Title: Driver’s Dead by Peter Lerangis
A rather prolific author, Peter Lerangis has been writing for decades, although if you go to his website the farthest back you’ll find is his The Watchers series. No mention of his Point Horror writing that I can find. Seriously. Not even his Wiki page goes beyond his Watchers series. Don’t worry. I believe I’ve found them. Titles include DRIVER’S DEAD, THE YEARBOOK, and X-ISLE. Seems like he doesn’t want the taint, maybe? Or it’s just that his various other series have done so well there’s no need to put that retail work on his resume any longer. [Wing: Those the books I’ve found by him, too (with X-Isle being a two book series). He also ghostwrote some of the Baby-Sitters Club books.]
Anyway, he has a weird thing for the Vietnam War in this book, and I don’t know why. The premise seems to hinge on a “crazy” Vietnam vet and one of the characters being a refugee from the area and trying to find his parents. It’s just the date seems really off. The book was published in 1994. That’s a big, lingering gap for Vietnam relevance. It was just weird. It didn’t necessarily seem forced, but the timing was off enough that it really stood out.
Also every. Single. Chapter. Ends on a cliffhanger. All of them.
Nightmare – dead ahead.
Kristen’s not a very good driver. And the driver’s ed classes aren’t helping. No matter how hard she tries, she just can’t get the hang of being behind the wheel.
Rob’s a very good driver. And he wants to give Kirsten a few tips on how to improve her driving. But after the first session, Rob turns up missing.
Kirsten is beginning to realize that this class may be a little more than she bargained for. A class that may drive her crazy – or to death.
That is . . . Really bad. One, it’s vaguely relevant to the plot. It just leaves out a whole shit ton of applicable details like Rob being a shitbag, the fact that he doesn’t turn up missing, but dead, and the story actually doesn’t center around the class itself. Driver’s ed precipitates a lot of the events, but the class is really more of a passing thing. The contest is really the driving force behind this (pun intended), along with, you know. Being haunted by a dead kid that’s screwing with her head.
Port Lincoln, New York. Presumably on Long Island, where Kirsten had just moved from New York City. I mean I guess it can seem like a world away to a teenager, but really. LIRR. I know it sucks, but you’re well within reach, sister.
It’s a very middle/lower middle class town that has its nicer houses (where Kirsten lives) and it’s older section of town (aka poor section, just say it) and then places in between like the downtown area that kind of bridges the gap between the two. At least in this book we’re not dealing with a crazy wealth divide and mansions and whatnot.
Nguyen Trang – Mostly dead, from an accident the school year before, he’s Vietnamese, obsessed with cars (especially the fancy kind), and was in love with Gwen, the ex-girlfriend of one Rob Maxson. Allegedly had some kind of telekinetic powers and could perform small feats of magic, including changing the angle of items in a photo and flinging things across the room with his mind. He thought this was a great way to pick up chicks and half thought that’s why Gwen “liked” him. Token Asian nerd with geeky dress and a pocket protector. Of course.
Virgil – Former stooge for Rob Maxson, former hound for the same Gwen, and current boyfriend of Maria. Short brown hair, braces, glasses, and is smart, quiet, and seems nice. Except he’s not really because he’s trying to cover up a murder. As one does.
Rob Maxon – Rough looking, like he was chiseled with a rough blade. Eyebrows are dark and coffee brown and slanted upward. Token school tough kid that’s “cool” and people are equally repelled and attracted to him.
Kirsten Wilkes – Typical teenager learning to drive and who’s new to Port Lincoln. She laments her lost friends in her diary and is kind of weirded out by moving into the Trangs’ house after Nguyen’s death even though he didn’t die in the house.
Nat Wilkes – Insignificant younger brother to Kirsten, roughly 12.
Maria Sirocco – Loudmouth with thick black hair and wears “cool” clothes. She’s funny and nice and the only person to talk to Kirsten since school started. Girlfriend of Virgil and by far the best character of the book. Lone voice of reason.
Mr Busk – Former Marine and Vietnam War vet, he went “crazy” and left his wife and disappeared only to re-emerge a few years later to become the school’s driver’s ed and auto shop teacher. Sounds totally legit, right? This is Maria’s version of the story, so take it for what you will. The back of his neck looks like roast beef, according to Kirsten – pinkish and marbled (this is actually an amazing description) – and his hair is stiff and sparse like cut grass in a drought.
It opens with a prologue all in italics, denoting it’s in the past or not from the main character’s POV, something. Something important, obviously. We see Nguyen looking rather strained and we get the book equivalent of panning across his room to see the models and cars on his walls. He’s all sweaty and strained and, uh, masturbating? I have no idea. But the faces of one of the models on the wall allegedly moves. Spooky.
He’s supposed to meet up with Rob and Virgil in the rain so Rob can give Nguyen a “talking to” about Gwen. Why Nguyen would agree to this meet-up, I have no idea. I think he was originally told Rob wanted to show him an awesome car. But Rob’s doing it for Virgil so he can finally move in on Gwen with Nguyen out of the way. And Nguyen knows Rob is Gwen’s good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend. So decisions?
Then we’re in the two thugs’ POV and Rob lets his racism show by referring to Nguyen as Viet Nerd, complains about the US losing the war (that’s 20 years past its end, BTW, something he wouldn’t have even been alive for) to “these people” and then “they” come to the US and take everyone’s jobs, including Rob’s dad’s, conveniently directly affected by Nguyen’s dad.
It’s insinuated that the car Rob and Virgil are currently in is stolen and neither of them are actually licensed to drive. When Nguyen finally shows up on his bike Rob tells him to get in and tries to intimidate Nguyen with his driving. They end up in the wrong lane, crash into a guardrail and fly into a deep ravine where Virgil, the last POV we’re in, blacks out and the prologue ends.
Kirsten’s taking driver’s ed and she hates it. Her classmates think she’s such a bad driver that when flyers were handed out for a driving contest and Kirsten took one, they all laughed at her. She’s already caused $3,000 of damage to her dad’s car while practicing. [Wing: HOW?! What are you possibly doing besides driving into things that is causing that much damage? Is it a stick shift and you’ve killed the clutch a lot? What are you doing, Kirsten?]
During a driving lesson Kirsten completely shit the bed. She couldn’t figure out the pedals, ran a red, and proceeded to hit a kid in the school parking lot. Except she didn’t because he was faking it for laughs. What a winner. Oh, BTW it was Rob who did that.
She is both repelled and intrigued by this Rob and his glacial stare and sharp features and Maria’s like GUUUUUUURRRRRRLLLLL no. Maria warns Kirsten away from him, calling him a scuzzball and a slug. Of course Kirsten denies her interest despite being completely mesmerized by him and his lack of fear in the face of a screaming Mr Busk after that stupid little prank.
To further drive home her point (well-placed but unintended pun), Maria tells Kirsten about Gwen and how she used to be nice before she and Rob dated. But he broke up with her when he got bored and she started dating Nguyen for revenge. Maria’s dramatized story has Nguyen driving the stolen car from the prologue and driving over the ravine in order to commit suicide. Apparently that’s the official story.
One of the things Kirsten liked about moving to the ‘burbs was walking home. The chirping birds, fallen leaves, and cool sweet air were a nice contrast to the cross-town bus and pee-choked breaths. What she doesn’t like is that her friend Rachel hasn’t written her at all since she moved (have you written Rachel, Kirsten? HAVE YOU???) so she jokes about sending her a letter bomb. Ha ha? This was during the height of the Unabomber shit with Ted Kazynski? Haha? A bit too real?
Kirsten comes home after school to an empty house that doesn’t feel empty and she finds a destroyed letter addressed to the Trangs that she tries to piece back together. It reveals that Nguyen was a refugee and took the last name of his aunt and uncle. There’s also a red, wet stain on the letter. We’re left to assume it’s blood, but it’s never actually confirmed.
When Kirsten calls Maria to get more information on Nguyen, Maria tells her that his parents (aunt and uncle) thought Nguyen’s death was a set-up, some kind of conspiracy against Asians. But when the press kept hounding them, they gave up and moved away.
The chapter ends with the porch creaking and someone whispering Kirsten’s name. A hooded figured jumps out at her. Turns out it’s only Nat.
Back at school Kirsten’s sniffing around Rob again. She felt like he had a coolness, a sureness, a grace that made him stand out from the others. He smiled at her and she wasn’t sure she liked it, but she wasn’t sure she didn’t like it either. She thinks his eyes are like alligator eyes. Yeah, that’s what I like in my guys: reptilian attributes. Sounds like a great start to the relationship right here.
Rob offers her a ride after class and she accepts. His car is a wreck; filthy and littered with trash. The seat’s ripped up and he has to cover it with a shirt. Maria watches Kirsten get in the car and stares at her disapprovingly. I like Maria.
While they’re out together Rob admits to being impulsive and he doesn’t know why. [Wing: … isn’t not knowing why generally a part of being impulsive, Rob?!] He apologizes for his “joke” and Kirsten accepts it (of course). He drives her right home without asking where she lives. When she asks he says he saw her mowing the lawn, which is a blatant lie and she knows it. But she brushes it off as innocent because why wouldn’t she?
When he finds out her house is empty he offers to teach her how to drive. He claims Mr Busk owed him a favor so he learned how to drive for free. He starts coaching her and she nearly backs over a little girl on a bike at the end of the chapter. Only to have the next chapter open on a close call.
Rob teaches her how to drive, acting patient and gentle toward Kirsten, and her fears ease up and she finally gets better at driving as a result. Imagine what a little compassion can do instead of screaming at someone to get better. How about that?
Right about here is where I start eyebrow-raising at the pages going, when is the other shoe going to drop? Rob has a crap reputation. Where is it?
Kirsten realizes they only talked about her so when she tries to turn the conversation to him, Rob says there isn’t much to talk about with him. His parents were drunks and fought a lot. His dad lost his job and walked out on them. Of course (!) Kirsten thinks Rob is great company and the exact opposite of what everyone said he was. Because she’s the right one here, being new and all, and everyone else who actually knew him was wrong. Duh.
They go to dinner and a movie and afterward he teaches her to parallel park and they get out and walk through a fuck park where people are going at it in the open. She recognizes again that he’s not always truthful but somehow this is okay to her. I have no idea why.
He pulls out the flyer for the car contest and Kirsten thinks the car’s angle has changed but she brushes it off as not seeing it clearly before. She then proceeds to think it’s sweet that Rob basically admitted to stalking her since school started. Why, Kirsten? Why is that okay to you?
They sit on the park bench and the chapter ends with Rob leaning down over her, presumably about to force himself on her as she struggles. Kirsten redeems herself some here when she bites his lip and draws blood in order to get him off of her. Rob’s like what the hell? He took her to dinner and a movie and driving so he’s, like, owed. And she obviously wanted it since she sat on the bench next to him. Because you know how much of a come-on sitting is. Kirsten tells him to stuff it and walks away (hooray!) but as she’s walking away she starts to wonder if she’d been too judgmental or harsh or violent (boo!). No, Kirsten. You weren’t. A throat punch would have been acceptable too.
She walks herself home, Rob not coming after her, and thinks she’s going to get mugged only to find out it’s a mailbox she was seeing in the shadows. When she arrives home she realizes she’d lost her key, it having probably fallen out when she took her jacket off in Rob’s car. She tries to look for it but a hand grabs her and the chapter ends.
And it opens on her dad grabbing her because she was just walking in at 11 on a school night and she didn’t have any idea what time it was. Her parents yell at her and then send her to her room to do homework (at midnight?) and she couldn’t watch Letterman. Did teens really stay up this late during the week? I don’t remember doing this, mainly because I had to be at school for 7:05. Way too early. [Wing: I regularly did, but not really with parental permission. I just stayed up in my room, usually reading. Sometimes leaving after everyone was asleep.]
Meanwhile Kirsten waffles on how to feel about Rob, telling herself that he would have to work to earn her trust and she wanted him to try. *Eye roll* I guess attempted assault can be brushed aside if he tries hard to earn her trust again?
It also comes to light that Rob was driving around without a license. How? Is this something the cool kids do? [Wing: I knew people who did it back in the 90s (and, to be honest, I know a couple people who have pulled it more recently). For them, it wasn’t about being cool, more about just refusing to wait for the license/being unable to pass the test and not caring/not even taking the test, just driving because they wanted to/I don’t even know.]
When Kirsten’s in her room she sees another copy of the car contest flyer and the car is turned a different way, which completely freaks her out. She keeps trying to convince herself that there are multiple versions of the flyer, each with different photos of the car. That’s not a completely ridiculous explanation and it makes more sense than the picture changing by itself.
She tries falling asleep but gets jolted awake by moaning in her closet. Then the closet doors start to bleed after they start rattling. She bursts out of her room and wakes up the house. Nat pranks her when he barges into her room while she screams not to and pretends to faint. I find these “pranksters” have really poor timing with their jokes. But when she walks in and turns on the light there’s nothing there.
The next day she drives to school with her mom all the while thinking Rob deserves a chance to redeem himself with her (Why? No). When they get to school Kirsten sees there’s a ruckus in the park with police, an ambulance, and a crowd of people. When she goes to check it out she finds out Rob had been run over and killed. [Wing: Well damn, that escalated quickly.]
Maria’s sobbing her face off for some reason. I’m not sure why. She didn’t have anything good to say about the guy. I guess shock? Kirsten blames herself for his death thinking that he stubbornly waited in the park for her to come back to him because he was teaching her a lesson. My guess is he was probably jerking off or calling his ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t seem like someone who would dwell, IMO.
As she, Maria, and Virgil are walking away from the scene, Gwen approaches them and hands back Kirsten’s key, saying Rob had it on him. Kirsten thinks he actually stole it from her and Gwen claims to have found him dead. This, of course, leads to the rational belief that Gwen killed Rob.
Maria totally agrees with that logic and convinces Kirsten not to go to the police because Gwen gave her back her own key [that she’d taken off of Rob’s dead body]. But because of this Maria thinks Kirsten is Suspect #1. Not sure how. Gwen, by her own admission, is the last person to have seen Rob. She would have found his body in the middle of the night. What the hell was she doing in the park in the middle of the night? Think, people!
A lot of people are really broken up over Rob’s death. Lerangis keeps mentioning people sobbing all over the place and being really solemn. But the guy was a douche. No one except his cronies really liked him. I mean people don’t have to be dancing on his grave, but the theatrics are a bit much.
Rob’s mysterious death was ruled an accident, but the principal still has an assembly to set new guidelines for conduct like buddying up everywhere and not traveling alone after dark. Great way to instill confidence in yourself, talking out of both sides of your mouth like this. [Wing: Not to mention, what, exactly, is buddying up supposed to do when it’s a hit and run?]
At the death site, Gwen gets all emotional and runs off and Virgil just up and runs after her, leaving Maria and Kirsten behind. Maria thinks Virgil’s still carrying a torch for Gwen. Can’t say I blame her. After this and him getting all butthurt for Maria prodding him about liking Gwen before. And it wasn’t just an annoyed butthurt, but a serious butthurt that needed some Preparation H or something.
Kirsten walks into the crime scene (not very secure, is it?) and sees that the tire tracks look like they’re coming directly out of the lake. She finds the flyer Rob had and sees that the car in the photo is gone. DUN DUN DUN.
When Kirsten gets home the house is closed up and stuffy and for some reason reeking like something died in the walls. She remembers her own copy of the flyer and she runs up to her room to fetch it. Except when she pulls it out the car is turned like she saw in Rob’s copy before he died. The logical conclusion to this is that she’s next. MORE DUN DUN DUN.
There’s a knocking and moaning coming from her closet door as she finishes up posting the letter she received for Nguyen’s aunt and uncle. When she looks at it the sounds stop. The knocking continues except it’s just Virgil at the front door.
Virgil ends up being rather forward in someone else’s home, asking to be invited in, asking for a drink, using the bathroom and then wandering around upstairs. Initially I couldn’t tell if this was just his personality or if something else was going on. Something else was going on. He was being nosy, but Kirsten didn’t know this at the time.
Kirsten tries to confide in him about the flyer but he makes excuses, like there are multiple copies of it even though she can tell it freaks him out a tad. When he leaves he lets his hand linger in hers a little longer and he says he hopes to see her soon, but Kirsten just brushes it off as him being nice. Despite not actually knowing him much at all, she’s convinced he could be “one of those guys.” Maybe not? But still a creep for doing that with Maria as his girlfriend?
While Virgil was still there a door had slammed open and knocked a plate off a wall, breaking it. She convinces herself it wasn’t closed all the way and wind knocked it open. Then she finds the attic door open and figures it was Virgil trying to find his way back downstairs. Is the house that big? Probably not.
The idea that Gwen is the killer is firmly planted in Kirsten’s head, encouraged by Virgil, so she decides to confront Gwen by pedaling over to her house. Except she almost gets hit by a car on the way. The driver? Mr Busk who proceeds to scream at her for how awful she is on a bike and then peels out without seeing if she’s okay. If I read it right, she might have gotten some hair ripped out and she was definitely scraped up. Sounds like a real stand up guy.
Kirsten perseveres on to Gwen’s house, which is in an older, more run down section of town, only to find Gwen barreling out of her house on a bike. So Kirsten follows her to a pawn shop. Kirsten thought she was being low key, but Gwen knew she was following her. When Kirsten goes up to the door of the pawn shop she finds a note from Gwen threatening to go to the police soon and asked how Kirsten’s parents’ car got the dent in the bumper. This whole thing is set up really oddly and is actually not resolved by the end of the book. Gwen’s motivation behind it, I mean. It’s not even a good red herring.
She goes inside because she wants to take a look at what Gwen brought in. Turns out it’s a bunch of stuff from Rob. Also turned out that the owner of the pawnshop is the same guy whose car was allegedly stolen by Nguyen the previous year. Only the guy’s half blind yet he says he identified Nguyen’s face through a window, in the rain, in the dark, when he was stealing the guy’s car. The owner also mentioned a leather jacket. With her excellent powers of deduction, Kirsten concludes it was probably not Nguyen. Rob, maybe?
She goes home and boots up her computer to write in her journal only to find a really ominous note threatening her life. Except that turns out to be Nat playing another joke on her. She tries to password protect her computer, but she can’t figure that one out so she copies everything to a floppy (ha!) and deletes everything from the hard drive.
She searches for a place to hide the disk and finds a gap in the wall panelling. Just as she’s about to slide her disk in there another one falls out. It has Nguyen’s name on it and it’s protected in plastic. His missing journal, perhaps?
Enter MS DOS reference and let the nostalgia overwhelm you for a moment.
The disk she pulled from her wall ends up not being compatible with her PC. Maria refers her to Virgil, who just so happens to have a Mac. She calls him only to remember she can’t leave the house because she’s grounded, so they decide to meet in the library and use those Macs the next day.
Her dad brings home the admittance logs from the ER the night Nguyen died at Kirsten’s request. I guess patient confidentiality isn’t a thing here. Kirsten scans through them and finds rather generic names right around the time of the incident. The three names were logged in as a fist fight. Kirsten decides to look more into it.
That night the moaning starts up again and Kirsten sees a figure in the dark with a mangled face and torn up clothes. She knows there’s something there, but she blacks out and wakes up on her floor with nothing marring her sheets where the thing fell before she lost consciousness. Her mom comes in and puts her back to sleep, but Kirsten’s convinced the thing haunting her is trying to tell her something. She becomes even more convinced after she finds a piece of scorched denim in her bed.
That’s actually really creepy and would have completely freaked me out. Yucky toes, for sure.
Kirsten and her dad attend Rob’s service where they run into Mr Busk who apologizes for the way he acted when he nearly ran her over. How nice. He said he was thinking about Rob and was just all out of sorts. Of course Kirsten brushes this off and goes over to meet with her friends and get to school. She ends up seeing the attending nurse at the funeral, the same one attending the night of Nguyen’s accident. She wanted to ask the woman about the names on the list, but decides to do it later when she wasn’t surrounded by people.
The names on the list? Belong to two teenagers and one adult, all having come in at the same time and all due to a fist fight. CAN YOU GUESS WHO THEY WERE?
Once they get to school Virgil takes them to the computer lab to check out the disk. He complains that his mouse isn’t working and asks Kirsten and Maria to get a new one out of the equipment room. No surprise here that when the girls get back OMG the disk is blank. WTH, guys? Oh noes. Virgil mentions the lab teacher might be able to retrieve the information, but he holds onto the disk until they can meet up with the guy.
Not too long later Kirsten’s impatient and Maria knows Virgil’s locker combination so they retrieve the disk and go to the teacher themselves to get it looked at. They’re able to access it, but it’s password protected. They try a bunch of times and Maria ends up leaving before Kirsten finally manages to guess the password. She reads through the entries and just as she’s getting to the final entry that shows that Nguyen was meeting up with Rob the night he died, Virgil shows up and starts screeching about how Kirsten stole the disk and actually shoves her to the floor to get her away from the computer. She and the teacher are dumbstruck by his behavior.
After he calms down and admits to knowing about what happened the night Nguyen died. Except he acts like he wasn’t there and didn’t know about the other people who checked into the ER.
Bro’s so shady he’s an oak tree.
During driver’s ed Mr Busk mentions how much Kirsten had improved and offers to have her drive a little more in another car. One he claims the shop had just fixed up despite it being littered with crap and looking lived in. They drive up to some train tracks where Kirsten ends up stopped on the tracks after a car cut her off only to see an oncoming train and the safety bars dropping around her. When she turns to ask Mr Busk what to do she finds him hightailing it away, but not before having hit some kind of locking mechanism that locks Kirsten in the car. He took the keys and ran.
I couldn’t find anything regarding this type of locking mechanism. Anyone?
Kirsten smashes out of the car with a Club (TM) just before it’s hit by the train. She gets home, cleans herself up, and calls Maria to try and tell her everything, but call waiting breaks in. It’s Virgil who needs to meet Kirsten in BFE RIGHT NOW and she can’t tell anyone anything before meeting with him.
Sounds like a great way to die, if you ask me.
Before she arrives at the way-too-secluded place to meet Virgil she sees him pacing and Mr Busk shows up to yell at him. He asks Virgil what Virgil was doing there, there being way too close to where Nguyen died.
As this plays out in front of her, Kirsten realizes it’s Mr Busk and Virgil who are the other names on the ER sheet and they were able to cover everything up because the attending nurse was also Mr Busk’s sister. Kirsten connects the dots of Virgil’s weird attitude and Mr Busk trying to kill her and her eyes blow wide.
She pedals away from them, running from Mr Busk, only to end up running into him again, his Jeep having veered off the road and he having trouble starting it.
She tries to hide, but he sees her and is shocked that she’s still alive. When Kirsten confronts him with all the things he did to keep her in the car he vehemently denies it all.
Then Virgil’s bloody face pops up in the back seat of the Jeep and he swings the door out, knocking Mr Busk over and Kirsten jumps in. She’s able to get it started and they drive off.
As they drive away Mr Busk throws rocks at them to try and get them to stop. It doesn’t work. They get away and when they eventually stop Virgil finally spills his guts.
Mr Busk was the drunken wrong way driver that caused the accident that killed Nguyen. He then blackmailed Rob to help him cover it up. If Rob didn’t help Mr Busk would have told the cops Rob did it. Since Rob’s car was stolen and he was driving without a license it’d be an easy set-up. Allegedly. Mr Busk was so drunk at the time of the accident that Rob had to drive them all to the hospital.
Kirsten rightly flips out on Virgil. She tells him about Nguyen getting revenge and at first Virgil balks. He’d tried to get close to her to see if he could find the journal since Rob and Mr Busk thought Kirsten would find it first. That connected to the plate falling off her wall when Virgil was there and the telekinesis. Maria had said that it was one of Nguyen’s talents.
When Kirsten tells Virgil about the flyers he starts to freak out and they both realize that there’s a folder full of rotating car flyers in the back seat of the Jeep they’re in.
Virgil mentions that maybe Nguyen was a revenant, a restless spirit who died before they were supposed to and they can’t go in peace until they find what it is they’re looking for.
Which is really weird because the only other time I’ve come across the concept of a revenant was in Carmen Adams’s THE BAND, which I also recapped for TDE. [Wing: This is actually closer to the use I’ve seen for the word “revenant,” which is as a ghost/angry spirit back from the dead, not the vampire-esque version from The Band.]
DUN DUN DUN.
The two of them decide to drive the round about way home and not touch the flyers since they hadn’t done anything yet. On the drive back Kirsten slams on the brakes and asks if Nguyen wore any jewelry. It took Virgil a second to remember, but he finally mentions that Nguyen had given Gwen a locket. The locket that Gwen had pawned.
They drive to the pawn shop and it’s there in the window. Kirsten pulls the Club (TM) from the Jeep and smashes the window. She takes the locket and runs.
They floor it away from the shop, dodging cop cars as they respond to the store’s burglar alarm that Kirsten had set off.
Except on that drive the moaning starts up again and Virgil can hear it now too. Kirsten demands that Virgil tell her where Nguyen actually died. He’s reluctant, but with the moaning and Kirsten’s screaming he finally relents and shows her the mangled tree where Nguyen died and where his aunt and uncle spread his ashes. The moans grow louder when they get there and winds kick up. It starts to rain and a swirling black dust rises from the dirt.
Virgil screams for Kirsten to give Nguyen the locket when a cop shows up and tries to drag Kirsten away as the tree starts to glow from within.Virgil tries to throw the cop off, but he gets tackled by the cop’s partner. The swirling dust converges into the shape of a man and lifts the cop into the air and flings him away, shocking both cops and rendering them useless.
The locket glows a bright green and the moans turn to joyous sounds as the dust man gets closer. A huge thunder bolt rocks the scene, knocking Kirsten back. When she recovers everything is back to normal, looking completely undisturbed.
A glint in the dirt catches her eye and she digs the locket out. Only now it’s missing the photo of Nguyen’s parents that was inside.
Mr Busk weasels his way back into his Jeep and drives off. Kirsten yells at the cops to get him, but they were still struck dumb and useless by everything that had just happened. When they finally snap out of it and drive Kirsten and Virgil away, Kirsten tries explaining exactly what happened, but it doesn’t register with them. No surprise there.
As they drive they come upon Mr Busk’s Jeep. In the back seat was the folder of flyers, charred black at the edges. One cop looks around and finds tire tracks near the edge of the woods. When he goes to check it out, he blanches and calls for an ambulance.
Kirsten and Virgil find a flyer face down on the road, also charred at the edges. When they pick it up the photo is empty, the car that was supposed to be there is missing.
Probably one of the better Point Horror books I’ve read with a truly creepy ending. Was Nguyen just finishing up some unfinished business with Mr Busk since he was the true perpetrator of the crime? Or is Virgil next? Maybe Gwen? Who knows??? Because the book’s done.
Definitely some typical plot-serving obtuse-ness going on with Kirsten, but that’s to be expected at this point. I still don’t understand why the insistence of the whole Vietnam vet thing and the story hinging on the Vietnam War. It just seemed really off with timing on that.
But other than that, I liked the whole creepy picture that moves, maybe? With things coming out of pictures to kill people. It’s freaky and it provides a solid dose of horror with the standard Point Horror ridiculousness.
[Wing: The horror is really nicely done, but the story comes across as unbalanced between the realism and the supernatural threats. That ending is great, though.]