Title: I.O.U. by Nicholas Adams
Summary: Haunted by recurring nightmares, high school junior Sharon Anders begins to confuse dreams with reality and is soon plunged into a desperate struggle between good and evil.
Tagline: Someone has to pay…
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.
I’ve never read it before, but after my last experience with Nicholas Adams, I’m keeping my hopes low, though I didn’t hate Horrorscope nearly as much as Dove did. This sounds like it could be a lot of fun, but it also sounds like it could end up being another ~crazy Muffin Man.
(Also, I am disproportionately frustrated about Adams’ Horror High title, because I have a book series that needs to use that title and I can’t. Damn you, Adams.)
The book opens with Sharon Anders (WTF, ADAMS, why do we seem to share a brain? I love the name Anders) having the nightmare. Though I’ve opened stories with nightmares in the past, I generally think it is not a strong opening, and it takes a lot of work to make it dynamic enough to be interesting. We’ll see if Adams pulls it off here.
Sharon’s recurring nightmare is set in the woods, dead trees clawing for the skies, somehow malicious, the ground covered in roots and stones trying to trip her when she runs. She wears her nightgown (do teenagers actually wear nightgowns outside of media?) and is cold; she’s also covered in fear sweat. She’s always alone in the woods, until THEY show up: the dark man with his brooding eyes and slow, steady tread, and the un-man, a “shapeless thing that plucked at the edge of her mind but refused to be seen.”
Color me intrigued by the un-man.
Sharon vows that this time, she will stay calm. this time, she won’t run. She can’t see much, so she stretches her hand out in front of her before she starts walking, and ends up touching something cold, clammy, and alive that smears something icky on her fingers. I hate the word icky. It’s so — I’m not sure I have the right word. Fake childlike, maybe? Trying to be coy when it is really just something gross and disgusting.
Sharon wants to wipe the icky thing off her hand, but doesn’t want to wipe it on her nightgown, so she crouches and tries to find something on the ground to use instead. Her fingers close on something “hard and rounded” and she starts to rub it.
This hard, round thing comes suddenly to life while she rubs it.
Frightened by the thing skittering away from her, she accidentally smears her fingers against her nightgown, and now she can sense the spot she contaminated. Umm, if it is that bad, shouldn’t it be terrifying you that it is still on your fingers? Now that it’s on her nightgown, she can smell the rotting stench of death.
Sharon finally breaks and runs when all the “scampering things in the darkness” start to come after her because she’s the only warm, alive thing in the woods. This is creepy, and has made my skin crawl. She runs and falls, gets up and runs again, until at least she can go no further and when she falls, she stays on the ground. The man is there, of course, watching her: his eyes burn red, and he is tall and dark with long, shaggy hair flapping in the breeze; his skin is pale, his red eyes sunken. And he carries a strange knife that has a narrow, flattened blade that comes to a sharp point. Sharon thinks she has seen the knife before, or something like it, but can’t think of where, and even though it’s important to her to figure it out, she can’t focus on cold, analytical thought, because this is the moment she always dies.
Behind the man lurks the Unseen, which is not quite as good a name as the un-man, but is apparently the one Adams is using now. The Unseen lurks at the edges of vision and is the predator driving the man to kill, and her death will only be the beginning of her agony. This is kind of a delightful beginning, Adams. Good job.
Sharon screams, and wakes up in bed. She frantically looks around, and sees twin red spots burning in the shadows by her door, which freaks her out because he’s escaped the dream, until she looks closer and decides it is just the light from her digital clock hitting the mirror on the wall. She’s alone, and safe, and it was all just a dream. [Dove: Nightmare on Elm Street, you’ve got a lot to answer for.]
And then the red dots wink out.
This is terrifying to Sharon (and it is creepy!), and slowly she turns to look at the clock, even though what she really wants to do is hide under the covers. The front of the clock is blank at first, and then the red numbers come back, blinking 12:00 over and over.
Just a momentary power outage. Nothing to fear. Riiiiight.
Sharon resets her clock, shocked that it is 3:22 in the morning. She contemplates leaving a light on while she goes back to sleep, but talks herself down, promising herself it is just a bad dream. (Sure, a bad dream she’s just had for the fourth time, but it’s only a dream, Sharon, noooooothing to be afraid of here.)
Sharon’s body is sore, like she was really running through the woods, but there’s no scratches or blood. She thinks if there were, that would really be the last straw for her. She decides to stay awake the rest of the night, but ends up falling into a dreamless sleep.
Not a terrible opening chapter. I’m entertained, Adams. Let’s do this thing.
Chiku Williams (black, wears garish clips in her hair, like bright purple butterflies, I desperately hope she survives this story) tells Sharon that she looks terrible. She’s Sharon’s best friend, and she asks if Sharon’s had the dream again. Sharon’s up to having it at least twice in a week, maybe more, though we were just told she’s only had it four times total, so … okay.
Chiku suggests she see a doctor, and Sharon says her parents want her to do that, but she doesn’t think it’s bad enough to go. Chiku isn’t convinced, and points out that recurring dreams like that aren’t really normal. (Her dad is a professor in anthropology and folklore and very interested in dreams.) Chiku thinks there’s more to the dream than it just being a nightmare, but Sharon cuts her off.
(Adams writes this: the black girl said bluntly. On the one hand, I like when authors make it very blatant that a character is a character of color, because I think too often white readers just flat ignore more subtle clues [and even ignore clear statements about race and other diversity. Look at all the backlash around the Hunger Games movie and Amandla Stenberg’s casting as Rue, despite the fact that Rue is very clearly described as having dark skin. There was also backlash around Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).
That being said, though, I hate when authors use descriptors like that: the black girl, the tall man, etc.)
They argue a little about whether anyone could even help Sharon in the first place, and then are interrupted by Larry Wauchop, who calls Chiku “Cheeky” and has a serious crush on her. He’s not really her type, though, mostly because while he is fairly athletic, he spends all his time watching videotapes, likely horror movies from the conversation. (He invites Chiku over to watch Zombie Amazon High. He says it is supposed to be really scary. I think it sounds like more a B Movie Laugh Riot, but fun.) [Dove: Yeah, all the movie titles used reek of schlocky 70s campy fun, but their treated as if they’re Cannibal Holoucast (for the love of all that is holy, do not watch that movie.)]
They flirt a little, and once he’s gone, Chiku admits to Sharon that she’s holding out until he asks her to the Halloween Dance. Chiku teases Sharon that what she needs to forget about her dreams is a hot date. Sharon snaps that she can find her own date, and Sharon, you are being kind of crappy here as a friend. Chiku takes it all in stride, and points out that Sharon keeps turning guys down (five so far this school year, which is less than two months long at this point). Sharon doesn’t want to admit that she’s afraid of seeing anyone because when she does, she pictures them holding a knife and coming for her. That is pretty terrifying. Poor girl.
While they’re talking, Sharon gets the eerie feeling that she’s being watched, the hair on the back of her neck itching and the muscles in her shoulders getting tense. When she slowly turns around, she finds a guy watching her. He’s tall, a couple inches over six feet (not actually that tall), he’s buff, his dark hair is neatly trimmed back, and his brown eyes are bright; she also describes him as handsome, confident, and watching her carefully. When he catches her watching him, he gives her a slow, lazy smile. UNF. YES. OKAY, HELLO HOTTIE. He is pretty solidly Wing’s type when it comes to guys. This means he is evil.
He introduces himself to them as Travis Hale. When Sharon introduces herself, he says he knows, he saw her around a few days ago and asked about her, then tells her she’s the prettiest girl he’s ever seen. OKAY, DUDE, LAYING IT ON A LITTLE THICK, AREN’T YOU?
Sharon introduces Chiku, too, and we get a little backstory on her (she’s Kenyan, and her name means “cheerful” or “chatterer” which she says is perfect for her, and you guys, I am in LOVE with Chiku). Sharon desperately wants Chiku to stop flirting with Travis, and is weirdly, suddenly jealous. Travis is polite and friendly to Chiku, but doesn’t respond to her flirtations, then asks Sharon out for Saturday night. (She says yes before he can even say where they’re going. Oh, Sharon, you adorable nerd.)
Once they’re alone again, Chiku says he’s not her type, and Adams writes as if we’re in her head suddenly “she lied, as casually as she could manage.” First of all, stop head hopping. Second of all, NO. I REFUSE. YOU ARE NOT MAKING THEM FUCKING RIVALS OVER A GODDAMN BOY. NO.
There’s a weird break in the chapter, even though it picks up again with Chiku and Sharon STILL in the hallway before first period. Sharon thinks about how Rafford is a small but growing town; a few years ago, a business boom started to expand it. She’s not kidding about it being a small town that is growing; in first grade (age 4-6 generally), there were 20 kids period. Now there are more like 90 in her grade. Don’t get me wrong, 90 is still very small, but that’s pretty massive growth.
Chiku and Sharon have art first period, with Mr Levine. He apparently has good days and bad days, and on bad days, his temper makes him loud and sarcastic. He doesn’t call them out on being a little late, so it must be a good day. Sharon sets to work sketching Travis in charcoal. Mr Levine tells her it’s not bad, and says that she must have met Travis. Well, I guess she could have seen him in passing. (Some of the boys nearby sneer and whisper, but Mr Levine stops them easily.) He tells her she’s finally showing some talent (… “finally” huh? Way to be a dick, teach), and then gives her feedback about the proportions being off around the ears.
He’s holding a knife just like in her dreams, and crusted on the blade is something dried and red….
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss me and Dove the hell off.)
Mr Levine asks if she’s okay, because she’s gone whiter than his paints. She flinches away from him, drops her sketchbook and charcoals, and can’t stop staring at the knife. Chiku covers for her, and talks Mr Levine into letting her take Sharon to the nurse.
Out in the hall, Sharon tells Chiku that it’s the knife from her dream and she’s terrified of the blood on it, only for Chiku to tell her it’s not blood, it’s paint. It’s a palette knife that artists use when taking oil paint from palette to canvas. It’s not a cutting knife. Sharon doesn’t care, she’s so freaked out, and really, with that recurring dream, who can blame her?
They visit the nurse, and the nurse examines Sharon then has her lie down to rest. She takes Chiku outside to talk to her, and we get more descriptions as if Chiku is the narrator. Damn it, Adams, make up your mind. The nurse asks if Sharon is doing drugs, and Chiku laughs, because Sharon won’t even take aspirin when she has a headache. Chiku is concerned enough that she tells the nurse that Sharon has had some bad dreams lately, though she doesn’t go into detail. The nurse says she’ll talk to Sharon’s parents.
Sharon doesn’t manage to rest, and returns to her classes later that morning. At the end of the school day, Sharon wants to check the knife to make sure it is the same knife in her dreams. (There’s a slight nick in the handle, apparently, that will give it away.) Chiku points out that even if she confirms the knives are the same, does she have a plan for dealing with it? Is she going to burn it so she’ll be free? Adams describes Chiku as being very scornful toward Sharon here, but her dialog is not scornful. She calls Sharon on her paranoia over a dream, but still supports her in checking out the knife. That seems more like being an awesome friend than being scornful, Adams, but whatever.
Mr Levine busts them, and Chiku ends up being the one who has to come up with a cover story. She asks to see the palette knife because she’s going to ask her father to buy her paints for her birthday and whatever Mr Levine uses must be the best. Laying it on a little thick there, Chiku, but not bad. Mr Levine doesn’t fully believe her, but does agree to show them the knife, because it’s a good model. He keeps it locked in the supply cabinet, which makes perfect sense, but, SHOCK, someone has broken into the cabinet. Mr Levine doesn’t notice anything missing, and Chiku suggests they scared off whoever broke into it — then Mr Levine realise that, AGAIN, I AM SHOCKED, the palette knife is missing. Sharon is absolutely certain this means the knife from her dreams is now in the hands of the killer from her dreams.
Once they’re alone, Sharon freaks out, because “[t]he knife that a maniac is trying to use to kill me in my dreams is the only thing some thief steals from an art-supply cabinet. That’s really likely.”
FIRST OF ALL, FUCK YOU, SHARON.
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.)
Second of all, is a coincidence any more likely than the fact you believe a KILLER FROM YOUR DREAMS is coming for you? *head desk*
Chiku reaches her limit here, and I don’t really blame her. Of course, she yells some ableist things about being crazy, because that’s everyone’s go to. I want to burn the world. She also makes a good point that Sharon is acting as if the nightmare is a real life event, and so far it is just a bad dream.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1) [Dove: As I was reading this, I felt sure Wing would burn the world down on this counter.]
Sharon swears that the dream is too real for her to just dismiss it. And I am torn on this. I can absolutely see a character believing in the supernatural and fortune telling and dreams being real. I’m just not sure Adams has convincingly written Sharon to be that kind of character. She’s also getting a little conspiracy theory, and decides that maybe Mr Levine is just lying to them about the palette knife being missing, and maybe he still has it and plans to use it.
That night, Sharon can’t concentrate on her homework, can’t even picture Travis’ face. All she can do is think about the palette knife. We then get a description of her room, which she apparently decorated when she was eleven: the furniture is all white wood with a pink trim, there’s a canopy over the bed, and she used to have Menudo sheets. You guys, I cackled with laughter at that. Couldn’t find a picture of them, so have a Menudo lunch box instead. [Dove: OMG, that’s a real thing? Amazing.] (Also, I find bedding with pictures of actual people on it REALLY CREEPY.) Sharon is now ashamed of her former love for the boy band, and listens to much better groups, but we don’t get any names of those groups.
Sharon then tries on clothes, trying to figure out what to wear on her date with Travis. She vetoes the knitted green sweater as too chunky, a loose t-shirt, a blue blouse.
That night at dinner, Mrs Anders says the school nurse called her and thinks Sharon is overdoing it, suggests they get a checkup. (Sharon also tells us that her mother is in her early forties and still pretty because her hair is natural and she’s in better shape than most of Sharon’s friends’ mothers. You’re just a charming piece of work, aren’t you?)
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.)
Her dad agrees that she should go see Dr Bryce for a checkup, and because he’s a lawyer, he’s ready to argue with her, but she gives in immediately. (He’s also reading legal papers at dinner. Dude, take a break. Your practice will be better for it.)
Sharon asks for permission to go out with Travis on Saturday night, and it’s weird that she doesn’t know to what event he has tickets, but her parents don’t seem to care (as long as it’s not to some “head-banging rock concert” oh my god). As she’s leaving the room, her father tells her mother that she’s not sick, she just has boys on her mind because she’s sixteen and that’s what teen girls do. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Misogyny is for pussies: 1 (+1) (Ah, fuck wimmin, right? I mean, they’re only good for being hysterical weird creatures. It’s not like they’re people or anything.)
There’s this long paragraph about how, when she was little, Sharon insisted that the closet door be shut before she goes to bed. That’s not too unusual. Even though she swears she’s outgrown her fear, she makes sure to shut the door, but by the time she makes it back to her bed, the door is open again. This repeats, and on the third time, she thinks to check the door handle, realizes it is broken and isn’t catching when she shuts the door (she says locking, but that’s not really how the closet door would work). She drags her heavy crate of records (I would say that records dates this book, but she could just be super hipster) in front of it to hold it shut.
In an effort to avoid the bad dream, Sharon focuses on Travis, thinking good things, thinking about romance. She tried to image a background for him, tried to think about his family, thinks he would have a kid sister who worshiped him, wished she could grow up to be like her older brother, etc., and she falls asleep quickly.
Sharon wakes up to her alarm, and hasn’t had a single nightmare, though she did have a sex dream about being trapped in an elevator with Travis. How come you’re not willing to believe that’s some sort of prophetic dream, huh?
Then she realizes the closet door is open, the crate of records shoved three feet away from it. She makes herself look into the closet. There is no monster there, no shadowy killer, but her rag doll is impaled on one of the clothing hooks. Its chest is pierced in the same place the killer in her dreams stabs her, and the doll’s stuffing drained into a dark pool on the closet floor.
This is actually pretty creepy — except that doll stuffing is generally light colored. That detail, with no explanation, keeps throwing me out of the scene.
Chiku asks if maybe Sharon’s been sleep walking, and Sharon blows that off. Sleep walking is serious business, Sharon, and you can do some weird things during it. There’s another scene where Larry hits on Chiku and Chiku blows him off even though she apparently does like him, and then Travis shows up. He offers to come by and take her out for a soda so her parents can meet him before Saturday night’s date. Sharon loves the normalcy of things with him.
That afternoon, she goes to see Dr Bryce. He gives her a thorough examination, but doesn’t find anything. He expected anemia, but she seems fine there, though he still has to wait for blood test results. He does ask if she’s having bad dreams. He says that’s normal, and he can write her a prescription for a mild tranquilizer, which she doesn’t have to take, but might help. “Tranquilizer” seems like the wrong word there, but I don’t actually know what they prescribed back then, so … I guess we’ll go with it. Seems weird, though. He also gives her a therapist’s contact information, in case the dreams continue. (Dr Helena Jablonski, in case she actually becomes important later.)
[Dove: This bugs me in all media all the time. Maybe it’s a Brit/American difference, but over here, you do not get anything that will send you off to sleep unless the medical profession are deeply concerned about you. When you can’t sleep (even when you have, oh, say 24 years of history of insomnia), you usually get an anti-depressant or some kind of anti-histamine with drowsiness as a side-effect. Not a pill specifically designed to make you sleep.]
Mr Anders changes the handle on her closet door, and then while Sharon is getting ready for her date, her parents talk about why she wants a lock in the first place. Mr Anders is supportive of it, and says that she just needs some space for her secrets. Mrs Anders points out that nothing could be as serious as what they’re hiding from her.
Dead sibling or secret adoption, put your money in now! (Note from the future: Ha. Ha. Ha.)
We don’t actually get to see Travis interacting with her parents, or their date, but Sharon recaps it: he bonded with them over L.A. Law and his slightly battered Thunderbird, and the concert tickets are for a folk group, and all in all, Sharon decides he’s gently perfect. (In case you were wondering, after her earlier indecision, she wore a casual look, green pants and a soft gold top.)
(We do learn that Sharon hasn’t spent much time with any of her friends but Chiku, because everyone else got tired of her edginess and occasional outbursts of anger. She swears that anger was never aimed at them, but we’ve seen her snap pretty nasty at Chiku, so I have my doubts.)
Travis let her do much of the talking on their date, and kept asking her questions to keep her going, so she doesn’t learn much about him, but still feels like he’s wonderful and she’s had a great time. She has some more sexy thoughts about Travis and what he would think about her flimsy nightgown. Get it, girl.
Though she goes to sleep with pleasant thoughts again, tonight she has the dream. She’s attacked by some flying creature with leathery wings, so I’m going with bat. It bites her skin, laps her blood, but she manages to beat it off. It’s not until she’s free that she realises the dream has changed. She’s never been attacked like that before.
Next, a small, man-legged, chittering thing falls onto her bare skin, and this is truly creepy and gross. She gets away from it, too, but now she’s seeing everything with a red sheen over it, because she’s in such pain. She thinks she might have been poisoned.
The man and the unman come to her, and when she asks why he’s killing her, first the man says it’s because she’s his, but then the unman speaks for the first time, and in a barely human voice, says it’s because she’s his. She looks at the man with new eyes, and sees fear in his expression — he’s even more haunted than she is by the unman. He knos that she sees that in him, and rages, plunging the knife into her.
She wakes up, but can’t move, can’t breathe. Her parents rush in and rescue her — apparently, her canopy fell on top of her and was heavy enough that it nearly suffocated her. That is some serious fabric. [Dove: not necessarily. When my facial eczema is bad, I use a very light cotton scarf to cover my face when I go out, even a short walk will overheat my face (probably making the condition worse) and make me feel like I can’t breathe, so possibly the theory is that she inhaled through the fabric and her body recieved less oxygen than it was expecting, and in the throes of a nightmare, her body felt like it was choking. But still. Supernatural shit.] Her father examines the bed, and finds that the bolts are sheared clean through. He blames faulty workmanship, but Sharon thinks the post looks like it was clawed apart. Her father tells her only something as big and strong as a mountain lion could have done it, and makes a sad joke about the neighborhood being too exclusive for mountain lions.
Her mother breaks into this conversation, and says that he should clean up the bed so Sharon can get some more sleep while she takes care of her wounds, because the splintered wood must have cut her. Sure enough, her left arm is injured right where the bat creature bit her in her dream. Her nightgown is torn, too, from where she tore a strip off to be a bandage in her dream, but the bandage didn’t come through to her being awake. After she’s patched up, her mother gives her two of Dr Bryce’s tranquilizers, which Sharon accepts, though the last thing I’d want would be tranquilizers if I was having terrible dreams and waking up injured. So much for the waking up part.
Sharon is just drifting off when she sees the closet key on the floor. Before she went to bed the first time, she had left it on the dresser, and now it is six feet away. She thinks it looks like the key was trying to crawl across the carpet to the closet. Oy, Sharon. Oy. Of course, she’s driven to unlock the closet and check inside. At first she sees nothing, but then finds another doll hanging in her closet, this one hanging from a noose made from the missing strip of her nightgown. Sharon locks the closet and goes back to bed; for the rest of the night, she sleeps with the light on. She says this is the first time she’s done so since childhood, but I want to say she’s had the lights on one other night, too. I don’t care enough to go back and check, but the impression I got was that she’d turned the lights on and gone back to sleep at one point. Doesn’t really matter, in the end. [Dove: She didn’t. She really wanted to, but turned the light off.]
Sharon is grumpy and touchy at school the next day, and Chiku puts up with her attitude until lunch, when she finally gets Sharon to talk to her about what happened. Chiku talks about how crazy her story sounds, because of course she does.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)
Chiku doesn’t really want to believe that supernatural things are happening, but she’s willing to go along with Sharon and try to logic things out (because “even the supernatural has to have some sort of logic to it” — Chiku, I love you [Dove: Me too, that line I really appreciated.]). She thinks they should try to figure out who the guy in the dream is and why he has it in for Sharon. Sharon says she’s never seen him before, but he’s always wearing jeans and a dirty sweatshirt and he always carries the palette knife.
Chiku goes on to talk about a couple of psychology theories that may apply here. The first is one that no matter how long a dream feels, they are actually formed in the mind just as we wake up, and they incorporate things going on around the sleeper, so maybe she dreamed about the things attacking her because the canopy had already collapsed, not the canopy collapsed because she was dreaming about the things attacking her. The second is that dreams can come true, and she brings up the rumor that Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy had dreams about their assassinations. I have never heard either of these theories, and I wonder if they were big in the 90s and have dropped off, or if Adams is making up what he wants. [Dove: Also, allegedly Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens both had premonitions of death (Valens’ has slightly more weight than Buddy’s — his was specifically about flying/planes, Buddy’s was generic, could have been a plane, but later it’s been pitched that he always knew he’d die on a plane), and The Big Bopper had foresaw his own death. Funny how all three decided it was a fine idea to board a plane together in terrible weather. These theories tended to sprout up after a death.] Chiku then talks about the Bible being full of stories about people seeing things in dreams and how most cultures have the belief that the supernatural can invade dreams because our mental defenses are down.
Larry shows up, Chiku and Larry have a pun exchange, but they’re not cheesy enough to really make me groan, which is the best part of puns, alas. [Dove: Wing enabled Mr Dove in his punning this weekend. Dove is not amused.] After Larry leaves and Chiku runs back to get her history book, which she left behind, Jenn asks Sharon if Chiku really likes Larry the creep. (Sharon vaguely recognises Jenn, who “had always seemed like a long streak of misery” to her.) Jenn says that Lonny Petersen told her all about Larry, and he’s pretty sick. Who the hell is Lonny Petersen? Apparently a girl who lives a few doors down from Larry. Lonny is generally a boy’s name. I’m amazed. Anyway, Lonny claims that Larry is a peeping tom because one night she caught him staring in her window watching her get ready for bed.
And Sharon calls her a goddamn tramp because she only got undressed with the shades open to get attention.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS, ADAMS. FUCK. YOU.
This is some slut shaming, girl hating, victim blaming bullshit, and completely unnecessary. Fuck off with that bullshit writing, Adams. There was no goddamn point to this, it adds nothing to the story, and all it does is add to the rape culture crap that surrounds us. Fuck. Off.
Misogyny is for pussies: 10 (+9)
Cheer on the killer: 2 (+1)
I’m cheering on the killer to take out the author, clearly.
After she drives off Jenn, Sharon suddenly worries that maybe Larry does get his kicks watching girls undress — and what if it’s something worse. She thinks there’s something familiar about her attacker in her dreams. Maybe it’s Larry?
When Chiku returns, Sharon pushes into the logic that Chiku had already offered, that the things happening in her nightmare happen for a reason. Chiku is not well pleased with Sharon’s logic that she’s been dreaming about some slasher trying to kill her, and Larry is the only person she knows who is in to that sort of film and stuff. (Seriously? How do you only know one person into slasher films and horror? And of course it’s a dude. Girls just don’t watch that stuff, right, Adams?)
Sharon doesn’t have any nightmares for the rest of the week (the whole two nights of it — it’s not like she suddenly has a month-long reprieve), and we skip ahead to her date with Travis. She has a great time with him, loves the folk group, who basically sound like an Irish folk rock band, and is starting to feel like the instant, undying love that she always thought was so farfetched and stupid when she read about it in “slushy, unbelievable romance novels.” I definitely read that as “slashy” at first, and was going to commend Adams for that, but nope.
There’s a bunch of stuff about how when Travis looks at her, she feels as if they are soul mates, two sides of one being. Barf. And boring. She’s disappointed that he only kisses her fingertips when he drops her off, but still riding her happiness as she gets ready for bed.
Tonight’s dream has her in a long, tall, well-lit room, an art gallery of some sort. The first painting she examines is a medieval painting of a knight spearing a dragon from horseback while the drag tries to eat the knight and a woman is chained to a rock in the background, because of course she is.
You’ll be unsurprised to learn that the woman looks just like Sharon and the knight like Travis.
Then the painting changes, the dragon moves, it kills the knight, and reaches for the screaming woman chained to the rocks.
The second painting is a winged figure (Sharon wonders if it is an angel) in cubist style — the eyes are both on the same side of the face, the angles are harsh, the colors all wrong. All wrong for what, exactly? It’s not as if a winged figure is a painting from reality, Sharon. The wings are shredded and don’t look like they can hold the figure in the air.
Then it stares at her and opens its mouth. The voice she hears telling her hello is the voice of the un-man from her nightmare wood.
The third painting is abstract pop art, “all shapes and lines and slash-like strokes.” It’s mostly bright blood red, with some black streaks, and she finds it disturbing, frightening, and confusing.
Then it, too, begins to change. The red drips from the bottom edge, and Sharon holds out her fingers so it can drip onto her skin. She realises then that it isn’t paint, it is blood, and she collapses under the abstract painting. She screams, and wakes up in bed.
She’s not alone. At first she can’t figure out why she feels that way, but the closet door is open again, and the blackness inside is draining all the light and warmth from the room, and in the blackness, two red eyes gleam. She’s frozen in a staring contest with it until something brushes against her, and then she leaps out of bed, screaming, and slams the closet door.
Her parents race into the room, and she tells them that the nightmare thing is in her closet. Her father brushes this off, and says she was dreaming, but she tells him she saw two eyes in the closet. When he tries to open it to check inside, the closet door is locked. This frustrates him, and he tells her again that she was just dreaming, but she insists that she saw something and felt something touch her.
Mrs Anders points out the window is open about six inches and there are claw marks on the sill. They assume a cat must have sneaked inside, she saw it, freaked out, and it ran when she was screaming. Sharon wants to believe this, but can’t, because the eyes were red and the dirt on the floor is the gray and sterile dirt of the nightmare woods, not the backyard. Her parents decide it is time for her to see that therapist her doctor recommended.
Chiku and Sharon spend some time on the phone, joking (or “joking” about how Chiku wants Travis too), and then Chiku advises her to let the guy do all the chasing, when Sharon asks if she should call him. Sharon points out that’s pretty sexist, which it is. After they hang up, Sharon spends the rest of the day wondering if he will call, fretting over whether she should call him. Fuck, girl, just do it! Or get out of the house and live your life. Don’t wait around on him. Damn.
He does finally call, briefly, just to say that he had fun and that he had to talk to her, even though he’s busy with chores.
After dinner, Sharon takes a hot shower, enjoying herself until the water turns red and becomes blood. She screams until her parents come rescue her again, and once she’s out of the shower and wrapped in her robe, they realise it is paint. Sharon is certain that until her parents came into the room, it was blood, hot and sticky.
Her dad goes into the attic to check, and sure enough, there’s a spilled can of red paint that has dripped down onto her. They try to explain it away like that, but Sharon points out that if it fell down through the ceiling and not out of the shower head, there would be a stain on the ceiling, and there isn’t. The only thing her parents can say is that it is “very peculiar.”
Sharon gets cleaned up, and her mother says that she’s going to need to cut her hair short because the paint has ruined it. Is this — is this actually a thing that paint can do? Blood washes out. (Let’s not talk about how I know that.) But can paint really ruin your hair? [Dove: I can’t see that it would. Dad says it’s the paint he used on the garage door, so it might be gloss. That stuff is feistier than normal paint. Still, it was still wet when she went to wash it out, so I’m with you that it probably wouldn’t do much damage.]
This is the last straw for Sharon. No, really. You have to see this:
Sharon caught sight of her hair in the mirror as she did so. She’d always been so proud of her long, blond hair, hanging halfway down her back. Now it was flecked with red paint that stubbornly refused to come out. This, more than any horrors she had experienced so far, hurt the most. This thing attacking her had made a very bad mistake. She was no longer simply terrified. She was also furious.
She had no idea what was going on, or who was doing this to her, or why. But she was grimly certain of one thing: She wasn’t going to give in. Not now, not ever. Whoever or whatever was behind this attack on her sanity might kill her, but it wouldn’t ever defeat her. Staring into the mirror at her ruined hair, she promised: “I’ll get you for this. I will.”
So on the one hand, this is ridiculous. Getting paint in your hair is the thing that makes you fight back? Not the many, many, many times that you’ve been killed in your dreams? Or attacked in your dreams and then carried the wounds to reality? Or someone (or thing) broke into your room? None of that was the last straw, but this is?
On the other hand, my hair is a strong part of my identity and personality, and when I had side effects of a med that made it start to fall out, I was DONE with that med, even though I’d put up with other side effects. So I can’t judge her too much.
At school, Chiku finally admits that now she thinks that a supernatural entity is trying to get Sharon. She’s been doing some reading, because at first she thought Sharon was just being haunted (“just”), but then she found this whole theory that there are beings that live in a separate dimension and can try to break into our dimension. Chiku isn’t sure that she believes in all that, but she does believe in Sharon.
When Sharon hugs her, Chiku tells her to stop because “people will get the wrong idea about us.”
FUCK. YOU. ADAMS. Way to take an awesome friendship and fun characters and ruin it with homophobia. Why the fuck was that necessary? WHY?
Cheer on the killer: 102 (+100)
Still cheering for the killer to take out Adams, not the characters.
… I am shocked that we don’t have a homophobia counter yet. Way to go, Point Horrors. And Adams, look at your life, look at your choices. Of all the terrible books we’ve recapped (and some good ones), your book, which has so much potential, is the one that tips us over into needing a goddamn counter for your bullshit.
Queerly Contagious: 1 (+1) (And other homophobic, biphobic, queer hate.) [Dove: When Wing texted me to tell me about the new counter, I said that Queerly Contagious sounded like a lesbian riff on the Jem theme. Wing refused to be ear wormed. Please, at least one of you, start humming the Jem theme.]
Chiku goes on to break them down into categories: (1) the kind like juvenile delinquents who just play jokes and tricks to annoy people (see: leprechauns of Ireland), and (2) the powers, devils, fallen angels, demons, with powers of evil, creatures who delight in destruction, wreck anything good. What about powers for good? Also, Chiku is apparently getting this from her father’s books, but up until this point, most of his books focused on psychology and dream interpretation, so this is kind of a surprise jump. Anyway, Chiku says they can get rid of it because it’s all a matter of control, and you can control a power and force it to leave you alone. Chiku just doesn’t know how yet. SO WHY AREN’T YOU GUYS RESEARCHING IT RIGHT NOW? One thing she says she does know is that the powers have to have a link to a person, they can’t just pick them at random. HMMMM. I wonder if this has anything to do with that weird little throwaway statement her mother said earlier in the book about the secrets they are keeping from Sharon. HMMM I WONDER.
Larry startles them, they both shout, he gets pissed that they’re shouting, I’m so bored. Travis rocks up and asks Sharon to the Halloween dance Friday night, and then when it looks like Larry might calmly ask Chiku out, he immediately bounces, looking all nervous and vulnerable.
After school, Sharon gets her hair cut and nearly cries when she ends up with a simple page-boy cut. That is hard, cutting off a ton of hair, even if it is your choice, which it isn’t, not for her. I feel for her. She then goes to see Dr Jablonski, who is a slim, brown-haired woman in her mid-thirties who looks both pleasant and attractive. Why are all your attractive characters slim, Adams?
Dr Jablonski tells Sharon that “the people who come to see me aren’t crazy. They merely have some unresolved emotional problems. I try and help them to see the root cause of their trouble, and equip them to deal with it.”
Ok. Not all mental health practitioners like the reclamation of “crazy” that some people with mental illness have done. (Including me. I use “crazy” as a label, because I am crazy, and sometimes it is a real struggle to survive the crazy brain. What I don’t do is use it as an ableist slur against other people or things.) HOWEVER. These sentences don’t address that (and also, Sharon hasn’t said anything about being or not being crazy, so it comes out of nowhere). These sentences say that there are crazy people, but those people (those OTHER, DIFFERENT people) don’t come to her. Her patients aren’t like those other REALLY CRAZY people. And that is dangerous bullshit.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1005 (+1002)
Plenty of people who actually have a mental illness go to therapy as a part of their treatment. (I do not. I rely on medication and a strong treatment relationship with my psychiatrist and regular doctor.) People who consider themselves crazy go to see therapists.
FUCK YOU, ADAMS. FUCK. YOU.
Sharon tells Dr J that she’s being hunted by a demon, and then tells her all about the dreams. We then jump to Mrs Anders out in the waiting room. She thinks about how Sharon is a terrific daughter, and how proud of her Mrs and Mr Anders are. She thinks taking her to a therapist means she’s failed and this is such shit. SUCH. SHIT.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity
And here we are again at an infinity count.
So mostly, this is Mrs Anders guilt that as parents, they can’t protect their daughter, and that is fine. That is interesting, and it makes sense for the characters. HOWEVER. You shouldn’t just lay down therapy = failure without addressing the bullshit ableism in it, and the injury that does to people reading the book, particularly teens and younger readers who either are going to therapy or need mental health treatment. This is not the book to do that in, and this line about failure was completely unnecessary. The point is that she feels terrible that they can’t stop Sharon from being hurt by her nightmares, and you don’t need to make this statement that therapy = failure to do that.
Dr J talks about how the human brain tries to see patterns in things without patterns, and how we dream all the time, but forget most of them on waking, but when something happens that is similar to an event in the dream, we think the dream then predicted it. Sharon laughs out loud at this, because the paint, the closet, and the knife are just wild coincidences in this theory, and I don’t blame her one bit for laughing. Dr J says they are real to Sharon, but that objectively, no one else could experience them. UM. Pretty sure she has witnesses to the paint, at the very least.
When Sharon points that out, Dr J asks if she has a new boyfriend. When Sharon confirms this, Dr J says the dreams may be just a manifestation of her fears about the new boyfriend. And if they were just nightmares, sure. But, again, there have been actual, concrete things happening to her.
We don’t see the rest of their meeting, but it does not go well, and Sharon storms off, leaving her mother alone with Dr J to finish up. She doesn’t get into the car to wait, though, but paces around it. She’s furious that Dr J thinks she’s some teen sex bomb waiting to explode and that’s why everything is happening. Poor Sharon. That really would be frustrating, having actual concrete things happen that are then written off as just in her imagination, or just her subconscious plus coincidence.
Next chapter opens with Sharon in the forest dream yet again, but this time, the forest is alive, and there is silver light penetrating the gloom. She can see the full moon through the foliage. You know what this means! It means I’m delighted because I am writing this recap under the full moon, too. (The full harvest moon is one of my favorite full moons.)
Ok, ok, it also means NEEDS MORE WEREWOLVES.
There’s a woman with auburn hair, dressed in a long, red nightgown. It’s Dr J! She asks Sharon why she’s dreaming about her, and Sharon laughs and says that she is dreaming about Dr J, and this is the forest she was telling her about. Sharon is just about ready to admit that maybe Dr J is right and the dreams are all related to her stress, when the slasher says, “[Dr J] was wrong. Dead wrong.”
Oh. my. god. Could you be any more cliche, Slasher?
There’s a nice bit of description here:
In the night sky, the full moon started to shift and change. In seconds, the silver glow was gone, bathed in deep redness. Then the moon cracked, like an egg, crumbling and spilling blood all over the forest. The liquid hissed as it touched the living things. Leaves, trees, grass, all smoldered, died, and crumbled. The icy wind carried away the ashes, leaving only the bare, dead soil once again. In the distance, Sharon could hear the abrupt screams of dying animals.
The blood burns Sharon and Dr J like acid, and Dr J confronts the Slasher. That doesn’t do much, until Sharon says that the forest is actually his prison, not some place where he is powerful. He’s bitter and angry at that, and tells her she’s bright, just like her mother.
I bet you’re shocked to learn that Dr J decides to prove he’s a figment of Sharon’s repressed urges and gets stabbed for her troubles. Sharon runs, but is herded back to the Slasher by chittering creatures with thin, hair legs that stink of soil and decay. She runs until she falls, as usual, and the Slasher comes for her, as usual, though he talks to her a little more than normal, again about how she belongs to the un-man, who turns up too. Sharon says she’ll fight him, and he speaks to her in a voice that is “the thin, dry rustle of death” full of “contempt, and hunger, and desire. And, just maybe, a little fear.”
The Slasher comes for her, and Sharon throws a handful of the dead soil directly into his eyes, then starts punching him wildly. She gets a good punch into his left eye before he pushes her away, and he seems shocked by her furious attack. He’s actually retreating before her, until what feels like a huge hand grabs her and squeezes the life and breath out of her. The Slasher leaps at her while she’s incapacitated and stabs her.
As usual, she wakes in her bed. She’s giddy, though, because she feels like she almost won, until the un-man grabbed her. And, okay, the Slasher was backing away from her, but that doesn’t mean she was near winning. Not to mention, there’s nothing really to fight when it comes to the un-man, so … I think you’re counting your chickens before your eggs are hatched, Sharon.
Then she realises that she can hear something breathing. She’s not alone in her room. She finds a shadowy figure standing by the closet, red eyes staring at her, and then something with beating wings drops onto her face. She tears it off, and then her parents turn on the light and the room is empty.
The thing in her hand has become a newspaper clipping. It is dated November 1, 1974, and the heading reads PENNSYLVANIA SLAYING. The accompanying photo is a picture of Sharon.
Her mother snatches it away before she can read more, and her parents refuse to tell her anything. They just tell her to go back to sleep. Her father shouts at her when she asks questions, and stung, she stops and goes back to bed, tries to puzzle it out herself. She was born October 30, 1974, and so would have only been a couple days old at the time of the murder. She’s certain that the creature gave her the article for a reason, but she doesn’t have any answers to her questions, and uneasily drifts off to sleep.
Sharon fills Chiku in the next day. Chiku thinks it is all very weird, and wonders if Sharon isn’t better off not reading it then because the power of evil thinks it is important. Sharon can’t stop thinking about it, and she decides she has to know more, no matter what the cost. Power to you, Sharon. I think I’d react the same way. I have this burning need to know.
Chiku suggests they go to the library after school and check out the microfilm. Aaah, microfilm and microfiche, terrible and wonderful tools. She then suggests that maybe Sharon has been reincarnated and is reliving the final hours of the girl who was murdered. Except Sharon was born days before she was murdered, so … what, was there just this baby with no soul/personality/entity/whatever inside it? I could behind that story.
Larry tries to sneak past them, furtive and silent, not his usual vivacious self, and he’s wearing sunglasses inside. Chiku grabs them off him after he shouts at her, and sure enough, his left eye is swollen and mottled with purple bruises. He says he walked into the door in the dark and runs off.
Sharon freaks out, because she hit the Slasher in his left eye and now Larry turns up with a black eye in the same place. When Chiku says that Larry would never try to hurt someone, Sharon points out that he loves horror flicks and who’s to say that he won’t try to duplicate them. That is such a crappy reason to believe someone is a killer. Fuck.
[Dove: I hate this line of thinking — horror makes you evil — it was particularly prevalent in my country in the 90s, following the murder of a young child by two 10 year olds in a manner that echoed Child’s Play 3, which they had recently watched. The movie got a lot of bad press because it encouraged them to do so. I was eyed with concern when I tried to make the point I’d seen it and managed not to kill anyone. Not linked because it’s not a fun read.]
Travis joins them while they’re arguing, and they stop because they’re not telling him what’s up. He tells Sharon how beautiful she is with her new short hair, like “one of those old masters’ oil paintings.” She loves that he thinks she’s gorgeous, but she’s also sad about losing her hair and a little afraid at his mention of oil painting. She asks if he wants to go out, and he puts it off until Thursday, and then mentions that he knows her birthday is coming up. (She’s angry that Chiku told him. I don’t know why.) He asks her out for a movie to celebrate, something comedic because he frightens easily, so they make plans for Thursday. Isn’t the Halloween dance on Friday? Especially if her birthday is Thursday, which would make Friday Halloween. Interesting that he’s so intent on getting her alone on her birthday.
After school, Chiku and Sharon go to the library. The research librarian helps them, because research librarians are awesome, and soon enough, they have a copy of the article. It’s not the same clipping that she had, but it is the same story. This time, Sharon notices that the girl in the picture has her hair in a short, page-boy cut, just like Sharon does now.
The girl is Shanna Bayer, an eighteen-year-old member of the Lost Arts Community, a commune of artists from NYC that relocated to the area only six months before Shanna was killed. The commune was founded by pop artist Johnny Wilde. Oh, god, that name. Chiku doesn’t see any connection to Sharon, until Sharon says that her mother’s maiden name is Bayer, but she’s never talked about a sister before.
Sharon confronts her mother that night. Her mother says that they are not actually Sharon’s parents, but Sharon is Shanna’s daughter and they are her aunt and uncle.
Secret adoption storylines are a tired, lazy trope, and worse, most of them go like this one does, where the secret adopted parent says they aren’t really her parents. That is BULLSHIT. Adopted parents are real parents. Adopted kids are real kids. Full stop. The end. I will fight this fight until my last breath, because people to this day still say bullshit like this, still believe that adopted families aren’t real families. FUCK. THAT. NOISE.
I want to set the world on fire right now.
Okay, moving on. Mrs Anders tells Sharon that her parents died when she was in her early twenties and Shanna was just seventeen. She ran off to join an art group in NYC claiming that society failed her and their generation. The art group was mostly into “the peace thing, and Eastern religion, and drugs.” As if there is one “Eastern religion.” For fuck’s sake, Adams. There were about forty people in the commune, they renounced marriage as “shackles placed on people by society to legalize sex and keep them in line.” For an art commune, they weren’t producing very much art, but there in the news a lot. Johnny Wilde moved them away from the corruption of society to an old farm in Paineston, Pennsylvania. Remind me never to live somewhere that is basically called TON OF PAIN RIGHT HERE. They went off grid, and several of the girls become pregnant. Shanna was rarely in touch with her sister because she didn’t like Mr Anders, thought that, as a lawyer, he was the tool of repression. True statement, that.
Then Shanna calls them from a neighboring, terrified and rambling. She had just given birth to Sharon and needed to get away because he was trying to kill her or kill Sharon, she wasn’t clear. They went to get her, and Mr Anders called the police, but by the time they arrived at the farm, Shanna was gone. The farmer’s wife had Sharon, and the police were there, but no one knew anything. About an hour later, the police found Shanna dead, stabbed to death, more than twenty times, all in the chest. Everyone thought Johnny Wilde did it, but no one had any proof. When Mr Anders says they’re taking Sharon, Johnny Wilde tried to hit him, and was jailed for a short time for assault, and the Anders adults adopted Sharon. (SO THEY ARE HER FUCKING PARENTS.)
Then Johnny Wilde, after he got out of jail, broke into their home, back when they still lived near NYC, and tried to kidnap Sharon. He got five years in jail for that one. They moved in the middle of the night because they were afraid he would try it again when he was released, but then about a week after the move, they learned he was killed. Apparently, they were worried about him getting out of jail and coming for them, but not worried enough to move before the five years were up, because he was not in jail when he was killed. He was stabbed to death in an apartment building.
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!)
Sharon redeems the story a little by saying that even if they aren’t her biological parents, they’re still her mom and dad and always will be. That’s damn right, Sharon. They then talk a little about the dreams; Mr Anders thinks she has some deeply hidden, jumbled memories of what happened, but Mrs Anders doesn’t think she could remember any of it, even subconsciously. I’m with Mrs Anders here, but who knows how the brain would really work.
Sharon and Mrs Anders go through the book of clippings Mrs Anders kept about the murders, and Sharon finally sees a picture of Johnny Wilde — he is the Slasher from her dreams. I’M SHOCKED. ARE YOU SHOCKED?
She catches Chiku up over the phone, and Chiku actually asks if she’s mad about being lied to for so long. That is a completely valid question, and I wouldn’t blame her if she was. Keeping adoption a secret not only makes it seem like something shameful, something to hide, but also means you lie to your kids for years and years. Kids are supposed to be able to trust their parents, and it is shitty when they can’t.
(I also don’t understand why people lie to their kids about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, etc. Hey kids, don’t tell lies, except for the multitude of lies we’ll tell you throughout your childhood.)
Chiku wonders if this new knowledge will stop the nightmare, because now she knows the truth about Johnny Wilde killing her birth mother. Chiku apparently subscribes to the idea that baaaaaaby!Sharon saw enough and teen!Sharon remembers things from the first two days of her life. I am skeptical.
They talk about ways Sharon can take control of the dream, starting with what she wears in it. I just want to know if anyone has checked on Dr J lately. [Dove: Sharon, you are not as badass as Nancy Thompson from Nightmare on Elm Street. She figured that out herself. Really early on. Also, where’s the coffee and No-Doze? Where’s the knife tied to your arm? Nancy > Sharon.]
When her dad gets home that night, he’s very uncertain around her, but she puts him at ease. I really like her relationship with her parents, overall, though, again, the SEKRIT ADOPTION trope is one of my least favorite things.
That night, she has the nightmare again, but her panic is gone. She’s wearing jeans, a sweater, and sneakers, because she’s kind of a badass, and Chiku is super smart. Of course, if they were really on top of things, she would have brought a weapon.
She doesn’t run, either, but calls out for Johnny to face her. He still has the knife, but he’s looking thinner and more haggard, and she’s not afraid of him. She confronts him about what she now knows, and he tells her that he never meant to kill Shanna, but she wouldn’t go along with what he needed to do to Sharon, his firstborn.
I’m sure you, too, are shocked to learn that all Johnny cares about is power, and he promised his firstborn as a sacrifice in return for some sort of power. He threatens to kill her now, fulfill his promise, and —
Oh, snap. She pulls out her father’s large hunting knife, which she strapped to her waist before bed. Good fucking job, Sharon and Chiku! (I’m just going to suspend my disbelief that her father is the type of man to have a hunting knife. He has not once come across like that in the book.) [Dove: Ok, but Nancy still did this first.]
Johnny freaks out, whining about how it isn’t fair, he should have won, and the un-man’s voice says that he could never win because he was always a weak fool. He doesn’t appear yet, but Sharon can feel the chill of his approach. The un-man rips open Johnny’s chest and then drops his body onto the ground again, then turns for Sharon.
He tells her that he likes spirit and once he feasted on many souls because people flocked to make bargains with him. That time will come again soon, too. He grabs her, but only claws at her in several places before he lets her go. Her knife is now shattered, and she knows that she can’t fight it. He talks on and on about how her soul has been promised to him, and he will have it. His hand pushes her into the dirt, until she is buried deep —
and she wakes up, thinking she was buried alive. She quickly realizes that she is just under her bed, though. That would be a truly terrifying way to wake up. Her clothes are torn and her skin is cut up; again, the wounds from the dreams came through when she woke up.
She cleans up and goes downstairs, only to remember that it is her birthday when she sees that presents are set on the table for her. She gets some good gifts, including a certificate for driving lessons, but is having trouble focusing.
She gives up on trying to hide it, and brings down the bundle of clothes and the shattered knife to try to tell them about her dreams again, but they aren’t having it. Mr Anders believes a crazy person did it as a warning. Fuck you, Mr Anders. Fuck you, Adams.
Sharon tries to convince them that Johnny Wilde has been after her even though he is dead and that the demon killed him, and Mr Anders is furious that Mrs Anders told her about the devil worship. Mrs Anders, of course, didn’t, and Sharon realises that is what Johnny wanted her for, she was supposed to be his human sacrifice.
Sharon also says that Dr J was in her dreams once, and Mr Anders is shocked at the name, because he’s seen it in the papers. Sure enough, she was killed a few days ago, murdered in her sleep. Sharon demands that her father check the details she knows about Dr J’s death, and if she’s wrong, she’ll drop the whole story, but he calls a police buddy and Sharon is, of course, right. She then tells her parents everything about the dreams and threats again, and this time they listen and start to believe it.
Turns out, part of the reason Mr Anders believes Sharon is that she only survives being murdered because she wakes up, and Dr J couldn’t wake up, she took sleeping pills that night. Maybe if she could wake up, she would have survived. He also thinks Chiku is right and there is someone else involved. Sharon agrees, especially because there has to be a reason the demon finally found her. For a long time, he couldn’t, and that’s why he didn’t come for her before. She gives her dad Larry’s name, and he’s going to look into his history. They want Sharon to stay home until they sort it out, except for going to school, but she remembers the Halloween Dance is the next night. You also have a date tonight, Sharon.
Her dad drives her to school, and she’s almost late. She can’t find Chiku or Larry, but does see Travis. He cancels their date before she can, because his car has been acting up, and he’s going to strip down the engine tonight so he can still drive them to the dance. She finally finds Chiku in class, but they don’t get to talk until it’s done. Chiku admits that she told her dad about Sharon’s dreams because he noticed what she’s been researching. Sharon’s not mad, though. Turns out Chiku’s dad believes the story and wants to talk to Sharon and see if he can help.
I kind of love how the adults are actually taking things seriously in this book and working with the teens to find a solution. That’s a solid story. Sharon calls her dad for permission to go to Chiku’s house for dinner. If Chiku and/or her father turn out to be the Muffin Man, I am going to hunt down Adams and make him pay for all this bullshit.
After school, Chiku is happy because Larry finally asked her to the Halloween Dance. She said yes, of course, but Sharon is not super pleased. Well, she wouldn’t be, since she thinks Larry might be involved in this whole demon after her soul thing.
After dinner, Sharon and Chiku sit down with Mr Williams and tell him everything. Sharon is certain he won’t believe her, but he does, because her story makes perfect sense if you have a firm understanding of demonology, which he doesn’t think she has, or he would think she was making it all up. He talks theory for awhile, until Chiku points out that theory is all well and good, but they need actual action. I love you, Chiku.
He talks about how demons are traditionally the remnants of fallen angels, powers of good twisted and corrupted by their rebellion against god. That’s the Christian story, but what tends to happen is that when a religion takes root in a community, it pushes out an older faith, and the gods of the old faith become the devils of the new one. That makes a lot of sense. Christianity in particular assimilates old traditions to make the transition smoother. (See: Christmas.)
Lots more theory, but basically, Mr Williams thinks the demon wants Sharon as the pure firstborn because he wants to corrupt her utterly; she’s a good kid and that makes her appealing as a target. Almost any human would be a good target, because it takes a lot to make a human soul dark, but Sharon was already promised to it once, so she’s a great target now. And it must have found her because it made a pact with a human recently, someone she knows. Not necessarily someone she’s recently met, though; it could be she’s known the human a long time, but the human only recently made the pact with the demon.
They talk about various things they could try to do to keep her safe, but without the demon’s name, there’s not a ton they can do to stop it. Mr Williams does give her an ornate silver cross that a bishop gave him a few years ago; it will concentrate her own beliefs and strengthens her goodness.
That night, Sharon finally wonders if maybe Travis might be behind it because he came into her life right around the same time her dream did, but then decides he can’t be, because he’s not showing any signs of evilness, and Larry is the one who gives her the creeps.
That night, her dreams are peaceful.
Sharon is going as a black cat for Halloween, in a long-sleeved black leotard and black tights, with pointy ears and a long black tail. Black cat is a super easy, fun costume. I’ve been one multiple times as an adult. Chiku (dressed as Maid Marian) and her dad pick her up to take her to Travis’ places in Willowbrook Estates. It’s a new place with only a few houses complete, a development right on the edge of Willowbrook Woods. It’s a super fancy, quarter-of-a-million dollar are more house, and they are super impressed. Gross. Chiku and her dad drop Sharon off, and head out to pick up Larry.
UMM. I have a hard time believing Sharon’s parents are letting her be alone with Travis after everything.
Travis leaves Sharon in his mother’s study, which is filled with Tiffany lamps and antiques. She wanders around while she waits, and starts to freak herself out looking outside at the large, dark backyard and the inground pool, because the woods begin just beyond.
We jump to Chiku picking up Larry, who is wearing a full Godzilla suit, complete with face mask. Amazing. She teases him because he’s not really going to be able to dance in it (and he can’t even sit with the tail attached) and mentions that she should expect it because he loves horror movies. He finally admits that he doesn’t actually like them, but he thought people would think he was cooler if he did. Instead, he loves Disney stuff, and his favorite movie is The Great Mouse Detective. Chiku’s is The Little Mermaid. Wing’s is Lilo & Stitch. Dove’s is Tarzan, I think. [Dove: True. Though Tangled is right up there next to it.]
Larry also admits that Travis is the one who gave him the black eye, because he’s really a jerk, and he was trying to get Larry to ask Chiku out so she wouldn’t be around to ruin his date with Sharon. Mr Williams slams on the brakes and makes Larry repeat exactly what Travis said to him, and now both Chiku and Mr Williams are terrified that Travis is going to try to kill her. SHOCKING I KNOW. [Dove: I AM UTTERLY BLIND-SIDED BY THIS TURN OF SHOCKING AND UNEXPECTED EVENTS.]
Back at Travis’, Sharon finds two photos of paintings. The first is out of focus flowers, Still Life by Tamar Hale, who Sharon decides is Travis’ mother. The second is a similar piece called Keriog’s Promise, and is an inverted rainbow with a pot of gold at the bottom of it. So not really similar at all, then.
There’s a newspaper clipping with the photos about an exhibition by Tamar Hale, who, SURPRISE, was a member of the now defunct Lost Arts Community. I AM SO SHOCKED, ARE YOU SHOCKED?
She keeps looking, and finds a picture of Johnny Wilde and then the painting she saw in her dream, with streaks of angry red and black, labeled Keriog’s Nothing. SO. KERIOG. DEMON NAME.
Travis comes back down then, tells her that he knew if he left her alone in there long enough she would figure it out. He tells her to the turn the page, and she notices that a clipping is missing. He used it the other night for her dream. He recognised her the first time he saw her at school, and he knew what to do about it.
He monologues at her, which I find kind of frustrating, because c’mon, just kill her already if that’s what you’re going to do, it’s too contrived to talk at her, but she’s encouraging it, so I guess I’ll let it go as logical enough. Basically, his mother told him stories about Johnny and the commune his entire life, and he’s ready to not be weak like Johnny. He called the demon and made the same deal with him that Johnny did.
AND THEN HE TELLS HER THAT HE’S HER HALF-BROTHER.
ALWAYS WITH THE FUCKING INCEST, FUCK. I mean, I guess at least he didn’t kiss her. He’s a few weeks younger than she is, which he says is lucky, or he would have been the firstborn and the one who had to die.
I’m all on Sharon’s side for this (she’s even super grossed out about the sexy thoughts she’s had about him, though she didn’t know) until she calls him insane again. FUCK OFF WITH THAT GODDAMN NOISE.
She throws the scrapbook into his face, and the edge clips him above the eye. He staggers, but doesn’t fall, and blood trickles down his face. He comes at her with the knife, she smashes him over the head with a Tiffany lamp, making him bleed any more, and before he can come after her again, she kicks the desk chair through the window, breaking it open, and runs out into the forest.
It is just like her nightmares, but worse, much worse. Finally, she has to take a breather, and can’t stop kicking herself for being taken in by Travis’ smile and good looks. She falls a couple times, tears up her knee, has to make a compress out of her tights and her headband. She keeps going, until she runs headfirst into a branch, and is knocked off her feet. She can’t manage to get back up, she’s too exhausted and too scared.
Then she smells rotting flesh, sees a wavering light, and knows the demon has arrived. Her terror gives her the strength to make it back to her feet, and she stumbles into the darkness. She runs as long as she can, but eventually can’t go any further. She falls down a small embankment into a ditch, and collapses, completely drained.
Travis finds her there, and she can see both him and the demon as it stands there, watching and waiting for her fresh blood. It’s about ten feet tall and had once been very beautiful. It has thick, curly golden hair and is well-muscles. Its wings are twisted, almost melted, useless for flying, one shoulder is lower than the other and warped forward, and its skin is blotched, blackened, and rotting.
This whole goodness = beauty, evilness = ugly is such bullshit, too, and has a very real impact on how people are treated in society. There’s ableism in it, and prejudice, and shitty behavior, and I hate stories that feed into it.
Sharon is too sickened by the demon to be frightened — it’s so mutilated she almost feels pity for it, though it is clearly just as mutilated inside. She remembers what Mr Williams told her, that demons are trying to warm the rest of the universe as badly as they are warped — and she realises she knows its name now.
She calls its name, Keriog, and it focuses on her, because she has named it. Keriog laughs at her, and tells her that the legend isn’t true, knowing a demon’s name does not give you power over it. But it does give her the advantage to make a deal with it. If she offers it a sacrifice, it will give her whatever she desires. Or, to be more blunt, as he has to be because she doesn’t get it at first, if she kills Travis, Keriog will spare her life. It freezes Travis in place and takes the knife away from him.
Sharon thinks about taking the offer, because she can get revenge on Travis. It starts to cloud her mind — and then she shakes herself out of it. Keriog has been trying to corrupt her, of course, but she refuses. Keriog says that it called to the evil inside her, and her hatred almost drove her to it. She grabs the crucifix and holds it out; it gleams in the light of the demon as she shouts that she chooses good, not evil.
Travis stabs her, she gets out of the way, they struggle, he tries to stab her again, and then something slams into him, and someone grabs her, helping her up. Chiku and Mr Williams to the rescue! (No sign of Larry, though.) Mr Williams and Travis fight hard, and Keriog gains strength from it. Sharon realises what’s happening, and grabs a broken branch. With the last of her strength, she slams it into Travis’ arm, making him drop the knife so Mr Williams can get away from him.
Mr Williams also holds up a crucifix, and Keriog is hurt by it. Keriog then turns on Chiku, but she is wearing one, too. Sharon’s is gone, though; apparently, Travis ripped it off and threw it away. Keriog turns to her, makes her relive all the evil things she’s done, like her sexy thoughts about Travis, and makes the others see them too. They support her, though, and Keriog drops her again. Chiku puts herself between Sharon and the demon, because Chiku is an amazeballs friend.
Keriog has been summoned, though, and won’t go back with feasting, so it kills Travis. SHOCK.
They’re on their way back to the house when something large, scaly, and green emerges from the bushes. Sharon slams the branch into its stomach; it squeals and collapses. It is, of course, Larry in his costume.
Chiku and Larry end up together, and Sharon is safe. The end.
It’s a fairly entertaining story, for all that it relies on some standard tropes for telling stories about good and evil, demons and angels, and sacrifice, but where it goes wrong, it goes really, truly, terribly wrong. Fuck all that noise.
I loved the hell out of Chiku and her father, though, liked Sharon a lot most of the time, and love the way their parents believed them and worked with them. Badass.
[Dove: I thought it was pretty good, but if I’d had to recap it, I would have handed the site over to Paul and Mimi and moved to Idaho to raise chickens or something. You have far more patience than me.]
Cheer on the killer: 102
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity
Misogyny is for pussies: 10
Queerly Contagious: 1