that, Pike.
Also, it’s so weird there are barely any counters, but we sure as shit got the incest one in again. Thanks, Pike!
[Dove: I really like this one. It hits a lot of things I have a weakness for, abandoned towns, cyclical stories, and a rising body count — so nice to see actual deaths in the so-called “horror” genre. I would actually re-read this. As long as I cheerfully ignore any kind of metaphor about the sanctity of life, then it’s quite enjoyable.]
Incest is relative: 1