cover of Nightmare Hall Book of Horrors by Diane HohTitle: Nightmare Hall 16: Book of Horrors by Diane Hoh

Summary: Horror book author Victoria McCoy, the new Salem writer-in-residence, knows how to make horror come to life. So Reed is thrilled when McCoy hires her as her new assistant…until she finds out that McCoy’s previous assistants have all disappeared.

Then frightening things start happening to Reed…things straight out of McCoy’s famous horror books.

And McCoy’s next tale of terror has an ending worse than Reed’s worst nightmares.

Initial Thoughts

Apparently Kindle Unlimited doesn’t have #15 Truth or Die, so we’re going to skip straight on to Book of Horrors. I know nothing about this book. I don’t think I’ve read it before, and if I have, I don’t remember a goddamn thing about it.

Randomly, I’m playing 5 Seconds of Summer “Teeth” on repeat while writing this. Not because it has anything to do with the story, I have no idea at this point, but because I sometimes obsess over a song and listen to it for hours, days, weeks at a time. My brain is so much fun. Honestly, this is one of the least terrible things it does to me.

Recap

Oh god, we open with a prologue and one in first person to make it even worse. Our unnamed narrator, at least for the prologue, is having terrible nightmares and they love that everyone around them sees them as a normal person, only they see the madness lurking inside them.

Yeah, this is going well.

Though they think of themself not as mad but as evil because they’ve dispatched real victims and the examples in books serve them well.

That gave us absolutely nothing useful or intriguing. I’d say approximately 95% of all prologues, if not more, are actually pointless.

Aaaaaand then chapter one opens with Reed Monroe, our main character, reading out loud about a cat watching the narrator of the story who has just poisoned their siblings using poison in a cherry pie. This is going to be all metaphorical and shit, isn’t it.

Reed stops reading because a guy walks into the reading room in the basement of the campus library and stands at the back saying nothing. This is supposed to be creepy, but two things. (1) It would be rude for him to walk in during a reading and start saying something or even walk all the way into the room and interrupt what’s going on. (2) Literally the next page we learn that he’s Lincoln Stark, a cute guy Reed knows who refuses to come to the fan club meetings with her but shows up obnoxiously.

They’re a fanclub for author Victoria McCoy who writes thrillers or horror, something like that. She let the killer get away with his crime in The Wheelchair, but apparently not in the book they’re reading, Jude Noble tells Debrah Kingsley, spoiling it for her, and she snaps at him, though he points out that in order to be a member of the club, they need to have read all McCoy’s works. That might help cut down on people being upset at spoilers but it also is gatekeeping, so.

The novel Reed is reading from is Cat’s Play, in case you were curious.

McCoy is the writer in residence at Salem University and Reed doesn’t understand why they’re having such a hard time finding members for a fanclub of a writer in residence. Link gives them shit by saying not enough people know who McCoy is.

Eh, maybe. I’ve had friends be writers in residence in various places, and outside of the narrow department with which they were involved, they did not necessarily have campus-wide fame. It’s not that big an insult, though I am entertained that they are shocked at the idea that someone might not know and love the things they love. You adorable geeks you.

Reed is super protective of both McCoy and the club, which makes sense considering the entire reason she came to Salem was to work with McCoy. Link tells her he’s grateful that McCoy brought her there, because even when he’s picking on Reed apparently he quite likes her (slap-slap-kiss trope here, I’m guessing), but he’s really brought news to her (and specifically to her, he doesn’t want the others to know until she has a chance to go for it). He’s heard that McCoy is going to need a new assistant because apparently the old one randomly left school.

…left? Or was MURDERED?

I mean, this is Nightmare Hall we’re talking about. I’m hoping for murdered.

After the meeting, Reed looks at the author photo on the back of the book. In it, McCoy looks perfectly healthy, even though she’s recently been sick and only just recovering. Sure, this is a great time for that information, when Reed is supposed to be running off to apply. Come on.

Link teases them all about how much they love horror and talking about how to hide dead bodies, etc. Fuck off, Link. Even if you don’t understand what they like about it, you know how it is to like something enough to be a part of a club for it. You’re in a goddamn fishing club.

AGAIN, despite how eager Reed is to go apply, we spend time on Jude Noble’s plans to be the next McCoy in horror writing. He wears a long, black raincoat around campus because he can’t find a long, black cape. I call shenanigans. You’re a writer. You’re at college. You must know theater people. Take care of your shit, my dude.

Oh, damn, wait, Reed isn’t going to turn in an application at McCoy’s office, she’s actually thinking about visiting her at home that night. Are you fucking kidding me? The first time a student showed up at my house uninvited, they’d be on my shitlist.

Link walks Reed back to her dorm. He talks about how weird it is that Carl would leave campus when he got such good grades and loved his job with McCoy. Again, gee, left or dead, left or dead.

Reed swears to herself that she will get the job and McCoy will have to kill her to get rid of her.

Subtle.

Oh thank god, Reed decides not to go to McCoy’s house that night. Instead, she rushes out of the dorm early, careful not to wake her roommate, Tisha Blackwell, as she does. The sun is still rising when Reed gets to the McCoy house. There’s apparently a faculty row where professors life all together near campus, or apparently on campus. UH. All the professors I know live as far away from campus as they can get without having a terrible commute.

McCoy doesn’t live on faculty row, however, but past the end of the street and hidden behind a grove of pine trees. Reed basically skulked around until she found it back when she first came to campus. 

Even though she thinks it might be too early to wake McCoy, she is determined to do it anyway and beat everyone else.

The house is pretty cool, though: Dark, gloomy gray. Perfect. Black shutters and front door. Also perfect. The house itself was tall and narrow, with small, heavily curtained windows facing the front, top, and bottom. Had to be dark inside, with such small windows and the thick grove of tall trees blocking out the sun. Reed smiled. Perfect. A bright, sunny house was no place to write horror novels.

Considering I’ve written bloody slaughters on the beach, I am not convinced.

Again, despite her rush, we take time to learn more about Reed. Her parents don’t understand why she loves horror so much. She thinks it’s because the rest of her life is so ordinary that she’s intrigued by the darker side of life and how it came out in people. Which, fair.

Random Wing Fact: My parents hate horror, and we weren’t allowed to watch it growing up, but I could read pretty much anything I wanted, so I read horror all over the place. It was the sound of horror movies, the creepy music and sound effects, that terrified my mother most, so she couldn’t eve hear it in the house without being scared.

There are two compact cars parked outside the house, identical shiny metal black. Reed wonders why there are two, though, since McCoy is a widow.

Reed manages to slip on the frozen ground before she reaches the house, and a guy rushes out the front door when she yells. He looks a little like McCoy with his angled face and dark eyes. Reed thinks he looks like a poet.

He introduces himself as McCoy’s son (shocking, I know): Edgar Allan Raintree. 

Good lord, Hoh, could you be any cheesier? I think not. And I fucking love it. (McCoy is her maiden name, and her working name. Raintree was I guess her late partner’s name. Also, everyone calls him Rain. Good lord.)

He brings her inside the house and introduces her to McCoy. She looks nothing like the author photo on the book. She has a pale, lined face, deeply shadowed sunken eyes, and unkempt salt-and-pepper hair. She wears all black, of course: long, full skirt and a long-sleeved, high-necked shirt, over which she was wearing a sleeveless black crocheted vest and a heavy, handmade necklace of orange and black beads. Matching heavy earrings tugged at her earlobes.

Swing and miss, Hoh. You literally said all black, but there is orange in that outfit. Fail.

Reed’s glad she looks different; the woman in the photo looked ordinary, but now she looks like she writes horror novels. She’s perfect.

Reed, I’m starting to get a little worried about your obsession with horror writing perfection and this author and the dark side of people. Mostly that whole “everything’s perfect” bit you have going on.

McCoy (and even Rain calls her that, apparently) is thrilled that Reed took the initiative to come to her, because now she won’t have to go through the administration. Which is, uh, exactly what she should do to hire a student, but whatever, okay, cool.

The house continues to be kind of ridiculously over the top and wonderful, all narrow halls, dark rooms, heavy draperies, ugly furniture, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves swamped with books, a big wooden desk, and a great fireplace.

Pretty sure I want to live there.

McCoy tells Reed that she doesn’t work in the room, she has her own private studio behind the kitchen, but Reed will work in the room. Reed is both happy she’s got the job and sad she won’t work side-by-side with McCoy. How will she learn anything if she’s in a separate room?

…yeah, you’re getting creepy, girl.

McCoy tells her that the university didn’t want her to live in the house, they wanted her in the middle of campus where she would be visible. McCoy held out for solitude, though. She did more things on campus last year, teaching two classes and holding seminars, and she had an autograph session in Twin Falls, but then she got sick.

Reed thinks that’s why she looks so different than the author photo. Apparently Reed’s grandmother looked about 10 years older after she had pneumonia. Ugh, yeah, illness can really wear you down.

Reed’s startled by an odd, falsetto voice shrieking “get out.” His name is Poe, a mynah, but McCoy and Poe pretend he’s a raven. She asks if Reed is familiar with the piece. It’s not until then she realises that’s why Rain is named what he is.

It … it took you this long? WTF is wrong with you, Reed?! You of all people in this book should have immediately gotten that reference.

McCoy takes Poe everywhere with her, carrying him around on her wrist. I have so many questions, starting with how long she can hold her arm out so he can sit on her wrist instead of, say, her shoulder, and moving on to what places let her bring the bird inside, and ending with why. Why would you do that?

When Reed turns to look at him, he starts shrieking “leave her alone.”

Hmm. A talking bird. I wonder if that will have anything to do with the mystery. Surely not. Surely.

(Overused, but I love this trope.)

McCoy scolds him to mind his manners and then she falls silent, her eyes blank. Reed tries to get her attention, but nothing happens until Poe adds “alert!” to his cries, and McCoy snaps back to reality just as fast as she left it.

Did … did the bird hypnotise her? Because that’s a twist I’d love.

Reed looks around the room, uncomfortable with the house for the first time, and its dampness, and its faint mildew smell. She sees a bronze bird on top of one of the bookshelves, one that looks almost as real as Poe; it makes her skin crawl, though she doesn’t know why.

Rain comes back to say they have no coffee though he thought they picked some up, and McCoy’s response freaks Reed right out: People take things, you know, she whispered. My son doesn’t believe me, but it’s true. He gets very angry when I say things like that, but those people who worked for me, they were always stealing things. When I confronted them, as anyone would, they left. It’s so hard to trust anyone now.

…okay then.

(I’m hoping this is a red herring, because otherwise it’s heading toward crazy = dangerous, and I want more from Hoh. I know we don’t always get it, but I want it.)

McCoy’s mood then lightens and she tells Rain she must have forgotten to buy it and they can have tea instead. (Dove would approve.) They talk about the job while they do, and Reed tries to ignore those weird words from McCoy.

McCoy needs her as many hours as she can spare; McCoy’s deep in her next book and needs Reed to answers the telephone and her fan mail, stuff like that. Reed absolutely wants the job still, even with all the weirdness.

(Including her weirdness. She starts normal, telling herself that if the smell gets to her, she’d cover her nose with a tissue, and if Poe bothered her, she’d cover his cage, which yes, normal, OR TAPE HIS BEAK SHUT. LESS FUCKING NORMAL THERE, REED.)

Reed then says she’ll get out of McCoy’s hair so she can work, and McCoy thinks she’s literally talking about her hair, which Rain sometimes cuts for her, but he’s been busy. He acts like that’s normal and gets ready to walk to campus together, since they both have ten a.m. classes.

Before they leave, Rain reminds McCoy not to go into town while he’s gone, and she snaps at him that she’s not a child and she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself and he’s embarrassing her in front of Reed.

He seems sincerely apologetic, and my heart goes out to him. Dealing with a sick, aging parent is hard fucking work even if you have the best relationship.

Reed entertains herself with thoughts of how the fan club will react when they find out about her new job. They’ll all be furious, she knows, but how furious remains to be seen.

That’s getting perilously close to a needlessly dramatic cliffhanger chapter ending, Hoh. Stine would like his schtick back.

Oh, god, we’re only to chapter three.

Rain tells Reed that since they’ve lived there, none of McCoy’s assistants have lasted much later than the winter solstice. Reed doesn’t have any idea what that is, which gives Hoh a decent reason to explain it to her readers who might not know. (In case you don’t, it’s the shortest day of the year, around December 21 in the northern hemisphere.) He’s exaggerating a little, but even he admits that McCoy can be difficult.

Reed doesn’t want anything spoiling her excitement, but she is still feeling that uneasiness.

They talk a little about her illness. She was hospitalized for exhaustion from overwork, though it’s unclear if there was another illness along with that. She’s on medication now that can make her foggy. It’s the only way she can relax. It also gives her mood swings. Oh, cool, this is going to be real fun.

Rain hopes he hasn’t scared Reed off, and she promises he hasn’t, ignoring her own disquiet. She also mentions the fan club she started, and he asks if he can join, too.

Link rushes out along with Lilith, Debrah, and Jude, and Link is not super happy to see Reed with Rain. Reed introduces everyone, and Rain recognises Link from seeing him play basketball even though Rain doesn’t play himself.

Reed gives them the news that she’s going to work for McCoy, and people are shocked and envious — and possibly angry, though Reed can’t tell about Link.

Link brings up rumours around Carl’s sudden disappearance. Reed’s entertained by this because of how McCoy is (creepy house, privacy, taking her bird with her everywhere). Link doesn’t want to tell her more about them in front of Rain, but Rain says he’s already heard them all and his mother can’t help that she’s nuts.

Aaaaand here we go.

People quit because she throws screaming tantrums, she has to be crazy because of what she writes, the house is haunted, etc. McCoy knows about them and they joke about it all the time. There have been stories since her first book came out back when he was six years old. Aww, poor kid, that must have sucked.

Link keeps pushing, asking if Rain doesn’t think it’s weird that Carl stopped showing up in class and disappeared from his dorm, too, not just his job. If you were so fucking worried about this, why didn’t you try to stop Reed this morning? Why did you even tell her about it at all?

Reed will be starting Monday, because she actually put her foot down and negotiated weekends off even though McCoy didn’t want her to do so since McCoy works weekends. She wants time to finish homework, do laundry and run errands, and have a social life. Fair enough, Reed.

As Rain walks away, Reed sees a large black bird circling above them through the snow.

Link wants her to cut chemistry to go to Vinnie’s to eat. She’s not sure because everyone else is pouting because of her getting the job. Before she can actually decide, the bird flies down into her face, slapping its wings against her ears, digging claws into her shoulder and tangling at her hair. In fact, it gets stuck in her hair.

And this is why Wing doesn’t like birds flying near her. Birds of prey are one thing, but little birds, pet birds, I’m always certain they’re going to get stuck in my hair. Wing is not a fan of birds.

Despite our names.

I think I’ve told this story before, but a few years ago while on holiday with Dove, her husband Raven, and my partner Ostrich, Ostrich got too close to bird’s nest and the bird attacked me. WTF bird. Dove and Raven found it hysterical. Ostrich, too, though that stopped the second I ducked into a store to get away from the bird and ended up in a large used bookstore. I proceeded to shop, of course, the only kind of shopping I really enjoy.

They try to save Reed from the bird, but they all fail until Rain comes back, drawn by the noise, and gently lifts Poe off Reed’s shoulder.

Because of course it’s Poe.

Reed is aghast that Poe is the bird who attacked her, but Rain says he wasn’t attacking. Rain and Reed have ski jackets in the same colour, and Poe often flies down to sit on Rain’s shoulder, he just got them confused, and then when he got tangled in her hair. Reed realises there are no scratches on her face, which is a far cry from how Hoh described it just a moment ago. I like that. Really sets up Reed as an unreliable narrator (which, true, might not be intentional) but also is a nice look at how our experiences during an event aren’t necessary what was actually happening.

Rain leaves quickly to get Poe home and, though he doesn’t come out and say it, check on his mother, because obviously somehow Poe got out of the house.

When he’s gone, Link demands that she shouldn’t take the job because the bird is dangerous (well, “nuts” because fuck you, Link) and McCoy needs a baby-sitter, not an assistant. Once a-fucking-gain, where was all this when you were pushing her to take the job last night?

Jude threatens to strangle her if she gets to see McCoy’s next project before it is published; Debrah agrees and says it was a shit thing to do, hearing about the opening and going to talk to McCoy before the rest of them even heard about it. 

Like any one of you wouldn’t do the exact same goddamn thing.

Which is exactly what Reed says to them. Sometimes I like you, Reed.

Reed decides to skip class and go to Vinnie’s with them. Link is still grumbly about it and how weird Rain is; he even says that Rain better not be around the house when Reed is working there. Or what, you jackass? What exactly do you think you’re going to do here? And why the fuck should he not go to his own fucking home?

God, I hate jealous dicks.

Jude demands that Reed show McCoy some of his work and brings up that McCoy wrote a book about birds attacking people. Even Link knows about it, and just so happens to have a copy with him that he’s reading. It’s Wings of Fear and it’s about a pack of vultures terrorising a girls’ private boarding school.

I am desperate to read that, oh my god. DO WANT.

Reed’s surprised he’s reading the books, and he tells her that he wanted to take a look since they’re so important to Reed. And that’s actually kind of sweet, though I’m not over the jealous jackassery from a moment ago.

Link even reads a passage of it to them all. It’s several pages long in the copy I have, and I am a little impressed that Hoh is writing a book within a book here. It’s not super interesting or I’d copy it here, a little old-fashioned in tone, but I still would read a book with that premise.

They give her more grief about the job, and when Reed offers to have Debrah take the days she can’t be there, Debrah gets into a rage because she’s nobody’s stand-in. Which, fair, and Reed worries that she came across as patronising even though she hadn’t meant it that way.

Also, you know McCoy is super fucking protective of her solitude and privacy but you think she’ll be just fine with you sending in a stranger without even talking to her first? Yeaaaaaah, okay.

After lunch, Reed goes to the admin office to fill out her work forms. Even though McCoy hadn’t even talked to them yet? Sure.

The clerk tells Reed all about Carl, who was apparently gorgeous (like Paul Newman and goddamn is that a dated reference. Even dated for me back when I would have read this as baby!Wing). No one thought Carl was the type to leave the job, but that’s what McCoy said he’d done. The clerk does think it’s a little fishy, because she’s a good judge of character and she would have put money on Carl being a reliable guy.

Reed finds all this talk discomfiting because it seems like the clerk is hinting that Carl didn’t leave the job willingly, that maybe something sinister happened to him.

When Reed teases her about reading too many of McCoy’s novels, the clerk says she never reads them, they would scare her, but she doesn’t think you’d have to be crazy to write books like that, or to read them.

What the fuck, you jackass. What. the. fuck.

Reed tries to shake off the weird feelings she has about Carl, but then she starts to also feeling like she’s being watched even though she doesn’t see anyone when she checks around her.

Monday, Reed dresses carefully in black slacks and a black sweater with heavy silver earrings that her brother gave her as a going-away present. Cute. All her friends want to walk her to the house, but Reed refuses to let them because McCoy values her privacy. Uh, you weren’t super worried about that when you started offering to share the job with your friends, dude.

We learn that Lilith is demanding and doesn’t believe in the word no, and will even shout at store clerks if they don’t have what she wants. Yeah, that’s awesome, I’m sure she won’t be obnoxious toward McCoy or anything.

When they’re almost to McCoy’s house, Link finds a gold watch in the bushes, one that is fairly expensive. It has an engraving with the initials CN, and of course they leap to wondering how Carl’s watch got into the bushes.

Link orders her to leave at four so they can walk with her, and Reed shows her fucking backbone and refuses. God, Link, you are a jackass. 

McCoy has a bunch of fanmail for Reed to answer. She’s very cold in the house and misses the warmth of California and the beautiful house she has on a cliff in La Jolla. She even has a staff to take care of her antiques. Why you don’t have a staff here then, McCoy?

McCoy, meanwhile, will be writing in her office, listening to organ music from old classic horror movies to put herself in the right mood, and I love the hell out of her in this moment.

McCoy herself suggests that Reed leave at four, so look, Link, you didn’t even need to be a demanding, controlling bastard. She warns Reed that the telephone is out, it always goes out when it snows. Reed has no idea how people survive without a telephone or, god, a television, which she also hasn’t seen in the house.

My god, Reed, calm yourself.

Read uses a typewriter to answer the fan mail, which is a delightful nostalgic detail here.

Random Wing fact: I love the sound of typing (and at this point of the recap, have a video of it playing in the background, because the internet provides everything), and typewriter keys have a nice click to them that I wish more keyboards had.

Reed has half an hour left after she finishes with the fan mail, and daydreams about what McCoy is working on. She decides to go through the desk she’s sitting at because maybe it will give her a little insight into what a writer’s life is like. Oh, Reed.

She doesn’t find much in the first drawer, but a larger one is full of spiral notebooks with bright covers. One is labeled Cat’s Play. She’s desperately curious and wonders if this is a rough draft, maybe even the first draft, of the novel, maybe McCoy starts every novel writing longhand in a spiral notebook.

That is how I used to write all my outlines. I still will, sometimes, if I’m feeling confused by the story. I love how a notebook feels after you’ve written on about half the pages, how soft it gets and how writing looks on a page.

Sure enough, it’s marked as the first draft of Cat’s Play, and she nearly orgasms from joy. Not that I blame her. I’m not huge on collecting first editions or anything, but it is pretty amazing to get your hands on something so major from an author you adore.

She’s so caught up with hugging the notebook, not even reading it, just hugging it to her chest, that she doesn’t hear McCoy come into the room until she shouts at Reed demanding to know what she’s doing.

McCoy is furious that she was snooping like some thief. Reed’s embarrassed at first, but then gets angry because it’s not like she murdered someone or anything.

Reed. REED. It’s your first day on the job with a person you know likes her privacy and hates when people snoop, because she fucking told you those things, and now you’re going to be angry at her response? WTF. Goddamn college kids.

McCoy assumes that she was searching for the latest work to steal it and sell it to the highest bidder. Why would she leave it in an unlocked door, though, does Reed think she’s crazy or something?
Fuck off, McCoy.

Poe wakes up and starts screaming “mad as a hatter” at them.

Reed apologises and gets ready to leave, though her apologise is pretty crap. Before she manages to open the door, McCoy asks if she’s finished for the day in a perfectly calm, pleasant voice. She says she had no idea that it was four already, and tells Reed she must go before it gets dark but when will she be back the next day.

Reed is shocked that the “horrible incident” has completely disappeared from McCoy’s mind. You mean, where you breached her privacy and then got all in your feelings when you got in trouble for it? That time.

She says she’ll be back around the same time the next day, though, and is relieved that she wasn’t fired on her first day. WELL THEN MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T BE SNOOPING AROUND LIKE THAT LOOK AT YOUR LIFE LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.

Rain turns up and asks how it went, and he sounds actually anxious. Reed tells him it was fine, but can’t decide if she wants to tell him about that weird moment where Reed went snooping and McCoy “went off on [Reed] like a bomb.” 

ONCE A-FUCKING-GAIN, YOU GOT OFF LIGHTLY, YOU NOSY FUCKER.

Rain asks her out to the movies for Saturday, to see a French film at the art house. Reed loves French films, too, but never gets to go with a date because Link hates them. But she’s supposed to go to a party at Nightmare Hall; Link expects her, even though he hasn’t asked her, and she knows he’ll be mad if she cancels.

WHAT THE FUCK, REED, WHY DO YOU PUT UP WITH THAT SHIT FROM HIM?

You got your anger on when it comes to McCoy being mad at your snooping, but Link pulls this shit all the time and he’s cute and fun? God, girl, I give up on you.

She waffles a bit, then invites Rain to the party. She really wants to see the inside of Nightmare Hall because that student died there last spring and she thinks this might be her only chance. Dude, they seem to have parties there all the time, I’m sure you’ll get your chance.

Rain is excited about the invite, but then things turn serious again, and he tells her that he should have warned her before that McCoy is very protective of her works in progress and won’t allow anyone to see it until it goes to her publisher. If Reed gets curious, she needs to not go looking for it, because if McCoy catches her snooping, she’s dead.

Reed is embarrassed again, though it comes across as more that she’s worried Rain will think badly of her than actually knowing she did wrong, and then asks if that’s what her other assistants did. She even tells him that McCoy mentioned something about a “betrayal” though Reed doesn’t give him more information. He says McCoy never told him why they left, but that’s normal, she’s very private.

Reed has all sorts of questions about why McCoy snapped and then was calm again and if that was the anger that drove away her assistants and whether this was what she was always like about her work or whether her illness brought it out, etc. She might ask Rain about it Saturday night after they’re better friends.

Ummm. You expect to magically be better friends a couple days from now? It’s Monday, the party is Saturday, and he’s apparently not usually home when you’re working. How’s this friendship going to happen?

Link, Jude, and Debrah are waiting for her at the edge of the path to the hidden house. Jude immediately wants to know if Reed showed McCoy his manuscripts. Reed points out she’s not going to do that on her first day, she’ll bother McCoy with them once she knows her better. “Bother” is obviously not the right word to use, and Jude is annoyed, because Reed is really doing McCoy a favour by showing her his work.

Jesus christ, save me from white boy writers up their own asses.

Lilith isn’t with them because she’s at the library researching a paper about McCoy for a contemporary literature class. Good lord, does anything on this campus not related to McCoy, the author in residence I don’t actually remember seeing in any of the books before this one.

Reed’s not sure how to describe McCoy, who is either a nice, absent-minded artist or a raging volcano and this is teetering really damn close to how people talk about bipolar in artists and, to be honest, how it sometimes feels, though the people talking about it usually aren’t the ones who actually live the experience.

So she tells them McCoy was nice but spent most of the time in her office.

When they get back to her dorm, she says that Rain’s coming to the Nightmare Hall party. Sure enough, Link’s upset because he was going to ask her to the party. Except you didn’t, dude, and she has every right to go with someone else. She points out that he didn’t, too, because Reed shows just enough backbone with him to make me like her again every time I get too annoyed. Nicely done, Hoh. She also says it’s not a date, but she’s not so sure herself that it’s not.

She then teases Link that he should ask sooner next time because people won’t sit around waiting on him to make up his mind. He gets even more sullen about it, blaming her for being too busy, and that he had no idea someone else was going to ask her because she’s — he stops just before he says “taken,” and a damn good thing in both my mind and Reed’s because she’s not anyone’s property.

I love you in this moment, Reed. But just in this moment. I haven’t forgotten the earlier bullshit.

Link tells her he’s going to keep walking her to and from work until they find out where Carl is and stomps off without saying good-bye.

Good lord, I hope a bird drops out of the sky and pecks him for awhile.

Debrah’s grumpy, too, because while Reed’s cute enough, she guesses, Debrah herself looks like Cher and yet Reed has two guys interested in her, one the son of a famous author. She just doesn’t understaaaaaand.

Damn it, I just want solid female friendships in books. Why you no give me that, Hoh? Why you hate me so much?

Reed teases her into a better mood, though, teasing her about it being her mouthwash and then her cologne, and they’re both laughing as they leave the elevator. Not enough to make me happy again after the competing over boys thing, but a fun little moment.

They have a study group that night and, of course, talk turns to Reed working for McCoy because no one has anything else to talk about even though the majority of these people don’t give a fuck about McCoy otherwise. One of them, Decker, tells her she’s “nuts” for working for McCoy (thanks for that, jackass), because of what happened to Carl, who was a friend of his.

Reed points out that they don’t know that anything happened to him, but Decker isn’t convinced. He was more interested in getting his education than anyone else Decker knew, there’s no way he would just up and leave school.

Reed sticks with the story, but is feeling more and more doubt. Thinking about Carl disappearing from McCoy’s doesn’t worry her, though, it excites her. She wonders if the darker side of life excites McCoy as much as it does Reed.

This just took an interesting turn. I’d be here for queer women serial killers.

Of course then Reed goes back to all writers being unbalanced, crazy, that’s what makes them creative, etc., all that harmful bullshit. And while there may or may not be a genetic link between creativity and being predisposed to certain mental illnesses, it’s (a) not proven and (b) a harmful narrative when talked about in non-scientific scenarios. The idea that you have to be crazy to be creative drives a lot of people to avoid getting treatment because they are afraid of losing their creativity to it. I was one of those people when I was younger, in large part because of how that narrative was everywhere and I felt it deeply. For me, being in treatment helps me be more creative. Steady treatment has allowed me to write daily for more than two years now and counting. I wasn’t able to do that untreated. I was barely able to stay alive some days when untreated.

So yes, I have strong feelings about the “writers must be crazy” trope.

Reed dreams of being in complete darkness, thirsty and cold, and far above her is a glow of light at the mouth of a pit with a dozen vultures staring down at her. They prepare to come for her and she can’t even scream.

She wakes up horrified and thinks it is familiar — and it is. The dream combines two passages from two of McCoy’s books, the pit imprisonment from Pitfall with the horrible birds in Wings of Fear: The darker side of her own mind had paired two of McCoy’s most frightening plots to create an even more terrifying image. How weird. How scary.

But not just weird and scary. Reed now knows for certain how she feels about having a dark side to her mind, and she’s pleased.

Reed the Serial Killer has some potential, and I’m here for it, too.

The next few days go well, until Rain shows up at the fan club meeting. Despite Link being very dismissive of the club earlier, he is there, clearly to keep an eye on Reed; Reed thinks he looks like he could kill Rain, but no one else seems to notice. You’re laying these potential red herrings on a little thick there, Hoh.

Debrah gives her grief for not convincing McCoy to do an on-campus signing, and Jude for not showing McCoy his material. Reed finally snaps at him that if he thinks being pushing is a good idea, he should take it to McCoy himself, which is a good fucking point.

Rain points out that McCoy doesn’t do that, though, she’s a writer, not an editor. And it’s true those are very different skills, though a lot of people are good at both. I can absolutely see McCoy not wanting to do the editor side of things, especially not reading her fans’ writing. She’s very into her solitude, and I don’t blame her for hiding away because people can be shit to creators and think the creators owe them time and attention.

Jude pushes again that Reed just has to talk her into making an exception, he came to the campus for McCoy, and McCoy will look at his work no matter what he has to do to make it happen.

No, really, you don’t have to try so hard to make them all terrible and also all potential killers. I already hate all of them, Hoh.

Lilith reads from Pitfall that night, the one that influenced Reed’s dream about being trapped in a deep hole. Rain says it’s not one of her better ones, it’s too passive and nothing much happens. You know, besides a woman being trapped in a pit, but okay.

Debrah makes the same argument.

Reed defends it because she likes how the main character imagines herself a normal life every day even though she clearly isn’t having a normal life. She doesn’t talk about how terrifying the vultures were circling the mouth of the pit.

After the meeting, they all head over to Burgers Etc. for food. Link again starts badgering Rain about the missing Carl. Rain’s annoyed, in part because he doesn’t understand why people always assume he knows anything about his mother’s work. She spends most of her time in her office writing. There’s not much room for anyone else to learn something without asking her about it.

Sounds like he had a pretty lonely childhood home, but god, getting to lock myself away and just write all the time is the dream.

On Thursday, Reed asks McCoy about Carl because she knows Link won’t let the subject drop. Girl, you need to drop him, he’s terrible.

McCoy says that one day Carl called to say he wasn’t coming in, he was, in fact, leaving school; she had no idea he was thinking about quitting much less completely leaving school. It was a good thing in the end, though, because she knew he was stealing from her and she never knows who she can trust, though she seems to have forgotten about Monday’s snooping.

And by the end of that day, Reed is already second-guessing her decision not to snoop because she wants to learn more about McCoy and how to dig into the dark side of characters. She thinks that the other assistants quit because of sheer boredom, if anything.

Reed talks herself into looking because if she doesn’t learn anything, she’s wasting her time, and if she doesn’t take a risk, why is she even worried about McCoy catching her. Reed, while I don’t actually think death is an appropriate punishment for being nosy, you have annoyed me enough that at this moment, I hope you do die, because you are abusing your access to McCoy, breaking her trust, being shit at your job, and being a terrible person all at the same time.

And look at that, the manuscripts are gone from that drawer. None of the other drawers have anything useful in them. She’s super disappointed about this, but Reed, you brought this shit upon yourself. You told Jude to suck it up and talk to her about his work; why don’t you suck it up and ask her questions about what you want to learn? Jesus.

She knows the rest of the fan club is counting on her to bring back information about McCoy and how she works, and she’s going to let them down. Reed, you don’t owe them shit, and would you please stop trying to screw over your boss just to impress them?

She goes through that one draw just one more time because it’s a jumble of index cards and loose papers, and in it she finds an envelope that has its flap closed but isn’t glued shut. Reed knows she’s invading McCoy’s privacy but doesn’t give a fuck anymore.

Goddamn, Reed, you are a terrible protagonist, and I want to punch you in the face.

The only thing it says is: Now that I know the truth, I’m afraid I will never leave this place alive.

Reed finds it disturbing at first but then realises it sounds like one of McCoy’s books and she wonders if it was the tiniest bit that began one of her books or maybe ended it, and it is fucking something at least. Reed tries to remember what book it might have inspired.

She decides she’ll take it to the next meeting and see what the rest of the fan club thinks about what she found. Goddamn it, Reed.

She leaves fifteen minutes early because she has nothing else to do, but when she steps outside, she starts to feel like there’s something in the pine grove. She thinks about waiting for Link, but convinces herself there’s nothing out there and starts her walk home. She’s just convinced herself that everything is fine even though things feel weird when she takes one more step and the ground opens up beneath her foot and she falls…………..

…………and falls down a dark, narrow shaft.

HOH. YOU AREN’T STINE. STOP IT.

Clearly the next chapter picks up right where the last ended with Reed falling. She lands hard, though not hard enough to break anything. When she can finally look around, she realises that the top of the hole isn’t as far away as she thought when she was falling, but it’s still too far for her to climb out.

She doesn’t understand how she could have missed the hole if it’s been there the entire time and, if it has, why Rain didn’t warn her. The pit isn’t dirt, though, it’s made of smooth, cold cement with no spots for her to dig her fingers into to try to climb to the surface. 

Reed stays pretty calm despite the pain and her terror and goes looking for a ladder, because of course this pit has to have a ladder.

It doesn’t.

Sometime later, she hears Link calling her name, asking if she’s down there. He runs to get a rope from McCoy’s, and Reed hates that he had to leave her alone even for that short while. Link comes back with the rope and Rain. Way to team up despite all your bullshit, Link.

Reed gets banged against the cement walls as they pull her up and scrapes her palms raw trying to help move her body, so she’s not in good shape by the time she’s free.

Link is furious that there was something so dangerous just left open like that, Reed could have been killed, etc. Rain says that it’s an old well that they’ve known about, but it’s been covered since they moved in. No one can find the lid once they do a quick search, either.

Reed refuses to go to the infirmary despite all her pain (including her head throbbing, which means she probably hit it at some point, which means that she’s walking off a possible concussion; y’all know how much Dove loves that).

Apparently Link knew Reed was in the hole because he saw her bag on the ground. He’s pretty shaken up himself, which is the only reason I’m going to forgive him saying that she’ll never not wait for him again. Sort of forgiving him, I guess.

McCoy calls later and offers her a couple days off, but Reed doesn’t take that time to rest either. McCoy reassures her that they bought a new cover for it because the old one still hasn’t turned up.

Reed now knows how terrible it feels in that moment where you think you might die but you’re completely helpless to do anything to stop it, and she thinks that McCoy shouldn’t leave that part out of her stories.

The next day, Reed is sore and stiff, but goes about her normal day. I have to admit, Reed being so stubborn about sticking to her plans is pretty great and makes me like her more and more. Despite how often she then does something that makes me want to smack her.

Link meets her after her shift and they talk a little about McCoy and how she’s always so locked away in her room with her headphones on that anyone could walk straight into the house and steal anything at all and she wouldn’t notice until after the fact.

Link wants to know if Reed ever asked McCoy where Carl went, and he is surprised that McCoy said Carl called her about it, because no one on campus told Link that part, just that he disappeared. Um, Link, you really trust campus gossip as absolute truth? Plus if McCoy is reclusive and Carl didn’t tell anyone else, why would they know he called her? Come on, dude, think.

Of course, Link then starts asking Reed how she can trust McCoy, because if something happened to Carl in the house, of course McCoy would lie about it.

Reed teases him that he’s just trying to scare her away from the job because Rain is there, though she also knows that she finds Rain interesting and wants to get to know him better. She feels guilty about it and kisses Link good-bye with more enthusiasm than normal, her words, which, uh, that’s not really a sign of a solid relationship there, Reed. If you’re not enthusiastic about kissing him, why are you kissing him?

The next day, Rain brings flowers and a note from McCoy to Reed; he told McCoy about the party, and McCoy wanted to wish Reed a good night. That’s adorable on so many levels, including the one where McCoy thinks flowers will help her have fun at a party. I kind of love you right now, McCoy.

McCoy’s note includes a bit thanking Reed for inviting Rain to the party because he doesn’t get out of the house enough. Okay, also adorable, if a little weird that his mother is thanking people for befriending him.

Much later, in psych class, Reed realises that the handwriting on that note is completely different from the note she found in the drawer. McCoy didn’t write it as part of her inspiration. Someone else wrote about being afraid they wouldn’t live that place alive.

Well, well, well.

Just kidding, we’re halfway through the book and I would like some more nightmarish things to happen, Nightmare Hall. It’s not like each book is all that long. I’m enjoying this one, but it feels like it’s taking forever. Which is weird, because I normally like slow horror, but I guess I’m worried that this will stay slow until everything is wrapped up too fast right at the end. [Wing: Note from the future: I was 100% correct.]

Reed thinks she’s turning into Link, trying to see mysteries and threats where there aren’t any, but she can’t quite shake the thought. Lilith interrupts this to borrow clothes for the party, Reed lets her but they’re both snarky to each other in a way that seems like it should be cute friendship banter but doesn’t fully come across that way — it has too much bitterness, maybe.

Rain shows up at the same time as everyone else, and Reed is disappointed. She wanted some time alone with him to reassure him she doesn’t blame him for the open well and to try to get some information about McCoy even though she won’t flat out ask him about the note because she doesn’t want to admit to snooping, but Link, of course, won’t leave her alone. Finally, Reed pushes Link to dance when Lilith asks him to and then takes off to find Rain.

As she gets near him, another girl, looking grim, comes up and whispers something to Reed before disappearing into the crowd. And then Hoh drags out the reveal for an entire page, which is filled with Reed going back and forth on whether she could have possibly heard what she thinks the girl said and goddamn it, Hoh, just tell us already.

She told Reed to quit before it’s too late. That’s what she said.

Was that so hard?

Reed asks Rain if he knew the girl, because of course he saw the girl who spent about three seconds with her, and he does: Lindsey Overmeyer whose younger sister, Karen, worked for McCoy before Carl. Karen didn’t last long; McCoy said Karen was accusing her of forgetting things and being unorganised. She hates being told she’s forgetting things even when she is, probably because she is. She also thought Karen was snooping, something McCoy just won’t tolerate.

He then turns the talk to that mansion in California, which enthralls Reed, though she keeps Karen in the back of her mind. When Rain goes off to dance with Lilith (man, Reed really uses her for a distraction all the time), Reed asks around to see if anyone knows where Lindsey is, but apparently she left, claiming a headache.

The next day, Reed learns from Tisha, her roommate (in case you forgot, which I did, she turns up so rarely) that Karen is “whacked-out.” Apparently Tisha and Reed met at a Tri-Delt rush party back in the fall, and she was tall, blonde, and serious. She ended up joining the Tri-Delts (Reed decided not to pledge; no idea if Tisha pledged and didn’t get in or what) and then became a cheerleader and dated a basketball player and got a part-time job she loved. Aaaand then, halfway through the semester, she quit everything, dumped the boyfriend, and went back home to Baracca, about two hours away.

Quite like Carl.

Reed wants to know why, and Tisha says no one really knows, but they all figured that she had a nervous breakdown or something, overdid things and “cracked like an egg.”

The empathy. It’s overwhelming. (And, sadly, believable.)

Reed wonders if maybe instead they had a good reason, a reason no one else knows about, a reason that, perhaps, was tied to the same part-time job.

Reed tracks down Lindsey because she wants to talk to Karen, but Lindsey demands that she leave Karen alone because Karen’s been through enough. She won’t tell Reed what that stuff is, though, just says Reed will know soon enough and Lindsey tried to warn her. Which is all bullshit, because if Lindsey is going to take the time and energy to warn her, why the fuck wouldn’t she got the whole damn way here? Hoh, this comes across as lazy as fuck trying to keep tension high without there being an in-character reason for it.

Reed asks McCoy if she will let the fan club visit the house, and McCoy is immediately suspicious that Reed wants to allow strangers into the house to go through her things and take who knows what. Reed is angry at this response, but Reed, my girl, you were literally caught snooping on your first day and you’ve taken something from the house. You fucking hypocrite.

Then, like a switch flipping, McCoy is excited to have the fan club there for tea so she can answer any questions they have about her work and a writer’s life, and it’s been so long since she’s met with fans because she was so ill. Ugh, I both hate where it seems like this is going and feel deep empathy for McCoy.

When the fan club finds out, they’re shocked and thrilled. Jude says he’ll bring his manuscripts and McCoy will read them if he has to tie her to a chair, because that’s not fucking creepy or anything. Debrah is the one who shoots that down because she refuses to let him blow it for everyone.

Reed eventually invites Link, too, in part because she’s trying to make things up to him after she spent too much time with Rain at the party. Do not encourage his bullshit, Reed. And Link agrees to go, to “find out why you’re so obsessed with her.” Pretty sure what you really mean is to make sure Rain isn’t getting more time with Reed, but okay, sure, we’ll go with that.

McCoy gives them a tour of the house (except for her studio), shows them pictures of the California mansion, and gives them tea in the living room. Reed doesn’t like the house as much with other people in it, because it seems like the house is disturbed by the noise.

While she’s pouring tea, McCoy suddenly turns to Debrah and asks if they know each other, because she looks familiar. Debrah says they’ve never met and then oh so subtly gets up and goes to stand at the window with her back to the room. McCoy asks if Debrah came to one of her book signings, and though even Reed says no, because Reed and Debrah are freshmen and McCoy hasn’t had a signing on campus since they’ve been there, McCoy is certain that she’s met Debrah before, she never forgets a face.

Reed doubts this, both because of all the ways McCoy is forgetting things but also because Debrah certainly would have told them all about it if she’d ever met McCoy. Still, Debrah keeps hiding at the window.

Subtle, Debrah. Subtle, Hoh.

Rain turns up then and is shocked that there are so many people in the house because it might be too much for McCoy and is Reed really sure McCoy is ready for it. UM. McCoy is right the fuck there, talk to her about it.

Which is exactly what McCoy tells him, because yes, McCoy, sometimes you are badass.

She sends him to the desk to get the photo album with the pictures from Turkey, but it isn’t there. McCoy immediately turns on Reed and accuses her of stealing it, just like all the others stole from her. Reed is absolutely speechless over this, but Link jumps to her defense, as does Rain. McCoy becomes bewildered at that, and so is Reed, though hers is more that McCoy never locks the doors and hides in her office with her headphones on and yet insists on blaming her assistants for stealing things when anyone could walk in and take something.

And Reed has a point about the doors, for sure.

Rain rushes them out the door, apologises for McCoy’s behaviour there at the end, and tells Reed that McCoy will expect her back tomorrow having forgot all about that little attack. Reed agrees to come back, because McCoy needs her, or at least someone, and Reed will look for the photo album the next day.

Link, of course, argues with Reed about it and tells her that it’s not safe to work for McCoy. He storms off when she doesn’t agree with him and skips the meeting that night. God, his tantrums are annoying as fuck.

Rain attends, though, and when Jude is irritated that they can’t discuss McCoy with her son sitting right there with them, Rain points out that they’re not talking about her, they’re talking about her work, and he’s familiar with it enough that he won’t have any problem keeping up with the discussion and they should treat him like any other guy.

And, surprising herself, Reed agrees with Jude. Rain isn’t just any other guy and it is different discussing McCoy’s work with him. They’re all a little more careful about criticising specifics in the work and they all want him to give them personal information about McCoy, which he won’t do.

But she also won’t ask him to leave.

He walks her back to the dorm talking about school, about the social stuff Rain missed out on by traveling with his mother and attending private schools. Uh, as if private schools don’t have dances and parties and fun.

He also checks to make sure that she hasn’t had any lasting problems from that fall down the well, which feels like it was a billion years ago in this recap but clearly was not. God, we’re still only halfway through the book. I am dying.

Reed asks him if he’s going to be a writer, and he says no, never, he couldn’t stand the isolation, he’s too much of a people person, the opposite of McCoy. You can be a people person and still be a writer, Rain.

Reed gets back to her room just in time to take a call from Karen Overmeyer, that girl whose sister warned Reed about working for McCoy. All Karen will say is that Reed should listen to her sister, she knows what she’s talking about. Even though Reed begs her to tell her more because Reed doesn’t know what either of them are talking about, Karen hangs up on her and won’t answer the phone when Reed manages to call her back (going through Information to get the number, ah, the good old days).

Link doesn’t walk Reed to work the next day, because he’s a petulant child, and though Reed enjoys the solitude on the walk, by the time she gets to the house, she’s starting to feel nervous because of that call from Karen but also excited to be there.

Later, she hears a rustling sound, “like crisp October leaves brushing against each other.” She thinks it’s Poe at first, but he’s still asleep in his cage when she checks, and she doesn’t hear it again when she listens hard.

As she continues sorting fan mail, she finds an envelope that doesn’t have a personal return address label but is a business address for The McIntyre Group. She assumes it’s  a fan letter from someone writing on their lunch hour or something, because Reed is a fucking idiot.

It is not. It is a bill for McCoy’s medical treatment in California at a place called Brooklawn. And if that is not a psych hospital, I will eat my hat. If I had a hat, which I don’t, because I hate hats.

Reed’s not sure what to do with the letter; she’s fairly certain that McCoy is going to be angry that she opened it but at the same time, it was in the fan mail. Except it clearly wasn’t from an individual or even a fan club. You’re smarter than that, Reed.

She sets it aside and returns to answering the fan mail, which is something I’d already forgotten she was doing, to be honest. When that rustling sound comes again, at first she thinks it’s squirrels, but not on the roof, somewhere in the room. Oh, no, not in it, below it. Squirrels in a cellar maybe, though she’s not sure there even is one.

Reed opens a window to see if the squirrels are maybe running around outside, but she doesn’t hear anything. She leaves it open because the fresh air is nice, though she puts on her ski jacket against the cold. Uh, Reed, someone’s paying to heat that house, wtf are you doing. 

She doesn’t hear the rustling again, just sounds from campus like the marching band practicing. And I love that sound, so I can’t even really hate here.

Reed finishes work early and while she thinks of all sorts of things she can do to kill the rest of the time, what she actually does is snoop around again, because she’s a fucking jackass.

She goes looking for the photo album on the crammed bookshelves, and finds several newspaper clippings. The first she reads is about Katherine “Sunny” Bigelow who died at Salem University; her body was found on the riverbank behind Butler Hall, the admin building, and at first cause of death was called accidental drowning but then police started to suspect foul play but won’t share any more information. She was, of course, McCoy’s assistant.

This happened back in September, before Carl and Karen.

The second clipping is a follow-up with no further developments. They called McCoy to the station several times, but also deny she’s a suspect.

The final clipping states that the medical examiner did finally conclude Bigelow’s death was accidental and the case is closed despite complaints from Bigelow’s parents.

Reed doesn’t remember hearing about any of this back then, but she was also new to campus and rushing around trying to get settled. She wonders if there was more information available after that last article was published and goes looking for more newspaper clippings in the books.

Then the bookshelf pulls away from the wall. She’s so caught up in staring at the brass raven that she fails to get fully out of the way in time (and, as it falls, she thinks she hears the bird shrieking). She hits her head on the desk as she tries to dodge out of the way and something heavy hits her ankle.

Poe’s cage gets overturned, opening the door, and he flaps around crying “get out” over and over again.

The brass bird is on the floor near her, blood on its beak. Blood from her ankle.

Reed expects McCoy to come storming out of her office, because surely she heard that crash even over her headphones, but nothing happens. Finally, she sits up, holding her injured ankle and thinking about how it all could have been much worse — and how she saw the bird statue move before the shelves started to fall. But it couldn’t have. But it did.

She hears Link at the front door, Poe continues to shriek “get out”, and finally Link storms into the room. Reed tells him it was all just an accident. Link questions her about it; Poe cackles “mind your own business” and I love the hell out of this bird.

Link wants to know if she’s sure that the shelves fell, and at first she’s annoyed that he always jumps to the worst conclusion — but then again, she did see the bird move and it couldn’t have moved by itself.

He points out that someone could have reached in the open window and pushed the shelves onto her, just like they could have removed the cover from the well. Reed argues that she would have heard something if that had happened, but then realises that she had heard something, she thought it was squirrels.

It reminds her of Bigelow’s accident, and she starts to freak herself out. It gets even worse when Link asks where McCoy is; they’re both skeptical that, headphones or not, she wouldn’t have heard the crash.

They’re about halfway through cleaning up when McCoy comes out. She’s more worried about the open window than the bookshelves, because it’s cold (yeah, Reed, SOMEONE is heating that house) and because people could climb in through it and steal things.

When she demands to know why Link is in the house, he points out that Reed could have been killed by the shelves. This makes McCoy laugh “insanely.”

Fuck. You. Hoh.

And fuck you Reed, too, because you’re our narrator and as such, the descriptions are framed through your point of view. Hoh’s playing into the crazy = dangerous trope, but so far at least she’s not subverting it at all, she’s simply using it to mark McCoy as a dangerous other who cannot be fathomed or trusted.

Poe starts shrieking “alert”, which knocks McCoy out of her laughter, and she is terribly worried about Reed now and whether she’s okay and how angry Rain would be with her if anything happened to Reed. She likes it in the house, she wants to stay there, but if Rain saw the chaos — she begs Reed not to tell him. Poe shrieks “mind your own business” just as Rain turns up.

Reed covers for McCoy even though she still has her doubts about why the bookshelves fell, and when she admits that she was looking through some of the books, McCoy gets upset again about Reed snooping for her new manuscript. Thanks to the others, she doesn’t keep it in that room anymore.

Reed wonders if that’s really what happened to Carl and Karen, McCoy caught them snooping and fired them, and they were too embarrassed to tell anyone.

Yes, yes, disappearing because you’ve been fired is a completely believable response.

Reed claims she wasn’t looking for anything, but then remembers she left the clippings out on the desk, because Reed is a hypocritical lying bag of dicks.

Rain gets stern with McCoy and warns her that if she doesn’t apologise to Reed, she’ll have to find a new assistant again. And that’s kind of ominous there, Rain.

McCoy does apologise, though she’s very vague about it; she says it upset her to see her beloved books scattered across the floor and she plaintively asks Reed if she’ll come back. Reed hesitates because even though the house is perfect for a horror author, it doesn’t seem so great for other people and she’s not learning anything about writing or how McCoy brings out the dark side of her characters.

Unless … unless she had been witnessing with her own eyes the dark side of the author herself. Those mood changes …

Oh, yeah, mood swings automatically make someone dangerous, absolutely.

She tries to talk herself into giving it up before something worse happens but she’s still drawn to the house — and also, she can’t stand to see Debrah or Lilith take her place. 

Rain and Link pick at each other over who might or might not have been in a place to push the shelves over; Rain showed up at just the right time, Link has mud on his boots when there’s no mud in the front of the house, only on the side and the spot by the window is the muddiest, etc. etc. etc.

McCoy calls them children and interrupts the argument. She’s feeling completely strange, everything off balance, no one saying or doing the right things, and she wonders if she actually hurt her brain when she slammed into the desk.

McCoy promises to have Rain anchor the bookshelves so Reed won’t have to worry about them anymore. Reed hurries Link out of the house, but he doesn’t have a flashlight on him and they can’t get through the pine grove without one. When she goes back to the house to borrow one, she hears loud music and some of an argument between McCoy and Rain. McCoy tells him to mind his own business, Rain says someone (Hoh writing it to set it up as him) won’t stand for it and is watching her.

Reed hurries back to Link and tells him they’re busy, so she and Link will have to walk without light. Link grumbles about breaking his neck and how both McCoys would love that, McCoy to have new material for a book and Rain to have a clear field with Reed.

The bit about new material puts Reed’s teeth on edge, but she’s not sure why. It’s hard to concentrate, though, because it’s so dark and her ankle is terribly painful every time she takes a step. She’s still moving fast enough that Link falls behind and she decides it’s too cold to wait for him. All she wants is to go home and get warm and go to bed.

Just before she reaches the lights of faculty row, she hears someone walking nearby, and sees something tall blending into the trees like a shadow. She doesn’t know where Link is and he doesn’t answer when she cries out for him to hurry. 

The shadow swoops closer, opens its arms wide like bat wings, and when Reed screams, it disappears back into the trees.

Link startles her, grabbing her arm, and when she demands to know where he was, he points out that she’s wearing boots so it’s easier for her to walk and why didn’t she wait for him.

Reed says she’s too cold and asks if he saw the thing in the woods, but he just teases her about reading McCoy’s stuff again. Reed shouts that she saw something and she can’t believe he didn’t, and she’s loud enough now and with the earlier screams that porch lights are going on and doors are opening as people come to check what happened.

Reed and Link take off, but Reed knows she saw something horrible in the grove, she just doesn’t know what it was, and nothing Link says will convince her she didn’t see it.

They argue over it, until Link asks if it’s Rain’s idea of a joke and when Reed defends him, Link demands to know just what is going on between them and how well she knows him. Reed and I are both annoyed that he only cares about Rain when Reed is visibly shaken by what she saw. 

Link has made her wonder if he did it, though, to try to scare her away from McCoy. After all, he claimed he fell on the path but she doesn’t see any snow on the back of his jeans. Reed tells him she doesn’t want to talk about Rain, she wants to talk about the thing in the grove.

Link connects her description to a giant bat in Night Eyes, one of McCoy’s books, about a timid shoe clerk by day who dresses in black at night and kills people, like the anti-Batman. 

Reed is surprised that Link read it, which makes sense because he was so against reading earlier in the book, but she also knows that he knows she read the book and if he wanted to scare it, that would be a good way to do it.

But that’s cruel. Link’s not cruel.

Or maybe he is and she just doesn’t know him that well.

Reed is torn and confused and sore and all she wants to do is be alone, but when she gets back to her room, there’s a message from Karen Overmeyer wanting Reed to call her ASAP.

Reed doesn’t want to call, Karen can’t know anything helpful, it’s a bad time, blah blah blah, but in the end, she doesn’t, not yet.

Debrah comes in, and though Reed doesn’t think Debrah will believe her any more than Link did, she needs to tell someone, and Debrah is it. Reed hopes that if she gets it out, she won’t have nightmares about it that night. Dove and I have similar thoughts, at least in that a story needs to be finished or the lingering is even scarier than the story itself.

Debrah does seem to believe her, though, enough so that Reed goes on to tell her about the bookshelves. Debrah encourages her to quit the job because of all the things that are happening. Reed thinks she sounds too eager, though, and clearly has her own agenda.

Jude and Lilith turn up after this with the news that it’s sleeting and they’re stuck with cafeteria food for dinner. Debrah tells them about Reed’s story. Jude tells her if she’d been in McCoy’s office showing her his manuscripts, she wouldn’t have been near the shelves when they fell, and Lilith says that Rain would have raced to save her if he’d been home.

Reed is annoyed and hurt that they all have their own agendas and are using her. She’s not wrong, at least in some ways (Jude in particular is an asshole about the manuscripts, especially in this scene), but she’s also starting to sound a little like McCoy, which is an interesting echo especially considering the way she’s so curious about tapping into the darkness for writing horror and how to do it herself.

Link comes to join them eventually, and Reed turns the talk to Sunny Bigelow and whether anyone remembers her. Lilith does, but didn’t know her. She thinks she saw Jude with her a few times, though. Jude claims he didn’t really know her, just saw her a few times. He knows she worked for McCoy and is annoyed that she wouldn’t show McCoy his stuff either.

I’m betting that Jude is a red herring, but goddamn is he a shit.

Reed is determined to go back now, drawn to the house, but says she won’t tell Link. Reed. Girl. He was literally right there when you told McCoy you’d come back. Do you think he’d forget that? Good lord.

Rain meets her at the edge of the pine grove the next day because McCoy doesn’t want her walking to the house alone. He asks if she’s nervous coming back, and she teases him (sort of, only half-teasing) about whether she should be. He promises to keep her safe, but that makes her feel worse, because that could be his way of admitting something bad could happen if he wasn’t there to protect her.

She asks him about Bigelow, and he says that McCoy really liked her, more than she did the others, and they tried to help the police but didn’t know anything. Bigelow wasn’t even working the day it happened. Reed asks if it really as an accident, and Rain talks about how she is worried and he hoped that wouldn’t happen.

Before she can ask him about that weird remark, and it is weird, McCoy storms out of the house shouting about how someone has been stealing from her again.

This time it’s bread. Rain tells her that they didn’t buy any bread that week and she used the last of it to make toast the day before. He offers to go get groceries and asks Reed to promise not to walk back to campus after she’s done working, not until he can walk with her.

Reed is disappointed that there’s no actual crisis at the house after all and then she feels disgusted with herself for it.

McCoy, calm again, tells Reed that they anchored the bookshelves so Reed doesn’t have to worry about them and goes off to work again. Reed answers some mail, but after awhile starts to hear that same quiet scratching sound. She listens hard, trying to figure out where it’s coming from, and eventually decides it must be a mouse inside the walls.

Despite her promise, Reed waits only five minutes after her shift is over and then heads out on her own. She makes it through the woods without anything happening, but she’s worried about Rain, who hadn’t made it home on time and who still hasn’t shown up on the street. Surely it couldn’t take him that long at the grocery store.

When she gets back to her dorm, she calls McCoy to check on Rain, but there’s no answer. On a whim, she calls the local hospital, but no one by his name has been admitted. Wow,  back in the days when they would admit to whether a patient was there or not. Good times. And by good times I mean fuck patient privacy.

Reed goes to the movies that night, and later, at Burgers Etc., Lilith brings them news that someone found Carl Nordstrum’s car and he wasn’t in it. She fcoos that Link was right all along, something happened to Nordstrum because he wouldn’t have just dumped his nice car, especially not in the river.

Reed waves this off again, saying that he could have accidentally driven off the river road, which has happened to people more than once. Lilith points out that if that had happened, he would still be in the car, still in his seat belt. I mean, maybe, if he was even wearing one. Lots of people didn’t back then.

Lilith then gives Reed grief about looking very upset for someone who loves death and carnage and mystery. Surely Reed would find the Nordstrum mystery intriguing. Reed gets angry at this and that Link doesn’t defend her, and goes to the pay phone to call McCoy again, but there’s still no answer, which probably means Rain hasn’t come home yet because he would answer even if McCoy is wearing her headphones. She then calls her roommate, Tisha, to see if he called and left a message, but no. Karen Overmeyer did, though, again, and she’s upset that Reed hasn’t called her back.

Despite how annoyed she is at Lilith and Link, Reed sticks around playing pool and listening to music, but she can’t shake her worry for Rain.

It’s still sleeting when they leave the restaurant, and Debrah talks Jude into giving her his raincoat because all she’s wearing is a windbreaker. He’s wearing a heavy sweater underneath so he’ll be fine, obviously. You’re both ridiculous.

Reed is surprised that it fits her so well; except for the long sleeves, Debrah and Jude are the same size. What an interesting, pointless detail to include in such a subtle way, Hoh.

Debrah runs around the parking lot flapping her arms, playing with the long sleeves, and Reed is struck by how much she looks like the figure in the pine grove. She’s feeling very isolated from the rest of them, very different, and hates it.

Rain shows up in his car, filling Reed with relief, and offers them a ride home. Link, who’s been hanging out with Lilith this entire time, gets mad at Reed because she’s supposed to be there with him. Reed points out his hypocrisy and she, Debrah, and Jude get a ride home from Rain.

Reed’s last in the car, of course. He tells her McCoy gave him a blank checkbook and so he had to go to the bank for cash before he could get groceries. Reed’s testy over him thinking she needs an escort at all, and when he says he doesn’t want anything to happen to her, she actually brings up all his mother’s other assistants.

Well damn, Reed, get it. You’re kicking ass.

But then she drops it immediately. Oh good lord, why, Reed. Why.

They make out awhile, and when she gets back to her room, she finds a note from Tisha. Because Reed didn’t call Karen Overmeyer back, she’s coming to visit and wants to meet Reed in front of the library at 11. She’ll be wearing a purple raincoat and looks just like her sister.

It’s almost 11 by the time Reed gets the note. Now, nowhere in the note does it actually say 11 p.m., but Reed is certain that’s what Karen means. She doesn’t want to go back out into the cold dark, but she wants to see Karen and hear more about what’s going on.

There’s no one outside the library, nor inside. Reed waits until 11:15 before she gets annoyed, but then she forces herself to wait even longer. Finally, right before she’s ready to give up, the bus rocks up despite the sleet-slick roads. 

Reed sees three people get off the bus. Two of them aren’t Karen, and she can’t quite make out if the third is before a car hits her. The bus driver calls for help, Reed goes to tell Karen’s sister Lindsey, and while Lindsey drives to the hospital (wow, Reed, making the distraught sister drive, damn), Lindsey tells Reed a bunch of stuff about Karen working with McCoy. Karen loved it at first then got edgy, but she wouldn’t quit because she wanted to know what was going on in the writer’s mind, just like Reed. 

Lindsey explains to Reed that Brooklawn is a psychiatric facility and McCoy was in there because she had a nervous breakdown. Oh good lord here we go.

Anyway, Lindsey found out that McCoy was accusing Karen of stealing because Karen had a nightmare about it one night and woke Lindsey up by shouting that she didn’t take anything. Lindsey couldn’t figure out why McCoy was lying about Karen, who would never steal anything, until someone told her McCoy was crazy and then she figured that was it.

I hate everything about this.

Despite all of this, Karen swore she would quit when she was ready to quit and not a minute before, but then someone scared her out of the job and away from campus. She got phone calls no matter where she was, and though she never admitted to it, Lindsey thinks she was being threatened.

Reed admits that she thinks Karen came to campus to tell her about why she was so scared. Reed feels guilty over not returning Karen’s calls, but not for long because she’s not the one who wanted Karen dead and hit her with a car after all.

Karen’s not dead, she has a broken leg, a skull fracture, and facial abrasions and contusions, but she was going to be okay. The police blame it on the weather, because of course they do.

Lindsey and Reed get coffee in the hospital because they won’t let Lindsey in to see Karen until in the morning and try to figure out who would have done it. Who even knew she was coming to campus, because Lindsey sure didn’t. As far as they can tell, only Reed and Tisha knew. Reed swears she didn’t tell anyone, but maybe Tisha mentioned it to someone who happened to hate Karen.

Lindsey sends Reed back to campus in her car; Reed’s going to pick her up in the morning. She spends that night trying to figure out what had Karen so afraid and who might have run her over, but she comes up with nothing.

For the first time in awhile, Reed dresses in bright colors instead of black (blue jeans and a bright blue, red, and yellow patchwork blouse). Tisha comes in from class (on a Saturday morning? That seems unusual) to settle in for the afternoon because it’s still raining hard and it’s supposed to change to snow soon.

Apparently Tisha told Link that Reed was going to meet Karen. It was late, around 1030, and Reed feels a flash of guilt that she was with Link then. Apparently some of the other fan club members were in the cafeteria at the same time. Not Debrah, but Jude and Ray and Tom Sweeney and, of course, Link. Lots of other people could have heard Tisha tell Link about Karen, too.

Reed’s fascination with McCoy still hasn’t ended, but she is determined to quit. All she do is go back one more time to give her notice and pick up anything she might have left there. Have you even taken anything there, Reed? Just call in your notice and be done with it if you’re so sure there’s something off about the assistants.

When Reed tells Tisha that she’s going to quit her job with McCoy, Tisha says that Debrah’s been annoying the shit out of Tisha, always asking if Reed’s ready to quit yet and if she is to call Debrah immediately, blah blah blah.

Reed goes straight to Debrah’s room, but she’s not home. Reed’s now wondering whether Debrah’s been running around the pine grove wearing Jude’s raincoat and driving people over with her old, unreliable car.

She finds Debrah in the dining hall along with the rest of the fan club. They’re talking about Karen Overmeyer, of course, and Lilith says they know what book it’s from, McCoy’s The Wheelchair, where an athlete is injured during a game, the coach makes him keep playing, and when he gets a van designed to let him drive with his wheelchair, he runs innocent pedestrians off the road hoping they’ll get hurt like he did.

Oooooooooookaaaaaaaaaaay.

Link demands that Reed not go back to the house because Reed has to be the next on the list. She doesn’t trust any of them anymore, nor McCoy, so she tells them that she’s going to quit and any one of them can take the job if they want.

Instead of going to the house, she tries to call and quit instead, but the phone seems to be down. Then Rain turns up; McCoy sent him to get Reed because she wants to talk to Reed about all the rumours on campus. McCoy’s worried that Reed’s going to “abandon her.” 

My dude, quitting a job is not fucking abandoning your employer. 

Rain tells Reed that McCoy isn’t “really crazy” she was just exhausted and forgets things, that’s why she was at Brooklawn. 

Fuck. out. of. here. with. that. bullshit.

I don’t even have the energy to break this down, but fucking hell, it’s okay to have a mental illness and to get treatment for it and fuck this book for buying into the idea that it’s not.

Reed checks the front of Rain’s car before she gets in, and there’s no sign that it hit anything recently. She then feels ashamed for even checking, but come the fuck on, Reed, you’re questioning people you’ve known all year, of course you’re going to doubt a new guy.

Rain is determined to figure out who is trying to set up McCoy, a theory that Reed shares with him and that, according to Rain, the police also believe. Reed warns him to let the police handle it because it’s dangerous, and he promises her that he’s invincible.

He’s off to run errands while she talks to McCoy. Reed locks the front door when she gets inside, and seriously, Rain, if you’re that worried that someone is setting up your mother, surely you would be locking doors and windows even if she forgets to do so.

McCoy’s not around, and instead of going to her office to talk to her like Rain suggested, she goes to the big desk to see if there’s a note waiting for her. There’s no note, there’s a spiral notebook with Betrayal written on the label across it. Reed’s thrilled that she’s finally going to see the beginning of a McCoy novel.

Are you — are you fucking kidding me right now? You are such a fucking bag of dicks, Reed. You know McCoy doesn’t want to share her work until it’s done, you know she hates people snooping, you know you will feel guilty for snooping, you have judged the rest of the fan club up and down because of how they want to get close to McCoy and use her and look at what you’re fucking doing.

God, I hate this book so much.

Reed reads (heh) about a girl who has been wearing black now, copying her idol, and has been tricked into trusting someone, someone who is going to turn her into the hero of the story, by killing her.

Reed is certain that the new book is about her, of course, and that she’s going to die in it.

Reed immediately starts to blame madness, insanity, on why McCoy is dangerous. McCoy must know that once Reed read the manuscript, she would run away and never come back, keeping McCoy from being able to finish the story. 

Reed, I thought you were supposed to be smart.

Then she notices that Poe’s cage is open. She hears a wild flapping and even though she knows she should leave, and even tries to get to the front door, when Poe starts shrieking and flying at her, she follows him to where he’s throwing himself at the cellar door.

Reed decides that McCoy must have set this up so she would run out of the house where McCoy could kill her without getting evidence in the house. She’s clever even in “the throes of madness” fuck you, Reed.

Poe must be trying to tell her something and is saving her from McCoy waiting out in the bushes.

Are you — are you serious right now? You think Poe is saving you from McCoy? You — you really think this?

Dear god, girl, you are carrying the idiot ball right now.

Reed finds Carl Nodstrum in the cellar. He’s thin and exhausted and tied up but too weak to move anyway. These are the noises she’s been hearing, not squirrels but Carl trying to make someone hear him.

She knows he’s still too heavy for her to lift so she has to go get help. The phone isn’t working, she can’t call the police; she can’t carry Carl and he can’t walk; Link’s not coming for her.

Reed promises Carl that she’s going to get help, but the outline at the top of the stairs says that she won’t. Though she can only make out the outline, because there’s unruly hair and a long, black skirt, she knows it’s McCoy, tired of waiting, coming for Reed.

The person is holding the notebook, and reads that dialog from before, about how Reed talks about trusting her, respecting her, etc. They don’t want Reed to leave and it’s rude to leave before the host wants you to go.

Reed snarks that a famous writer should know to use hostess and not host because Reed is a fucking idiot.

It is, of course, Rain dressed up as his mother. He tosses his costume aside and monologues at her for awhile. Poe brought her to the cellar because Rain brought Poe with him when he visited Carl each night. Why? Who the fuck knows. Certainly not Rain. Or anyone with logic.

Rain’s the one who has been taking things to make McCoy doubt her assistants and to make her look crazy to other people. He wants her to be found incompetent so he can get his hands on her money. If she dies, it goes to charity, but if she can’t handle her own affairs, he can have all the money as trustee.

Rain didn’t kill Sunny Bigelow, though; he was in love with her and told her his plan to woo her. In running away from him and their fight, she slipped and fell, cracked her skull on the rock and slid into the river. He didn’t kill her, exactly, but he didn’t save her, either.

He’s keeping Carl alive because Carl has to die very slowly to make sure McCoy looks crazy as all get out, and dangerous, and incompetent. Jesus fuck, Rain, I hate you.

Karen caught him stealing, so he threatened to kill her and that’s why she ran. He found out that Karen was coming to visit Reed and ran her down with McCoy’s car. He took the cover off the well. He pulled the bookshelves down by tying fishing line to the raven statue.

Reed fights with him over him not deserving the money and if he has her locked up she’ll never be able to write again, but he says she’s not actually been writing since her illness. Ugh, McCoy, that sucks so hard. I mean, so does this murderous terrible son of yours, but losing your writing, and after a breakdown, that is so fucking hard.

Rain wrote the manuscript Reed found, of course.

When he looks around for something to use as a gag on her, Reed flings herself at a support beam and brings debris down on all of them. The worst hits Rain, but she and Carl also get hit pretty badly, though she’s trying to protect him with her own body as best she can.

Aaaand then we skip forward to an epilogue. You know how much I love those. Reed is running a meeting of the McCoy fan club which has grown a ton because of the publicity of what happened before. McCoy’s returned to California and is actually writing again. She visits Rain once a month, and she has a live-in companion, and she’s doing pretty well, considering. She’s even going to come back and do a signing.

Reed can’t stand to say Rain’s name, and she’s swamped with guilt over not trusting her friends., but tries not to feel ashamed about it, because only Rain should feel any shame.

And that’s it. That’s the end.

Final Thoughts

This book. This. fucking. book. I hate how fast Reed buys into the crazy = dangerous thing, I hate the manipulation of McCoy by her son, I hate how Reed carried the idiot ball for at least half the book, I hate the gaslighting of McCoy, I hate the pacing, I hate all the side characters, I hate Reed at least a quarter of the time —

— but I don’t fully hate the book. Somehow. I love that it’s Rain’s greed driving everything, I love Poe being ridiculous, I love Reed’s obsession with writing darkness, I love some of the creepiness of the house, I love McCoy’s books despite them sounding kind of terrible.

So while this book was annoying as hell and felt like it took forever, it’s not the worst thing I’ve recapped here by far. If it was another author, I’d be more forgiving, but this has Hoh’s name on it, and I love her work normally, and this feels like a terrible version of her stories.

I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with R.L. Stine, who is terribly prolific. Every story needs more werewolves.

1 thought on “Recap #258: Nightmare Hall #16: Book of Horrors by Diane Hoh

  1. As a fellow writer named Jude (and since this is one of the Nightmare Hall books I own) I can confirm we are just that obnoxious.

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