Title: The Waitress by Sinclair Smith
Summary: The food is great. The service is deadly. Dying for a good meal? Come on over to the Dog House, where Paula works after school. It’s a great place to meet friends – if they are still alive. At the Dog House accidents can happen, and they often do. You could wind up with more than just an upset stomach. You might just wind up dead. Of course, when things go wrong everybody always blames the waitress. Now Paula’s first job might be her last.
Tagline: The customer is always … wrong. Dead wrong.
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guy the Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
That is very clearly ketchup smeared on the plate, not blood. The scariest thing on this cover is the spilled salt. Salt is gross.
We’re introduced to Paula as she watches a “thin, birdlike figure of a man” pace frantically in front of her, and she throws about casual ableism left, right, and centre. Fuck off, Paula. After calling him insane, and then saying if she has to keep listening to him that she’ll go insane, she realises she’s trapped, and terrified, and thinks about how he’s trapped everyone in the room, turned them into his victims, with their glazed, vacant expressions.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 100 (+100) (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.)
Of course, this terrible, frightening, crazy man *eyeroll* is actually Mr Woods, her English teacher. Paula, I already hate you and everything you say or do. This is not a great start to this recap.
Cheer on the killer: 1 (+1) (Because the protagonist is such an insufferable wretch that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.)
Yes, I can see this book is going to go well.
Mr Woods talks about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, and how even though people see birds every day, they hardly ever notice them, at least until birds attack, because that is sudden and unexpected. Their assignment: to keep The Birds in mind and think about other things, including people, doing something unexpected, and what their reactions would be.
“The baby-sitter, the cleaning lady, the janitor – these are people we all take for granted, don’t we? But if the baby-sitter tries to burn down the house and the cleaning woman tries to smother the children in their beds, that’s something else again. Just imagine finding out that the janitor is an international terrorist – wouldn’t that be unexpected?”
Clearly, Mr Woods has never read a Point Horror. None of that is unexpected around here. [Dove: I know, right? He’s just summarised most of the PH plots.]
We learn that Paula is angry about life because her family forced her to move to a new town and a new school in October of her junior year. (So, basically a couple of months into year eleven, her penultimate year of high school. That is a pretty shitty time to start over in a new school, that’s for sure.) Though her mom promised her she’d make new friends, apparently Coralynn Halley has set out to make sure that Paula has no friends. Unsurprisingly, Coralyn is a tall, slim girl with blonde hair and icy blue eyes.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 1 (+1) (Because girls can’t be friends, AMIRIGHT? For some reason, this girl, who is utterly desirable in the looks department, hates the ever-loving fuck out of our protagonist. And, despite claiming to not care, our protagonist makes digs about her all the time.)
Coralynn hates Paula because of Garth Zvecker. (I love that last name.) One day, Garth helped Paula with her stuck locker and joked around with her, and now Coralynn hates Paula. Because of course she does. Because of course girls have to fight over boys. That’s how it works, right?
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 10 (+9)
Paula thinks that maybe she should do something unexpected, something to make Coralynn sit up and take notice — look, if you’ve got such a crush on her, just ask her out already, Paula.
Oh, no, she wants to do something to make Coralynn feel threatened. The idea makes her feel positively gleeful.
Cheer on the killer: 2 (+1)
Paula pushes aside those fun thoughts, and focuses instead on how she starts work for the first time after school. She’ll be a waitress at Trixie’s Dog House. The sign promises FOR DOGGONE GOOD CROW. I — I am confused by everything that sign chooses to be.
Paula is nervous because she lied to Trixie about having waitressing experience, and now she’s certain she’ll be in the doghouse once Trixie figures out she doesn’t know the first thing about waitressing. She’s certain she had to lie because otherwise Trixie wouldn’t have hired her. That is such a cop out. People start new jobs with no experience all the time. Suck it up, buttercup.
Chapter two opens with a description of the sign at the Dog House: a neon puppy standing over the doorway, wagging its tail and barking the words “bow wow wow” endlessly. Where is the sign that promises “for doggone good crow?” Oh, you know, I bet that’s supposed to be “chow” not “crow”. That is much less confusing. [Dove: My bad, sorry.] [Wing: Not your fault. It was absolutely believable that a Point Horror thought “for doggone good crow” is a good slogan.]
Anyway, we meet Trixie, a 50-something woman who a red beehive hairdo who is wearing bobby socks and saddle shoes, pink flared skirt, white frilly blouse with black piping, and a black apron, with a lacy handkerchief in her pocket and a Dog House puppy on a name tag. It is the same outfit the waitresses wear, and Paula doesn’t understand why Trixie is wearing it, too. I assume because sometimes she helps out, but also because this is her place and clearly this is the aesthetic she wants to present, and so she is committing to it. Whether or not it is a good aesthetic to use (50s nostalgia in the USA is awash in terrible things, like erasing the racism and queer hate of the error), I am 100% here for a small business owner committing to her theme.
Paula thinks the restaurant looks like something of a movie set. She’s not wrong: A long Formica counter stretched along one wall, lined with yellow vinyl-covered stools. The floor was covered with black and white linoleum squares. There were several rows of booths, and even a jukebox in one corner. … Hanging behind the counter was a black felt board with white letters that advertised the daily specials.
(“Even” a jukebox? Plenty of places have them in 2016, so I don’t know why this is so shocking.) [Dove: Wing and I went to a 50s style diner in Florida about ten years ago, and it had little jukeboxes at the tables. Every time “Staying Alive” played, the workers had to dance. I’m proud to say we both resisted the temptation to do this more than once.]
Trixie talks a little about her past (started working there after she quit high school, dropped out of beauty school, went from waiting tables to owning the place — basically, Trixie is a badass). [Dove: Beauty school drop out, no graduation day for you, beauty school drop out, missed your midterms and flunked shampoo… For some reason, this story struck me as Grease fanfic where Frenchy didn’t go back to Rydell. I’m pretty sure that’s where the idea came from. Also, Trixie is a badass, I concur.]
Trixie sets about teaching Paula the menu after some super subtle writing about how it’s a good thing she has experience, because anyone without experience trying to make it in the restaurant when it gets busy will be killed. SUCH SUBTLE. WRITING WOW.
Anyway, the burger platters are called Bow Wows, and so when writing down the order, it is things like C-BOW WOW for a cheeseburger platter, a BOW WOW WOW for a double burger platter, and a hot dog is a WIENER. This menu is kind of ridiculous, but again, I am impressed by Trixie’s commitment to the theme.
(It also reminds me of one of my favourite video games, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, which is a dog-owned casino location.)
Once they’re done with the menu, Trixie goes on and on about how many accidents are just waiting to happen in a restaurant, from stuff falling in the ice to grease on the floor, people choking, slipping, falling and cracking their head open — and Trixie acts out every one of these things. Trixie, you are a little strange.
Trixie takes Paula downstairs into the cellar to change. That is also weird. The cellar is lit with one unshaded bulb, and there is a partition in one end where they can change their clothes. There are two big free standing boxes setup down there, too, a walk-in fridge and a walk-in freezer. This does not seem ideal for getting food up to the kitchen, I must say. Trixie warns Paula never to get locked inside them, or she will suffocate fast.
You’re very cheering, Trixie.
Trixie has Paula walk into the freezer ahead of her, and then locks her inside. Immediately Paula decides Trixie is crazy and is punishing her because she doesn’t know how to wait tables. First of all, the issue is not that you have no experience, it’s that you keep lying about it. Second of all, fuck you.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1100 (+1000)
Cheer on the killer: 102 (+100)
Trixie starts giggling, and tells Paula that she likes to play that joke on first-timers, because everyone is always so scared of being locked inside them. Trixie! I was rooting for you! And now you’re being a jackass. You literally just told her that she should be afraid of being locked inside one, and now you are pulling this shit?
Cheer on the killer: 110 (+8)
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 10 (+10) (“You say you found a corpse of a thirteen year old girl on the beach? Oh, you’re just pulling my leg.” When the protagonist experiences something genuinely frightening, such as finding a corpse, or that someone has been in their room while they were home alone, and it is treated as an attention-seeking prank. Or, when something is done that is written off as a prank or a joke, but is actually pretty damned spiteful.)
Turns out there’s a safety handle inside the boxes, which makes sense, but doesn’t turn this into any less of a dick move, Trixie.
Paula gets over this weirdness fast, because she thinks she looks great in the outfit with her long chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and narrow waist.
Of course, then Trixie calls her on her lie about having experience. Trixie isn’t actually bothered by this, though. She thinks Paula is real spunky and that everyone has to start somewhere. At least that second part is true. Paula seems more jackass than spunky, but okay.
We then hear about Virgilia Radner (Virgilia?), another waitress, who is super smart and will be able to teach Paula everything, and we meet Cookie, who drives up on a motorcycle with a boy hanging on behind her. I am in love with Cookie already. (She has “a raven-colored cap of curls” which is a really dramatic way to describe curly black hair.) We learn that Paula really admires Cookie, who is one of the wildest kids in school, because of the carefree way Cookie acts, how she laughs and flirts with all the guys, and how she wears her clothes. Oh, Paula, I think your crush on Cookie is as big as mine.
Trixie tells Paula to leave one of the booths open for her niece, who likes to come in and sit with her friends. That table will be Paula’s, and either Trixie is setting her up to be picked on constantly, or she’s giving her an easy table to start with. Since this is Trixie, either could be true.
Paula manages to break the coffee machine first thing, and Virgilia comes to her rescue. She’s a short, freckled-faced girl with “a pleasant owl-like expression”. That — that doesn’t make any sense. (Also, she likes to be called Virgil. Potentially pretentious, could be adorable. Hard to say at this point.)
There’s some joking around between the waitresses, Paula is kind of a jackass, and it turns out that Coralynn is Trixie’s niece, because of course she is. This is going to be good. Paula sets up her table and hopes she chokes. That’s a great sign.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 11 (+1)
Coralynn is rude, Garth is there to distract Paula, and then all the condiments on the table have their lids screwed on too loosely, so salt and mustard go everywhere. Paula rushes to get paper towels, but thinks it serves Coralynn right.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 11 (+1)
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 12 (+1)
Coralynn takes off for the ladies’ room to clean up. Garth is reassuring Paula that it’s not her fault when someone in the ladies’ room starts screaming. Out of nowhere, Coralynn’s best friend, Lizzie, bursts through the crowd of people who are doing absolutely nothing to check on the screaming person in the ladies’ room, good job, crowd, and rushes inside. Eventually, we learn that the handles on the water faucet were switched and the water scalded Coralynn. Coralynn, of course, blames Paula. Even Garth looks at her with an expression she doesn’t like, maybe skeptical, maybe suspicious.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 12 (+1)
Paula decides that Coralynn must have made everything up to get back at Paula, because of course she thinks that. [Dove: I would have to agree, for the simple fact that 99% of all hot taps warm up slowly, so it’s really hard to immediately scald yourself on them immediately. *pause* Or is this another thing that’s different in the UK/USA?]
[Wing: Well, just based on possible lawsuits, I would say public restrooms certainly don’t heat up that fast, even if it was likely that taps did at all.]
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 13 (+1)
As they’re cleaning up that night, Cookie and Paula talk about what happened, and Paula actually tells Cookie her theory. Cookie tells Paula she’s probably overreacting or exaggerating, because the idea that Coralynn planned it to make Paula look bad is just crazy. Damn it, Cookie. Not you too.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1101 (+1)
Paula tells Cookie about how Coralynn follows her around school, spying on her. Paula, you are starting to sound the person who is obsessed with Coralynn and possibly a threat, I have to say.
We get a little Paula backstory — after her dad died last year, her mom did nothing for months (she was in mourning, jackass), and then threw herself into a flurry of activity, got a high-powered job and moved them to the new place, and now she’s called out of town on business for maybe a few weeks.
What is with parents in Point Horror moving their kids to a new house and then leaving them alone for awhile? Not subtle, and not realistic, authors! [Dove: Agreed. When I was a teen, I was pretty much the only person of my age who got routinely left alone. (Everyone else was incredibly jealous of me.) But it was only during school holidays that I was left alone for more than two nights. In PH it seems to be the done thing to vanish for several months at a time, leaving a sixteen year old home alone.]
Parents? What parents?: 1 (+1) (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.)
Cookie reassures Paula that she will make friends soon, and tells Paula not to worry so much about Coralynn, because Cookie knows how to handle her. Later that night, Paula finds that phrasing weird, and wants to know what Cookie meant. Obviously, she meant she is going to kill her, Paula, duh.
Red Herrings: 1 (+1) (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.)
For the next week, Paula works, meets people Cookie introduces her to, and obsesses over Coralynn. Because of course she does. For the most part, Paula is happy, but there are weird things afoot at the Dog House. There’s red-dye in the soap in the ladies’ room. There was a message scrawled on a napkin and left for Paula: Think you’re funny? YOU JUST MIGHT DIE LAUGHING!
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 14 (+2)
Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 1 (+1) (When the bad guy leaves whimsical notes for no apparent reason. Possibly he or she only does it to piss Wing off.)
Not the most whimsical, but close enough.
Paula gets caught daydreaming in English class and misses the assignment. She’s about to ask someone else for it, when Coralynn stops her to apologize for how she’s been acting, and to invite her to a party on Saturday night. She’s going to have it at the Dog House, and if she comes, they’ll well and truly be friends.
Paula isn’t even sure she wants to be friends with Coralynn at this point, but decides to go, and gets the assignment from Coralynn, which is to pick one of the essay questions at the end of chapter five.
So odds that this party is a giant prank and Coralynn gave her the wrong assignment: high or SO FUCKING HIGH?
Apparently Paula, Coralynn, and Cookie all have a dancercise class together next, even though this is the first we’re hearing of it. Cookie has skipped class, but Paula decides that she must have handled Coralynn, whatever that meant, and fixed things. She wonders why Cookie has skipped class. I hate to break it to you, Paula, but sometimes skipping class is the whole point of skipping class.
That question is the last thing Paula remembers before there is a stabbing pain in the side of her head and everything went blank.
Chapter break, because of course this is a dramatic chapter break.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss Dove and Wing the hell off.)
Next chapter opens with Paula arriving at the party, and Coralynn calling her the guest of honor. Paula is lightheaded and in pain, and a pale, silvery light spills across the party guests. Hallucination, then.
Coralynn and her friends try to drown Paula in the red punch while the guests circle around and chant TRY THE PUNCH! TRY THE PUNCH! TRY THE PUNCH! And then the punch becomes blood.
So, horrific hallucination, then. This might be interesting if I cared for Paula even a little bit, but nope.
Sure enough, Paula eventually wakes up to Ms Christiansen, the gym teacher, who is trying to get the other students to give her space. Coralynn thinks she was accusing her of punching her, because Paula woke up talking about the punch. Someone else in the crowd says that Coralynn sure whacked Paula. Coralynn explains that they were all jumping around and when they turned, she didn’t realize Paula was right there.
Christiansen takes this moment to remind everyone to be careful, because an accident can cause just as serious an injury as something done on purpose.
Coralynn helps Paula into the locker room to change, and tells her that she hopes the doctor says she’s all right, because she doesn’t want anything to keep her from coming to the party. SUBTLE.
Dove has plenty of rants about concussions, and how they aren’t treated as SRS BZNS. I will let her insert one here, but basically, damage to the head is major, and people don’t really just walk it off. Christiansen does force Paula to go see the doctor (which is actually a pretty big assumption that she has health insurance and her family can afford this visit, but I will not go off on a rant about healthcare in the USA.)
[Dove: I think they get it now! Also, this took place in the 90s, and I remember that back then standard procedure (over here at least) was to not leave someone alone for 24 hours and wake them up every two hours they slept. Paula should not have been left alone.]
[Wing: That is a good point, because I think that was probably the standard here, too.]
We skip Friday completely (Paula says she spent the whole day in bed, which is not always a great idea with a head injury), and late Saturday morning, Paula wakes up to a phone call from Cookie wanting to show her around town. On the one hand, yay, more Cookie! On the other hand, Paula is kind of terrible.
They drive around for about an hour, looking at the mall, the bowling alley, where to buy concert tickets, Scoops, the ice cream parlor. Good times.
Paula thinks about how fun Cookie is, how sure of herself, pretty, and funny, and popular. (Seeeeecret crussssssssshhhhhhhh.) “But there was something else about Cookie, too, a kind of tension Paula could see sometimes, under that carefree manner. It was as if Cookie were trying a little too hard to have a good time.”
Shame we haven’t actually seen any of that at this point.
Paula asks Cookie about a closed drive-in restaurant, but Cookie talks instead about Coralynn’s party. SUPER SUBTLE. Though Paula does tell herself that the drive-in story is probably boring and lets her change the subject, so I guess it worked. Cookie reassures Paula that Coralynn isn’t playing some sort of joke on her (I don’t believe you, Cookie) and swears that she didn’t say anything to Coralynn to scare her into being friends with Paula. Coralynn is spoiled, Cookie says, but she is no monster.
Cookie then points out that Garth will be at the party, and it’s Paula’s turn to change the subject. She asks where Cookie was during gym class on Thursday, the day Paula was hurt, and Cookie is annoyed by this line of questioning, but then she actually opens up a little to Paula about how she knows she shouldn’t cut classes (LIFE LESSONS FROM POINT HORROR), but she has a lot on her mind, things she needs to think through, that she doesn’t want to get into, but she’s sorry. SORRY FOR WHAT? FOR HAVING A PRIVATE LIFE YOU AREN’T YET WILLING TO SHARE WITH A VIRTUAL STRANGER?
Whatever, book. What the hell ever.
Cookie turns to face Paula while she says this, momentarily taking her eyes off the road, and an eighteen-wheeler comes barreling into the intersection against the light. The driver blasts his air horn and shouts at them, but Paula can’t hear it over the noise; Cookie swerves sharply and slams on the brakes…
And we have another cliffhanger chapter ending. I’m not going to give it a point this time, because it’s not a terrible, pointless one.
OH WAIT, YES I AM, BECAUSE WE TIME SKIP TO THAT NIGHT AND AVOID THE AFTERMATH TOTALLY. WTF.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
The next chapter opens with Paula getting ready for the party. She thinks it was a miracle that Cookie managed to avoid hitting the truck. The car wasn’t even scratched. Paula also thinks about how mad the truck driver was, even though it wasn’t his fault. She still doesn’t know what he was shouting at them, but Cookie was cursing him out, and she’s entertained by that.
Then she wonders what Coralynn will wear to the party, because she is obsessed. Just ask her out already, girl!
She then goes off into a fantasy world about dancing with Garth, but even that ends up focusing on Coralynn and her rage.
She’s interrupted by by a phone call; when she answers, no one is there. Paula hates prank phone calls.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 15 (+1)
After far too much clothing talk, Paula settles on a white cashmere sweater that is very nearly off the shoulder (hello, 80s, my old friend), black jeans and short suede boots.
Another prank phone call. This time, she asks if they have the wrong number. This time, someone starts talking:
“No – I’ve got your number all right,” came the answer. The voice sounded muffled and fuzzy. “You’re not a good waitress, Paula. I’ve been trying to get your attention, but you just refuse to notice me. Pretty soon I’ll have to do something drastic.”
Paula slammed the phone down hard. “Pranksters!” she muttered angrily… but she wasn’t entirely convinced.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 16 (+1)
She’s checking herself out in the mirror when the phone rings yet again. She answers it by shouting; of course this time it is Garth. He’s calling to talk her into going to the party if she hasn’t already decided to attend.
This obsession with getting her to the party is creepy as hell, I haven’t say. I’m side-eying the whole lot of you.
Later, at the Dog House, Coralynn finds the place transformed. Color filters fade the lighting from deep red to pink and back again, which honestly sounds like a headache in the making, there’s a dance floor with a live rock band, and a refreshment table set up.
Though Paula thinks that she’s dressed like everyone else, the first outfit description we get is of a guy in a bat costume with huge bat wings and a bat mask. Paula is not in costume. Paula, are you certain you fit in at this party?
He sings her a whimsical note. I’m giving it a point. And some dull rage.
As Paula approached he began strumming the air as if he were playing a guitar, singing off-key, “You can see you’ve driven me batty, I’ve gone simply batty over you. But though I’ve gone batty, you still treat me ratty…”
Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 2 (+1)
When he’s done, he takes off his mask and asks if she remembers him. He’s Jimmy from biology class, and he’s always trying to attract attention. Well, I guess that’s working for him. He offers her some punch, and it reminds her of the hallucination she had during gym class. Good times.
Paula finally finds Coralynn near the bandstand, but when she goes to say hello, she can’t hear anything that Coralynn is saying, because the music is too loud. There’s starting to be a trend of Paula not being able to hear things, isn’t there?
Paula’s dead, right? Killed in some sort of loud accident, and this is purgatory? Alas, I doubt that’s where this is going.
Turns out, Coralynn was demanding to know who the hell Paula thinks she is. She drags her off to the door and goes off on a rant: Paula has scalded her, accused her of knocking her down, and is trying to steal her boyfriend. How dare she crash the party!
… Does Coralynn have an evil twin or something? Because Dove and I have that covered, thanks. [Dove: *preens*]
Coralynn kicks her out of the party, but not before accusing her of being the one behind all the pranks at the restaurant too.
Paula walked slowly outside, feeling alternately dejected and angry. Almost a full moon, she noticed. She hugged herself for warmth in the damp night air. Funny, she thought as she looked around the parking lot, this place doesn’t look so spooky in the daytime – except for that mad dog on the sign.
The moon shone through the trees, giving off an icy silvery light Paula thought reminded her of something – something eerie. The parking lot seemed so quiet and empty, far away from the lights across the road. Why did I have to park my car around the back, next to the woods, she asked herself uneasily.
Suddenly she heard a crunching sound coming from somewhere behind the trees.
Yes, book, one way to redeem yourself would be to add werewolves. Absolutely.
Paula flees to her car, but before she can get it unlocked, arms grab her from behind and a hand pulls the key from her grasp.
And. Cliffhanger. Chapter. Ending.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)
Rages hits her, and Paula fights back, elbowing Garth — because of course it’s Garth — and making him release her. He drops the keys as he staggers back, and immediately she starts apologizing to him.
WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU APOLOGIZING?! HE GRABBED YOU! HE TOOK YOUR KEYS! THIS IS BULLSHIT BEHAVIOR ON HIS PART AND FOR ONCE YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG!
He then accepts her apology, and tells her they should go for a drive, but only as long as he drives, because she’s looking a little jumpy.
Oh my god, Garth, I hope you die in a fire.
Cheer on the killer: 125 (+15)
Paula lets him have the keys, and they take off after Garth swears he never had a date that night. Oh my god, you are both idiots.
They go to Scoops, because Cookie flat out said earlier you go to scoops when you don’t want your first date of the night knowing about your second date of the night. SUBTLE.
Garth convinces Paula to tell him what happened, and then he goes off on an angry rant about how Coralynn could have made her feel welcome, but what she did was — lousy.
Watch it there, Garth. That’s a pretty strong word. *burns everything*
Of course, Coralynn and her group of friends turn up to hear that. She snaps about Garth being lousy because he is there with Paula instead of at the party with Coralynn where he is supposed to be, and then storms off. Garth calls her a spoiled brat.
I am so done with this book. Everyone is terrible.
Paula points out it certainly seems like Coralynn thought they had a date, and Garth goes off into a story about how they’ve had precisely two dates, the second one being the one that happened Paula’s first shift at the restaurant, and then Coralynn became super clingy and bossy and demanding, and asking ~crazy questions about him. Fuck off, Garth.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1201 (+100)
Garth and Paula start flirting, then Paula asks him what happened to the drive-in. Why are you obsessed with a closed drive-in restaurant? He says there was an accident, and then changes the subject to talk more about Paula.
Paula lets him, but has this thought: You certainly are a fun guy, Garth Zvecker, she said to herself. You’re fun, and good-looking, and sweet, and sexy… and I bet you’re hiding something.
So why are you hanging out with him? [Dove: Yep, nothing attracts me more than someone I can’t trust.]
Monday, Coralynn confronts Paula at school, but the most she does is tell her it’s a bad idea to still Coralynn’s boyfriend and call her a floozie. Because … that’s a modern insult. Are we sure everyone isn’t actually dead? [Dove: Now that would be an interesting PH.] [Wing: 100% a better story than this one.]
We do get some continuity in that we learn Coralynn did give her the wrong assignment for English. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? So shocked. [Dove: Also, Paula is a right bell here, she’s all “it’s not my fault” and is sulky about it. No, Paula, you didn’t pay attention in class, and then you asked someone you don’t trust which assignment to do. Your bad judgments led you here.]
Christiansen has to leave the class alone, but instead of cancelling it, she puts Paula in charge. Because that makes total sense, considering less than a week ago, she was too concussed to participate. [Dove: even in the 90s… surely this would violate the school’s insurance? I knew someone who was a dance prodigy at my school, and she was allowed to practice solo in the hall when it wasn’t being used, but she always needed a teacher to watch over her. Solo. Not lead a class. And she had passed many dance exams.] (Also, Paula says the class likes Christiansen because she’s so pretty and trim and always makes the class fun. I’m so glad it’s her appearance that really matters. Fuck you, Paula.)
Cheer on the killer: 150 (+25)
(That killer better hurry up and get started killing people. My list for this book has grown.)
Garth just happens to see her dance, and suggests that she try out for the spring musical. This makes Paula run late for work, so she’s in a hurry in the locker room. The lights are off, but she doesn’t bother to turn them on, because Paula is an idiot. There’s steam and the sound of running water, but if someone is still in the shower, why would the lights be off. C’mon, Paula, get it together.
People start banging on the doors, freaking her out, and then she finds her locker door standing open, and a trail of her things leading into the shower. Everything is waterlogged and nearly destroyed, especially her waitress uniform, which has been torn and slashed up and down the front with something red that looks like blood.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 17 (+1)
Paula shows up nearly an hour late for work, and Trixie is super sarcastic and sharp with her at first, but then lets it go with a smile. Trixie is a jackass, but so is everyone in this book.
Paula runs downstairs to change, and of course, Coralynn is waiting for her down there like the creepster she is. Apparently, Trixie made her waitress because Paula was late. They snap at each other, then Coralynn hurries back upstairs, where Paula finds her sitting with Garth. She wonders if everything has just been a trick that they are playing on her, then tries to convince herself that’s not what’s going on.
Personally, I’m still holding out for everyone in town is dead and this is purgatory, but maybe that’s just me.
Paula starts to take her first order, but while she’s digging around in her apron looking for a pen, she cuts herself (just a little) on a steak knife that was hiding in it.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 18 (+1)
She tries to tell Trixie about it, and Trixie says that Paula put it in there herself — but not to cause trouble, just being forgetful and then walking away at the end of the night, because all waitresses do it at least once.
Virgilia grabs Paula and asks for help, giving Paula Coralynn and Garth’s order to take over. It’s a covered dish, which is unusual, but she doesn’t bother to check on it, despite all the “pranks” that are happening around the restaurant. Sure enough, when she pulls the cover, there’s a rat on the plate — and it is still alive.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 19 (+1)
When Trixie comes rushing out to see what’s going on, Coralynn tries to blame Paula, but Trixie defends her, to Paula’s surprise. Garth offers to take Coralynn home, but stops long enough to tell Paula that he’ll be back, because he needs to talk to her.
While Paula is cleaning up, Virgilia tells her to look at something; she’s holding the dead rat up by the tail and singing the Mickey Mouse theme song. Cliffhanger, of course. [Dove: This reference fell flat in England when it was originally released. We did not get the Mickey Mouse club over here.]
[Wing: Yeah, that would be kind of a weird reference without that background.]
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)
Not a dead rat after all, but a toy novelty rat with batteries inside to make it move. We don’t learn this from Virgilia, though, but Paula explains it for us, and Garth, later. *headdesk*
Apparently Paula and Garth have also already had their very important discussion off screen, because Paula knows that he was there to tell Coralynn that he didn’t want to date her. I’d call that terrible writing, but I’m so done with this book that I don’t even care. Anything to make it go faster.
Then Paula shows him a note someone left for her, with “Better watch out or you’ll have a bad accident” written in red.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 20 (+1)
Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 5 (+2)
Not super whimsical, but this time it is a note. I’m counting it.
Garth points out it doesn’t have her name on it, and maybe it was meant for someone else. Paula is skeptical. I applaud his logic, but considering things have also happened to her, she’s probably right. He then suggests that maybe it is not one prankster but multiple people blowing off steam because of high school jitters. He then goes off on a tangent about how hard it is for the kids these days to adjust because one minute they’re kids in high school and the next they are adults making all kinds of decisions. I’m pretty sure kids these days don’t talk like that about themselves, SMITH.
For some reason, this leads them to making out for awhile. Because pranking is hot, I guess.
We then get this paragraph:
Later they lingered in the darkness, holding each other. They thought they were alone, but while they were talking, kissing, someone else was hiding in the shadows… watching… listening. If they had seen that face they would have been scared – even terrified. For the face of the silent watcher was twisted into an expression of bitterness and hatred – and something else that could only be called madness.
Well damn, Smith, way to let your authorial voice intrude on the story. FAIL.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2201 (+1000)
And a big old fuck you, too, Smith. If I could send the killer after you, I would. (Well, a competent killer, at least.)
Paula’s thinking hard about the pranks on her drive home, so hard she ignores the strange knocking sound from her engine, at least until the car started to sputter and shake, and then died on Lonesome Lane. That is quite an appropriate street name, I must say. How convenient.
Oh wait no, what’s convenient is that Cookie turns up on her motorcycle shortly after. She checks out the engine, but can’t figure out what’s wrong. Not with the engine, and not between them either. Aww, did you guys have a lovers’ spat?
Paula points out that Cookie is the one who convinced her that Coralynn was okay and she should go to the party. Cookie says that there was no way she could have heard them over the loud music, and when she saw that both Paula and Garth were gone, she assumed they left together.
Then Cookie changes the subject, saying it’s very spooky, someone died out there, and she can show her where. Paula does not think that’s a good idea, and I actually don’t disagree with her. (I mean, I’d probably go, but I would do it knowing what a terrible idea it was — also, I like to be scared.)
Cookie says she was just kidding, and she’ll give Paula a ride home, but Paula needs to hang on tight, because she doesn’t have another helmet. Before Paula can get on, Trixie turns up, and offers to give her a ride instead, because it’s not safe without a helmet. (Also not getting into the debate about whether helmets are actually useful; I grew up riding a motorcycle in a helmet law state, but plenty of people argue it should not be mandatory.)
On the way, Trixie talks about Cookie being a good girl and a great waitress, and that’s why Trixie gave her a job right away when the tacky little drive-in closed. I’ve never heard anyone call it tacky yet, Trix, but okay. Paula says that no one wants to talk about it, and asks why, because of course Trixie wants to talk about it. She says that no one wants to remember because a guy from the high school died, just keeled over right onto his plate. Trixie says that she, for one, doesn’t think Cookie had anything to do with it.
So that means other people do, though. But no one has said anything?
Apparently the dude died of food poisoning. I — I am not sure that’s how it works. While you can die of food poisoning, I don’t think any of them make you just drop dead where you sit, eating. Moving on, though. [Dove: Don’t you know that food poisoning works different in the PH universe? In the real world, when you get food poisoning, that food wants out of your body in a most inelegant fashion. In PH, you just clutch your stomach and moan. See Funhouse.]
Paula gets home to a message from her mother saying that she’ll be delayed another few days, because of course she is.
Parents? What parents?: 2 (+1)
The second call is not so friendly: “Hello, Paula the waitress,” the smooth teasing voice began. “I was watching you tonight at the restaurant. Now I have an order to give you – here it is. Go over to the window and stick your head out but… and this is very important, Paula. Do not open the window first! That’s an order. Get it? Hahahahahaha…”
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 21 (+1)
Is this book anything more than terrible people and pranks?
Paula sets some water boiling for tea and sits down to do homework. First she jumps when the kettle whistles, then there’s a big crash outside and she sees something staring at her with big green eyes — oh, just a cat. It looks terrified and takes off, and Paula feels sad for it, but also worried that it is sick and could have scratched her.
Then a rock crashes through the window.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 22 (+1)
A dog starts barking and all the lights switch on in Mr Tucker’s house next door. He yells for the racket to stop, then comes storming out onto the lawn, his long, wispy gray hair flying, wearing red flannel pajamas. He goes chasing into the backyard, shouting at some scoundrel, and Paula is worried that whoever threw the rock will hurt him. Soon enough, he turns up at the door with Garth, threatening to call the police.
AND ANOTHER FUCKING CHAPTER CLIFF HANGER WITH A TIME JUMP AND A RECAP WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK, SMITH?
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 405 (+101)
Apparently the night before, Garth told them he had run into Cookie, heard the story about her car, and came over to check on her. How convenient. When he got there, he saw someone lurking in the backyard, but they got away before he could stop them, and then Mr Tucker grabbed him. Mr Tucker is not convinced. Probably smart, Tucker. Paula is, though.
Paula decides to check on whether the scripts are ready for the musical auditions. Turns out her favorite teacher (/sarcasm) Mr Woods is involved, but he just advises, the students put it all on themselves. Then he tells her that he read her essay answers and he thinks they’re quite good.
Cookie catches up to her after, and finally opens up about what she’s been considering: she thought about dropping out of school, and Trixie offered to take her on as a manager at the Dog House and train her. Cookie’s decided not to do it because she’s not sure what wants in the future and doesn’t want to limit herself just yet. She hasn’t yet told Trixie, though.
Paula then brings up the drive-in. Paula asks why both Cookie and Garth act weird about it. Cookie talks about Jeff, the guy who was killed, and how he was kind of a jerk, bragging about his college athletic scholarship and how it was going to get him out of their dump town. He and his friends went everywhere acting obnoxious, and that’s what they were doing that night at the drive-in. Cookie and Garth both got into an argument with them that night, about what jackasses they are, but the owner broke it up. About an hour later, Jeff complained of stomach pains, and then he died. His friends started a rumor that Garth and Cookie had something to do with it, but the police weren’t convinced. Paula points out that food poisoning is an accident. Cookie says Trixie never gets her gossip right. He didn’t die of food poisoning. He died of poison in the food.
Well no shit.
(It is here that Dove spoiled me for the ending of the story. You’re lucky I’m finishing this recap at all after that. Damn people who spoil things.) [Dove: I’m so sorry. I feel awful about it. I really thought you’d finished reading. Next time I will ask if you’ve finished before making sarcastic observations.] [Wing: Eh, no real harm, no foul.]
Paula is freaked out after that story, understandably, and can’t stop thinking about the fact that if it is still being investigated then the killer is still out there someone, maybe still in town, maybe someone she sees every day. That possibility is terrifying.
Paula finally remembers to call the garage to check on her car. The problem is the fuel line, and it’s going to cost a few hundred dollars to fix. That’s quite a bit of money for a high school student even today, much less back in the 90s. Someone poured a lot of sugar into the gas tank, and the mechanic finds this hilarious.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 23 (+1)
She’s angry that someone deliberately sabotaged her car, but scared, too, in part because she doesn’t think this is the end of what will be done to her. She’s just fighting with her locker, trying to get it open so she can drop off her books, since she doesn’t think she’ll get any studying done at home, when there’s a commotion down the hall. (I had actually forgotten that she was at school at this point.)
Virgil is freaked out because all of her computer discs are gone, and they have all of the work she’s done on a big research project. (Computer discs, oh my god, book, so old.) She put them in her bag the night before, but the bag has been in her locker all day. Paula suggests she should look around, which is reasonable, but Virgil is having none of it. She snaps that she doesn’t lose things, and the last time she misplaced anything “was probably a Tinker Toy in nursery school!” Paula thinks it would sound strange and conceited from anyone else, but from Virgil, it is just truth because she’s so careful and precise.
Virgil is certain someone broke into her locker and stole the discs because they don’t want her to get the scholarship (… I have completely forgotten about the scholarship, too — clearly this book is having no impact on me), and goes to report it immediately. She slams her locker shut and storms off, but she has slammed it hard enough that it opens again. Paula finds dozens of clear plastic bags filled with plastic bugs. At first, Paula wonders where you would even find such things, but then she realizes they would be in the same place as you could buy a fake, battery-powered plastic rat.
Paula heads home, wondering all the while whether Virgil has been playing the sick pranks all along. When she gets home, though, she’s so tired she passes out and sleeps the night through. The next morning, she’s woken by the phone ringing.
It’s Garth, and he’s calling to see if she wants a ride to school. On the way, she fills him in about what happened to her car. He thinks that rules out Coralynn, because she doesn’t know enough about cars. I’m not convinced that you need to know anything specific about cars to know that sugar in the gas tank would be a bad idea (first of all, that seems more chemistry knowledge than anything else), but sure, why not, I’m just along for the ride at this point, because I don’t give one single fuck about anyone. [Dove: Even I know that putting sugar in the gas tank will ruin a car, and I can’t drive and know nothing about engines. It’s one of those things that’s always being shown on TV/books/movies.]
[Wing: Mr Wing and I were just talking about this with a friend the other day, weirdly enough.]
She even tells him her thoughts about Virgil, which he finds hilarious. He also says that she uses plastic bugs to illustrate some of her science projects and they’re really good. I’m also not convinced that plastic bugs make for good illustrations of truly smart science projects, but again, okay.
That night, Friday night, Paula continues to try to figure out who is behind the pranks while she works a shift at the Dog House. It’s slow for a weekend night, and she blames the lasting impression of the rat.
Near closing, Mr Woods comes into the restaurant. He greets Paula and Cookie (real name, Angelina), and tells Trixie (though he calls her Patricia) that he’s been meaning to visit the restaurant. He and Trixie went to school together. Trixie comes out and calls him by his old nickname, Alo-Wishy-Washy-Woods, which is obviously not a nickname he wanted to keep, but is also weird. Mr Woods is pretty cool about it, and asks for a soyburger and a salad, but Trixie shoots that right down. (She only serves “normal” food she says.) Mr Woods sticks with a cup of coffee instead, and says that he’s there to talk to Paula about the spring musical. He was just passing by and happens to have a script on him. That is all really convenient, and maybe a little creepy of him to track her down outside of school.
Paula thanks him and thinks good thoughts about how he’s a little strange but really quite nice as she cleans up. She sees him eat something, which is weird because he was pretty adamant about not eating any of Trixie’s “normal” foods — and then he doubles over and clutches his stomach. They get him an ambulance, and Trixie closes the restaurant for the night.
On the drive home, Paula worries about him, and wonders if he’s been poisoned and if this is another prank.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 25 (+2)
The car swerves suddenly, and she almost hits another car, but recovers. Her mother’s car is hard to steer, apparently, and requires constant pressure on the wheel. She decides that it is not up to her to play detective, and it is foolish to even try, which is pretty smart. She’s going to go straight to the police and tell them everything, because they will know how to handle it.
Unless they think she’s crazy. But she’s not crazy. But no one ever thinks they are crazy.
Fuck you, Paula. Fuck you and your ableism.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2202 (+1)
In the end, she decides not to go to the police. She’ll go home, relax, read the musical script — oh, damn, she left it at the restaurant. She has a key, she’s worried the script will get thrown away by the morning shift, she doesn’t want Mr Woods to think she’s careless of it, especially after everything, and she really needs to start doing the things she wants to do. It’s a good thing she has a key, she thinks, because no one will be there this late.
And then we get another author intrusion saying that she was wrong. That’s poor writing, Smith.
Paula gets back to the restaurant. All the lights are off, which is normal, but the door is unlocked, which is not. She’s freaked out, but goes inside anyway. While she’s using a flashlight to look for her script (why didn’t she just turn on the lights? She thinks she’s alone), she hears something rustling in the corner and then squeaks, and she’s terrified they have mice.
Then a light turns on in the cellar, and she actually calls out, asking who is there. Oh, Paula, have you never seen a horror movie? (Though I actually think this is a natural response for most people.)
Just as she thinks she should run, the light in the cellar turns off again. She drops the flashlight, it goes dark, and she hears someone pounding up the cellar stairs. She’s just trying to climb over the counter when someone grabs her from behind. They struggle, the other person spins her in circles until she is dizzy, and then, just as she finally breaks away from the counter, her hands are tied behind her back and then she is blindfolded. She eventually figures out that she’s in the kitchen, and then, finally, her attacker speaks.
It’s Trixie. She goes through the “kitchen is a scary place” spiel again, breaking glass, starting up the stove so there are flames, throws a skillet to the floor at Paula’s feet, and breaks stacks upon stacks of plates.
There’s a bunch of talk about Trixie acting like a lunatic, and I want to punch Paula in the face.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3200 (+998)
Basically, Trixie is pissed off because people treat her like crap because she dropped out of school and is “just a waitress” and no one wants to be just a waitress. She goes off on this rant, she says she was playing pranks, and that she was going to give the script back in the morning but now that Paula came back, she’s ruined everything. Um, no, she really ruined nothing, but okay, be incompetent.
Paula ends up falling down the cellar stairs, then Trixie locks her in one of the freezers. Paula remembers the safety lesson, but Trixie has removed the safety handle. She tries a couple things, and what eventually works is unscrewing a bolt from the fan cover and using it to replace the safety handle. [Dove: Why has Trixie removed the safety handle if she was just planning on pranking Paula a little more, and it was only Paula coming back that’s escalated? Sense. This book lacks it.]
She sneaks her way out of the restaurant and back into her mother’s car. Dove did not spoil this part, but because I’ve seen a horror movie, I have an idea where this is going. No idea why it is going there, but whatever. Sure enough, a man in a red sedan starts racing up on her bumper, flashing his headlights, honking his horn, etc. She realizes that maybe he’s trying to tell her something. She checks her rearview mirror, but doesn’t see anything, because of course she doesn’t. The traffic in her lane speeds up and she outpaces him, but she keeps trying to figure out what he was telling her.
(Instead of going straight to the police station, she’s going home to call Garth. Because that is the way to handle this.)
As she turns onto Lonesome Lane, she checks her rearview mirror again, focusing on her own reflection. And then she sees something else, and realizes the man was trying to warn her.
Trixie is, of course, in the backseat.
(Random Wing fact: I check my backseat every time I get into my car, because of the movie Urban Legend.)
[Dove: we could do this without Brad Dourif, but I don’t want to. Anything is better with Brad Dourif. Even the Halloween remakes. Here, have a video:]
Paula drives erratically, Trixie is slammed against the front seats and drops the knife, and then Trixie stops fighting and starts crying and monologuing. Oh, book, what the fuck is wrong with you? This is terrible writing. Just terrible. Paula drives them to the police station (where you should have been going in the first place, jackass), and Trixie just sobs the whole drive. At the end of the chapter, Paula is still wondering where the knife went.
And then we skip to Paula and her friends hanging out in the aftermath, because that’s what’s important here. They recap everything, because of course they do. I am bored and want to punch them all, because they also blame everything Trixie did on the fact she was crazy, because of course they did. I want to go off on a rant about ableism and classism and how it is all such a mess in this story, but I am exhausted. Fuck everything. Burn the world.
A few weeks later, the restaurant reopens because Trixie’s cousin, Shep, turns up and assumes responsibility for it. He’s “a big, gruff fellow who laughed a lot and rarely shaved.”
Mr Woods wasn’t poisoned. He had appendicitis. Paula got a role as a dancer in the spring musical.
Shep doesn’t let Coralynn get away with the things Trixie did, including making her pay her bill, and when she protests that she doesn’t have any money on her, he makes her wash the dishes.
Paula is delighted. I am bored and exhausted and angry. What a stupid, stupid story.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 15 (+2)
I am bored and exhausted and angry. I already said that. There was nothing much to this story overall, the pacing was weirdly slow, and the Muffin Man motivation was handled ridiculously. Yes, there are shitty ways that people treat other people who don’t have high school diplomas or additional degrees, and there are stories to be told about that, but this is not the way to do it. This was boring, all the characters were obnoxious, and I’m glad to be done.
[Dove: I really really wish that Wing had been right and they were all dead and in purgatory.]
[Wing: Me, too. Let’s go write that story and stop recapping crappy books. (Note, I am not saying all Point Horrors and their ilk are crappy. This one, and the Baby-Sitter quartet I recently finished, have just worn me down. Not to mention the rape culture fest of the last couple books.) Oh, who am I kidding, we’ll never be done recapping books.]
Cheer on the killer: 150
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 15
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3200
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 24
Parents? What parents?: 2
Red Herrings: 1
Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 5