Return to Ghost Camp Cover by Tim Jacobus
Return to Ghost Camp Cover by Tim Jacobus

Title: Goosebumps Series 2000 #19 – Return to Ghost Camp, a.k.a. “Everybody Loves Ari”

Author: R.L. Stine

Cover Artist: Tim Jacobus

Tagline: Another summer. Another spirit.

Summary: A big yellow bus roared to a stop in front of our house.

The bus doors opened.

“Going to Camp Full Moon?” the driver snarled.

I raised my eyes to his face – and screamed.

His face was red and swollen – and covered with fleas. Angry, dark blotches swelled on his forehead – raw, fresh flea bites, dripping with yellow gunk.

Initial Thoughts

Okay so I busted my ass to get this recap done in time for the first full moon of summer, but I regret I didn’t start sooner.

“Return to Ghost Camp” is the second sequel from the Goosebumps Series 2000 books, but unlike “Return to HorrorLand” this is NOT a direct sequel. We’re not returning to Camp Spirit Moon and we don’t find out what’s been happening in the lives of Harry and Alex Altman since “Ghost Camp.” And the protagonist in question, Dustin, is kinda a step down from the chemistry Harry and Alex had. I know, I know, I was disappointed too when I found out after first reading this book. I purchased it knowing nothing about the plot beyond the title.

However, while “Return to Ghost Camp” isn’t as great as its predecessor, it has its own merits. Our big villain is almost as mysterious as the previous antagonists and there’s a lot to interpret from its ending. And I must say Jacobus’ cover is probably one of the best he’s done for the 2000 books, eschewing the delightful humor of the original “Ghost Camp” to give us a rather creepy looking ghost.

[Wing: Camp Full Moon. That cover ghost looks like a partially-transformed werewolf ghost. WELL I HAVE HOPE.]

Recap

Dustin Minium begs his parents not to do this to him. He fears something horrible’s going to happen to him, but his mom and dad will not budge on the subject. He is GOING to leave tomorrow to spend four weeks at Camp Full Moon.

As Mrs. Minium finishes writing Dustin’s name in black marker on all his clothes (even his underwear), Dustin’s little brother Logan hops around the room chanting “Dustin’s going to prison!” Dustin doesn’t know how’ll he survive four weeks at sleepaway camp. He’s too skinny and klutzy to go to camp. If only he had big, big muscles like his hero Hulk Hogan. [Wing: Well this aged poorly.] And what about bugs? Will there be lots of bugs? Dustin can see it now.

Sleep-away camp probably has lots of disgusting bugs, I thought.

Ticks that burrow under your skin and suck the blood right out of you.

Mosquitoes that make your brain explode when they bite you.

“Uh – do you think camp will have a lot of bugs?”

Mom and Dad rolled their eyes.

Parents, Wing. You can’t live with ’em, and yet… I don’t know how to finish that sentence. [Wing: Honestly, I think that’s a pretty valid response. OF COURSE OUTDOOR CAMP WILL HAVE BUGS, CHILD. Don’t be willfully dense.]

Logan says Dustin’s room will be his once Dustin leaves, then tells Dustin there’s a spider on his arm. As Dustin swats away the non-existent arachnid, Logan calls him a wimp and whines over how HE should go to camp. Mrs. Minium reminds Logan he’ll be going to Camp Full Moon in a couple of weeks. Seems Dustin got the last spot in the four week program while Logan could only get into the two week program. I-I have no idea if this is an actual thing with sleepaway camps, but whatever. [Wing: I went to a four week religious camp, and there were some people who were there all summer, I think. I’ve heard of two week camp sessions, but who knows if it would work exactly like this. Also, I’m pretty sure I’d send both my kids to the same session, but okay.]

Logan complains about Dustin being the lucky one. Some luck. While going to sleep that night, Dustin thinks about all the horrible things that might happen this summer when it’s suddenly morning and he’s waiting for the bus.

That’s when Dustin sees the driver’s covered in fleas!

I raised my eyes to his hair – and screamed.

His hair was moving!

His hair was alive with fleas. Hundreds of fleas nesting in his scalp.

I watched them glide on their spindly legs. Glide along the bus driver’s greasy brown hair. Glide until they reached the driver’s cheeks. Then burrow under his skin.

I watched in horror as a flea leaped onto his nose. Started to gnaw at it. Dug in deeper, deeper – until a thing stream of blood trickled out.

Before I could move, the driver jumped from his seat.

He reached out for me with black-gloved hands.

No. Not gloves.

His hands were black with fleas.

“Going to Camp Full Moon?” he snarled.

Then he reached out for me.

Grabbed my arms tightly with his flea-covered fingers.

“Let me go!” I screamed.

I twisted in his grip – and a swarm of fleas leaped from his fingers.

Landed on my arms.

Punctured my skin – and started to feed.

Yeah it’s a dream sequence, but it’s a darn gross one if you ask me.

[Wing: Flea-bitten werewolf dreams.]

Dustin wakes up screaming in his mom’s arms while she tries to assure him he’s okay. Explaining what happened in his nightmare, Mrs. Minium points out Dustin has nightmares about EVERYTHING. She suggests he try to lighten up when Dustin counters he can’t help the way he is. Mrs. Minium proposes his team at Camp Full Moon can be a chance to be different. He’ll be spending four weeks with kids he’s never met before. He can try to be a different, braver person.

“If you think you’re brave, you will be brave,” she declared.

Thinking about his mom’s words the next day, Dustin’s relieved to see the actual bus driver’s not covered in fleas. Sitting by himself, Dustin wonders if he’ll be sharing a bunk with any of the kids on the bus when it makes a final stop before driving to Camp Full Moon. The last arrival’s a muscular kid who appears to be about Dustin’s height and age. The kid sits down next to Dustin and introduces himself as Ari Davis.

Dustin quickly takes a liking to Ari as he learns about Ari’s training as a gymnast. This’ll be Ari’s first year at Camp Full Moon too, so Dustin feels less lonely. Ari boasts he can make a knock-knock joke out of any word or name. Even though the jokes are lame, Dustin laughs. But wait, that’s not all. Ari enjoys pulling practical jokes. Why, on the last day of school Ari removed the hinges from the door to the art supply closet at his school. It fell RIGHT on top of the art teacher. Miraculously, Ari didn’t get in trouble. Not like the time he glued the teacher’s desk drawers shut.

Suddenly, Ari’s got a great idea. He proposes when they arrive at camp, Dustin and Ari pretend to be each other. They’ll switch identities to fool the counselors. Realizing this might be a real attempt to become someone else like his mom suggested, Dustin agrees. Swapping duffel bags, Ari gives Dustin his cap before they leave the bus. So long Dustin, hello Ari.

Once off the bus, Dustin’s greeted by head counselor Uncle Lou, a big fat guy with a bushy mustache, glasses, and a fringe of black hair above his ears. Uncle Lou advises the kids there’s a place for everything, and everything in its place. He refers to veteran campers as “Full Mooners” and newbies as “New Mooners.” [Wing: …so many jokes. Those kids have been handed so. many. jokes.]

Lou leads the campers to a row of cabins near the camp lake. One particularly cabin, marked CHEROKEE (ugh), looks rather run down. Most of the windows are broken and shingles have fallen off the roof. Ari’d HATE to know what poor saps get stuck in-

UGH, seriously? A redheaded kid with freckles tells Dustin all New Mooners get stuck with Cherokee Cabin. Ari moans and Dustin gulps when he’s told the inside’s even worse. The redhead’s revealed to be Noah Ward and he’s selected for Apache Cabin, which is supposedly the best…

And so is Dustin-I mean Ari-I MEAN DUSTIN PRETENDING TO BE ARI-oh Wing I’ve gone crosseyed.

Neither Dustin or the real Ari understand how Dustin gets to be in the best cabin when he’s a New Mooner too. Dustin doesn’t think it’s fair, but since Ari says nothing Dustin remains silent too. For some reason, Noah’s very happy to know Apache Cabin’s getting THE Ari Davis (so they think). Noah tells his two bunkmates Jason and Ben they’ve got Ari with them, and the boys are ecstatic. Cheering Ari’s name, Dustin’s got no idea what they’re on. The real Ari’s clueless too. Before Dustin can ask Uncle Lou what’s going on, the three boys hoist him up on their shoulders and bring him to the cabin.

The inside of Apache Cabin’s pristine, and best of all it doesn’t have a counselor (unlike the other cabins). [Wing: BULLSHIT.] Jason tells “Ari” he feels bad for his friend “Dustin,” since he’ll probably be eaten alive by the mosquitoes in Cherokee Cabin. Either that or the bedbugs. Dustin expects Ari probably hates him by now, but figures this WAS Ari’s idea.

Noah, Jason and Ben offer to do everything for Dustin. They unpack his clothes, give him the best bunk, two top drawers all to himself, AND they show him a trunk filled with junk food. After all, nothing but the best for “Ari.” “Ari” is da man, yo! He’s all that and a bag of chips!

Provided “Ari” does what he needs to do.

The three boys suddenly go silent and quietly ask if Dustin knows what he has to do. Feeling creeped out by the sudden mood swing, Dustin admits of course he knows. Immediately the three boys go back to joking around, while Dustin’s left wondering what the fuck is going on. [Wing: Oh, Dustin, what have you gotten yourself into?]

The boys lead Dustin to the traditional welcome campfire held every year at Camp Full Moon. Noah and the other two bring Dustin hot dogs, juice and fries, asking if he wants more mustard, can they get him this or that, his wish is their command. A bee lands on Dustin’s second hot dog and he almost screams, until he remembers he’s supposed to be a different person and finds the willpower to gently brush the bee away. Unfortunately, a lot more bees appear and it takes a LOT for Dustin to not lose it when Ari, the REAL Ari appears.

Poor Ari’s running to Dustin while trying to scratch his arms and legs. Looks like the mosquitoes are having fun in Cherokee Cabin. Noah and the boys depart to get Dustin juice and marshmallows, asking how he wants them roasted before Ari pulls Dustin aside. Ari begs Dustin to switch back. Cherokee Cabin’s a goddamn nightmare what with the hole in the roof, the stink floors, and the fleas in the mattresses. Dustin pleads with Ari to let the joke go on for a few more days.

“Give me a break,” Ari said, bending down to scratch his ankles. “I think my fleas have fleas.”

Reluctantly, Ari concedes to Dustin and grants him a few more days with his identity. Even as Noah and the other two return with lots of food. Even as Melvin, one of the kids from Cherokee Cabin, says he can finally show “Dustin” his shoelace collection.

As Ari leaves, Dustin’s gaze wanders over to a kid by the fire. Watching the boy eat some fries, Dustin’s quickly horrified when he sees the kid grab two bees off his plate.

He lifted his hand to his ear. Listened to the trapped bees buzz wildly.

Then he brought his hand to his lips.

He popped the bees into his mouth – and swallowed.

Dustin’s not sure if he really saw that and thinks maybe the kid only swallowed a couple of hot dog pieces when Uncle Lou tells everyone to gather ’round. As they say, time waits for no one. Dustin tells himself maybe camp won’t be so bad as long as he gets to be Ari. Yet now it’s time for the official Camp Full Moon welcome.

All the campers stood up. They threw back their heads and howled at the moon. Then they cheered: “Old Mooners. Full Mooners. Let’s hear it for the NEW MOONERS!” Then they all howled again.

[Wing: Yes, yes, I am pleased with that welcome. It is not the welcome I received, but it is a much better welcome, and now I want to go someplace that will welcome me with howling. Camp Full Moon, here I come.]

Ari’s surprised the new campers are treated so kindly, when Uncle Lou suddenly tells everyone to give a very special welcome to Ari Davis. All the campers start cheering and chanting Ari’s name, though none of them realize it’s being directed at Dustin and not the actual Ari. Once the cheering’s over, Uncle Lou sits down to tell the traditional Camp Full Moon ghost story.

That’s when Dustin sees the eyes in the woods. Red eyes. Dozens of sets of glittering red eyes piercing through the dark forest. It’s like the entire campfire’s surrounded!

Not noticing the eyes in the darkness, Uncle Lou begins the story. The story of the thing that comes when the moon is full. The story of…

THE SNATCHER

The clock turns back twenty-five years, to the day when a brand new camp opened on a hot day in July. Yet the locals believed the camp should never have been opened. It should never have been built where it was. It was too dangerous. But no one listened.

A bus full of campers arrived that day, talking, laughing, looking forward to their summer vacation. No one was more excited than Johnny Grant. Johnny’s parents sent him off saying they’d see him in August. They didn’t know they would never see Johnny again.

That evening the camp held a big campfire. They roasted food, sang songs, told ghost stories. It was a perfect night for it to celebrate the opening of Camp Full Moon. The campers and the counselors weren’t aware a pack of red foxes had gathered in the woods. The foxes quietly made their way to the edge of the forest near the campfire. [Wing: Goddamn it, red foxes, you are supposed to be wolves. (I kid, I love a nice, creepy fox story, too.]

Johnny Grant was so happy to be at camp. He’d been making friends all day. Yet no one tried to stop Johnny when he stepped away from the campfire to explore the dark woods. But they did hear Johnny scream for help!

By the time the campers and counselors reached the spot where they heard Johnny scream, all they saw were a bunch of foxes.

However, one of those foxes wasn’t really a fox. It was the Snatcher. An evil creature that took the form of a fox when it hunted for victims. Poor Johnny Grant, no one ever saw him again. His first day of camp had been his last. But Johnny wasn’t the last of the Snatcher’s victims.

Beware! Beware the Snatcher, who prowls the woods looking for their next victim! Beware the Snatcher, who can take on any form! Beware the Snatcher, always watching, always waiting…!

[Wing: Ties into the idea of the trickster fox concept that shows up in beliefs all over the world.]

Once the story’s over, Dustin looks around to see how many kids were frightened. He admits it was a pretty good one, before a counselor warns Dustin it’s true. Every year, a kid vanishes from Camp Full Moon and is never seen again, thanks to the Snatcher.

Yeah, sure, if that were true they would’ve probably mentioned it in the brochure.

Before Dustin can head back to his cabin, he’s dragged into the woods by Jason. Jason brings Dustin to Noah and Ben, and apologizes if he hurt “Ari.” They don’t want anything to happen to “Ari” because he’s SO important.

Noah explains to Dustin how they have to talk about the Snatcher. They don’t get why Dustin’s acting like it’s a story, when he told them he knew what he needs to do. Dustin explains he doesn’t know when the boys start to slowly approach him, closing in Dustin. After all, he’s Ari. He da man, Wing.

Frightened, Dustin runs off but gets turned around and realizes he’s running deeper into the woods. He gets stung by mosquitoes and falls into a cloud of gnats, when Dustin turns around to see a red fox glaring at him. Glaring with hungry, glowing eyes. More eyes appear as more foxes come forward. Dustin tells himself the Snatcher’s only a story, yet one set of eyes glows brighter than the rest. Are those the Snatcher’s eyes? What about those eyes? Or those over there? Eyes everywhere!

That’s when a fox leaps forward and slashes at Dustin’s chest!

Dustin’s t-shirt gets ripped as he calls for help, when the fox attacks again and again trying to slash him with its claws. Then the other foxes pounce on Dustin when Noah appears, swinging a tree branch. Noah manages to scare off the hungry foxes, and tells Dustin he shouldn’t have run off by himself. He’s not ready to face the Snatcher just yet.

Realizing Dustin doesn’t have a clue, Noah drops some of those harsh truth bombs. When they said “Ari” is the one, they meant Ari’s the one who was chosen to be the Snatcher’s victim!

And guess what Dustin, since you’re Ari that means YOU get to be the victim instead!

Dustin thinks maybe this is a prank played on the newbies at Camp Full Moon, but Noah solemnly states it’s not. Perfect, the one time Dustin listens to his mom’s advice and it makes him a human sacrifice.

In Apache Cabin, Dustin attempts to come clean and explains to the boys how the real Ari thought up this prank. [Wing: The real Ari who is supposed to know what he’s been tasked with doing. Oh, Dustin.] Of course, no one believes him. Noah jokes if that’s the case, then HE is really Uncle Lou. Stuffing a pillow under his shirt, Noah does a bellowing impression of their wise head counselor.

“You know what they say,” Noah bellowed, just like Uncle Lou.”If you spit straight up in the air, your head will get wet!”

Ben and Jason find this hilarious, when they both start smacking their arms proclaiming each of THEM is Dustin (impersonating Ari scratching his various insect bites). No matter what Dustin says, Noah believes he’s Ari and tells him he won’t get out of being the Snatcher’s prey. While the boys have a pillow fight, Dustin lies awake thinking of what to do.

Dustin’s been told Ari’s the Snatcher’s victim. Dustin and Ari switched places. Is it WRONG to want to switch back now? Dustin tries telling himself that Ari wants to switch back when he hears light scratching outside the cabin.

Is it a fox?

Or the Snatcher?

Predictably, by the next morning Ari refuses to swap identities again. He’s gonna keep being “Dustin” as if his life depended on it. Which, y’know, it kinda does. Dustin figures Ari heard about the whole Snatcher thing, but Ari feigns ignorance before reminding Dustin the campers are going kayaking after breakfast.

Dustin and Ari get paired up as the campers ready their boats to travel on the river through the woods. An argument breaks out when Dustin tries to tell Uncle Lou about the switch. Too bad for Dustin, all his identification was in his bag. The bag he switched with Ari. Ari’s wearing the clothes that say “DUSTIN MINIUM” on them. He’s got Dustin’s wallet and ID, complete with address. Dustin’s got jack shit.

Uncle Lou leads “Ari” away and tells him he can’t put another boy in his place. He says “Ari” has to be brave. Or better yet, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Or better BETTER yet, “Don’t be a wimp.”

Charming.

So what can Dustin do to convince everyone he’s NOT Ari Davis?

Stuck in a boat with Ari down the river, Dustin starts to hear voices coming from the woods on the other side of the river. Dustin asks Nate if there’s another camp nearby and is told no, there isn’t, when everyone hears a horrific scream. Nate thinks it was the Snatcher and advises everyone to stick closer together. That’s when Dustin sees a fox scurrying along the edge of the water, watching everyone.

Back at camp, Ari keeps annoying Dustin by goading him into a knock-knock joke until Dustin finally relents.

“Knock-knock.”

“If I answer you, will you shut up?”

Ari nodded eagerly.

“Who’s there?”

“Dustin.”

“Dustin who?”

“Dustin time to switch names!” Ari hooted.

Dustin promptly drops his end of the boat and tells Ari he can drag the fucking thing by himself.

Okay, so, this is the part where I honestly begin to hate Ari. Clearly I have no idea about what the process for victim selection was at this camp, and yeah it’s understandable he doesn’t want to be a victim. But actively mocking the kid who got stuck in the position instead kiiiiinda makes me wish he WOULD die.

Dustin returns to the campgrounds and sees some kids playing baseball on the nearby diamond. Hmm, but it’s a very weird baseball game.

For one thing, the ball goes THROUGH the second baseman as if he weren’t there!

Even worse, the batter swings his bat too hard and WHACKS the catcher in the side of the head! But the catcher doesn’t even flinch!

Too bad Keith from “I Live In Your Basement!” didn’t know how to take a bat to the head like that.

Dustin figures he’s been in the sun too long and is seeing things. He opts out of free swim and returns to his cabin, ignoring the ever so helpful advice from Uncle Lou.

“But you know what they say: There’s no use burying your head in the sand.”

“Yeah, right.” I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You never know what you can do till you try!” he called after me.

Dustin doesn’t know what he can d until he falls upon an ingeniously simple idea. Call Mom and Dad! He’ll find a phone, call his parents, tell them not to send Logan, and explain the camp’s too dangerous. Dustin finds Noah and asks if there’s a phone nearby. Noah reveals there’s a payphone near the mess hall, but campers aren’t allowed to use it.

Dustin tries to be as sneaky and stealthy as possible to get to the payphone later that night while everyone’s eating dinner. Unfortunately, once Dustin’s call goes through to his house, Ari appears and cuts the connection!

When Dustin mentions he’s calling his parents, Ari RIPS the phone off the cord. Jesus FUCK, kid. If this were any other book written by any other author, we could probably get into a discussion on morality and sacrifice. But instead this is an R.L. Stine book, and Ari did you not simply consider the idea YOU could call your parents too to get you out of there? The two of you had a chance to get out of this Camp Wicker Man bullshit but you’re so determined to make Dustin die in your place the idea didn’t even cross your mind.

Although there is a chance the camp officials wouldn’t let the real Ari go, he could’ve at least tried.

Ari continues to mock Dustin, saying now he can use the phone all he wants and he won’t get in trouble. After all, Dustin can’t leave because the camp needs him. Oh wait, the camp needs “Ari.”

Dustin finally has enough of Ari’s mocking and smugly reveals he still has a way out. Knock-knock, Ari. You wanna know who’s there? Logan, who’ll be arriving on Monday. Ari gets angry and shoves Dustin down, demanding to know who Logan is. The boys start fighting, Dustin screaming at Ari to give him back his clothes and his stuff. Despite Dustin supposedly being so weak, he doesn’t let Ari overpower him and gets a few good hits in. Dustin shouts Logan’s his brother and will reveal to everyone he’s the REAL Dustin Minium. Uncle Lou and Nate hear the fighting and try to break it up, with Dustin swearing things’ll change on Monday.

Oh, Dustin, you really shouldn’t have revealed your trump card too early. [Wing: Seriously. You’ve given them all the details you need, Dustin. Poor choices, man. Poor choices.]

The next evening there’s another campfire even though Dustin’s worried it might rain. Noah and the boys set up a betting pool over who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouths. The boys try to get Dustin to join them when Ben suddenly spews chewed-up marshmallows in the face of Melvin the shoelace lover. Dustin still declines to join the “fun.”

Dustin tries to focus on tomorrow when Logan’ll come. Ari continues to act smug so Dustin heads to the other side of the fire where he sees some boys roasting marshmallows in a rather… unorthodox method.

“Jeremy, do you have an extra stick?” a blond-haired kid asked his friend.

Jeremy didn’t answer him. He was too busy shoving marshmallows onto his fingers. Wearing them like rings.

The blond-haired kid stared down at the marshmallow in his hand.

Shrugged his shoulders.

Then plunged his arm into the fire.

I shut my eyes tight.

I didn’t see that.

I opened my eyes.

“Are you crazy?” Jeremy yelled at the blond-haired kid. “If you don’t have a stick, do it this way!”

Jeremy stuck his fingers into the flames.

Everyone laughed.

These kids are crazy! I thought. They’re going to burn their hands off!

I jumped up.

Another kid placed a marshmallow between his front teeth.

I watched in horror as he stuck his whole head into the fire. Flames crackled around him. The marshmallow between his teeth began to blacken.

Left thoroughly unnerved and frightened, Dustin runs into the woods trying to think of a way to escape. He can’t stay at the camp any longer, it’s too dangerous. I mean, he’s being offered up as a human sacrifice by a bunch of pyros.

[Wing: Okay, if I can’t have werewolves, I’ll take the kids roasting marshmallows by putting themselves into the fire. What a useful skill. Going into the fire, I mean, not necessarily using it to roast marshmallows. Though…]

Dustin keeps running when he suddenly collides with someone in the woods. A girl! A blond girl with freckles. Dustin asks what she’s doing out in the woods and the girl says she’s from the girls’ camp, even though Dustin was told there’s no other camp nearby. The girl says the counselors do that so the boys don’t try to sneak over. The girl, Laura Carter, claims it’s on the shore of the river.

And she knows Dustin, I mean, “Ari’s” name.

Laura tells a spooked Dustin she knew who he was because she saw the boys kayaking the other day and heard the boys teasing him about not liking bugs. Dustin again asks why Laura’s out in the woods and Laura explains she hates her camp. She hates the counselors and she hates the campers. She wants to escape, but as of right now all she does is sneak away to wander the woods. Clear her head, so to speak. Dustin asks if she’s afraid of the Snatcher, shocking Laura. She didn’t think they told the story at the boys’ camp. Laura wasn’t sure if it was true, but if they tell it at the boys’ camp maybe…

Dustin apologizes for upsetting Laura, trying to empathize with her since he hates camp too. Laura proposes they could help each other escape by getting to the other side of the river. From there they can make it through the woods until they reach the highway. Laura’s so excited she thinks they can escape now, but Dustin can’t leave until Logan arrives. The two promise to meet tomorrow evening when lightning appears above, prompting Dustin to head back to camp.

As he does, as lightning illuminates the sky, for one moment Dustin saw a fox with familiar eyes at the end of the trail. Dustin picks up a rock and throws it at the fox, causing it to leave with a snarl. By the time Dustin returns to the camp, the fires are out and everything’s dark. Having missed Lights Out, Dustin returns to Apache Cabin thinking tomorrow will be the game changer.

Welp, turns out Dustin was wrong as usual. He slept through breakfast and it’s 11 AM. Dustin hurries to meet his brother when he sees the bus already arrived. New campers exit the vehicle and Dustin notices Ari nearby. Dustin spots Logan by his hat, and Uncle Lou can’t help but compliment Logan on it.

“Nice hat, kid,” Uncle Lou tugged on Logan’s cap. “You know what they say: If you want to get ahead – get a hat.”

“Uh. Thanks,” Logan said.

I-it’s like spending the summer with Mark Twain, Wing.

Anyway, Dustin’s sure now that Logan’s arrived he can finally get people to believe he’s really Dustin Minium and NOT Ari Davis.

…but why is Logan saying ARI is his brother???

Even Dustin’s own brother doesn’t believe him! [Wing: Alternatively, your brother who picks on you all the time has decided this is the best joke ever and doesn’t know about the sacrifice or does know and is also a budding serial killer.] Dustin begs Uncle Lou to believe that Logan is HIS brother, not Ari’s, and everyone just stares at Dustin like he’s grown a second head. Dustin’s forced to watch as Ari walks off with Logan and Uncle Lou attempts to settle this “Dustin/Ari” business once and for all. He says since EVERYONE thinks he’s Ari, why not just PRETEND he’s Ari? Dustin continues to scream he’s not Ari Davis so Uncle Lou ignores him to deal with the new campers.

Left in a daze, Dustin’s not sure what could’ve happened with Logan when he notices some boys swimming in the lake. Laughing, splashing, then they all go beneath the water…

For a really long time.

No bubbles or anythin-OH CRAP THEY DROWNED.

Dustin starts freaking out because somehow he’s all alone. The boys have been underwater for like five minutes! They’re de-oh wait they’re fine. Laughing and splashing like nothing happened. Reeling, Dustin can’t handle this and finds Logan and Ari. Logan actually likes Ari’s jokes until Dustin drags him away where they can be alone.

It turns out Logan’s being FORCED to lie about Dustin. Because Dustin slept late, Ari took the chance to get to Logan first. He’s threatening to beat the shit out of Logan if he doesn’t keep up the lie. [Wing: … or that. I suppose that’s also an option.]

Seriously, fuck Ari.

Dustin feels bad for his brother, but tells him everything’ll be okay once they leave tonight. Logan reminds Dustin he actually wants to be here, he just has to pretend Ari’s his brother. Seeing Logan’s scared enough of Ari as is, he doesn’t want to frighten his brother by mentioning the Snatcher.

Left alone, Dustin figures the best course of action is to escape with Laura, get to a phone, and call his parents so they can rescue him AND Logan. Intent to wait out the rest of the day in his cabin, Dustin passes by the archery field. Dustin watches a skinny kid named Todd focus on a rather interesting target.

Todd slipped the arrow into his bow.

He took aim.

I followed his glance – and gasped.

He was aiming at another camper. A short, chubby kid named Billy.

Billy stood with his arms outstretched – and he already had an arrow sticking out of his chest!

Billy was the target!

Todd pulled his arm back – and let the arrow fly. It flew straight into Billy’s shoulder.

Billy didn’t cry out. He didn’t even flinch. Grinning, he started to pluck it out.

“Leave it there!” Todd called. “I want to see f I can shoot another one right underneath it.”

I started to cry out – but Todd let another arrow fly fast.

He missed. It didn’t hit Billy’s shoulder. It flew right into Billy’s forehead.

“Stop it!” I yelled. “You’re sick!”

Todd and the other kids turned to me.

Giggling, they aimed their bows and arrows at me.

RUN, DUSTIN, RUN!

Dustin decides he’ll hide in the woods until nightfall, when the moon is high in the sky to light the path. By night, Dustin tries to find his way back to the tree where he met Laura and starts getting stung by mosquitoes. That’s when he hears footsteps and an animal howl behind him. Do foxes howl, Wing? [Wing: Some do, yes, though more often you’ll hear barking or yipping from them. Also: Why do I know this shit and not useful things? Why?] Dustin runs and trips over a fallen tree branch, landing in front of a scared Laura. Laura reveals her day at camp was no fun either. When her bunkmates found out she’s ticklish, they tickled her until she cried. Bullying AND potential molestation, reminds me of middle school. A ha. Ahaha. Ugh.

Laura leads Dustin to the river so they can get to the highway when they hear an animal shrieking in pain. Then they hear laughter and whispers.

“It’s probably just the kids from camp. The wind must be carrying their voices.”

“There is no wind blowing,” she replied.

Suddenly the wind started to blow.

Jinxed it, Laura.

The icy wind practically forces the kids against a tree, making the trees around them creak and groan. Laura’s terrified exclaiming the woods were never this creepy before. Finally, Laura manages to lead Dustin to the riverbank. She says they’ll be safe once they swim across to the other side and starts dragging Dustin to the water. Laura promises the water’s shallow when a voice commands the two to stop.

It’s Noah, floating above the trees, light from the moon shining through him!

Noah yells at Dustin not to move as Laura yells at Dustin to get away from Noah. However, Noah starts circling around Dustin and Laura, forcing Laura to jump into the river first. Dustin’s about to jump in when Noah grabs his arm, ordering Dustin to stop fighting as Dustin screams Noah’s the Snatcher.

Holding Dustin back, Noah states he can’t escape through the river when Dustin finally breaks free. Laura’s gotten out of the river and starts grabbing Dustin when Noah exclaims LAURA is the Snatcher! Noah admits about half the kids at Camp Full Moon are ghosts of the Snatcher’s victims. Over Laura pleading with Dustin to go, Noah reveals every year the ghosts choose someone to fight for them so they can be free. They can only escape Camp Full Moon if someone alive makes it across the river.

*deep breath*

Noah, sweetie. That sort of information would’ve been useful like A DOZEN CHAPTERS AGO. You wanted Dustin to fight for you without telling him what the fuck is going on?! How did you think this was going to work?! You guys made him believe you were serving Dustin up on a platter, and it led him straight into the Snatcher’s clutches! Jesus no wonder half the kids are ghosts.

[Wing: Yeah, their plan lacks some, you know, USEFUL ANYTHING. Details, instructions, making themselves sympathetic so he wants to fight for them, whatever.]

However, Dustin’s not sure who to believe, Noah or Laura. I can’t blame him if Noah waited until NOW to reveal the truth. Both sides call the other a liar. Laura says she can help Dustin by getting him across the river. Noah asks if Laura told him there was a girls’ camp when there isn’t, and if he goes in the river he’ll die. Dustin points out BOTH sides want him to cross the river, when Noah specifies they need Dustin to cross the river and SURVIVE. [Wing: …but that still means he needs to cross the river! You just told him if he even goes into the river, he’ll die, so, uh, BE MORE SPECIFIC AS TO HOW HE NEEDS TO CROSS IF IT DOESN’T INVOLVE GOING INTO THE RIVER. Or at least tell him that he needs to find another way.]

Dustin can’t take it any more and runs down the riverbank, trying to get away from Noah and Laura. Noah and Laura chase after him when Laura shouts she can’t wait any further. Dustin thinks she’s gonna leave him and swim across on her own until she announces he’ll become the NEW ghost at Camp Full Moon! [Wing: Way to blow your cover story too soon, Laura.]

Dustin watches in horror as Laura turns into a snarling red fox, lunging at him and grazing his neck with her teeth. The Snatcher tries to hold onto Dustin, digging its claws into Dustin’s skin and biting his shoulder. Dustin tries tickling the creature, but proves useless. However, Dustin uses all his strength to hurl the Snatcher back into the woods.

Noah begs Dustin to cross the river so he can save all the tormented souls in Camp Full Moon, but stops Dustin before he jumps into the river. Dustin finally sees why he can’t swim across.

I teetered at the river’s edge – and stared in horror at the hands. Dozens of slimy green hands that poked up from the water.

Grasping hands.

Reaching up from the river bottom.

Grabbing for my legs.

Grasping for my ankles.

Horrible moans rose from the river as the hands stretched out for me.

Noah explains the river is filled with monsters. The Snatcher wanted Dustin in the water so those creatures could pull him under. Dustin thinks this is hopeless since how is he supposed to save anyone if he can’t cross the river? Noah points further down the river to a low-hanging tree branch, saying Dustin can cross by using it. That’s why the ghosts chose Ari Davis. They knew he’s a gymnast so this should be a snap. [Wing: USEFUL INFORMATION BEFORE THIS MOMENT.]

If only Dustin actually WAS Ari, but at this point he’s not gonna bother trying to correct Noah. Again, Noah pleads with Dustin to do it for the sake of the dead boys.

So, Dustin runs to the tree and grabs the branch, With both hands Dustin starts to move across the branch, trying to make sure the hands in the river don’t grab his feet. His hands and shoulders start to ache as Dustin makes it to the halfway point, but the branch is starting to get slippery. The moaning turns into a frenzy as the hands become more excited thinking Dustin’s going to fall when his hands slip AND-

He’s floating in midair! Noah grabbed Dustin before he hit the water and tells him to grab the branch again. I guess it doesn’t count if he drops Dustin on the other side. Then again, if the ghosts are stuck in Camp Full Moon can they cross the river at all or would Noah vanish if he got any closer to the other side?

Dustin’s grabbed the branch again until he hears a familiar snarling and sees the Snatcher near the tree! He frantically starts moving while the Snatcher climbs up the tree onto the branch. The moaning gets louder, Noah cheers harder, and Dustin’s almost there when he hears a snap! The branch! It’s breaking from the Snatcher’s weight! The Snatcher leaps forward and Dustin hurls himself to the shore! He did it! He made it to the other side!

Dustin watches as the Snatcher howls, falling into the churning water into the hands of the angry monsters. The Snatcher’s getting torn apart by the green hands until it disappears beneath the water alongside the branch!

The water goes still and silent, and Dustin wonders if the Snatcher will reappear when OH SHIT A HAND’S GOT HIM!

No wait it was a vine.

COME ON STINE JUST AS IT’S ABOUT TO END. [Wing: I guess we can’t fault Stine being Stine.]

Anyway, from the other side of the river Noah thanks Dustin for his bravery. Noah fades away saying all the dead children at Camp Full Moon can finally rest in peace, thanking Dustin again before he disappears. Dustin cheers for himself, saying he really was brave. He conquered his fears and he beat the Snatcher.

So uh, how’s he gonna get back to camp?

Final Thoughts

I mean, since Dustin wanted to leave camp anyway it’s not like he’s stuck on another planet so I wouldn’t worry about it.

The cons to this book were mainly how hard Ari seemed to work at making us wish he actually would get eaten by the Snatcher. There’s a fine line between trying not to die and gleefully making sure someone gets killed in your place. Yet on the other hand, Noah and Uncle Lou didn’t do anything to help the situation. Like, you’d think they would let the selected kid know what the deal was instead of letting them spend days believing they’re gonna die just because. [Wing: Especially since they chose Ari because of his gymnastics skill! Kind of an important thing to confirm your would-be savior has!] I really hope if Dustin makes it back to camp, at the end of the program when his mom and dad show up he finally gets to reveal what Ari did and humiliate him in front of the other boys and the parents.

The pros are the escalation of the bodily harm pranks, the mystery of the Snatcher, and despite everything we do see Dustin developing something of a backbone. Whereas the Camp Spirit Moon ghosts stabbed or hurt themselves one at a time, we’ve got kids sticking their heads into campfires and one guy being used for target practice in broad daylight. Even though the camp’s not entirely made of ghosts. That was ballsy. It’s another contrast between Stine’s writing style in the original books and the 2000 line.

Despite Dustin thinking of himself as a klutz, I appreciated how he wasn’t outmatched in his fight against Ari. Normally you’d expect these situations to go with the weaker kid getting their ass handed to them. Dustin’s physical altercation with Ari has both of them giving as good as the other. Near the end, despite that he knew he wasn’t Ari instead of simply running down the riverbank he made the effort to cross the river and help the kids.

Snatcher by Ron Randall
Snatcher by Ron Randall

Finally, there’s the whole thing with the Snatcher and the monsters in the river. I’ve long considering the idea the reason the Snatcher wanted to get kids into the water every year is because it worked for the river monsters. THEY were the Snatcher’s masters and the Snatcher had to supply them with a new victim each summer. That’s why they tore the Snatcher apart at the end.

Other than that, it’s easy to get behind the Snatcher’s level of brutality. In “Ghost Camp,” Lucy and the others were killed by the black fog, but the fog itself had no personality or agency. The Camp Spirit Moon ghosts were villains, yet sympathetic. The Snatcher’s evil not just because it murders kids, but their souls remain trapped at the camp so they can’t even go to the afterlife.

So, while this book’s not as great as “Ghost Camp,” it’s still enjoyable on its own. I just wish it hadn’t been labeled as a sequel. [Wing: I mean, I guess it is a ghost camp in itself, but that tagline really needs to be: Another summer. Another camp. Another spirit.

And werewolves. Definitely needs more werewolves.]

1 thought on “Recap #267: Goosebumps Series 2000 #19: Return to Ghost Camp by R.L. Stine

  1. Another one I got no access to it so it was nice to have a more detailed recap of it. Not sure what else they could have called this one but calling it Return to Ghost Camp was weird, felt like Stine/Scholastic has no confidence in this book and wanted to ride the coattails of a more popular one. I’ll always remember Blogger’s Bewares jokes about the supposed gay subtext in this book.

    Also, the name Camp Full Moon appeared in the Fear Street book Sunburn, so it’s nice to know name rehash crosses series. (My head canon is that they’re the same, it’s just new management)

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