Recap #244: Goosebumps Series 2000 #10: Headless Halloween by R.L. Stine by

31 October 2019
Goosebumps Series 2000: Headless Halloween Cover Art by Tim Jacobus

Goosebumps Series 2000: Headless Halloween Cover Art by Tim Jacobus

Title: Goosebumps Series 2000 #10 – Headless Halloween, a.k.a. “Brandon Did A Bad, Bad Thing”

Author: R.L. Stine

Cover Artist: Tim Jacobus

Tagline: Talk about getting ahead!

Summary: Frozen in silence, I squinted into the eerie, pale light. Hands popped up from beneath the ground. They shook off dirt and stretched. A dozen hands poked up, shimmering yellow and green in the moonlight.

And then heads. Human heads. Hair caked with dirt. Skin loose, hanging from their skulls. They stared at me with pleading eyes, faces twisted, mouths hanging open in pain.

“Take me with you,” one of them called in a dry whisper.

Initial Thoughts

Wow it took me like two years to finally finish this recap I suck.

I started this some time in December 2017 before I figured out a routine for my Goosebumps recaps. I was still excited about recapping for Devil’s Elbow and this was one of the books I wanted to cover first as it’s one of my favorites. Admittedly it’s one of my favorites because that has to be one of the best covers Jacobus ever did for the franchise and I’m a sucker for Halloween stories.

So, you know how Stine has this uncanny ability to create protagonists who turn out to be exceedingly selfish and petty and they’re supposed to be the GOOD guys? Yeah, now imagine what happens when Stine creates a character who’s horrible on PURPOSE and you get our protagonist Brandon. However, because Brandon’s a dipshit it means the book is about him getting put through the wringer for being an unholy little fucker.

Stine also crafts a very suitable environment for Halloween and has one of my favorite settings in the entirety of the Goosebumps 2000 books.

Recap

Brandon Plush has got two sayings, “Make ‘Em Scream” and “Oops, Just Joking!” Brandon lives to incite fear and terror in everyone around him. He’s a sadist who gets his kicks traumatizing people and playing sickening practical jokes. Brandon loves to make others scream, cry and vomit. His two favorite targets are his little sister Maya and his younger cousin Vinnie… god damn it, Stine. *Sigh*

Brandon fondly reminisces on how he made his sister throw up just the other night, and the time he slid a worm down Vinnie’s back and told him it was a snake. He claims he gets this cruel streak from his dad, who approves of Brandon’s sociopathic attitude and bonds with him over gory horror movies. His mother on the other hand is very disturbed by how Brandon treats people. Yet whenever she lectures Brandon, he shares a conspiratorial wink with his dad which only reinforces his apathy. With Halloween coming up (Brandon’s favorite holiday) he says the kids in his neighborhood better watch out because he’s planning to go headless this year.

[Wing: I hope this ends up being literal, because so far, Brandon’s a serial killer in the making.]

We then cut to Brandon recapping his last babysitting job. Why the fuck would anyone hire this evil little nutsack to look after small children? #BecauseGoosebumps

Well technically, Brandon tells us the parents of these kids only ever call on him when absolutely no one else is available.

Brandon loves babysitting Jennifer and Ray because they’re so easy to scare. Whenever their parents hire him, Brandon brings along some of the monster masks from his massive collection and tells the kids disgusting stories to see them panic. This night, he spins a yarn about a headless boy haunting their basement even as the siblings repeatedly beg him to stop. Brandon dresses up in one of his masks and scares them after finishing the story. Jennifer holds out for a little bit until she rips off Brandon’s mask to find nothing underneath (he raised his shirt up and used a coat hanger to fake being headless). Brandon guffaws as the kids run up the basement stairs in tears… and into the arms of their parents, who demand to know why their children are so scared.

[Wing: On the one hand, at least we get this amount of parenting. On the other hand, this is clearly not the first time Brandon babysat for them, so where the fuck have you been before this moment, parents?!]

Back home, Brandon calls up his best friend Cal who is just as much a bastard as Brandon is. He boasts about scaring Jennifer and Ray and then the duo set up a plan for a [INSERT TITLE HERE]. They fantasize about all the kids they’ll rob and scare. Moments later, Mrs. Plush gets an angry phone call from Jennifer and Ray’s parents and is livid hearing about Brandon’s behavior. Brandon offers a fake apology by doing puppy dog eyes and saying “Sorry” in a small voice, which apparently works. Not this time, as his mom once again demands to know why he scares people so much. Brandon’s all “Because it’s funny?”

I do feel if this woman intends to teach her son his behavior’s not appropriate or acceptable, she also needs to talk to her husband about how he’s enabling this fuckery.

At school the next day, Brandon decides to screw with Vinnie before class starts. In the hallway, Brandon “stumbles” and spills a beaker of water on his cousin, but tells Vinnie it’s acid. Vinnie freaks out and Brandon mocks him for falling for the joke. Hurt, Vinnie tells Brandon that wasn’t funny while Brandon insists otherwise. It’s at this moment Brandon realizes he’s in deep shit when a loud voice agrees with Vinnie. It’s none other than Mr. Benson, Brandon’s least favorite teacher.

Unusually for a Goosebumps book, Mr. Benson is a surprisingly cool teacher. Kids like him because he keeps his classes fun and interesting. Of course it figures the one time an authority figure in these books is a decent human being had to be when the protagonist’s pure scum.

Mr. Benson is about ten feet tall and all muscle. Behind his back, kids call him “Mountain.”

He has thick black hair that pulls back into a ponytail. And bushy black eyebrows that dance up and down on his forehead like two caterpillars.

He wears faded jeans and big, flannel shirts. And he has a tiny silver ring in one ear.

Okay so Mr. Benson is obviously the bara heartthrob of the series.

Mr. Benson by Little Corvus

Mr. Benson by Little Corvus – Oh Mr. Benson, I think I have to stay after school cuz I’ve been baaaad. …okay anyway, I feel bad I got Little Corvus to do this for me at Flame Con last year after telling them the recap would go up the following October and it didn’t.

(As a sidenote, because Corvus went out of their way to work on this for me when they weren’t really taking proper commissions at Flame Con I’d like to direct you all to their ko-fi page in case you want to make a donation to say “Thanks”  https://ko-fi.com/U7U16MWV )

[Wing: So, uh, I’d like to climb Benson like a tree.]

Benson declares he saw Brandon’s prank from beginning to end and knows it wasn’t an accident. This is why Brandon hates Benson, because Benson’s always calling Brandon on his shit and punishing him for it. Brandon tries to downplay the prank saying he only “tripped” and splashed his cousin with water when Vinnie angrily states Brandon said it was acid. Benson reminds Brandon he saw the joke from beginning to end and drags him to the science classroom. Benson delivers a lecture about cruelty towards others and decides Brandon will stay after school to clean the science lab for a week. Brandon completely tunes out Benson’s lecture as he focuses on how to make Benson pay during his [INSERT TITLE HERE].

[Wing: While I’m glad he’s being punished, I have some concerns about giving him access to science lab supplies for a week.]

Brandon arrives home late and takes a detour through his sister’s bedroom window where he delivers a quick scare to release some tension. Maya drops the chips and glass of chocolate milk (on her WHITE CARPET) she had with her, so Brandon then “promises” not to scare Maya anymore and helps her clean the mess. While doing so, Brandon reveals his plan to prank Mr. Benson’s house, a creepy old place located on the edge of Raven’s Ravine. The ravine’s a ten foot wide gap in the Earth. Maya says he’d have to be stupid to go near Benson’s house. Brandon tells Maya he can take care of himself, but his internal narration reveals he should’ve listened to her…

Halloween night, Brandon’s headless plans are almost immediately derailed when his mom forces him to take Maya, Vinnie, and Maya’s friends trick-or-treating. Vinnie’s dressed as Darth Vader while Maya and her gal pals are princesses (at least one’s dressed as Ariel). Brandon’s channeling his inner Cartman and is all “BET MEEEEEEEEEM” but Mrs. Plush ain’t hearing it. Cal shows up and gets super confused when told he’ll be doing a good deed with Brandon. Realizing this is an argument he won’t win, Brandon covertly tells Cal they’ll simply ditch these nerds as soon as they can.

Brandon and Cal suffer through at least three or four houses when Brandon finally decides to dump the kids. Cal, surprisingly, hesitates when he points out Maya and the rest are like 7 years old. Brandon doesn’t really care and urges Cal to move when Maya and her friends stop to chat with another group of kids. The girls don’t even see Brandon and Cal flee, but Vinnie does and manages to keep up with them. Vinnie complains about how difficult it is to see inside his hot costume and Brandon makes a smug remark about Vinnie going as Princess Leia instead.

Fuck.

You.

The two morons aren’t able to ditch Vinnie and it’s really cutting into their “traumatize little kids” time. Brandon figures they’ll ditch Vinnie, and if his mom asks he’ll say Vinnie wandered off. They decide to leave Vinnie at their neighborhood’s very own haunted house. At a dead end street, the two urge Vinnie to try a creepy looking house and bolt the moment they see him reach the front porch… and soon hear Vinnie screaming!

Vinnie’s screams suddenly stop and Brandon begins laughing at how terrified his poor cousin must be. Cal continues to show just a hint of a conscience and asks if they should see if Vinnie’s okay. Brandon doesn’t really care and suggests the two finally start their [INSERT TITLE HERE]. The boys prop Brandon’s monster masks on their shoulders and start the scares. They start near the middle school where there are lots of kids and freak them out by pretending to lose their heads followed by screaming [INSERT TITLE HERE]. Brandon beams with pride at making two little boys burst into tears.

When Cal feels hungry, Brandon casually steals a bag of candy from a little kid dressed as a mummy. The two douchebags flee as the mummy kid struggles to run after them. They hide behind someone’s house and gorge themselves on candy while savoring the sound of the little boy’s crying. After stuffing themselves, Brandon reminds Cal they have to go pay Mr. Benson a visit. Taking the rest of the candy with them, the boys head for their teacher’s home on the edge of Raven’s Ravine.

Benson’s house does indeed look rather foreboding, like some kind of evil castle. Fighting back nausea from all the chocolate he ate, Brandon notes how dark the house looks and wonder if Benson’s home. Luckily for these two, they arrived just as Benson was leaving. Watching the science teacher drive off in his black minivan, Brandon and Cal prepare to enter his abode when they hear vicious growling. Attack dogs!

Oh but it’s cool, Benson’s dogs are tied to a post so they can’t get that far. [Wing: BENSON. NO. I liked you. Why would you do this to your dogs?] Close call for Brandon and Cal, who are happy to learn Benson didn’t lock his side door. The boys enter through what seems to be a big pantry and are led into Benson’s kitchen. Brandon complains about his stomach while Cal inspects the fridge and is amazed at how much beer their teacher drinks. [Wing: I’d drink a lot, too, if I had to deal with you little shits.]

Wow this is like the first time I’ve ever heard of alcohol being mentioned in a Goosebumps book.

Brandon can’t take it anymore and is about to throw up when he hits upon an ingenious idea. He holds back just long enough to vomit all over Benson’s kitchen table. Cal thinks this is hilarious and figures that’s enough of a prank, but Brandon’s not satisfied and wants to wreck Benson’s living room. They don’t get far in that idea when they hear the sound of snarling getting closer. Benson’s dogs broke free and followed the boys into the house!

Brandon and Cal are cornered by Benson’s dogs, their eyes red and their jaws snapping as they’re ready to pounce on the intruders. Brandon leaps towards the open kitchen window and makes his getaway, but Cal’s too big and gets stuck in the narrow opening. Cal begs for Brandon to come back and help him, but Brandon cowardly tries to save himself. One of the dogs exits the house and chases after Brandon until Brandon reaches the edge of Raven’s Ravine. Brandon can see the other side of the ravine, ten feet away, and the jagged rocks down below. The dog is close behind him, and Brandon sees no other means of escape but to jump… jump…!

He doesn’t make it.

Oh no wait he does, DAMN IT STINE!

Brandon feels a sharp pain in his side as he finds himself clinging to the other side of the ravine. The rocks begin to crumble and he scrambles firmly onto solid ground. Getting up, Brandon doesn’t hear the dogs or Cal. Brandon calls after Cal and gets no response as he looks back. The night’s gotten so dark it’s hard to see the other side of the ravine. Trying to figure out how to get home, Brandon attempts to navigate through the dark woods on this side. While walking, Brandon figures he could do some Halloween mischief on the other end of the woods. There’s sure to be another neighborhood, which means more trick-or-treaters to humiliate.

Exiting the forest, Brandon sees rows of low, dark houses. The streets are lit only by dull yellow streetlamps, but there are no kids. Pulling his monster mask out of his jacket pocket, Brandon navigates the quiet houses trying to find any semblance of human life. He reaches a sign saying “FIRST STREET,” which he’s never heard of before. [Wing: Stine, this is the most unbelievable part of the entire book. Even the smallest one horse towns I’ve been to have at least a First Street even if nothing else.] The next street is, naturally, “SECOND STREET.” The lack of noise and movement is starting to scare and annoy Brandon when he finally sees someone on Second Street. This person is coming towards Brandon and he thinks he can ask them for help, but he’s in for a surprise.

This kid, whoever he is, has the EXACT same mask as Brandon. Brandon is shocked because there’s no way someone could have the same mask since it’s supposed to be one-of-a-kind. The kid says he doesn’t remember where he got the mask, but it looks like he’s trying to recognize Brandon. Brandon explains he’s lost, that he got here by jumping Raven’s Ravine because a dog was chasing him. The boy’s impressed, remembering how the last kid who tried that fell to his death on the jagged rocks below.

Despite having thrown up before, Brandon feels hungry and asks if the kid got any Halloween candy. The kid states he’s on his way to a party when Brandon asks why this neighborhood’s so dark and quiet. Shrugging, the kid says there aren’t that many other boys and girls and asks if Brandon’s scared of the dark. Brandon says no, of course not, h-he just doesn’t like being lost is all.

The kid nevertheless invites Brandon to the Halloween party, but Brandon scoffs at first saying they’re for geeks. Well, the kid assures Brandon this one will be special. And yeah there’s gonna be food, like really Brandon what kind of party doesn’t have food? Finally, the kid says his name is “Norband” but everyone calls him Norb. [Wing: Surprisingly subtle for Stine.]

Norb leads Brandon to a ranch-style house, and at first Brandon’s confused because the house is empty and dark. So Norb has to point out the party’s in the basement, like geez Brandon dial it down a notch. Norb opens the door to the basement and they can hear loud music. The boys head down to a basement all decked out for Halloween and filled with at least 40 kids. There are orange and black streamers, cardboard jack-o’-lanterns on the walls, kids are dancing and talking, and there’s a table filled with snacks.

Norb introduces Brandon to Max, a kid dressed as a skeleton. Max leads Brandon over to the refreshment table where Norb suggests Brandon try one of the doughnuts. Taking one from the top of the pile, Max tells Brandon these are special. Brandon has no idea HOW special.

Norb and Max crowded next to me as I raised the doughnut to my mouth. It was soft and doughy and covered with powdered sugar. My favorite.

I took a big bite. Chewed. Started to swallow.

And then groaned.

I felt something wet and warm on my tongue.

I raised the doughnut to examine it.

“Ohhhh.” What was wriggling inside the doughnut?

Brown-and-purple worms!

Brandon can’t spit the chewed up glob out of his mouth fast enough, but Norb and Max aren’t having it. They gang up on Brandon and force him to finish the doughnut. Norb holds Brandon’s arms as Max shoves the rest of the worm-filled treat in Brandon’s mouth. Norb screams at Brandon to chew and swallow, and with no other option Brandon complies. It tastes awful and it feels like the worms are crawling down his throat. He tries to pretend he’s eating something else, like mashed potatoes.

But mashed potatoes don’t squirm in your mouth!

When Brandon’s finished, Norb lets go and Brandon falls to his knees trying to breathe. His eyes watery, Brandon demands to know why they did that to him. The two snidely remind Brandon it’s Halloween, and you’re supposed to do scary things on Halloween. Well Brandon’s had enough of this party and tries to leave, but Norb won’t let him go. Norb announces to everyone that Brandon will now bob for apples despite Brandon’s protests.

Norb and Max drag Brandon over to a barrel filled with dark, murky water and hold his face near the top. Brandon struggles and shouts there aren’t any apples in the barrel. Norb assures him there are plenty, stating Brandon has to play because everyone bobs for apples at Halloween parties. Brandon doesn’t understand why they’re doing this to him as his face keeps brushing the ugly looking water. Max tells him all he has to do is grab an apple with his teeth and he’s done, so Brandon decides to do it to make this end.

Well, that’s when Brandon realizes there’s a problem with this water.

I opened my eyes. But I couldn’t see anything in the thick, murky water.

Something prickled my face. I felt something soft and wet crawl into my ear.

Sputtering, I tried to pull my head out. But Max and Norb held me down, pushing me deeper into the barrel.

I felt something scrape against my cheek. The back of neck tingled as tiny creatures crawled over it. My whole face prickled.

With a surge of power, I forced my head up. I stared into the barrel.

The dark water churned and rolled. Alive!

The water was alive!

No. Not water… Not water…

I stared into a tossing, churning pile of cockroaches!

Excuse me.

WHY?! WHY IN THE NAME OF GOD WHHHHHHHY?????!!!!! WHY DID YOU INVENT THEM, GOD?! WHAT GOOD ARE COCKROACHES?! AT LEAST SPIDERS EAT OTHER INSECTS! COCKROACHES DON’T EXIST FOR ANY REASON BUT TO BE GROSS AND HORRIBLE AND WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHY???????!!!!!!!!

Before I could sputter a protest, they pushed my head back into the pile.

I gasped in horror as cockroaches scrabbled over my face, dug into my hair, climbed into my nose and ears.

I struggled to pull away. But the boys held my arms down as they pressed me into the barrel.

I opened my mouth to scream – and felt cockroaches slide into my mouth, crawl over my tongue.

I-I swallowed them!

Norb screams it doesn’t count unless he bites one of the roaches and pulls it out with his teeth. Brandon hears kids chanting for him to bite, and so he… CHOMPS DOWN ON A MOUTHFUL OF ROACHES.

Oh Christ I really am about to vomit right now, I’m fighting my gag reflex.

Anyway, Brandon’s finally freed and he starts heaving up the roach guts out of his mouth. He starts scraping at his tongue trying to get the insect legs off as Norb cheers and asks if this is scary enough for him. Suddenly the kids all chant “Let’s get scary!”

Norb decides it’s time for Brandon to play a party game, and has the protesting boy shoved over to a Twister mat. Ignoring Brandon’s pleas, Norb asks if he’s having fun yet when he throws Brandon down to the floor. Before Brandon can get up, a boy in a vampire costume places himself over Brandon’s back. A girl in a monkey costume wraps her arm around Brandon’s, followed by another kid trapping the other arm. Brandon’s locked in and struggling when he hears a hissing noise.

Something snaps at his neck!

Brandon looks at his arm and watches in horror as the girl’s limb transforms into a snake! The kids are turning into snakes and are constricting around him!

Brandon listens as the snakes snap their jaws closer to his face while he squirms, trying to free himself from the writhing mass. All around him the kids continue chanting “Let’s get scary!” as Brandon lurches forward, throwing the snakes off his body.

Finally getting loose from the snake mound, Brandon tries to make it for the basement steps when Norb grabs him. Norb declares for the next Halloween trick, he’ll make Brandon disappear! Brandon screams and works up enough strength to throw Norb off him, running through the crowd of kids. He bangs his knee on the bottom stair, but doesn’t let the pain deter him from escaping.

Fleeing the dark house, Brandon keeps on running through the empty streets past the quiet houses. Ending up in an area filled with empty lots, Brandon has to stop to catch his breath when he figures no one’s following him. That doesn’t mean Brandon’s alone when he sees something in one of the lots. He thinks it’s a small animal at first, but upon closer inspection he sees it’s a human hand!

More hands begin to burst from the ground, shaking off dirt and digging free as rotted bodies emerge. Decayed heads break through the Earth and start wailing, begging Brandon to take them with him. If he wasn’t horrified before, Brandon sure as shit is now and makes for the woods before the dead things get free. He keeps running until Brandon finds himself back at Raven’s Ravine. Sinking to his knees with relief, Brandon looks ahead and believes his only way to freedom is to jump once again. Only, he looks down at the ravine and sees something among the rocks.

A…

A body?

Cal?

Oh crap, Cal tried to jump the ravine after Brandon and fell!

Brandon moans as he stares at the body of his dead best friend, but his moans die (ooh poor choice of words) when his eyes grow adjusted to the darkness and sees the body among the rocks is HIS!

HA! Stine used one of his usual fake out chapter endings to psych us out! Brandon really DID fall to his death!

Brandon’s so disoriented he almost falls into the ravine again when someone grabs him and throws him back near the woods. It’s Norb joined by Max, the monkey girl, and the vampire boy. Barely coherent, Brandon doesn’t understand what’s going on so Norb spells it out for him. Brandon jumped Raven’s Ravine and fell to the bottom. He died. Norb tells Brandon to remember, and all Brandon can recall was a sharp pain and everything going black. Brandon’s spirit, as Norb puts it, is now on the other side.

The other kids reverently repeat “The other side” as Norb says Brandon’s now one of them, forever. Terrified, Brandon begs to have his life back and swears he’ll be a good boy from now on. Norb calmly and quickly says that’s not happening, and then asks how Brandon feels. Terrified? Petrified? Anguished? SCARED? Well now you know what it feels like, asshole! Norb says Brandon is now on the other side, as in the other side of being scared! And it doesn’t feel so good, does it?!

Brandon pathetically tries to promise he’ll be good, but the others just laugh. He crawls to the ravine edge and looks down at his body, almost crying as he asks if there’s ANYTHING he can do to change this. Norb’s eyes seem to light up behind his monster mask as he says there’s possibly one thing Brandon could do, but it won’t be easy. Brandon’s told if he wants to come back to life then he has to save three scared people. He has to help people who are frightened, and he only has an hour to do it. If he succeeds, he’ll be brought back to life. If he doesn’t, well, that’s it isn’t it?

That’s when Norb pushes Brandon down the ravine!

Brandon lands with a PLOP next to his dead body, and has to remember of course it didn’t hurt because he’s dead. He doesn’t understand how he can help people if he’s a ghost, thinking he needs his body back and starts calling for Norb. Norb sticks his head out and is all “Whaaaaat?” Brandon points out he needs a body to complete the task, so Norb says he can have it back for the hour.

All of a sudden, Brandon feels warm and looks down to see his body’s vanished. It feels great to be alive again, but he can’t shit around for long. Brandon starts climbing up the ravine when he hears snarling and suddenly remembers the dogs! Cal!

Brandon hurries back up to the other end of the ravine and races towards Mr. Benson’s house, where he finds Cal cornered in the kitchen. The dogs are snapping their teeth at Cal, who’s momentarily relieved Brandon didn’t ditch him after all. Yeah. Anyway, Brandon must figure out how to get the dogs away from Cal when both turn their red gaze to Brandon. Before Brandon can get out of the way, the dogs pounce on him. One dog sinks its teeth into Brandon’s ankle! Trying to ignore the pain, Brandon screams at Cal to go but Cal doesn’t want to leave his friend. Brandon continues to scream at Cal to get away while he can, and Cal eventually relents saying he’ll get help.

While one dog keeps trying to scratch Brandon with its paws, the other is biting deeper into his leg until it rips apart his jeans. Brandon looks around for something to distract them and sees the trick-or-treat bag. Dogs like candy right?

Grabbing the bag, Brandon hopes the dogs will be more focused on the sugary treats within and stop trying to rip his legs apart. He knocks the bag on the floor and the contents spill out, but the dogs don’t go for it. They lunge at Brandon once again and he desperately throws two candy bars at them. The canines are finally distracted and focus on the candy, giving Brandon time to escape.

And since chocolate is bad for dogs, chances are Mr. Benson’s coming home to a wrecked kitchen and two dead dogs.

[Wing: Damn it, Brandon, I thought you were supposed to be trying to be good. You deserve to be on the other fucking side.]

Brandon sprints from the house and doesn’t stop til he’s far, FAR away. Looking around, he sees Halloween is in full swing and all the kids are out there having fun. Seeing all the joy, and realizing his watch broke in the fall, Brandon has no idea how much time is left and doesn’t think he’ll be able to fill his quota. Despondent, he intends to spend what remains of the hour with his family until he remembers Vinnie! Good old Vinnie, whom he left for dead in a haunted house.

Actually he remembers the haunted house and Vinnie second.

Brandon looks back on how this house has been empty in his neighborhood for years. People have said they’ve seen shimmering lights in its windows during the night, and others have heard inhuman howls and moans. Together with Cal, the two used to lock kids inside, and claims some haven’t stopped screaming from their “visit.” Brandon has no idea if Vinnie’s still inside, but it’s worth a shot.

The second Brandon sets foot inside the door, he’s ambushed by a bunch of bats! Thankfully for him, the bats fly off into the trees and don’t pay Brandon much attention. That doesn’t make the house any less creepy. Brandon tries to make out what’s in the rooms through the darkness and calls out Vinnie’s name. Vinnie weakly answers, but tells Brandon not to come after him. Brandon makes his way to the room where he hears Vinnie even as Vinnie warns him to get out because of something big and ugly. Vinnie shouts it’s too late for him and he doesn’t want Brandon to suffer.

Brandon feels a cold breeze as he reaches the room Vinnie’s trapped in. His cousin is hunched in a chair and looks awful; Vinnie’s chewed his lip until it’s started bleeding. Vinnie tells Brandon he can’t leave because IT won’t let him go. He tries to explain the stories they’ve heard about the house being haunted were only HALF true. This is when the boys hear a loud thumping sound coming their way. Vinnie once again pleads for Brandon to save himself, but it’s too late!

The door to the room bangs open and in steps a horrible six foot ghoul dressed in a grey robe. Brandon manages to hide just before the ghoul enters the room, knocking a shelf and finding a flashlight in the process. From his hiding spot, Brandon sees the ghoul’s head has been split open right down the middle to its chin! He can even see the creature’s brains bubbling around inside the cracked, exposed skull. The ghostly creature makes its way towards Vinnie and Brandon agonizes over how to save him. The only idea Brandon has is both risky and stupid, but he can’t think of anything else.

Brandon’s going to pretend to be headless once again so he can scare the ghost away. Zipping his coat up over his head, Brandon leaps forward and screams at the ghost. The ghost… rips off ITS OWN HEAD.

The ghost holds up its screaming head and then it… it runs away? The ghost flees the room holding up its severed, screaming head. Brandon has no idea what just happened, but he’s glad it’s over because now Vinnie is safe!

Except Vinnie has some bad news for Brandon.

“That wasn’t the ghost.”

“Huh?” I stared at him, totally confused.

‘That wasn’t the ghost,” Vinnie repeated. “That was the ghost’s pet!”

So Brandon’s all, if that wasn’t the ghost then…

At that point the room begins to violently shake as Vinnie exclaims THE ENTIRE HOUSE is the ghost. It’s been keeping Vinnie trapped in the chair. As the floor vibrates, Brandon falls to his knees and tries to make it to his cousin when he gets thrown across the room. The wall nearly falls on top of Brandon, and even after avoiding that he sees that all the walls and the ceiling are closing in!

Brandon keeps trying to get to Vinnie when he drops the flashlight. On the floor, Brandon grabs it for something to hold onto amid the frenzy when it dawns on him the house is completely dark. What would light do? Remember some ghosts can’t stand light, Brandon wonders if he can use the flashlight to hold the house off.

Vinnie’s being spun around in the chair when Brandon turns the flashlight on and nothing happens. Brandon frantically bangs the flashlight on the ground to get it to work when the beam finally appears. Immediately Brandon shines the light on one of the walls and it seems to recoil! Brandon sweeps the light over the walls and floor and they begin to calm down; he turns the light to the chair Vinnie’s trapped in and it sinks into the floorboards. Within seconds the two are out of the house and Vinnie is headed straight for his house. Two people down, one to go.

Across the street, Brandon sees a couple of older kids hassling some little girls and recognizes them as Maya and her friends. The boys are shoving the girls around, and one even grabs Maya by the arm and twists it behind her back. Brandon tries to scare the boys into leaving the girls alone but it doesn’t work, and now they want to mess with HIM. Chris (the leader, described as having red hair standing up straight like a broom) confers with his “homeys” and they decide to force Brandon up a nearby tree. Brandon tries to explain he doesn’t have time for this, but the ruffians don’t care.

And that’s when Brandon fell out of his body.

The girls and the hooligans watch in horror as Brandon’s body falls down with his ghost standing up, and they all run away screaming. Brandon considers this a win and thinks he’s successfully saved three scared people. Hiding his body underneath a bush, Brandon runs back to the ravine and jumps to the other side to report back to Norb. Only guess what?

“Oops – just joking!”

GOTCHA BRANDON! YOU COULD NEVER COME BACK AFTER ALL!

Norb and the other kids laugh when Norb rips off his mask to reveal BRANDON’S FACE! And yet that’s not all, as Norb rips THAT off to reveal NOTHING! The headless boy stands in front of a horrified Brandon and points how Norband was obviously “Brandon” with the words mixed up, but he takes it further exclaiming he “dressed up” as Brandon for Halloween. The rest of the kids from the Halloween party rip off their masks to reveal their horribly rotted and decayed faces.

Norb says Brandon is now one of them, forever. Dead.

…with that in mind, Brandon proposes, since it’s still Halloween, they go back to the other side and do some REAL scaring! [Wing: GODDAMN IT STINE.]

END

END

Final Thoughts

Norband by Tina Tran

Norband by Tina Tran – One of the last sketch cards I was able to commission from Tina because I acted like an asshole

So obviously, the Halloween party segment was pretty much the highlight of the entire book for me and the other reason why this one’s a favorite of mine. As I said before, it’s kind of brilliant of Stine to exploit our expectations of his fake out chapter endings only to reveal the fake out was itself a fake out with the one ending where Brandon falls to his death.

Like seriously, Brandon is so fucking awful he actually DIES because of his cowardice and sadism and it still isn’t enough to make him change. Though in all likelihood there’s no way Norb is letting him back over the other side to scare people. Norb is probably the most intriguing aspect of this book, because what did he mean by “dressing up” as Brandon? Who or what IS he?

I liked how even Cal and Vinnie were somewhat shown to be better people than Brandon since Cal had some semblance of a conscience and Vinnie, despite supposedly being a wimp, kept telling Brandon to save himself instead of Brandon suffering alongside him. I’m disappointed Mr. Benson didn’t have a bigger role though, and I feel bad about the mess he’s most likely going to come across and hopefully his dogs aren’t dead.

Admittedly, the sequence with the haunted house felt rushed though the line about the ghost’s pet was pretty great. I wanna say Stine seemingly predicted the movie “Monster House,” but truthfully the Shivers series beat both of them with “The Haunting House.” And of course there’s the classic “Burnt Offerings” to consider.

SEQUEL IDEA – HEADLESS HALLOWEEN PARTY: Taken place years after the original story, where a new family moves into Brandon’s house. Two girls, Jennifer and Mei, learn about how Brandon’s been haunting the neighborhood since his death and only comes out on Halloween. The two are brought over to the other side of the ravine and Brandon tries to trap them for the sake of stealing their lives so he can stop being a ghost because, guess what? Spending your afterlife where all you can do is prank people once a year takes a toll on you.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Categories: Goosebumps Recaps
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1 Comment

  • Thomas says:

    Of all the Goosebumps books, this feels like the one that leans into the EC Horror comics vibe that Stine was inspired by the most, and I appreciate that.

    Side note, I’ve noticed at least a few of the newer books have “cool” teachers more often, or at least ones described as being nice, and in one case, wearing rock tv shirts, now that’s appealing. (There was also one in another Series 2000 book, Horrors of the Black Ring, so there’s that)

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