Title: Nightmare Hall #12: The Whisperer
Summary: Shea Fallon can’t tell anyone what she did. She knows it was wrong. Terribly wrong. But she had to do it – she had no choice. Anyway, she’s sure nobody will find out. Until she hears the whisper on the telephone. “You don’t have to worry. No one will know what you’ve done. I’ve seen to that.” Who is the whisperer, and how does he know? Shea wonders. And even more terrifying…what will the whisperer’s price be to keep her secret?
Notes: I will refer to the bad guy/girl as The Whisperer since, well, that’s what they are!
Welcome back, Diane Hoh. Why do you leave us? Your fill-in’s last contribution was real bottom of the barrel stuff and was almost my Last Date with the series. [Wing: Badumcha.]
As always, I have good memories of this, because it’s from Ms. Hoh. Shea’s big secret is that she cheated on an exam. I’ve never done that. Ironically enough, I’m not clever (or devious) enough to think up a scenario in which I could do so. I did okay, though. I got a degree. For all the good it did in securing a job. (I have had many jobs since university, of course, but my degree had nothing to do with any of them). I’m 38 and still paying the bloody thing off. And I have gone way off course… [Wing: Oh god, student loan debt. I hope this book is better than the last one. I need a distraction from weeping into my budget.]
[Wing: What with this being book 12, we’ve hit a year of Dade recapping Nightmare Hall! I’m glad we have so many books to come, still, because these recaps are a joy and a delight forever, and Dade continues to be a wealth of information about YA publishing in the 80s and 90s. Thank you for all you do, Dade!]
The prologue is pretty pointless (surprise), just telling us that The Whisperer’s voice was sinister and that the calls would continue. [Wing: Can you think of a prologue that is not pointless? I’m curious.]
Our protagonist, Shea Fallon, is at Vinnie’s Pizzeria. She is with her friend Dinah Lincoln and Dinah’s boyfriend Sidney Frye. They are whispering (natch) about Professor Mathilde Stark, who is in a booth opposite them. She teaches advanced biology, a class they are all in. There are some amusing, if catty, comments about what Stark must do to keep her hair in place. Approaching their table is Tandy Dominic, Shea’s roommate, who has a mass of golden hair spilling down her back. She’s with Cooper Doyle. She comments that Stark is likely aware they’re all talking about her. Shea says the Professor hates her, making her life hell. She’s never gotten a C in her life before Stark’s class. Tandy thinks Stark is tough but fair. She then not so subtly introduced Shea and Cooper to each other. [Wing: The names are such a ridiculous delight. Also, I keep picturing Mathilde Stark as one of the Stark Industries Starks. Want a flying suit of armor, Mathilde? I think you can pull it off.]
Tandy leaves and Cooper is asked to join the table. Dinah and Sid already know him, because he works at the Animal Behaviour Studies lab with Sid. Cooper mentions that Shea should know him as well, because they bumped into each other at Wiltshire Hall, the science building. Shea is a bit worried – she hopes Cooper doesn’t know what she was actually doing at Wiltshire Hall. Uh oh. What has Shea done? Shea mentions she wished she’d done normal biology, as she had no idea advanced biology would be so difficult. Sid says it’s not. His roommate has the subject with a different professor, and it’s a piece of cake. It’s Professor Stark who makes it difficult. [Wing: … wait just a minute here. Shea didn’t have to take normal biology before advanced biology? What kind of classes are these?! For that matter, advanced biology should be difficult! LOOK AT THE NAME.]
Shea has the urge to confess about what she did. She’s under huge pressure, because her full scholarship requires nothing below a B. Professor Stark could ruin everything for her. We are then told what Shea did. When she visited Stark’s office, the door was unlocked and the office was empty. She went inside and started searching through the papers on the desk. She cuts her finger on a piece of paper. Horrified at the trail of blood she’s leaving behind, she accidentally backs into a potted plant. Her left elbow knocks a green lamp off the desk, taking a large copper, cube shaped paperweight with it. She puts both items back on the desk. [Wing: So basically she’s left blood and fingerprints and sweat everywhere. SUBTLE.]
Shea finally locates the test. She finds a photocopier in a small room off the office. She doesn’t dare take the test with her, because she knows Stark would instantly realise someone had cheated. There isn’t an accompanying answer sheet, but at least she can look up the answers in her text books. She leaves the office without being caught by Stark, which is when she runs into Cooper. She was too frazzled to really notice him at that point. Coop and Sid go off to play pool. Dinah goes to the ladies room, and Shea is about to go with her when a waiter tells her she’s got a phone call.
There’s a wall phone in a short, dark corridor. She wonders if it might be Tandy…but it’s not. After clarifying who she is, the voice says, “You don’t have to worry. No one will know what you’ve done. I’ve seen to that. It’s all taken care of. I’ll let you know what I expect in return. Count on it.”
Shea returns to her booth, severely rattled. When Dinah joins her, she instantly can tell something is wrong, but Shea just says she’s tired and wants to study. Sid returns, and we discover that Shea doesn’t really like him. Although he’s good-looking, she finds him too caustic and sarcastic, and doesn’t like how he openly criticizes Dinah in front of other people, or how proprietary he is, not liking how he hates Dinah interacting with people other than him. Classic abusive behaviour (other than being caustic and sarcastic, which I don’t think are necessarily bad things), and as always, I appreciate Hoh for being well ahead of the 90s YA pack in regards to attitudes towards abusive relationships. Her books are always very strong on the point that it is NOT okay.
The group walk back to their dorms. Shea is hoping Tandy won’t be in, because otherwise she can’t study and risk having Tandy see her with the exam. Luckily, Tandy isn’t in the dorm. She apparently often spends the night over at Nightmare Hall in Linda Carlyle’s room, as they’re on the swim team together. Linda – what happened to LuAnn? I guess they’ve broken up since Guilty, and Linda has moved on to someone else. Go, Linda! Anyway, Shea studies all night for the exam, and figures she can muster up at least a B, if she doesn’t fall asleep first.
On the day of the exam, Shea and Dinah are sitting together. Professor Stark comes in and announces, “I wish to call your attention to the fact that I did not fall off a turnip truck yesterday.” When she leaves an exam on her desk, with her door unlocked, she does it for a reason. She wants to weed out the students who don’t deserve to be at college, those “weak-kneed fools who refuse to earn a grade by simple hard work and study.” She installed a videocamera in her office four days previously. She suspects that somebody has been in her office to look at the exam, and plans to screen the footage in class on Monday to reveal the culprit who cheated!
Haha. Good stuff. [Wing: I love Professor Stark.]
Shea remains in her seat for a long time after class ends, freaking out. She finally heads over to Stark’s office, realising that she has to fess up. She finds that the door is unlocked. When she goes in, she doesn’t initially see anybody. However, the desk is in disarray, looking as if somebody has swept their arm across the surface. Shea is about to leave, when she notices the boots sticking out from behind the far end of the desk. She discovers Professor Stark lying facedown, face turned to the side. There is blood on the back of her head, and on her right temple. On the floor are both the green lamp and the paperweight. Shea goes to the phone and calls emergency services to give details, but hangs up when asked for her name. If she’s found in the office of a wounded professor, while also being the star of an incriminating videotape, she’ll be in far more trouble than she is now. She throws a blanket over Stark and beats a hasty exit.
On the way to running back to her dorm, she is stopped by Sid. We learn that not only does Shea not like him, but Dinah actually informed him of this fact, and so he always tries and gets a rise out of Shea when he sees her. She’s not taking the bait this time, and they head back to Devereaux, where Dinah is waiting in the hall. She’s already heard about Professor Stark. She’s been taken to hospital, not the infirmary, which means the injury is serious. Apparently Stark was conscious by the time paramedics arrived, and revealed that the paperweight was missing. The police believe she was attacked with the paperweight, and that the attacker took it with them.
Shea has to bite her tongue to stop from blurting out that the paperweight was there when she was. She must have only just missed the real culprit. If the paperweight was found, her fingerprints would be on it, because she had handled it when she knocked it off the desk when she took the test. Also, she cut her finger and left some of her blood behind.
Had she left bloodstains? They would have dried by now, but didn’t the police have special tests they could conduct on an object for things like dried bloodstains?
Lol. Ah, the days before CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Shea’s freaking out. Where is the paperweight? Where is the video that will provide a motive for her attacking the professor? She tells Sid and Dinah to keep her updated before stumbling to her room. She falls into a deep sleep, and naps the afternoon away, not waking up until her phone starts ringing at 5pm. Of course, it is The Whisperer, who teases her about the favour they’ve done for her. She asks what it is, and The Whisperer replies, “I stole the video and the paperweight for you.”
Dang, this is just so good, and it’s only page 47. The screws have well and truly been tightened. Shea asks if The Whisperer is going to give her the tape, and they say yes. Shea asks, “How much?” However, the Whisperer insists it isn’t about money, despite Shea not believing that.
What was the going rate for a future these days?
Such a succinct, apt way to describe Shea’s predicament. [Wing: Hell, I love The Whisperer at this point, too!] The Whisperer wants to meet, and tells Shea to keep her eyes peeled for a note in her mailbox saying where and when. Shea knows the risks of meeting a blackmailer. It could possibly never end. They could give her the tape, but then say, “Gee, I made a copy!” But what choice does Shea have? This is a good way of demonstrating that Shea is a smart person, recognising that she’s in an impossible situation, but having no alternative. Also, the blackmail angle is a neat way to subvert any DED FROM STUPID trope accusations you can level at Shea.
Tandy arrives home. Mention is made of her daily ritual, several times, of brushing her long, golden hair. Tandy mentions that Professor Stark is possibly paralysed. She was in the library, and the assistant librarian told her that Stark can’t move her legs at all. Wow, information travels REALLY fast on this campus. Does Salem University have some sort of 24 hours news cycle that otherwise didn’t exist back in 1994? Tandy muses that maybe the class will be taken over by that cute TA. Shea isn’t impressed by Tandy’s casual attitude towards it all, considering that she usually defended Stark. We learn that Tandy’s self-absorption is the reason Shea and Tandy aren’t as close as a lot of other roommates on campus. [Wing: I’m not sure Hoh realises that you don’t have to be close with your college roommates. Often you’re just put together fairly randomly. BFFdom doesn’t have to ensue.] Hoping that a note might have arrived already, Shea heads out to check (Tandy asks her to bring back any mail for her, prompting Shea to think she needs a good maid). However, the mailbox is empty.
Over the next few days, Shea learns that Stark is slowly recuperating in hospital, and the police still have no idea who her attacker is. It is then that she finally receives communication, in note form, from The Whisperer, who wants to meet her that night, at midnight, in the woods behind Nightmare Hall, by the creek. She thinks of the guys she knows who live at Nightmare Hall – Ian Banion, Milo Keith and Jon Shea. Jon even teases her about stealing his last name. Nice continuity touch there. She doesn’t think it could be any of them.
While Shea is eating out with Coop, Dinah and Sid, we learn that Dinah and Tandy have taken lifeguard jobs over the summer, as has Linda Carlyle, and even plan on rooming together at Nightmare Hall.
Threesome! Damn, Linda! [Wing: Linda is the hottest part of this campus. You get you some, girl.]
Coop and Sid are vying for the same position at the Animal Lab, and the successful candidate is selected by, you guessed it, Professor Stark. Coop and Shea walk back to campus, where he asks if everything is okay, because she always seems so out of it. She doesn’t tell him the truth, of course, but they still end sharing a kiss. When Shea reaches her room, a note is waiting for her from The Whisperer. It’s instructions on where to go for their meeting that night. Trying to pass the time until midnight is torture for Shea.
On the way there, Shea notes she understands the motivations of blackmail victims in TV shows and movies, whereas before she couldn’t believe they would place their trust in a criminal. But when all you want to do is erase the past, you’ll do anything. There’s an amusing bit where Shea calls herself too stupid to live, a common accusation thrown at 90s YA heroines. She finds the rock she was directed to go to, and sits and waits.
The Whisperer arrives, and they start to talk, but Shea can’t see them, and they obviously don’t want to be seen. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a book). In order to obtain the paperweight and the video, Shea has to break into the Animal Lab and collect a snake (named Mariah, lol, whose poison sacs have been removed, but still has fangs), and deposit it in room 602 of Lester Dorm. The Whisperer provides instructions on how to handle the snake. Shea is terrified of snakes, not knowing how on Earth she can go through with it. She wants to know why The Whisperer wants her to do this, and The Whisperer insists it’s simply all a joke. [Wing: … sure, Whisperer. Sure it is.]
The next morning, Shea goes to Lester Dorm, and finds out from reception that room 602 houses Bethany Briggs and Annette Driscoll. She runs into Coop, and she agrees to grab breakfast with him. We learn that Professor Stark is still unable to walk. Coop asks Shea out on a date that night, doubling with Dinah and Sid, but she has to turn him down, without giving him the real reason. She claims she has to study instead. Coop says Dinah will be disappointed, because it’s a Sunday tomorrow, and there are no classes. Shea says Dinah doesn’t have to worry, because she gets straight As without any effort. This is when Coop reveals that Dinah has actually been struggling in Biology, and has argued with the Professor about grades. How would Coop know this and not Shea? She and Dinah are supposed to be close friends.
Once again, Shea finds the day torturous, waiting until the time she has to collect the snake. There’s obvious padding as we’re told all the stuff Shea does to pass the time. Finally, the time comes for Shea to be at the Animal Lab. The door is unlocked, as previously promised by The Whisperer. She is horrified to discover that Mariah is a rattlesnake, but nonetheless goes ahead with the task. Although she has to wake the snake up first! But she manages to loop the noose around Mariah’s neck and drop her into the sack.
Shea is thankful for the late hour, meaning the campus is relatively empty as she makes her way to Lester Dorm to deposit the snake. She takes the stairs, makes her way to room 602, and flings Mariah inside. In her haste to get out of there, she slams the door too hard, waking up the occupants. She dashes off, and the screaming starts. With the sack still in her hands, she has to get rid of the evidence before curious heads start popping out of doors. She flings the bag down an incinerator chute just in time. As people emerge from their dorms, Shea mingles in with the crowd woken up by the screaming.
Annette stumbles out of the room, shocked and furious. She wants to know who on Earth would leave a snake in the room of somebody who is deathly afraid of snakes, and who has a heart condition. She thinks her roommate Bethany has had a heart attack. Paramedics are called, and Shea waits around anxiously, wanting to know if Bethany will be okay. The paramedic says she simply fainted, but they’ll be taking her in as a precaution. Shea feels hated towards The Whisperer’s idea of a “joke”, and heads back to her dorm. The phone is ringing as she arrives. The Whisperer says, “You done good, kiddo!”
Shea disconnects the phone, not wanting to talk with Tandy in the room. The next morning, she tells Tandy about the snake incident, leaving out her part in it. She says she’s going to visit Bethany at the infirmary. Tandy suggests that she visit Professor Stark while there. Shea thought Stark was at the actual hospital, not the infirmary. Tandy says Coop told her that Stark was to be transferred to the infirmary to recuperate. That Coop is just an endless fountain of information about everybody, isn’t he? [Wing: Also, why in the world would she be transferred to a college infirmary to recuperate? It’s not like they live on an island in the middle of nowhere. She could stay at the hospital! She could stay in a rehab center! She could stay at her own damn home with nurse support!]
She asks Tandy if she wants to come with her, but Tandy has a canoeing date. The university and canoes. I just don’t get it. Shea visits Bethany, and Annette is by her bedside. She has to go after a few moments, because the guilt is unbearable. She actually does ask about Professor Stark. A receptionist tells her that she probably would take visitors, but hasn’t had any – except one. A guy named Cooper.
Red Herrings: 1 point
100 pages until our first counter. Not bad! Shea pokes her head in the door. Stark is in bed, staring at the ceiling. There are no flowers or cards. A nurse stops by and says it’s pathetic (which is kind of unprofessional). The nurse says she wants to get Stark in the whirlpool to stop her muscles atrophying, as Stark is refusing to work with a physical therapist. Shea leaves and returns to her dorm, where a box is waiting for her. She opens it – and it’s a videotape! She heads to Lester’s lounge, and it is thankfully empty. She slips the tape into the player, but is dismayed to find it is just a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
It is then that she hears the voice of The Whisperer. Shea looks around, and it sounds as if the voice is coming from the cabinets of the TV shelf. Shea tugs on the handles, to no avail. The Whisperer is angry that Shea hung up on them last night, and wants Shea to prove herself all over again. This time, tonight, she has to cut off Tandy’s hair. The Whisperer thinks Tandy is disgustingly vain, and needs to be taught a lesson. As voices approach the lounge, The Whisperer tells Shea to take off and she better not look back.
Shea slips around the corner to wait, nonetheless wanting to catch a glimpse of who is making her life hell. But when she looks back, all she sees are some shoes slipping away. Brown or black, with red laces. She can’t tell if they’re men’s or women’s shoes. Shea knows that she will never cut off Tandy’s hair. It’s too awful. But throwing a rattlesnake into somebody’s room is less awful? Shea heads back to her dorm at Devereaux, where Coop is waiting in the hallway. He convinces her to go to a movie. Her and Dinah and Sid never went last night, because Sid and Dinah backed out at the last minute.
Preoccupied, Shea says yes, and Coop accuses her of being unenthusiastic. Shea is surprised, and Cooper quickly says the stress over the Animal Lab job is getting to him. Afterwards, they find Sid, Dinah, Tandy, and Tandy’s date Paul, and they all go to Vinnie’s, which Sid doesn’t seem too happy about. Shea has another go at Dinah about Sid always trying to keep her to himself, and Dinah gets annoyed, telling Shea she’s not exactly beating down doors to hang out with her. At one point, Milo Keith stops by their table. He asks if Cooper was out by Nightmare Hall on Friday night with a flashlight. Milo thought it was Coop because this person was wearing a maroon high school football jacket with a gold hornet on the back.
Friday night? Shea realises that was when she was meeting up with The Whisperer, in the woods behind Nightmare Hall, and she certainly wasn’t wearing a football jacket.
Red Herrings: 2 points
Cooper and Shea walk back to campus. Shea tries to get information out of Coop about the person at Nightmare Hall. Coop says he left his jacket at the Animal Lab and hasn’t seen it since. Shea thinks Coop seems preoccupied. Which he is, about the Animal Lab job. And Shea isn’t one to talk. All she can think about is The Whisperer. However, she feels better knowing that she’s resolved not to cut off Tandy’s hair. Tomorrow, she plans to visit Professor Stark and reveal everything. She says goodbye to Coop once at Devereaux Hall, and hops into the elevator. Without warning, the lights in the elevator go out and the elevator jerks to an abrupt halt.
Shea screams for help, hitting all manner of buttons, to no avail. However, eventually, the lights come back on, and the elevator starts back up. Shea reaches her floor, where concerned people are waiting for her. Apparently, the electricity went off. Tired, Shea goes to her room. The clock says 9.53, but the power has been out. She resets the clock, guided by her wristwatch, which says 10.38. She’d been trapped for 45 minutes. That is pretty frightening. The phone rings. It is The Whisperer, who says, “Shave and a haircut, two bits!” Shea turns on the bedside lamp. Tandy’s hair is a pool on the floor. Shea thinks The Whisperer must be angry at her for refusing to carry out the deed.
This doesn’t make sense. The Whisperer had said the hair had to be gone by morning. It is still night time. After the encounter in the lounge, Shea went to the movies, then had dinner. Anyway. This is followed by a rather pointless bit in which Shea imagines the events that had led up to the cutting of Tandy’s hair. Clearly, The Whisperer cut the electricity to trap Shea in the elevator while they went about chopping off Tandy’s locks.
The next morning, when Tandy sees her hair, she starts screaming. Shea feels sick with guilt. Dinah stops by in the middle of the commotion, getting the story from Shea after witnessing Tandy’s theatrics. Dinah insists she can help fix it, and starts looking around for scissors. Shea says she has scissors, but can’t find them. However, Dinah finds them – under Tandy’s blanket. It’s clear that Tandy thinks Shea cut off her hair, because if it had been the work of a stranger, they would have brought their own scissors with them. She’s going to the Dean, and taking the scissors with her, in case there are fingerprints.
Shea leaves, determined to see Professor Stark and confess the truth. She is in the lobby of Devereaux (after using the stairs instead of the elevator), and almost at the door, when The Whisperer grabs her from behind and drags her into an alcove. We learn the snake stunt was aimed at Annette, not Bethany. Also, The Whisperer has gotten rid of the paperweight. And if Shea can find the videotape, she can have it. Something is stuffed into Shea’s bag, and The Whisperer lets go of her before taking off.
Shea finds a couch in the lobby and checks her bag. It’s an audio cassette. So she heads back up to her dorm, where Dinah is still working on Tandy’s hair. She asks to borrow Tandy’s walkman, and goes to listen to the tape. The clues seem to suggest she should go to Nightmare Hall that night, and that’s where she would find the tape. But there’s a party there that night.
I must say, this is getting the teensiest bit silly. The Whisperer seems to be able to be everywhere at once, often almost psychically: in a cabinet underneath a TV, or in an alcove in the lobby of a dorm building, just when Shea happens to be there. Now it seems as if they’re also able to skulk around Nightmare Hall at some point to set up a treasure hunt for Shea to find a videotape. It’s stretching credibility. [Wing: I’m going to be annoyed if multiple aren’t involved in this setup. And why does this plan just get more and more complicated? You know that only introduces more ways for things to go wrong, Whisperer!]
Getting ready for the party, Shea casually tries to pump Tandy for information about Nightmare Hall: it’s size, etc. Tandy is more concerned about her hair. It turns out she’s gotten a really positive response to it. She can’t be bothered with Shea’s questions, and tells her she received a call from Coop, wanting to know if Shea would be at the party. Tandy tartly reminds Shea she saw Coop first. On the way to the party, Tandy complains that the Dean wasn’t sympathetic to the hair incident, calling it a prank. I’m kind of wishing The Whisperer had done more to Tandy with those scissors than just cut her hair.
For a while, Shea mingles. She has no idea how to find the videotape. When Coop arrives, apologising for being late, he explains he watched a movie at the lounge, and forgot the time. He suggests they rent it sometime. Shea realises rent…watch…on a VCR! She learns through Jess Vogt that only the housemother has a VCR and it’s in her bedroom, which is off the kitchen. After a few wrong turns, Shea finds the room and the VCR. Sure enough, when she ejects the tape, it has STARK’S OFFICE written on it.
She slips it into her bag. She knows it’s silly to try and watch it now. Shea figures now she has it, she can wait a couple extra hours to view it. However, that is when Dinah, Tandy, Sid and Coop find her there, in the housemother’s room. Shea says she got lost, but the others don’t believe her. She ignores Sid’s barbs and gets Coop to dance with her. Once again, he asks if she’s okay. Shea has to see the tape, to make sure it’s not another trick. After the party, when she gets back to Devereaux, she heads to the lounge, but it’s occupied by students having a Sylvester Stallone movie marathon.
She runs into Dinah, and asks if she knows where any VCRs are kept. Dinah says there are a couple in the library, in the cubicle. It is close to 12, so Shea has to hurry. Although the librarian warns her they’re about to close, Shea goes to the lower level, which is deserted. She goes into a cubicle, inserts the tape, and it is indeed footage of Stark’s office, on the day Shea was there, but about an hour early. She starts fast-forwarding.
A person appears, rifling through the papers on the desk. But Shea notices the time is still well before when she was there. Somebody else was in the office before her! The door of the cubicle opens, and it’s Dinah. “I see you found it,” she says. “Good for you.” Dinah reveals that she has been cheating all through high school, accounting for all her A grades. A friend introduced her to the practice. Shea realises the friend is Sid, and that is why Dinah puts up with a boyfriend who is too possessive and too critical of her.
Shea is sympathetic, until she remembers Stark unconscious on the floor of the office, and takes a step back. Dinah insists it wasn’t her – she would never hurt anybody. She thinks Sid did it to protect her. He had told her he broke into the office to steal the tape while Stark was gone, but the tape wasn’t there. Shea tries to convince Dinah that they need to take the tape to the Dean. Maybe the fact they are confessing will be taken into consideration and mean they won’t be expelled. Maybe there’s something on the tape that can help the police find out who attacked Professor Stark.
Somebody else answers for Dinah by reaching into the cubicle and smacking Dinah’s head against the wall, knocking her unconscious. That same arm then grabs the videotape out of Shea’s shocked hands. Shea sees a figure in a sports jacket with a gold hornet, and a baseball cap, take off down the hall. Shea runs from the room, not willing to let The Whisperer get away. She heads up to the next floor, which is pitch dark. She tries to think where a phone might be.
The Whisperer starts talking. Or whispering. Shea believes they’re up on the balcony. Shea takes her boots off, not wanting to alert them to her exact location. She figures she’ll head up the stairs to the balcony, hit the switch, and reveal The Whisperer’s identity at last. She moves step by step, as The Whisperer reveals their hatred of cheaters, people who party and act lazy while the rest of us work hard. They also demand that Shea reply, which she won’t do, to avoid giving away her whereabouts. She finally reaches the balcony level, and hits the switch. The Whisperer is not other than Professor Mathilde Stark, standing in two perfectly good legs.
Before the “why I did it” monologue can begin, Shea remembers the audio cassette in the tape recorder in her bag, which gave her the instructions on how to find the VCR. She hits record. It turns out Stark was never attacked. She lost a contact lens, and was searching on the floor for it, when she got tangled up in the lamp cord, and brought both that and the paperweight down on her head, knocking her out. [Wing: What.] When she came to, Shea was there, so she played possum to see what Shea would do.
Stark had already seen the tape and knew that Shea was the cheater, so she knew exactly what she would do. She faked paralysis. If everyone thought she was paralyzed, she could do whatever she wanted, and nobody would guess that it was her. The doctors couldn’t find any reason for it, and decided it was psychosomatic, but nonetheless real. But because it was in her mind, they transferred her from the hospital to the infirmary. Whenever Stark needed to escape, she’d get staff to wheel her to the whirlpool, and she’d lock the door for privacy. Because the infirmary is poorly staffed, it was easy to get away. [Wing: No, really, what.]
She found clothes in the Animal Lab – most likely Coop’s jacket. Shea wants to know why people like Annette and Tandy were targeted. Stark says because they weren’t at college for the right reasons. They wanted to party instead of getting an education. Shea knocks the lights out again and runs off. A chase ensues, with Stark ranting about lazy students who are there to party, unlike her, who has to work, work, work. It seems as if Stark’s issues date back to her own high school years, pushed too hard by her mother to study, who was a teacher herself, who helped other students, but not her.
Shea somehow winds up in the basement, and heads back up a back staircase. This library sounds huge. As she’s going up the stairs, Stark grabs hold of her ankle. Shea realises she still has her boot in her hand, and slams it backwards into her pursuer. Shea bursts onto the main floor of the library, runs to the desk where she thinks the phone is, and grabs the receiver. That’s when a hand grabs her by the hair, yanking her head back. Shea manages to hit 0 on the phone, before struggling with Stark. She uses one hand to search the desk top for something to use as a weapon. Her hand closes around a large stapler.
Stark is ranting about how her mother never let her have any fun. She tells Shea her plan: Shea was so distraught that she was about to be found out as both a cheater and the person who attacked Stark, that she snuck into the library and jumped off the balcony railing. Shea insists she’ll never jump. Stark says after Shea is dead, she’ll move on to Dinah. Shea lifts the stapler up and brings it down hard backwards. Stark screams in pain and lets go. Shea dashes for the front door, and reaches it as campus security get inside. Stark tries to insist that Shea is the attacker, but then sees Shea holding up the tape recorder in victory.
Later, on a Friday evening, Shea is at Vinnie’s with Coop, Dinah, Tandy, and Dinah’s new boyfriend, Russ Thompson. Sid had left Salem to go home and work for his father. Cooper got the Animal Lab job. Stark will be in hospital for a long time. Shea and Dinah are on probation. The Dean had to give them a break, rather than expel them, because having a professor on staff who tries to kill their students is a public relations nightmare. Interesting. Salem Univeristy must have VERY good spin doctors, in that case. Coop reveals he’s Shea’s tutor, and they’re off to study.
[Wing: Pretty sure a murderous professor is one of the least nightmareish parts of Salem University by this point.]
All in all, a good thriller. The first half is best. It’s confident, suspenseful and plausible. Shea is a sympathetic heroine, and is backed well and truly into a difficult corner that’s impossible to get out of. I love that the blackmail angle neatly subverted all the DED FROM STUPID tropes that might have otherwise been used as counters in any other recap. In fact, this one had the lowest number of counters out of any recap I’ve done. It’s a very assured thriller, that’s for sure.
I also love that you could update this to today’s world, and it would probably be even more effective. Burner phones, or iPhones, and a multitude of Apps would making tracking Shea and contacting her anonymously even easier and more insidious. And that’s where this book tends to falter a bit: the second half doesn’t bear such close scrutiny. It would seem Stark was up to her shenanigans well before she was transferred from the hospital to the infirmary, and she would practically have to have been absent from the infirmary almost permanently to be able to show up to torment Shea at every available opportunity, or break into Nightmare Hall to hide a tape. And what phone was she using to make the phone calls? The story does suffer in that regard. But I still really enjoyed it. Another winner from Hoh.
[Wing: Oh, god, I want to read an updated version of this with burner phones and apps and better surveillance and automated everything — it’s already super fucking tense and creepy and to have all that tech behind it would make it even better. And possibly fix that problem in the second half where Stark is somehow everywhere. Also, I’d like to see a group of people pulling this off, because I don’t at all believe Stark did it on her own — I also don’t really buy her justification for doing it.
The story’s pretty great, though! A good read.]
Red Herrings: 2 points
That’s it! Record!
[Wing: Damn impressive, Hoh!]