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Recap #93: Nightmare Hall #5: The Scream Team by Diane Hoh

cover of Diane Hoh's Scream Team, top cover is brick building with a window cutout that shows a girl in a cheerleading uniform collapsed on the floor

Title: The Scream Team by Diane Hoh

Summary: Delle has always been a cheerleader. And so she wants more than anything to make the squad at Salem U. Until she hears the horrible truth about what happened to last year’s cheerleaders…

Once Delle thought she would die to make the team. Now she realizes she may have to. Welcome to the scream team, Delle.

[Wing: Well that’s suitably creepy. What did happen to last year’s cheerleaders?]

Tagline: None.

Notes: I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.

Initial Thoughts

Can’t remember a great deal about this one, to be honest, though I can still recall the identity of the Muffin Man. It should be noted that this is another one from Nola “Hack” Thacker, so expectations are not high.

[Wing: I’ve never read this one, but I love horror + cheerleaders, so maybe that will work even if I didn’t much enjoy Thacker’s last Nightmare Hall outing.]

Recap

The opening prologue does seem to be from the point of view of the Muffin Man, who is watching a video of a regional cheerleading camp, which includes the Salem University junior varsity team. Muffin Man is apparently the only one who knows the truth about what happened to them, and wonders if they were smiling when they all died. Ooh.

[Wing: Intriguing! I’m really interested in what happened to the previous team, so this has caught my attention even though I normally hate Muffin Man prologues.]

We meet Delle Arlen during the first day of cheerleading tryouts. For the duration of tryouts, all hopefuls are staying at Abbey House. The boys are staying on the first floor, the girls are staying on the second floor, and the third floor apparently isn’t used. Two of the original junior varsity members will be on the new team this year, [Wing: But didn’t the entire team die last time? That’s the implication at least.] and six new members will be chosen at the end of the week. Coach Truite informs the hopefuls that cheerleading is not about popularity. It’s a sport, and they’re athletes supporting other athletes. [Wing: She’s not wrong. Some places, maybe it is a popularity thing, but cheerleading is a sport, a dangerous sport, and cheerleaders are fucking fierce.] The two co-captains, Marla Pines and Rory Hanahama are introduced, as is Jennifer Li, a girl on crutches, who will be helping the coach during tryouts.

We then meet Susan Worth, lying in bed, exhausted after tryouts. She was a cheerleader in high school, but feels inadequate up against all these other cheerleaders, and finds all the training hard to keep up with. But she has to win, because she doesn’t want to be a nobody in this big new school. It’s not a school, Susan. It’s a university. They’re generally too BIG to have popular crowds. That’s what makes them so good. You make friends because of common interests, not proximity.

[Wing: I’m not sure it’s intentional, but it’s an interesting look at how hard the transition is for some people, particularly people who were very popular in specific ways in high school. University is a lot different, but not everyone figures that out at first. (Or, sometimes, ever.)]

Delle and other hopefuls are hanging out in the first floor lounge. In marches Marla, who is obviously being set up as the mean girl of the story. Delle thinks being a cheerleader will make university perfect – now all she needs is the perfect guy to go along with it. She ruminates about her ex-boyfriend Warren, who proposed to her after senior prom. She was so surprised, she laughed at him. Three months later, just before Delle headed off to Salem, Warren simply took off. She thinks he was always a little strange, despite his all-American appearance, and wonders where he is now.

Red Herrings: 1 point

Marla starts speaking to the whole group. She reveals that she and Rory became co-captains by default, because a freak bus accident killed nearly the entire team. She had left camp two days early, due to the flu. Rory caught a lift home with a friend at the last minute. Jennifer Li was the only survivor, having been thrown miraculously clear. Marla then dramatically suggests that the crash wasn’t an accident, and that somebody wanted the cheerleaders to die. [Wing: Well, okay, I guess that’s a good enough reason for the three of them to have survived.]

Coach Truite strides in and puts an end to the discussion. While leaving, Delle starts chatting with a girl in the group, who’s name is Morgana Faye, but she prefers Mojo. And of course, now all I can think of here is Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls. [Wing: MORGANA FAYE?! If she’s not a witch, that’s a waste of good name play.] Mojo name-checks Nightmare Hall, but then talks about how Peabody Gym is haunted by the Lady In Red. Apparently the old gym burnt down at the turn of the century, and a girl was trapped inside, and died. Now she haunts the place, and appears before tragedy is about to strike. Apparently students saw her just before the bus accident that killed the junior varsity team.

How many ghost legends can one campus have? [Wing: I can think of three off the top of my head for the campus where I did undergrad, and it was a pretty small school.]

Note: I’ll use Lady In Red, but the book seems to go back and forth between Lady In Red and Red Lady.

Anyway, Delle goes to bed. She is woken up by the smell of smoke. Her room is on fire. She even sees the Lady In Red amongst the flames. Delle goes to the door, but it won’t open. She is trapped.

And okay, is this going to some half-assed ghost story as well?

Delle tries to beat out the flames with a blanket, but it’s not working. Then somebody opens her door, and saves the day with a fire extinguisher. The fire and the panic draws a crowd, including Coach Truite. She demands to know if Delle was smoking. She says of course not, but when Coach Truite goes through the trash can in Delle’s room that started the fire, she pulls out a cigarette butt. Delle says someone was in her room, reiterating that she does not smoke. She points out there is newspaper in the bin as well, and she hadn’t been reading a newspaper.

Like any clueless protagonist, Delle blames it on the Lady In Red, which of course is met with scorn by the coach, who accuses Delle of using the story to cover up her carelessness. But the mention of the Lady In Red gets the attention of Jennifer Li, who becomes hysterical, saying that it is a warning that all the new cheerleaders are going to die, before collapsing. Coach Truite orders a boy to take care of the wastebasket, who turns out to be Greg Childs, and he causes a serious case of insta-love in Delle. The chapter is mostly just a recap of the fire and the legend of the Lady In Red, who was apparently a cheerleader as well (in 1900?) Mojo also points out that Susan Worth, in the room next to Delle’s, slept through the whole thing, fire alarms and all.

Red Herrings: 2 points (+1)

The next day of training, Delle meets Joy Ferguson, who is quite giggly. She sees that Rory is filming everything. It’s for training purposes, but Rory also intends to use it for his film class. And wasn’t the Muffin Man watching a video of cheerleading camp in the prologue?

Red Herrings: 3 points (+1)

Jennifer is very helpful, and tells Delle that she’s really good, and that’s probably why Marla has it in for her. Apparently being a cheerleader is the most important thing in the world to Marla, and if she had her own way, she’d be the only female cheerleader out there.

Red Herrings: 4 points (+1)

Just before lunch, Coach Truite drags the hopefuls into the gym, putting them into groups and working with them one by one. Delle feels that the coach singles her out for the hardest work and most criticism.

ME! It’s all about ME!!!: 1 point

After coach is finished with Delle, Mojo motions her over to where she is against the back wall of the gym, near the door. Delle shakes her head, desperate for water. Mojo gets up to join her when there is a horrendous scream. Delle grabs Mojo and they dive for the open door of the gym. Huh? I thought Mojo moved away from the door?

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 point

Anyway, it appears that the old basketball backboard had torn loose from the gym wall and fallen to the floor. If Delle had gone over to join Mojo, or Mojo hadn’t gotten up to join her, they would have been crushed. Mojo wants to know how Delle knew that was going to happen. Delle explains the scream she heard, but Mojo insists nobody screamed until they were already out the door.

I would just love it if Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls was actually behind these shenanigans, and not the Lady In Red. Sigh.

Delle insists the scream was real. Mojo says Delle either has really bad luck, or someone is out to get her. The tryouts continue outside, where Delle is exhausted. The coach says that will teach her for smoking. There are some bitchy exchanges between Marla, Delle and Mojo.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 1 point

A girl tells Delle it’s not good to smoke. This is Susan Worth, and Mojo points out if she hadn’t slept through the whole thing, she’d know Delle had said she didn’t smoke. A red-headed boy, Charles Pike, says there’s no such thing as ghosts, and this is the work of somebody desperate to make the cheerleading team, trying to scare the rest of them away.

I must say, my copy of this book is only 164 pages, and there are way too many characters running around in this thing. It’s an issue that affects lots of Thacker’s work (when she’s writing as D.E. Athkins). [Wing: So many characters. At this point, I’m having a hard time keeping them all straight, except for Delle and Mojo, really.]

Greg arrives and suggest they all go out that night for off-campus food and fun. They go to Vinnie’s. There’s a mention of somebody called Peter Nordstrom who has gone with them. [Wing: Because that’s just what the book needs, even more characters.] Rory sits down with Delle to get her version of what happened the night of the fire. He talks about the Lady In Red, and how it’s best not to encourage Jennifer’s belief in it. He says it must be awful not to remember anything about the crash. Delle wonders why he’s so protective. Does he not want her to remember, because it might mean the bus accident wasn’t an accident at all?

Red Herrings: 14 points (+10)

Marla comes over to join them to be bitchy, and to introduce Rory to Charles. Charles is a gymnast, and seemingly bitter about being looked over for the gym team. After getting pissy, Charles storms away. [Wing: Despite what Bring It On would have us believe, cheerleading and gymnastics are very different, and just because both require flippy skills doesn’t mean being good at one will make you good at the other.] Rory wants to speak privately with Marla. Delle notices that Mojo and Greg seem to have left, so she decided to head back to Abbey House.

During the walk, she passes Nightmare Hall. She ponders over who might have pretended to be the Lady In Red, her suspicions falling on Marla and Susan, bandying about the word “psychopath”.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 point

She then sees the “ghost of a movement: a faint, red, shimmering light passing from window to window, high in Peabody Gym.” Oh, good grief.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 10 points (I hate this ghosty-ghost bullshit. Make your story supernatural, or don’t.) [Wing: I wish she would! It would be a better story with supernatural. But you’re right, trying to be creepy supernatural without actually having the supernatural is only ruining both stories.]

Because both this book – and Delle – are fucking stupid, she goes to investigate. The door to the foyer of the gym swings shut behind her. She reaches the actual gym door and opens it.

And Delle saw, high in the far corner of the gym, a figure in flowing robes that glowed red and horrible in the dark. The thing was clothed in red from head to foot. A hood of red enveloped its head. But there was no face beneath the hood.

Nice imagery, mildly spooky, but I’m uber annoyed at all this ghost schtick.

Delle isn’t sure if she should cry out for help, but before she can, something grabs her and everything goes dark.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 20 points (+10)

It’s Greg. He was at the student centre, saw Delle walking past, and followed her. He saw the same thing she did. That’s quite refreshing, actually. Normally nobody at all believes the protagonist. The two of them are discovered by Coach Truite, Marla and Rory. The coach accuses Delle of smoking again, saying it’s lucky she hasn’t burnt the gym down. She tells them to get back to Abbey House, as it’s nearly curfew. On the way, Delle and Greg discuss why the antics could or couldn’t be the work of Rory or Marla. But they don’t discuss the possibility of it being Coach Truite? Sorry, I think I just gave away the game, there….

Red Herrings: 30 points (+16)

The next day, the coach puts them through their paces once again. Then she lines them up and tells them all she will not abide any gossip about ghost stories, because it is disrespectful to the coach and seven athletes who died in the bus accident. Anybody caught spreading ghost stories will be disqualified from tryouts. So that’s what Delle, Mojo, Susan and Joy briefly discuss in the cafeteria afterwards. Then it’s back to practice, where Delle is struggling to do a flip off the mini-tramp, securely rigged into a safety harness, and spotted by Mojo and Peter Nordstrum.

Coach Truite and Marla arrive, with the coach getting Marla to demonstrate, who does a perfect flip. The coach tells Delle to do it again. However, Peter insists that he’ll do it. He puts on the harness, with Delle now a spotter. He does a few bounces, goes into a spin, and the harness comes loose from its mooring on one side. He goes into an uncontrollable spin, Delle and Mojo unable to catch him, landing with a thud on the floor beside the mat. Mojo screams that he’s dead.

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 point

Of course he’s not dead. And if you want to up the stakes, Thacker, perhaps have it happen to a character that’s had more than two lines of dialogue. Sheesh. That night, Delle is in bed. We then have what is basically a filler chapter as Delle debates whether it really is the work of a ghost, or a teammate, and whether she’s the target, or the whole group of cheerleader hopefuls are. Ho hum.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 point

We then get an utterly pointless dream sequence (Delle in a van driven by her ex-boyfriend Warren and surrounded by dead cheerleaders), before waking up, hearing a soft tapping at her door, and a voice whispering her name.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 30 points (+10) I mean, COME ON! This person has the courtesy to knock. An intruder with nefarious purposes generally won’t do that.

It’s just Greg, and the chapter is pure filler as they go to the gym to see if the person pretending to be the Lady In Red left any evidence behind of their shenanigans. At least they’re on the side of believing it’s not a ghost, I guess. Greg breaks in with a credit card, but they don’t find anything. Delle remembers that there is a catwalk high up in the gym, and if the Muffin Man had been using that, they could have escaped out of the roof. They then hide out in the boy’s locker room when Coach Truite arrives. As Greg aptly comments, “Doesn’t she ever sleep?” They evade capture, the coach leaves, and Delle and Greg sneak out, sharing a kiss in the process.

The next chapter is barely worth recapping. I’m not sure how much later it is after the gym escapade, but it does at least end with Susan Worth stumbling out of her room when Delle returns to Abbey House. A doll dressed in a cheerleading outfit has been left on Susan’s bed, its head severed, a bloody piece of paper next to it saying “Go, fight, win. DIE.”

[Wing: THAT DOESN’T EVEN RHYME, MUFFIN MAN.]

Delle wants to get the coach, but Susan thinks that will get her kicked out of tryouts. Um, why? Anyway, they think Mojo will be able to handle it and get rid of the doll, but when Mojo sees it, she goes ballistic, thinking it’s a joke aimed at her because of her belief in fate, ghosts etc. To calm her down, they pull her into Delle’s room. Once Mojo has stopped acting like a princess, they return to Susan’s room – and the doll is gone.

Sigh.

The next chapter is all speculation about who could be doing it and why. Delle worries it could be Greg. He seemed to know how to break into the gym, and whoever left the doll for Susan managed to get into her room when it was locked. Mojo says it’s all mind games, and in a way, they foiled the Muffin Man’s intentions, because they kept the situation contained by not telling anybody. The Muffin Man wants them to act the way Delle did when there was the fire in her room – by screaming and causing a big deal, and instilling fear in everybody else. It’s a good theory, actually. [Wing: The pacing seems off in this book, and I think it’s down to too much talking and recapping and too little actual action, but I do like that they come up with this theory.]

Delle hates waiting for something to happen. “It was hard to concentrate. When Greg or Charles or Rory threw her up into the air for a cheer and caught her around the waist with strong, sure hands, Delle wondered if those were the same hands that had twisted the doll’s head from its body. The same hands that had maybe, maybe tampered that summer with the bus that had gone so inexplicably out of control and killed the junior varsity team.” Except, um, Greg and Charles weren’t even at university yet to be at that cheerleading camp.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 points (+1)

Delle suspects everybody, basically (except Coach Truite). She even thinks it could be Marla, because maybe she’s not just mean, she’s crazy mean.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 11 points (+10) Cheap and lazy.

It’s now the last day of practice, and Coach Truite shows another side to her personality, telling all the hopefuls that she is proud of them, that they all deserve a place on the team, and that no matter what happens, they are all winners. Teacher skills 101 – treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen, I guess. The hopefuls are all jazzed by the compliment, although Charles thinks it’s some kind of trick. Marla says she thinks the coach was sincere. Delle snidely thinks to herself that Marla doesn’t know what sincere means.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 2 points (+1)

Later that night, an unofficial party of sorts is being held in Mojo’s room, with festivities spilling out into the hall. Delle witnesses a conversation between Jennifer and Rory, and it appears they are talking about Marla. Delle has had enough of Marla over the last week, and thinks it’s too bad the Lady In Red hasn’t taken her out.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 12 points (+10) That’s just plain mean.

Greg arrives and there’s some blah conversation as they witness the exchange between Rory and Jennifer. Delle wonders what Greg is keeping from her. Huh? I’m kind of confused here. Marla arrives and asks, “How’s our little bad luck charm doing?”

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 30 points (+18)

Delle responds that she wasn’t around when all the previous cheerleaders were killed – Marla was.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 40 points (+10) I’m tired of this.

Delle decides to go back to her room. She stands guard while Susan checks to make sure her own room doesn’t hold any surprises. Then Delle checks her own room, but everything seems fine. She is woken up by what sounds like footsteps on the third floor, which is supposed to be vacant. “They moved haltingly, with no rhythm or purpose. Did ghosts make sounds when they walked?” Oh, good grief. And that thought prompts her to get out of bed, put on a bathrobe, and go to the fire stairs, so she can investigate.

DED FROM STUPID: 10 points

The third floor hall is completely dark and still. And Delle has forgotten to bring her flashlight.

DED FROM STUPID: 20 points (+10)

In the distant reaches of the hall, something moves. Delle even says, “Who’s there?” [Wing: DELLE WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!]

DED FROM STUPID: 200 points (+180)

She begins to wish that she had never come to the third floor, that she hadn’t forgotten her flashlight, that maybe she did believe in ghosts after all, and by golly gosh, she’s sure that something is behind her.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 31 points (+1)

No one is there. Delle steps forward, demanding to know who’s there. A blinding flash then scalds her eyes. She throws up her hands, unable to see, as the light goes out, and she lurches forward, trying to get hold of something. Instead, hands grip her wrists, spin her around, and she stumbles and crashes into a wall, slamming her head against it. She slides to the floor. Before she blacks out, a red haze fills her eyes, and a voice tells her, “Before I’m through, you’ll be glad to die.” They even do an evil laugh. [Wing: But still no rhymes. I expected far more evil rhymes from a cheerleader horror book.]

Delle comes to, having been found by Susan. They hear moans, and see a crumpled form further down the hallway, and it turns out to be Jennifer. Her crutch is snapped, in pieces around her. A thin line of blood glistens beside her head. When Delle tells Susan to get help, Jennifer sits up and insists she’s fine. I won’t do a counter for concussion, because it turns out the blood is due to Jennifer’s earring being torn out, though she does have a bruise behind her ear. [Wing: That earring being torn out thing? THAT FUCKING HURTS. I’m wincing for you, Jennifer.] Jennifer insists they all leave “before she comes back”.

It appears Jennifer was lured up there by a note she thought was from Rory. She was coming down the hall when something hit her in the head, and that’s all she can remember, though she’s sure it was the Lady In Red. Blerg. Jennifer tries to get Delle to admit she’s seen the Lady In Red too, but Delle will only say she could have seen somebody dressed like the Lady In Red. OH MY GOD DOES SHE BELIEVE IN THE LADY IN RED OR NOT? Delle is providing zero consistency as to what her opinion actually is. In any case, Jennifer insists it’s a warning, and that something terrible is going to happen, even worse that what happened last summer.

Now, I need to get this off my chest. The Nightmare Hall series isn’t adverse, surprisingly, to supernatural elements in its stories, as evidenced by The Silent Scream and The Wish. And while those supernatural elements weren’t entirely successful, they were consistent, and it was made CLEAR, early on, that something supernatural was afoot. That’s because those books were from Diane Hoh herself. Unlike this, which is from Nola Thacker, who is generally quite out of her depth when writing for any audience older than middle school. I can’t stand is-it-or-isn’t-it-supernatural waffling. You can’t have it both ways. When you do try to pull this shit, it’s an obvious sign you’re leaving your options open so that you can fall back on it if you can’t explain away any plot inconsistencies. You know – “Oh, that thing we can’t explain – that must have been the work of the ghost that we never really believed existed, but now it obviously does!” Yeah, real convenient. I HATE IT.

[Wing: Love this rant. It’s a good one, and I agree. Particularly with your point about middle school writing, because the Graveyard School series by Thacker (writing as Tom B. Stone) is great! But her teen books are pretty much always a let down.]

Rant over.

Where was I? The next chapter is no better, basically recapping everything that has happened so far.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 2 points (+1)

Who could be doing it? Blah, blah, blah. Is it Greg? Maybe under his “dangerous charm” was something truly dangerous. Someone truly crazy…

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 20 points (+9) Once again, cheap and lazy. And what the fuck is she going on about with the “dangerous charm”? Since when has Greg been dangerously charming? [Wing: Since Thacker decided he needed to be, but of course.]

The next day, Mojo and Delle go to load up on carbs before the big, final day. The cafeteria is full of other cheerleaders. Rory is there, at the head of a table of a large group of people. Delle muses over the reasons why Rory might be behind it all. There was also babble in the last chapter about him and Jennifer being behind it all, too.

Red herrings: 40 points (+10)

For the actual tryouts, the gym fills up quickly, obviously something of a big social event at Salem University. [Wing: … but why?] Coach Truite goes through the procedure – groups of six would do the required cheers. There would be two preliminary rounds, with people eliminated in each one. Then would come the final round, from which would be picked six new cheerleaders, and two alternates. I won’t go through the painful cheers. Or maybe I will. They’re no Bring It On, that’s for sure.

“Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for Salem, stand up and holler!”

“S-A-L-E-M! Who’s going to win? Salem! Louder! Salem! Louder! SALEM!”

Oh God, they all deserve to die.

[Wing: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Those cheers are terrible.]

Suffice to say, Delle makes it through the rounds, and after a suspenseful wait, is announced as a new member of the team, along with Mojo, Joy Ferguson and Greg Childs. The two others are Paul Mori and John DeLucca, who have not been mentioned as characters up until this point. This is a very inclusive cheerleader team! [Wing: And a very small one!] Charles Pike and Susan Worth are announced as the alternates. Coach Truite takes the time to shake Delle’s hand and tell her she did good, and that she deserved it. Marla snipes that some people deserved it.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 100 points (+60) Marla’s a flat, obvious, caricature of the mean girl.

Jennifer congratulates Delle as well, but ominously warns that winning isn’t everything – staying alive is. Way to be dramatic, Jennifer.

All the students who tried out are now moving out of Abbey House. Mojo and Delle agree to meet at the Quad Main later before heading to the gym for the memorial ceremony (for the dead cheerleaders). That evening, Peabody Gym is almost full to bursting. The noise of the crowd is deafening. Coach Truite has all the cheerleaders sit in a section of the bleachers in the far back corner of the gym. Delle is feeling very panicky. The assistant dean of the university starts giving a speech, and recites the names of the dead cheerleaders. Then the new cheerleaders are called down to the floor to shake hands with the dean. That’s when Mojo smells smoke.

She says “Smoke,” loudly, and someone in the crowd screams, “Fire!” People start panicking, heading to the doors – but they’re locked. This isn’t too bad. Reminds me a bit of Carrie, though obviously nowhere near as awesome. Then Thacker botches it with Delle and the cheerleaders reciting “SALEM U, SALEM U, THIS IS WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO. DON’T PANIC, STAND STILL, DON’T PANIC, STAND STILL.” Ugh. Groanworthy.

[Wing: Fuck, I should have withheld my “noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” until this point, because NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.]

Then the lights go out. The flames can be seen, licking up the far wall. And then Delle sees the figure high up on the catwalk, etched against the flames. Of course, it’s Coach Truite. Wow, Thacker, didn’t see that one coming at all.

She laughs hysterically, crying, “You’re all going to die!” Delle runs toward the back of the gym and up the bleachers. Greg runs behind her, saying, “She’s crazy.” Real helpful and insightful, Greg.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 40 points (+20)

The catwalk hangs from the ceiling, not connected to any other part of the gym, because it’s not used anymore. Delle calls out to the coach, trying to get her attention. Coach Truite turns, and she looks as if she’s at breaking point, with her hair standing out wildly around her head, her white face smudged with ash. Delle asks her how they can open the doors. Coach Truite says they can’t, and relates how she’s been torturing them all week, starting the fire in Delle’s room, leaving the dismembered doll in Susan’s room, and tampering with things so they would fail at exactly the right moment. That’s quite a skill, coach!

Behind her, Greg says, “The rope.” No, he’s not suggesting getting kinky at an inappropriate time. There’s a length of rope attached to the catwalk, and looped over a ring high on the wall above the bleachers. Sounds like a challenge on Ninja Warrior! Is it high enough for Greg to reach, to swing out to the catwalk? Delle finally asks the million dollar question – why is Coach Truite doing this? It turns out that her baby brother was one of the cheerleaders who died in the bus crash, which really was just an accident. She taught him gymnastics. She didn’t want him to come to Salem. She told him it wasn’t safe out here. Now she hates the cheerleaders. They’re stupid, and so are their uniforms. Yes, really. She wants them to suffer, just like her brother suffered.

From behind Delle, Greg launches himself at the rope. He swings in an arc, high above the gym, and catches the edge of the catwalk a few metres behind the coach. Although Delle tries to hold the coach’s attention, the Coach strides over to Greg, who is now trying to hoist himself onto the catwalk. This climax, if short, if semi-interesting. Coach Truite announces that Greg can die first, and prepares to kick Greg off the catwalk. And this is where Thacker completely ruins everything.

“NOOOOO,” Delle screams, before we get this nonsense: “Something red seared Delle’s eyes, her brain. And then Coach Truite stumbled back. She threw up her hands, her own voice a twisted, terrified echo of Delle’s. ‘NO,’ she pleaded. ‘NO! Stay away from me! NO!’ Frozen, Delle watched in horror as Coach Truite swayed sickeningly on the narrow catwalk. And then, without warning, without a sound, fell down into the flames.”

So, I take it the Lady In Red saved the day.

Fuck that shit. Seriously.

[Wing: Are you fucking kidding me, Thacker? What the ever loving fuck.]

Firefighters arrive to save the day, getting the doors open, leading everybody to safety, and putting out the fire. Coach Truite was the only fatality, which they think is a miracle. Greg and Delle comfort one another out in the safe, fresh air. Delle is coherent enough to indulge in a final bit of ableism, suggesting that maybe Coach Truite had always been crazy, and her brother’s death had pushed her over the edge.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 100 points (+60)

Then, of course, we get the explanation of how the Lady In Red must have been behind those parts of the book that couldn’t be explained. She really was in Delle’s room, to wake her up in time to warn her about the fire, and let out that scream that only Delle heard when the board fell off the gym wall. And then, there she was on the catwalk, saving their lives a final time. This is the same as my complaint with The Silent Scream. If the Lady In Red had all these abilities, why the fuck didn’t she employ them days ago to stop Coach Truite much earlier? Why wait until the gym’s about to fucking burn down and kill hundreds of people? Because this book’s fucking stupid, that’s why.

Delle figures that the Lady In Red is at peace now, and has no reason to continue to haunt Peabody Gym.

Um, why?

Final Thoughts

Nola “Hack” Thacker strikes again. For somebody who contributed many a book to the Point Horror range, she’s very weak when it comes to plotting and characterisation. That being said, this at least had a bit more plot than The Roommate, and at least tried to give the Muffin Man a motivation. However, there are far too many characters running around considering the book’s very short length, so none of them get developed beyond standard cliches, if at all. As a main character, Delle isn’t unlikeable, but I can’t say she had much personality. She’s just kind of….there.

It’s biggest flaw is, without a doubt, the dribble about the Lady In Red. The is-she-or-isn’t-she-real schtick got old fast, and very annoying. She’s only confirmed as being “real” so that she get the main characters out of a tight bind in the climax, and explain away any other unresolved plot points. So, so, so cheap and lazy. That prologue, in retrospect, makes no sense, either. I have a lot of trouble understanding why they got one of the worst Point Horror authors to ghostwrite for one the best.

[Wing: It’s a shame that the one time I didn’t hate a prologue is the time it ends up being completely unrelated to the plot at all. While I think you could have a mix of supernatural and human antagonists, this book does not pull that off at all. It’s too short to do those two plots and all the characters justice, and suffers from trying to squeeze so much into it.]

Final Counts

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 100 points

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 100 points

Red herrings: 40 points

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 2 points

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 31 points

DED FROM STUPID: 200 points

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 points

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 point

ME! It’s all about ME!!!: 1 point

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2 Comments

  1. Jude Deluca
    Posted 4 November 2017 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Crap I forgot to share this:

    ”The Scream Team”- Grace’s cheerleading squad has been acting strangely. Could they be zombies?

    • Wing
      Posted 5 November 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Yes they could.

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