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Recap #39: The Phantom by Barbara Steiner

The Phantom by Barbara Steiner

The Phantom by Barbara Steiner

Title: The Phantom by Barbara Steiner

Summary: When Reggie Westlake turns up at the school rally marking the start of the football season, the crowd goes wild. He’s the greatest player Stony Bay High School ever had. Quarterback and Captain, Reggie led the winning team for two years running, raising the school spirit higher than ever before. No one could forget his black and gold jersey bearing the number nine. He’ll always be the school hero, the one everyone loves. There’s just one thing… Reggie’s dead.

Tagline: He’s got the killer instinct

Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.

Initial Thoughts

I’ve never read this one before, but I love high school football and ghost stories, so … who am I kidding, I’m pretty sure this is going to be terrible. I guess we’ll see.

(Note from the future: Actually, I quite enjoyed it, until that ending.)

[Dove: I had never read this before either. Hadn’t even heard of it until I bought a bundle of PH books and it was in there. I wish I could go back to that time.]

Recap

Amelia Seibert is trying to help her best friend, Jillian Hoff, but Jilly (there was a middle grade book series called Peanut Butter and Jelly because the main characters were nicknamed Peanut and Jilly. The more you know) is having none of it. (Description: ghostly white face surrounded by white-blond hair, haunted blue eyes.)

Though Jilly did a lot of healing over the summer, all of that has vanished. She says she can’t go to the pep rally and begs Mel to leave her alone. (I have never known anyone to use Mel as a nickname for Amelia. I like it.) Amelia tries to talk her into going into the gym, promises to stay right beside her, but Jilly shrugs her off and says she’ll go home.

At first, Mel tries to pretend to be angry so she won’t cry from sadness, but then she realizes the anger is actually real. That is a sucky moment, when you realize, whoops, I’m actually furious right now, and didn’t even realize it. Emotions are difficult.

She then snaps at Jilly to fine, go home, go enjoy her self-pity, and that she can’t help Jilly any more and doesn’t even want to try. After she runs off toward the auditorium, she tries to get control of herself because she has to get up in front of the entire school.

She slips into the auditorium and tries to sooth herself with all the normal activity going on around her. Why in the world are they holding a pep rally in an auditorium and not the gym? On the stage, the rest of the cheerleading squad, the football coach and some members of the team (well, the book just says the coach and members of the team, but I am assuming there is an unspoken football there, both because of the book’s summary and because in so many schools, football is the only sport that really matters). Seniors fill in the front rows, sophomores hung in the back, not sure of themselves yet. (Oh, I wonder if this is a high school that only includes years 10, 11, and 12, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. My high school was like that, but I know it is unusual.)

Once Amelia is pretty sure she can participate without going to pieces, she pastes on a big, cheery smile and bounces up to the stage. Garth Dreyer asks her where Jilly is, and she tells him that Jilly wouldn’t leave the locker room, and that she’s not even sure she wants to stay on the squad. He is sympathetic, and admits that all summer he wasn’t sure if he could play football again, but when August’s training started, he knew he had to play, because Reggie Westerman wouldn’t want him to stop.

Amelia says that’s what she told Jilly, that Reggie wouldn’t want her to grieve forever. He and Jilly loved each other, and he would want her to still be happy.

Garth reassures Amelia that she can’t actually change Jilly, and tells her that he is worried she is giving up too much of herself trying, then asks if she’ll be able to make it through the assembly. Look, Steiner, an assembly is very different from a pep rally, which is it? Amelia tells him that she’s fine, and asks if he’s okay. I do like that these friends keep checking in on each other. That’s decent.

He says he is, but that he’s worried word will get out that he broke training. If it does, he’ll be benched for two games. How did he break training? He studied with Amelia instead of at home alone. That — that is a strict schedule and a damn harsh punishment. I’m guessing football is SRS BZNS in Stony Bay.

(I keep wanting to type Stoneybrook, which is the town in the Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin, and now I want a really great crossover between BSC and Point Horror.)

Garth asks why Travis Westerman is at the assembly. He’s “a tall, handsome man, totally the opposite coloring from his brother Reggie, but equally as good-looking.” That tells us pretty much nothing except that he’s hot, and we don’t even know how he is hot, because we don’t know what coloring his brother had! COME ON, STEINER! He’s carrying a pen and clipboard. Amelia explains that he’s writing the sports section of the local daily newspaper. Garth is shocked that he even wants to be at the pep rally. (ASSEMBLY OR PEP RALLY MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND!)

Amelia, as captain of the cheerleading squad, is in charge of running the pep rally, and gets everyone started on the first cheer. The cheerleaders wear new uniforms, black and gold sweaters and skirts or trousers, and Sandy Sargent flashes a cue card with a huge black and gold “S” stenciled in the center. The students respond half-heartedly, and Amelia keeps shouting to help build up their energy.

The cheer goes all the way through spelling out STONY BAY BOMBERS which is a damn long cheer, I have to say. The cheer ends with a pyramid, the top girls somersaulting off, and the boys cartwheeling or split-jumping. Amelia then introduces Ms Wiggens, school principal who used to be a popular math teacher. (Description: Hair in a bun, pleasingly plump, and while she looks meek and mild at first glance, she has a booming voice and tons of energy. My god, an actual fat woman who is pretty cool? WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE?)

Ms Wiggens leads a second cheer, and then Amelia introduces Coach Paladino, who is super strict. He talks a little about winning, and then introduces Garth, who is team captain, and also nicknamed Vader, because his name is so close to the legendary villain. Unintentionally, his non-movie buff parents claim, but even if you aren’t a movie buff, if you live in the US and aren’t a part of a group that shuns television, you’ve heard of Darth fucking Vader. I’m just going to pretend the students have nicknamed him after Big Van Vader the wrestler. [Dove: Who, thanks to my love of Boy Meets World, I truly believe is Ethan Suplee’s dad. I have seen Bill Suplee on My Name is Earl, and I still think it’s a lie. Vader, I love you. IT’S VADER TIME!]

Amelia is entertained by how panicky Garth looks, but she did help him write his speech during their study session so maybe he wouldn’t freeze up when speaking in front of a crowd like normal. But before he can start to speak, the dark curtain at the back of the stage creaks open, and a fog-like mist rolls out.

And from the fog appeared a player no one expected to see this year. A player no one expected to see ever again. Number Nine – Reggie Westerman. Standing in the vaporous mist, circling and floating around it, the figure looked ten feet tall. A menacing hulk, shoulders padded to gigantic proportions, it loomed over the stage.

The figure swayed like a death puppet, held up only by invisible strings of dusty light beams. The golden helmet, like a polished human skull, moved slowly back and forth. The face mask, with its dark eye sockets, grinned through a bony, skeletal mouth. Surrounded by layers of velvet shadow, the player shimmered in the pale, gold moisture. Raising his arms, Reggie, black chest blazoned with a gold nine, claimed the stage, the audience, the moment of swelling awe. Then he pointed at Amelia and Garth, beckoning to them, Come! Follow me back into my sweet, dense darkness.

Amelia watches, frozen, and can’t figure out if she’s imagining a rank, foul odor, the “stagnant smell of decay.” She’s tempted to walk toward him, but then he disappears in the billowing smoke (look, Steiner, is it fog, mist, or smoke?!), and the black curtains slide closed again.

Amelia realizes she’s moaning, and presses her fist to her mouth, biting off her cries. The rest of the audience is screaming, and we get the back story. Reggie used to be quarterback, and he was a better player than Stony Bay had ever seen. Reggie was being scouted by colleges his senior year, and he was pretty much the golden god of Stony Bay football. (Except I’m still not clear what he looks like, so maybe not “golden” god.) The last game of the season, he was injured, his spinal cord damaged, and he was in a coma for two weeks before he died. That was ten months ago, and they’d been mourning ever since.

Except now he’s back.

For some reason, Coach Paladino starts chanting Reggie’s name to regain the crowd’s attention. Umm, I think they’re already paying all of their attention to Reggie’s reappearance, Coach. It works, though; their memories of chanting for him dispel their horror of the weird apparition they just saw, and eventually, Coach Paladino quiets them down, then gives a speech about how Reggie is their hero and how he couldn’t stay away, and he chose to remind them he’s with them in spirit.

Are you … are you actually going to go along with the belief you all saw a ghost? Really? REALLY? I 0% believe this is how a school official would react to the situation. He then goes on to dedicate the season to Reggie, and starts a new chant: Win for Westerman.

That concludes the pep rally, and as the students leave, Amelia hears snippets of their conversations. Mostly, it seems like they believe the coach staged the whole thing to get them revved up. Amelia feels empty and ashamed, and wonders how he could make such a mockery of Reggie’s death. And then anger replaces her fear. That’s exactly how I would respond, too, so rock on with your rage, Amelia.

She’s mad enough to confront Coach Paladino even though she’s half afraid of him, too, but he tells her he had no idea who is responsible for the prank, all he did was save the pep rally and everyone’s emotions after it happened.

He leaves her alone, and she wants to believe it was a crass prank, something terrible, but human — but she can’t quite shake the feeling that maybe it had actually been Reggie, even though she doesn’t believe in ghosts.

I can already tell this story would be a billion times better if it actually had ghosts. [Dove: That is true for 90% of the books in this series.]

Amelia runs into Jilly, who says she saw it. She made it to the auditorium, but couldn’t bring herself to go on stage, so she was there, and it was awful, and she wants to know how anyone could do something like that. Amelia tells her that at first she thought Coach Paladino staged it to get the team fired up, but Jilly didn’t see that part, because she couldn’t stay there and look at dead!Reggie. Jilly believes it very well could have been Reggie coming back to be with them; she says she’s felt him with her all the time since he died, and sometimes she knows he’s right there beside her, she can feel him, feel his love. This is kind of heartbreaking.

While they’re standing around in front of the display case that has become a shrine to Reggie, Shelby Gunderson comes up to check on Jilly. (Description: a boy with dark, curly hair, only slightly taller than Jilly and Amelia, who looks “like a leftover from fifth grade”. Way harsh, Amelia.) Gumby (GUMBY WTF) is the senior class clown, and Amelia thinks he’s likeable enough, the backstage genius of all their theater productions, but he isn’t really friends with Amelia and Jilly, and she’s not sure why he’s checking on Jilly. Amelia is glad to hear that someone can make Jilly laugh, but before they can talk about it further, Travis turns up. (Description: Finally. Tall, lanky, with gray-blue eyes that changed depending on his mood.)

Travis asks Jilly (calling her Jilly Bean) for a quote for his article, and pops off this little bit of snark: That just when we thought it was safe to stop worshiping my brother, he puts in another appearance. One quite dramatic, may I add. He would have enjoyed it, don’t you think?

Damn, son, tell us how you really feel. Jilly snaps that he’d love to forget Reggie ever existed and that he was just a shadow compared to Reggie’s bright star. He storms off, and Amelia points out that he lost his brother, he must be in mourning, too, but Jilly thinks he hated Reggie, and just used Reggie for the great sports stories that won him an award for sportswriter of the year. UMM. If he’s winning awards for sports writing and everyone knows who he is because of his brother, that was some unnecessary explanation earlier about him writing for the local paper.

Amelia asks Jilly to come home with her that night because her mom has to work late and her dad is out of town. She also wants Jilly to come to the game with her because she doesn’t think Jilly should be alone. Jilly either needs to quit the squad or suck it up and show up at events. I know she’s mourning, but that’s not an excuse to punish other people who are working hard for the group.

Jilly begs Amelia not to ask her to forget Reggie. She — she didn’t say anything like that, Jilly. Where is this coming from? (Description: Her long blond hair hung around her face like a mourning veil, and her blue eyes blazed “with an eternal flame for a dead hero”. Steiner, do you really want to be writing high fantasy?)

Amelia bites back sharp words, her anger rising again. Amelia, I think I like you. Let’s be angry together. She’s tired of talking about Reggie, tired of counseling Jilly, tired of listening to her cry and threaten suicide. She’s starting to think Jilly is just being melodramatic. Now, suicide ideation is actual serious business, but this does sound a little bit more like melodramatic mourning than anything else. And that’s fine. Everyone gets to mourn in their own way. No judgment there. But when you start taking it out on other people, that’s when things start to look shitty.

Amelia thinks about how Reggie wasn’t perfect, and he and Jilly fought and made up all the time, but that people focus only on the good things after death. This is actually a pet peeve of both of ours, the martyrdom after death. (And yes, we’ve both experienced death near to us, so no popping off that we’d feel different if we’d ever lost someone ourselves. Not how it works, cupcake.) [Dove: True story.]

As they’re leaving, they hear people shouting, and go check it out, back in the auditorium, behind the stage, through the curtains where dead!Reggie so recently appeared. They find Roberta Hodgekiss, the drama teacher, Principal Wiggens, and Coach Paladino. Ms Hodgekiss is the one shouting, at Coach Paladino (whom she calls Pal), telling him what he did was a cheap, tasteless trick. When he denies doing it, she says she almost believes him because he doesn’t have the imagination for it, but thinks one of his players did, because his line is on the job, since he probably won’t have a winning year without Reggie.

… but why does that mean he’ll get fired? Coaches have bad years all the time. One bad season isn’t going to break his career, and if he was going to get fired because Reggie got hurt, that should have happened already, as should the lawsuit for wrongful death, if there was one. (Football is a contact sport. People. get. hurt.)

Amelia doesn’t see a way to sneak out of the argument (how about the way you sneaked into it?!), so she steps out of the shadows to let them know she’s there. She asks who staged the prank if the coach didn’t, and Ms Hodgekiss says that they are investigating that themselves. Principal Wiggens is SUPER useful throughout this scene, don’t you know. She then tells Jilly she’s sorry about what’s going on, and how much that had to hurt.

Amelia quickly examines the stage, and notices that there is a box for dead!Reggie to stand on to look bigger, and the lights are slanted upward to make him look taller. She actually asks herself if a real ghost would need those things. Are you — are you kidding right now, Amelia?

There’s also dry ice creating the fog, and Ms Hodgekiss points out that there are a dozen ways for someone to get into and out of the auditorium quickly. There’s even a door that leads to the parking lot, which should be locked, but is sometimes propped open.

(OH. They are in Michigan. Well, football is a big deal in Michigan, and also, GO BLUE. Random Wing fact: I both love and loathe Michigan. This is tied to my hatred of Ohio.)

Apparently there is bad blood between Ms Hodgekiss and Coach Paladino because the school is so small extracurricular activities compete for students. She had to choose between being on the cheerleading squad and trying out for the first play. Umm. My high school was also very small, but many of us were just involved in multiple activities all the time. We even had football players and cheerleaders in the marching band, so you could have made cheerleading and the play work.

Amelia drags Jilly out of the auditorium, saying they should leave the fighting and the investigating to the teachers, and all she wants to do is forget it. DUDE. YOU DRAGGED HER IN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Jilly makes a phantom of the opera joke (a bad one: phantom of the team), and then bursts into tears, half-laughing and half-crying because Reggie would have loved it. He was a huge prankster.

They head for Dexter’s Lakeside, a popular hangout right on the shore of Lake Michigan. (So this is western Michigan, closer to Chicago than Detroit, for those who aren’t super familiar with Michigan’s geography.)

A ton of other people are eating there before the game. Amelia and Jilly pull on black and gold jackets because dusk brings a cool breeze and the promise of rain. Now, high school football season generally starts at the end of August/beginning of September, but this is heartbreakingly true. That time of year can be warm(ish) in Michigan, but it can also be chilly coat whether. I moved to Michigan in mid-August and went from 100+ degrees to 60 degrees in one road trip; I immediately wanted to turn around and go home.

Dexter’s smells of fried fish, burgers, and the breadsticks it’s famous for. This makes both Amelia and me hungry.

(There is a Dexter, Michigan, by the way, but it is much farther east.)

Everyone goes silent when they see Jilly, and Amelia asks if she wants to leave. Jilly musters her strength and her pride and takes them to a booth for two. Jilly then admits that Shelby wants her to drop cheerleading. My first thought: Who the fuck is Shelby? Then I remembered they called him Gumby earlier, and I am confused as to why they aren’t calling him that now.

Amelia asks her to give it a chance, because it’s the only thing the two of them wanted when they came to high school and it means so much and they always do everything together. It’s starting to sound like you two are codependent girlfriends, Amelia.

Jilly says that maybe it’s time to stop doing everything together, which, ouch, Jilly, kinda harsh for a public conversation. She doesn’t want to be out there cheering for the rest of the football team without Reggie, and that makes sense. Amelia points out that almost all the first-string are seniors who would have played with Reggie for two years.

Jilly rejects that logic, because she’s pissed at the time for letting Reggie down. She says that Garth should have stopped Ralph Dougherty from tackling Reggie, anyone should have stopped him. Amelia points out that she isn’t being fair, and sometimes people get hurt playing football. Jilly returns with hurt but not killed. That’s not true. Sometimes people do die from football. They get their necks snapped. They bust their heads. Football is a contact sport, and it is dangerous. Love it or hate it, you have to acknowledge that the athletes, from tiny tot football to the professional players, put their lives in danger.

They talk about who could have dressed up like Reggie (if it wasn’t Reggie, Jilly is quick to add), and Jilly thinks it could have been Reggie’s brother, Travis, because he’s desperate to create a great story for himself now that Reggie isn’t around to create them for him. Jilly thinks he only pretended to take Reggie’s death hard.

Shelby turns up and invites Jilly to Muskegon to watch a good horror film. Shelby is apparently besotted with Jilly, and Jilly keeps smiling and holding his hand. I’m sure this sweet little flirtation is actually masking terrible things, because POINT HORROR. He’s been telling Jilly that she can get a lead in the next play, and Jilly seems really excited about it.

When their food comes, Jilly is too nervous to eat and takes off with Shelby. Well that was awkward.  Amelia is upset enough about everything that she can’t eat, either.

You guys, we are on chapter five and we’re still on the same day. I — I don’t even know what to do with this after The Snowman leapt across weeks at a time with no warning.

That night, the threat of rain disappears, and it turns into a perfect night.  There’s an energy, an electricity to the crowd, which could be because football, or it could be because everyone is waiting to see if dead!Reggie shows up again.

Jilly turns up at the last moment, laughing with Shelby, but she does show up, and she does cheer. She even starts the first “Win for Westerman” cheer, and she is a little sad but mostly giddy and thrilled to be cheering again.

At halftime, the game is tied despite the crowd’s energy and everyone trying to Win for Westerman. Bernard Downing is the star linesman for the Mountaineers, the team they are playing, and he was incredibly efficient at tackling everyone. (Steiner tells us: He was not intimidated at all by rumors that tonight, the Bombers had supernatural help, a twelfth player on the field. STEINER. No one knows what is going on in his head, first of all, because this close third POV on Amelia, and you need to stop with the authorial interjections, but also, we haven’t seen people actually believing there is supernatural help on the field, oh my god. Just because you say it is true doesn’t make it true.)

Bernard tackles Buddy Nichols twice and they lose a lot of yards. He decks Garth a couple times. (I’m assuming he does not actually punch Garth and she means he’s just tackled him, too.) The Bombers come back in the second half, though, and win 38-17. BUT YOU WERE LITERALLY JUST TELLING US ABOUT HOW THEY WERE LOSING AND BERNARD WAS TACKLING EVERYONE. WHAT STORY ARE YOU TELLING, STEINER?!

Buddy Nichols is the new quarterback, and everyone is shocked to see that he is almost as good as Reggie. Eventually the chant that keeps circling the crowd (not really how it works for the length of an entire game) switches to cheering for Nichols, not Westerman. Garth is playing wide receiver now “a position which suited his size much better than being on the defensive line.” So why was he on the defensive line in the first place? NO LOGIC. He runs in two touchdown passes himself, and either Amelia or Steiner thinks he is sure to be voted most valuable player unless he ties with Buddy. It isn’t clear, because Steiner keeps inserting her authorial voice.

After the game, Amelia asks if Jilly will come to Dexter’s with them. Jilly says no, and not to ask her to do that, but agrees to help Amelia plan a beach party to celebrate the win so long as Shelby can help. He’s already right there, and Amelia realizes they’ve been going together for awhile, even though Jilly’s smiles for him aren’t the same ones she used to give Reggie.

(Bit of backstory, Amelia and Jilly’s mothers work together running a gift and antique shop for the tourists who jammed the lake towns over the summer, and Jilly’s father commutes into Chicago to run one of the television stations there.)

Shelby agrees to help plan the party because rehearsals for the senior play don’t start until Monday. As much as we’ve heard about this school being so small and all the extracurricular activities fighting over students, there is no way they are doing a play that is only casting seniors. NO. WAY.

Shelby and Jilly take off, and Amelia freaks herself out waiting alone for Garth. Right after they catch up with each other, Travis turns up asking for a quote. Based on how Travis asks questions of people, he is a terrible reporter. He and Garth bicker, and once Amelia and Garth are alone again, she asks if it was true, whether Reggie was the entire time and made the coach look good. Garth says that they’ve had to make some adjustments and it is different playing as a solid team instead of letting one guy do all the work and get all the glory.

He goes on to say that since Reggie’s death, he’s starting to wonder whether he even liked Reggie. Amelia is not surprised by this at all, despite earlier thinking about how much everyone loved Reggie. Now she thinks that he was always stuck on himself, but at the same time so carefree and devil-may-care (those are kind of the same things, Steiner) that everyone liked him anyway. Or pretended to, at least.

Garth adds that when dead!Reggie appeared on stage during the pep rally | assembly, he felt sick because he’s still carrying around a ton of guilt for not tackling the guy he was supposed to cover during the game where Reggie got hurt. He knows that it’s not actually his fault, but he still feels guilty that he didn’t tackle Ralph.

Amelia argues, again, because they’ve had this conversation several times already, that Garth didn’t even belong in that position, as he showed in the game they just had, and also, Ralph is nearly 300 pounds, how in the world was Garth supposed to tackle that? Umm. THIS IS FOOTBALL. That is not an unexpected weight of someone to tackle. Not quite as usual in high school football, but not unexpected.

Garth then gives us the coach’s theory that the stunt with dead!Reggie on stage was pulled off by someone from the Laker’s team, who must be their big rival, in order to destroy their confidence, so they would start the season by losing and just go downhill from there. That plan, if it is true, backfired, and Garth is pretty confident that the only way the Lakers can take the district is if they beat the Mountaineers, and Stony Bay, and win all the rest of their games. ALL THE REST OF THEIR GAMES?! It is the first night of play. I doubt you even know whether the Lakers won their game! And, again, FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON. Anything could happen. You could lose all the rest of your games, the Lakers could lose all the rest of their games but one and still be beating you. FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON REALLY TELLS YOU NOTHING. [Dove: You keep demanding logic of this story. Why?[Wing: Because it could be such fun. Because marching band season and football and fall and ghosts and Michigan could all make a wonderful story.]

Garth says that “tonight is going to come back to haunt [the Lakers] for the rest of the season.” Amelia thinks, “while Reggie haunts us.”

UMM. Dead!Reggie has turned up ONE FUCKING TIME. I think you are jumping the gun, unless you are the one behind it.

You guys, so far I love this ridiculous book.

Six chapters in, and we’re finally to Saturday. You know, less than 24 hours after where the book opened. AWESOME. We’re also six chapters in and I’ve felt no need to include a trope counter. Whaaaaaaat is even happening right now?

Amelia is super nervous about calling Jilly, because she is worried that Jilly will have made other plans already. You guys already talked about planning the party together! You already talked to Shelby about planning it with you! I know you’ve been on edge because Jilly has been difficult in her mourning, but this is ridiculous.

They talk a little bit about how Jilly likes Shelby a lot, and Jilly says he’s not at all like Reggie, and that’s part of what she likes. She doesn’t have to be reminded about what was or might have been with Reggie. That’s actually kind of sad and sweet.

Amelia is thrilled that Jilly is getting back to normal, but she also realizes that she’s been wanting Jilly to be the person she was before Reggie died, and that is impossible, so she needs to stop expecting it of Jilly. That is a really good point, and absolutely delightful. People don’t go back to how they were after a life-changing event, and it can be a lot of work to keep a friendship going in light of that, but it is important, and I like that Amelia has realized it and decided to change.

Garth gets off early from working at his dad’s boat dock, and they head out to the beach because he also has access to one of his dad’s rental boats. On the drive, he tells Amelia that there will be a full moon that night, and I am going to be really pissed if there are no werewolves now that he’s pointed it out.

(The small sloop they are taking out is named The Garth Vader, oh my god, are you sure your family isn’t a bunch of nerds, Garth? ARE YOU SURE?)

Amelia sees that Reggie’s boat is still at the dock, and asks about it. He had his own boat. *facepalm* Anyway, Travis is thinking about selling it, because unlike his brother, he doesn’t like to sail and, in fact, is afraid of the water and is a poor swimmer. Neither Garth nor Amelia can imagine not knowing how to swim, in that way that people who grow up next to a large body of water can take it so for granted.

They pass two state parks and the pioneer village where Amelia works over the summers, a tourist spot, and finally reach Ludington State Park. (It’s a real park.) I’m confused, though; is everyone else driving for hours to reach it? Does everyone else have a boat too? How are you all getting to this spot to party often enough that you have a regular place to party?

Well, at least Jilly and Shelby also have a sloop. I thought some of you were kind of poor. Why the fuck do you all have boats? Oh, well, Shelby at least is poor, and lives with a single mother. The boat is Jilly’s, or at least her father’s, and is named Jillian’s Dream, because of course it is.

They unload coolers and food and all sorts of things from their boats, and then go have a boat race. What — what is going on here? Why did you just leave all your food somewhere anyone or anything could mess with it? (I’m not even meaning werewolves or other supernatural things here, I mean racoons and bears and people.) Who does that?

They spend the afternoon out on the boats, and then go back to shore just in time for the other seniors to arrive in their cars.

Buddy and Frank Evans build a huge bonfire, and give Jilly grief for being with “the Gunderson dweeb.” Oh, good, it’s going to be one of those jock parties. They roast hot dogs and hamburgers, and the moon rises in the dark evening “like a honeyed saucer.” Cheesy, but I don’t hate it.

They all head into the water to swim and play around for awhile because it is still as warm as August. Bullshit. The water even in August is damn cold. No way I would swim in Lake Michigan at night. Sandy, who is Buddy’s girlfriend, teases Amelia and Garth, and everyone is having a lot of fun, until, of course, thirty feet away from them, silhouetted against the moon, Reggie Westerman slowly rose from the lake.

THAT IS A NICE DRAMATIC CHAPTER ENDING. NOT AN UNNECESSARY CLIFF HANGER. NICELY DRAMATIC AND CREEPY.

No trope counter for you, Steiner!

For a few seconds, Amelia could only stare. The football player seemed to be ten feet tall. Backlighted by the moon, Reggie glowed with an unholy aura. Slimy weeds draped over his helmet, dripping diamonds of lake water. Eye sockets in his mask were dark holes, but she could feel him staring at her.

Firelight flickered off the front of the uniform, causing all the gold trim and the number nine to shine as if phosphorescent.

For those same seconds the night held its breath, surrounding them with a tomblike silence. Then a wave rushed in, its silky claws raking the sand as it rolled back, whispering when no one else dared speak.

That sounds deliciously horror movie. I like it.

Amelia starts to scream, her voice filling the quiet, and she backs into Garth’s arms, grabs Buddy’s hand. (Threesome.) Dead!Reggie raises one gloved hand and points straight at them, his unspoken threat filling her with dread. He then sinks back into the water and disappears into the silver light of the moon on the water.

Once he disappears, everyone starts screaming, shouting, talking, but at first no one goes to look at the spot dead!Reggie stood. Then Buddy and Frank dived in, along with someone else (a “shadow swimmer”) from beside Jilly’s boat. The water is too murky (“as murky as a sewer” Buddy says, and I have so many questions about that sentence and why they are swimming if that is true [Dove: The water all around the UK is brown and disgusting. Still, at the faintest hint of sunshine, we all flock to the coast and paddle in it. I don’t know why either.] [Wing: I am so disturbed.]), and they don’t spot dead!Reggie again. Also, Shelby was the third swimmer. SURPRISE. Are you surprised? I’m surprised.

Everyone tries to figure out who could be pretending to be dead!Reggie. Garth is feeling guilty because he was frozen in place and didn’t go after whoever is pretending. Sandy suggests it could be real. Debby Rollins argues that ghosts aren’t real, and Amelia admits she didn’t used to believe, either, but now.

Garth is angry, though, and refuses to believe there is anything supernatural going on. He believes someone is inside the uniform, and he wants to know the truth. Amelia distracts him by talking about how cold she is and how they need to get out of the water and go back near the fire. He gets her a sweater, and she looks around for Jilly to see if she’s alright. Jilly is at the farthest table from the fire, “cold and wet and obviously miserable.”

When Amelia gets to her, Jilly wants to know why Reggie would do something like this. Despite her own doubts, Amelia promises her that it’s not Reggie, it’s a sick joke. She tries to organize someone into driving Jilly home and someone to take her sloop back, but Jilly says she’s fine and that her father doesn’t like anyone sailing his boat, so she and Shelby will take it back. Shelby is lurking nearby in the shadows, and comes walking out then as if nothing weird is going on. And all this talk about Shelby and shadows, fine, a counter it is.

Red Herrings: 10 (+10) (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.)

Amelia asks Shelby if he saw anything in the water or in the shadows. He says it was some crazy person trying to freak them out.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)

Jilly says she’s hungry and heads to the fire to get some food, and that sort of gets everyone else back to party mode, at least as much as they can while pretending nothing weird happened.

Amelia thinks she can hear the waves whispering about Reggie waiting in the water, waiting for Amelia, Garth, and Jilly, calling them down beneath the waves. She really freaks herself out, but Jilly soothes her.

The party turns a little weird, then, even though it seems like Frank is the only one drinking because the rest of the guys are too scared of coach finding out. There’s some shoving, some music, some weird chanting of “sorry,” and then Buddy ends up falling into the bonfire. His shirt catches and turns him into a human torch; everyone grabs him, rolls him onto the sand, puts out the fire, but he’s hurt pretty bad, his flesh seared and puckered, blackened into charcoal edges.

Kristin Lloyd tells everyone to put him in the back of her van so she can drive him to the burn center in Muskegon. Sandy goes with them, of course. Amelia keeps asking Garth if Buddy is going to die; Garth doesn’t know, but he does know that Buddy didn’t just stumble into the fire, he was pushed. He thinks dead!Reggie is a ghost, because there’s no way anything alive could disappear into the water that fast, and that the ghost pushed Buddy into the fire.

Amelia runs with this, saying that dead!Reggie must be jealous of how well Buddy filled his position as quarterback, and he’s saying that no one can take his place. No one!

Well, that escalated quickly: 1 (+1) (Yeah, ok, so maybe the bad guy motivation isn’t quite as strong as you might hope.)

Frank overhears them, and though he’s been drinking, after the shock of Buddy burning, he’s stone cold sober now. He tells them there’s no way anyone pushed Buddy on purpose, especially not a ghost, and Garth agrees they’re talking crazy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)

Garth goes to gather their things, and Frank asks Amelia what she thinks happened. She doesn’t understand why people keep asking her, because she’s not an expert on ghosts. Um, Amelia, it is very clear that Frank, at least, isn’t talking about ghosts. You are being strange and confusing.

The party breaks up, and Garth and Amelia make their way back across the lake. Jilly and Shelby pace them. By the time they get back to the harbor, there’s a lake storm brewing, and Amelia feels like something explosive and poisonous is brewing between her and Garth, too.

When he drops her off at her house, she tells him that he’s not in charge of the world, he can’t stop taking responsibility for everything that happens or everyone who is around him. Garth actually breaks down, and she holds him while he cries. When he’s all cried out, he asks her to go with him to visit Buddy at the hospital the next day.

Muskegon is only 25 miles away, and there are a ton of people from Stony Bay there to visit Buddy. Sandy has been there all night; she admits she’s not really been able to do anything to help, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave.

(Ok, there have been a couple references to “Indian summer” which is a common phrase in the USA for weather that is unseasonably warm. This is a problematic phrase, because some of its origins have been traced back to white settlers’ belief that Indians were liars and untrustworthy (so the warm weather is a lie, basically, a trick), and may be tied to Indian giver, which is the idea of giving a gift you then steal back. Terrible, and also much more like something the white colonizers would fucking do. There are lots of different etymological speculation around it, and I wanted to note that.)

Buddy isn’t doing well at all. His hands are burned the worst, he put them into the center of the fire trying to catch himself, and he has first degree burns all over. Garth predicts that he won’t play football again, and Amelia screams at him for saying it. Sandy lashes out, too, because of course all anyone in Stony Bay can think about is fucking football. She bursts into tears and Garth literally runs out of the hospital.

… these kids are super fucking dramatic all the time.

Amelia offers to give Sandy a ride home, but Jilly comes up and says she’s already offered to take her. Jilly has been there at the hospital with Sandy and Buddy’s parents all night, and Amelia feels guilty that she went home and straight to sleep.

Travis turns up, and Jilly admits that she called him because there is a story that needs to be written because Stony Bay just lost another quarterback. That seems a weird change of heart considering how many crappy things she’s said about Travis before this point in the book.

Travis tries to get them to talk about a jinx on the position, and when they won’t bite, he pretty clearly implies that maybe Garth is ambitious and is knocking off quarterbacks. That, of course, gets Amelia to defend him, but Jilly actually suggests that Garth wants to be a star like Reggie. Travis says that it’s a good story, and he may be the only one who dares write the story.

Amelia absolutely blows up at this, furious that everyone wants to paint Garth as sinister as possible and use him as a scapegoat. She wants to hit people, but instead takes off so she won’t say or do something she regrets. I feel you, Amelia.

She ends up out in the car, and a few minutes later, Garth shows up too. They drive home without talking, but when they get to Amelia’s house, Garth admits that he did manage to get in to see Bobby. Bobby can hardly talk because his lungs were seared by the flames (… I am guessing that is actually smoke damage, since he wasn’t swallowing the fire), but he managed to whisper that he felt “a strong, deliberate hand give him a shove.”

Someone tried to kill Buddy.

Amelia can’t shake Jilly and Travis’ accusations, keeps wondering if Garth actually is hurting people because he wants to be quarterback so badly; even though she tries not to think about, the doubt is like a poison, destroying her trust.

At cheerleader practice Monday afternoon, her doubt because full-blown worry because Garth has been moved into the quarterback slot. I don’t think Steiner has any idea how football works. Quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive line are all very different positions with different skills. Also, they’re only one game into the season, where the hell is their backup quarterback? Buddy was Reggie’s backup, but Reggie was a senior last year, he wouldn’t have been playing this year anyway, so where is Buddy’s backup quarterback?

(And if Reggie was meant to be a senior this year and got hurt at the end of his junior year, that is not at all clear in that backstory earlier.)

Frank catches a pass near where they are, and Jilly calls him over. Amelia thinks that guys obey Jilly as if she’s cast a spell on them. Jilly asks why Garth is quarterback, and says that the Coach Paladino said it was either Frank or Garth. Frank didn’t want the pressure, but Garth said he’d try. Frank is full of admiration for him, saying that he’s really good, better than anyone dreamed, even better than Buddy. (Which means he is also saying that Garth is better than Reggie, considering earlier there was all that talk about Buddy being as good as and maybe even better than Reggie.)

Shelby turns up and confirms that students have been talking about the cursed quarterback position all day. Ms Carter, the cheerleading coach, calls the girls to practice, telling them to do a three-layer pyramid with Jilly on top, somersaulting off at the end of the cheer. Isn’t that the exact same stunt Steiner described last time we saw the cheerleaders in action? Fail, Steiner.

They only practice half an hour before their coach gives up on them because they’re all distracted by the football practice. Travis turns up and sounds sad when he talks about how Garth is really playing well as quarterback. Amelia wonders if his grief is driving him to stop anyone from filling Reggie’s shoes.  Jilly reassures him that no one will ever be as good as Reggie, and when he thanks her, he calls her baby, which is a weird thing to call the teenage former girlfriend of your dead brother. WEIRD.

Jilly offers to give Amelia a ride home, but Amelia wants to stay and wait for Garth. Jilly seems really hurt by this decision, but as often as she’s blown Amelia off over the last year, she probably shouldn’t. Ah well.

Amelia sits alone in the stands for awhile, but eventually Travis joins her. She doesn’t actually trust him, but she does feel like she needs to talk to someone about dead!Reggie’s appearances, and Travis knows at least as much as she does, maybe more, and might let something slip if she talks to him.

She points out that if the coach staged dead!Reggie on the stage to motivate the team, why would dead!Reggie then appear at the lake. Apparently Jill and Sandy told Travis about that, and he believes that the coach has to keep the team motivated. Maybe if by “motivated” you mean “terrified”. They talk some more, Travis starts talking weird angles for his story, focusing on the jinx and how Garth has been forced to take the position because everyone else is too scared. Finally, Amelia gets freaked out enough that she takes off, even though practice isn’t over.

She ends up alone in the school, and swears that she feels a sense of evil surrounding her, lurking in the shadows, glaring at her with cold yellow eyes, waiting for her to invite it in. Amelia, sometimes I think you think you’re in a very different story than you’re actually in. #horrormovielife

She continues to creep herself out, eventually makes it to her locker to get her stuff, and as she’s running out of the building, she hits a puddle of water in front of the trophy case that is also a shrine to Reggie and falls, hard. There’s a tangle of wet weeds on the floor, as if the ghost had come back after melting into the lake. This is nicely creepy — except for the fact that it is Monday evening, and they had school all day, and the trophy case is prominently displayed, so if it was a ghost coming back after Saturday’s party, it would have been noticed and cleaned up before now.

Amelia’s too freaked out to figure out that logic, though, and actually has to talk herself into running out to her car door. Wait, if her car is here, why did Jilly offer her a ride just a few pages ago?

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 (+1) (Because why stick to what was said last chapter? Or even last sentence. Make it up as you. If your lead character says it, it MAKES IT SO!)

Once she’s locked into the car, she does start working the logic again, and comes to the same conclusion that the water would have been cleaned up — except maybe not, because it isn’t an often used door. I call bullshit on that, because in a school obsessed with football and its dead football star, that trophy case would only be front and center in the most used hallway. Anyway, Amelia finally decides that someone is trying to frighten — someone. Maybe her. Maybe the whole school. Something, maybe. And it wants Garth because he’s quarterback now.

She leaves a note on Garth’s windshield wiper asking him to call her as soon as he gets home, and I am just charmed by this detail of pre-cell phone days.

Sooooo, Amelia is apparently hearing voices now, or at least a voice telling her that the quarterback is jinxed and Garth is in danger. So. That’s. A thing, I guess.

She gets home and her mother reminds her that it’s her father’s birthday. Amelia forgot, and feels super guilty over it; her mother suggests she write him a sweet note. She then asks about Jilly, who hasn’t been around as much lately.

Garth finally calls, and Amelia tells him about the water. He thinks about it a long time, and decides that someone is trying to scare them, so they just won’t be scared. That — that is not really how fear works, Garth.

She invites him over to study, but he says he can’t let coach down and is going to study alone. They hang up, Amelia fiddles with a card for her dad, and then Garth calls her back, and asks if she called him, pranked him, a phone call with the sound of dripping water in the background. She tells him no, of course not, and he says he’s unplugging the phone so he can study. I’m sure there’s absolutely no way for that to backfire.

This time, when Amelia’s phone rings again, she is the one hearing the water in the background, though hers is the soft swish of waves. A low, hoarse voice croacks out that it is Reggie calling and she should beware of Friday’s game. Amelia freaks out and hangs up, but the phone rings again immediately.

Shelby. She accuses him of prank calling her, but he says he just needs to talk to her about Jilly, and that he wants her to let Jilly make her own mind up about cheerleading, and if she decides to quit, Amelia shouldn’t try to stop her. How about you let her make her own mind up, Shelby. This is a really inappropriate call.

Time skip to Friday. Garth goes home to study before the game instead of spending time with Amelia. I don’t believe a football star, even as nervous as he is, goes home to study right before a big game. I call bullshit.

Over the past week, Travis has published two articles, one about Buddy’s injury, the other about the jinx on the football team. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a record turnout for the game that night. Oh, small towns, never change.

They’re playing Crooked Valley, and the entire crowd is tense. Alan Hall kicks a high spiral to the visiting team, and they return it for a touchdown. Well, this game is off to a great start.

The Stony Bay Bombers respond well, though, and put up two touchdowns, then Garth ends up running one into the endzone himself. UM. STEINER. Quarterbacks don’t often run the ball in themselves. What are you even writing right now?

The Bombers end up winning 48-7, because of course they do. In the fourth quarter, Coach Paladino (who they randomly started calling Coach Pal a few chapters back) puts in the second string for the fourth quarter, and Amelia relaxes because Garth is safe. So they did already have a backup quarterback. Whatever, moving on. After the game, Garth soaks up the applause and the adoration, and Amelia is worried that he is becoming Reggie.

Coach Paladino is hosting the celebratory cookout at his lake house (how does a teacher make enough money for a freaking lake house? which is a phrase that makes me think second house, not his main home), but not until late afternoon, so Garth, Amelia, Frank, and Jilly go visit Buddy in the hospital first. They have a football signed by the whole team for him. We don’t see the visit itself, but after they go to Burger Bar on the outskirts of town. Aren’t you all going to a cookout shortly?

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 (+1)

Burger Bar, they learn, is the hangout for the Wolf Lake football team, the Lakers. YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THIS COULD BE A BOOK ABOUT WOLF LAKE? AND THERE ARE NO WEREWOLVES? WHY DO YOU ALL TORMENT ME SO?

Of course Ralph is there, the big linesman who tackled Reggie when he was hurt. He starts shit with Garth, saying he’s heard the Bombers are having trouble, the team is haunted, and the players jinxed. Umm, but they’re undefeated, so maybe “having trouble” isn’t the right way to frame this.

Ralph coins the phrase “Phantom Quarterback Killer” and I want to know why that’s not the title of this damn book.

There’s more picking at each other, then Amelia and friends leave, heading for Dexter’s instead. AGAIN. COOKOUT. COACH’S HOUSE.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 3 (+1)

On the drive back to Stony Bay, they talk about the logistics of whether the Wolf Lake team could be the ones making dead!Reggie appear. Amelia now thinks that whoever is doing it is using his old uniform from the display case, and that explains the lake water.

At Dexter’s, Jilly and Amelia have a quick conversation about Jilly going to the party that night with Shelby, except it’s starting in the afternoon, and whatever, okay, letting it go. Amelia asks Jilly to go out on the boat with her the next day, but Jilly is flying into Chicago with Shelby and her dad. Her dad has business, so they’re catching a movie and dinner. Jesus, how much fucking money do you people have?

When they’re alone later, Amelia asks Garth whether he was ever jealous of Reggie’s popularity and position on the team, and he thinks she’s being weird. They fight, he drives angrily and scares her, and then they sit in front of her house not talking. Finally, she decides that she needs to mend the rift between them so it doesn’t fester, and says that she thinks someone wants them to fight and be afraid.

They decide Travis may be behind everything because he seems to be turning up every time things go badly and to be driving the gossip. They also talk about whether Coach Paladino might really use dead!Reggie to encourage them.

That night, Amelia echoes my thoughts that a teacher probably wouldn’t be able to afford a house as nice as the lake house. Garth says coaches make good money, and his wife also teaches at the elementary school. That — that does not inspire confidence in me that they can afford this house, but maybe it is their main house. I’m letting it go.

It does sound like a nice place to party:

Five acres of pine, spruce, maple, and oak trees were finishing their fall show. The two-story colonial spread across half an acre. Porches wrapped around each story and a widow’s walk topped it off like a wedding cake. Instead of a bride and groom, an expensive telescope and lounge chairs filled the roof-top deck.

The lake lapped the front two acres. A boathouse, dock, and two power boats hugged the shore. Two buoys helped designate a swimming area.

There are hand-printed signs on the trees leading up to the house, but alas not whimsical notes:

Killers, you are all killers.

Who is next?

Football sucks.

Someone has to pay.

Frank tells them that there were signs all over, his door, the trees, the grill, down at the boathouse, and people have been helping Coach Paladino clean up. They all walk around, looking at things, until there is a big ball of flame from the grill Coach Paladino lights. Someone poured gasoline on the grill. Apparently the grill is Garth’s, which doesn’t make any sense at all, but Garth is furious. Coach says that someone is threatening them, trying to scare them, trying to hurt them, and no one is going to hurt his team. Except someone already is.

The party continues, but the players are all angry, posturing, wanting to fight.

Eventually, four guys corner Shelby and shove him into an oversized trash barrel. Because of course they do, and because that’s the sort of attitudes we encourage in our jocks, mob mentality, that sort of cocky straight white privilege that drives them.

Jilly and Amelia rescue him, but now he’s furious and swears he will get back at them, which of course makes Amelia wonder if he already is, with dead!Reggie. Jilly and Shelby leave, and the fog starts coming in, so Diane Hardy suggests they all hide. Apparently the latest fad at Stony Bay High School is to play kid games, especially reverse hide-and-seek.

Garth tags Amelia as it and runs off into the fog. I love fast fog coming up off a lake. It is so beautiful, and so creepy. Amelia takes off looking for the others, trying to be a good sport, but is creeped out by the way the fog muffles all the sound. This is all very nice and creepy and wonderful.

She works herself up, and then Garth finds her, and she wants to go home. Except aren’t you two in the middle of a game? And there’s no suggestion that they let the others know they’re not playing (hell, that Amelia is no longer it), just that they say good-bye to Coach Paladino.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 4 (+1)

Time skip to Friday night. For a book that spent six chapters on less than 24 hours, we are suddenly skipping forward all over the place. Anyway, Friday, third quarter of the game, Frank staggers across the field and passes out. None of the other players from either side are near him. (They’re up one touchdown on Graycliff Groundhogs.)

Amelia says half the school has the flu, and maybe that’s what’s wrong with him. She hopes. Jilly doesn’t sound super convinced. There’s no announcement about what’s wrong, Coach Paladino just sends in a rookie player and the game continues. Amelia tells Travis, who is lurking nearby as he watches the game, to go find out what’s wrong with Frank. The ambulance speeds away, but with no lights and no sirens.

The game ends, Garth running in another touchdown himself rather than passing to the rookie who took Frank’s place (that is some petty shit right there), and finally Garth comes to tell Amelia that Frank was poisoned. He’s really sick, but will probably recover. There were scratches on his back and shoulders. Someone stuck pins in his shoulder pads, pins that had been dipped in some sind of contact poison. THAT IS FUCKING AMAZING.

Based on the redness, scaling, and cracking of his skin, the doctor suspects benzene. Now maybe information about benzene has changed since this book was written, but literally nothing about this sounds like benzene.

Amelia asks why in the world someone would poison Frank instead of the quarterback (instead of Garth, but she manages not to say that), but it turns out that Frank was wearing Garth’s shoulder pads. Wait. Wait. What? Why?

No answers for us, though. Instead they run into Travis and fight with him over the stories he’s writing, and he snaps something about Garth not stopping players from getting on the field when they’re in no shape to play — he didn’t stop Frank just like he didn’t stop Reggie.

Say whaaaaat?

Amelia blows up at Travis, because Frank was poisoned, but then the rest of what he said hits her, and she starts questioning Garth. He admits that Reggie was hungover during that last game, and Garth tried to protect him but failed. And Travis blames him, blames him for not blocking better, blames him for letting Reggie on the field at all. Reggie apparently drank before games to relax him so he would play better.

You fucking know what? None of that shit is Garth’s fault. That is fucking on Reggie, and the coach, and his parents. If there’s that much goddamn pressure on him, the fucking adults in his life should have been protecting him, not making it worse.

Travis blames Garth for not telling the coach, and yeah, they could have, but it’s hard for a kid to turn on a friend, especially a friend as charismatic and controlling and powerful as Reggie. AND FUCKING AGAIN, TRAVIS, YOU AND YOUR PARENTS ARE ALL ADULTS, WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS WRONG AND STOP HIM? YOU CLEARLY KNOW ABOUT IT.

Travis takes off, and we finally get the explanation for how Frank was wearing Garth’s pads. Sometimes they just throw the down when they’re getting dressed, and since Frank and Garth are the same size, their pads are basically the same, too. Plus his grill at the party was the one that was doused in gasoline. Amelia thinks someone is out to hurt Garth.

The next Friday is an away game, and they are traveling to Wolf Park. Now, is this some sort of weird continuity error, or is there YET ANOTHER town named after wolves in this book? WHY IS THIS NOT ALL WEREWOLVES ALL THE TIME OH MY GOD.

IT IS NOT A CONTINUITY ERROR. IT IS ANOTHER WOLF TOWN OH MY GOD. [Dove: Remember when you asked “why is it always spiders?” Because this.  If you didn’t get wolf-teased, you’d have to deal with real spiders. It’s a good a theory as any.[Wing: No.]

(Wolf Park does not appear to be a real town in Michigan, but Wolf Lake is. Or at least it is an unincorporated community.)

They head due east on Highway 20 through the national forest. But Stony Bay is close enough to Lake Michigan that they party on it regularly, and Lake Michigan is the eastern edge of Michigan (except for the Upper Peninsula). So … STEINER LOOK AT A GODDAMN MAP PLEASE.

I do love the description of the ride, though. Clouds are low, visibility is only about 50 feet, there is fog, they drive through long, dark tunnels of trees — everything about this is werewolfy and I love it.

Apparently the marching band travels with the high school, which is also inaccurate at this point in the season, but whatever. WHATEVER. Amelia rides with Garth, and can’t find Jilly for awhile, then finally tracks her down at McDonald’s once they reach Wolf Park stadium.

The Wolves aren’t much competition for the Bombers. I just want to know why there aren’t more werewolves, and also why half the towns in this book sound like werewolf towns. It rains most of the game, Stony Bay wins handily, and Jilly refuses to ride with Garth and Amelia. She claims she wants to ride on the bus so they can play charades. That is not super easy to play on the bus, I say from actual experience.

(I would say that there’s no way the school lets them drive themselves, even back in the 90s, but I am really tired and it is not worth it.)

A light appears in the fog in front of them, a spotlight across the highway that outlines dead!Reggie, surrounding him in a surreal glow. Garth doesn’t stop, but swerves right, trying not to hit dead!Reggie. The shoulder is muddy, though, and they skid, then the car slides, spins around, takes flight, and rolls. I am not convinced they were going fast enough to make all that happen.

Amelia wakes up hanging upside-down, held in place only by her seatbelt. Garth doesn’t remember what happened. Amelia frees herself so she can check on Garth, and then she hears people calling for them. They decide to say they swerved to miss a deer because they don’t think anyone will believe them if they claim to have seen dead!Reggie. Except he’s turning up everywhere, so …

Amelia gets on the bus, Garth goes with Coach Paladino. Amelia sticks to the deer story, even when talking to Jilly, so she won’t upset her and because she doesn’t want to renew the gossip and speculation.

Saturday morning, Amelia still has not gone to the hospital, and her parents don’t make her, because why in the world would they make their teen daughter who has just been in a car accident go to the hospital?

Head injury? Walk it off: 10 (+10) (Because a concussion is a mild inconvenience, not a medical situation and it can be cured by grit and determination.) [Dove: Such pride for this counter.]

Jilly calls while Amelia is getting ready to go see Garth and asks if she wants to fly to Chicago to do some clothes shopping and some early Christmas shopping. Really fucking early, because it’s only late September at the earliest. I like how you think, Jilly.

Amelia wants to go, but even more, she wants to see Garth, so she tells Jilly she’s in too much pain to go. Jilly keeps pushing, though, so she lies and says that her mother wants her to get a checkup and then she has to see Garth. Jilly is pissed that she is choosing Garth over her again. Jilly has touched on this a couple times, but the story really does nothing to support it, so I don’t know why Jilly is so upset.

Amelia and Garth once again rehash who might be doing it, shooting down each other’s theories, until finally Garth shows her a letter left on the porch for him, one we’re to believe came from Travis.

Garth,

You are a killer who has never been punished. You think you got by with killing Reggie, don’t you? And now you are all puffed up because you have taken his place. Luck has saved you again and again. Reggie was never that lucky.

We need to talk. Meet me tonight – if you have the nerve.

I’ll be waiting for you on Reggie’s boat.

T.W.

Garth says he’s just going to ignore it, because he thinks the cops will just laugh at him if he tells anyone. They argue, and Amelia storms off to catch Jilly. Jilly knows that she had a fight with Garth and that’s why she’s coming, but lets it go. Amelia needs to get out of town to clear her head, but she also plans to meet Travis on Reggie’s boat that night. Because that’s a solid plan, Amelia.

Jilly is really happy in Chicago, and Amelia is glad she went. Jilly hugs her hard at the end of the day, and says she wants to remind her that she’s Jilly’s very best friend. Amelia notices that she’s talking like they’ll never see each other again. When she points that out, Jilly admits that she is thinking about going to live with her aunt in New York. Jilly is weird, and for the first time, Amelia realizes how exhausted she looks. You didn’t notice this the entire day you spent alone with her? What the hell, Amelia?

Amelia goes off alone to Reggie’s boat, and flames shoot up around her, trapping her. Suddenly a dark figure rises up and football tackles her into the water. She thinks it’s Travis trying to drown her, but he calls for her to wait and talk to him. He snaps at her about that being some thanks for saving her life, and she accuses him of trying to kill her. He tells her he visits the boat at night a lot, and when he first saw her, he thought she was a local boat thief, but then there was fire and he recognized her when her face was lit up, so he tried to save her.

Garth turns up because when he called Amelia’s house, her mother said Amelia had already left to meet him, and he put two and two together. They call the police, but by Monday, nothing has been resolved.

Amelia goes over her list of suspects while she waits for Garth after practice. Her number one is Shelby, followed by Coach Paladino. Finally she gets tired of waiting for Garth, and goes in to find him. He’s sitting slumped on a bench in the locker room. He tells her to leave, she refuses, and finally he shows her the note that was left for him in his gym locker.

Escaped again, didn’t you? You sent Mel to meet me. That was nearly a fatal mistake – another fatal mistake. Surely you couldn’t have lived with that, too. How many people are you going to take down with you, garth? Stay and face up to me, if you have the guts. I’ll come to the locker room after everyone else is gone.

The lights go out, and then dead!Reggie shows up carrying a spotlight. It doesn’t look as tall as it had on stage or coming out of the lake, but just as frightening and imposing. And it is carrying a gun. Because ghosts totes need guns.

Amelia tells Shelby that he doesn’t want to shoot Garth, and the gun does waver slightly in dead!Reggie’s hand. She steps in front of Garth, but he shoves her to the side. The spotlight snaps off, the gun and spotlight hit the floor (without the gun accidentally discharging), and dead!Reggie runs off. They go after him, into the gym. Dead!Reggie has climbed one of the knotted climbing ropes up to the steel girders along the ceiling.

Garth climbs up a different way, and gets onto the girder, too. That finally gets a response from dead!Reggie, and it is, of course, Jilly’s voice that speaks.

She says that Reggie wants them both punished, and only she can see him, he’s with her, helping her punish them. They have to be punished because they’re happy and he’s not, he’s in so much pain. She then says that she needs to go be with him, they can’t be separated, and then she falls off the girder. It’s not clear whether she slips or intentionally rolls, but she catches herself for a moment, hanging there, and then she lets go and plummets to the floor. She is, of course, dead from that fall.

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 100 (+100) (Where the story tries to convince us that there really is a body count, only to later reveal the victim only sustained minor injuries.)

Oh wait, no, she is, of course, alive, but unable to move. Jilly is still strong enough to Muffin Man Monologue about how she used Shelby to help her stage dead!Reggie’s appearance at the pep rally, but he had no idea she was going to take it so far, even after she made him put the signs all over Coach Paladino’s yard, and also helped her stage the water appearance.

Shelby said he didn’t know she was hurting people, and when he started to figure things out, she denied it. Jilly didn’t always know when she was hurting people, because she’s losing her mind. Fuck you, Shelby. She’s overwhelmed by grief and reacting in a terrible way. That doesn’t make her crazy, or dangerous because she’s crazy. Fuck. You.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1000 (+998)

After all this convenient monologuing, Jilly dies.

Final Thoughts

Fuck you, Steiner. You could have written this same damn story without making the “losing her mind” and “crazy = dangerous” claims at the end, but no, no, of course not, crazy people are fucking dangerous, so of course that’s why Jilly is hurting people.

Fuck. You.

[Dove: Possibly it’s the fact that English schools don’t take any sport seriously, but I could not get into this book at all. I was exhausted by the end of it, and I couldn’t make myself care about a thing that happened. I liked some of the atmosphere — as Wing mentioned, the fog before the crash — but mostly I wasn’t particularly involved.]

Final Counters

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 4

Head injury? Walk it off: 10

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 100

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1000

Red Herrings: 10

Well, that escalated quickly: 1

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

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4 Comments

  1. Paul
    Posted 23 August 2016 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    I agree, I just found this one kind of meh. The shenanigans were tame, and the villain exceedingly obvious. The climax lacked suspense.

    Not sure why they didn’t call it “The Quarterback”. That’s much more Point-Horror-y than “The Phantom”, which is so generic – and also the name of a superhero, right?

    “these kids are super fucking dramatic all the time” lol. I agree. And the stuff with ghosts…why are they ALWAYS so ready to believe that?

    • Wing
      Posted 23 August 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      “The Quarterback” is more fitting and more Point Horror than “The Phantom” who, yes, is a superhero. He wears purple spandex. I’m delighted by the fact that description doesn’t actually narrow superheroes down that much.

      I’ve never met any teenager, even when I was a teenager, who was so willing to believe. A ton who wanted to believe but were always skeptical, because they wanted to find the truth, not believe any lie, but none that were just gungho YES GHOSTS from the beginning.

  2. Mimi
    Posted 23 August 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    I think that Steiner struggles with continuity and consistency. I’d never read this one, but I read Deathline earlier this year. The protagonist was stunningly smart in some places and glaringly stupid in others. It was like Steiner came up with two different ideas for her protagonist and couldn’t decide between them so she shoved them both together and it didn’t make sense. She makes her bad guys WAY too obvious and blames everything on mental illness in the end which is annoying. But Deathline did have a cover that haunted my dreams for a few days so… there’s that.

    I tend to avoid books that center around football because it’s a game I never understood. Sounds like Steiner didn’t either. Thanks for taking one for the team and reading this one for us.

    • Wing
      Posted 23 August 2016 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. I’ll have to take a look at Deathline. I think you make a good point about where Steiner struggles, which is a shame, because she has some potential. Maybe later books, if any, are better?

      I love high school football, so it was truly disappointing to read her failing at it so.

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