Title: The Claw by Carmen Adams
Summary: The mark of death…
Kelly is excited about her summer job at the local zoo – even after the threatening phone calls warning her away.
Nothing can dampen Kelly’s resolve to work with animals.
But wild animals can be very dangerous and someone has left the door to the black leopard’s cage open. Who could be that careless… or that malicious? As the leopard leaves a trail of terror all over town, Kelly soon realizes that the bloody claw marks are leading straight to her…
Tagline: The mark of death…
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 this one before, but it’s right up my alley. (Creature feature, potential shapeshifters, man-eating animals — I love them all.) I am already entertained by the fact that, per the summary, no one can catch a rogue black leopard. Come on, people! What kind of zoo are you?
We open with Kelly Reade talking to her best friend, Rachel McFarland, about whether Kelly got her internship at the zoo or not. There are a couple paragraphs about how they’ve been friends since fourth grade, before it was cool for white girls and black girls to hang out together, especially in their small town, Danube, Illinois. I’d ask when exactly this book is set, except I know full well that some people to this day have issues with white people being friends (or god forbid, dating) people of color. They’re now between their junior and senior years of high school, so around 17 or 18, and still the best of friends.
They’re also different in many other ways, we learn: Kelly is tall, Rachel is short; Kelly has long (crimped) hair (oh, god, crimped hair, I am delighted), Rachel has short hair; Kelly loves cheeseburgers, Rachel is a vegetarian. The biggest thing they have in common is that they are both ultra-sensible and very responsible. I love them already. (Kelly has her CDs alphabetized by artist, which is the proper way to do things, I add. [Dove: And the compilations get separated by soundtrack (alphabetical by movie name) and general compilation by title.])
(Kelly has a dog named Noodle, who hates the mailman and therefore thinks it is important to eat the mail he delivers. Two things here. One, Kelly is anthropomorphising her dog, and I am charmed. Two, NOODLE. I love you, Noodle.)
Both Kelly and Rachel got into the zoo internship program, even though the zoo only takes six kids each summer. How big is this small town? It can’t be that small, if it has a zoo big enough to take six kids a year for an internship. (It can’t be that small, full stop, if it has a zoo.)
Kelly is excited, but mostly because she loves the idea of working with Rachel. Rachel is the one who loves animals, would choose them over people every day, and wants to be a veterinarian. Rachel, you are my new favorite character. I love you. Kelly likes cute little pets like Noodle and her cat, Marilyn Monroe. (Ok, this family is adorable.) She’s scared of bigger animals, including ponies, which aren’t that big. She’s hoping that she’ll learn to be less afraid of the animals by working at the zoo over the summer. Good luck with that, Kelly.
Not all their friends are so happy for them, though. Jessica Freed in particular doesn’t understand why they want to work at Creeping Gardens (the local nickname for Creighton Gardens because it has a crumbling, decrepit, overgrown look). Linda Eaton agrees that it is creepy.
“That place gives me the whim whams. All that moss and those vines and smelly animals pacing around in dark cages. Rrrrr.” She made a shivering gesture with her arms and shoulders.
Also, “rrrrr” just makes me think she’s growling like a tiger. Probably should have gone with “brrrr” there, Adams.
Rachel defends the zoo, and clearly wants Kelly to as well, but Kelly stays quiet, because she really does think the zoo is a scary place. She’s hoping that part will wear off, too, once she’s more familiar with it. Man, Kelly, you are really pushing yourself this summer, aren’t you?
Wait a minute. This conversation takes place in the cafeteria over lunch, and then they head to their French class, but the book opens with them being in the summer between their junior and senior years of high school, so they should already be out for the summer. What is going on here, Adams?!
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!)
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 2 (+2) (Something strange and evil is happening. Since I hate all of my BFFs, it’s bound to be one of them.)
The points are for Jessica and Linda. Obviously I still love Rachel and Kelly.
Rachel asks if Kelly is happy they got the internships, and Kelly says she is, but something about the job is nagging her. She’s always very intuitive, almost psychic, and her intuition is telling here the summer at the zoo will be weird. Is this one of those subtle (or maybe “subtle”) magical realism books, where there is no actual supernatural aspect, just a bit of psychicness for no reason?
About a week later, the night before she’s supposed to start at the zoo, Kelly gets a late phone call; it’s nearly eleven, which is pretty late to be calling. She assumes it’s Rachel with a last minute question, but it’s not Rachel. It’s a metallic whisper of a voice, hoarse and high-pitched at the same time. It warns her away from working at the zoo, because “girls can get hurt in zoos.” Just girls, huh, creepy caller?
Rachel drives them to zoo the next day, and Kelly tells her all about the call. (Rachel drives an ancient yellow Chevy Nova that has no first gear and part of the floor missing on the passenger side. Rachel saved up two years’ worth of baby-sitting money to get it. I love you, Rachel, and your drive and determination and your terrible car.)
Rachel is very practical about the whole thing, and says it sounds like someone is jealous that they got spots at the zoo, and is trying to make them quit so they can have the spot instead. Kelly thinks this is logical enough, and says that’s why she didn’t tell her dad the truth about it, because he’d make her give up the job on the spot after what’s happened with Heather.
Apparently, Heather, Kelly’s older sister, ran away a few months ago. That is kind of out of the blue! I’m hoping this ties back into the threat at the zoo. I’m also kind of hoping that Heather isn’t already dead.
They head straight to orientation. Part of their work is caring for the animals, but part is acting as docents, walking around the zoo and answering people’s questions. That sounds like a lot of trust to put into interns! But also a very cool internship.
Pam Perkins is the zoo’s head curator and is giving them their general orientation. She “looked like her name — small and blond and perky.” Is that what you guys picture when you hear the name Pam? [Dove: Nope, I imagine all Pams to be small, with wide 80s mom perms (brunette), and shoulder pads. Pams never give you the really nice biscuits.] Before Pam starts orientation, Dr Hoffstadter, the zoo’s director, gives a speech. He “looked like the Mad Scientist. Short and fat with stubby fingers. He was unkempt,” with a stained tie, thick glasses, and buzz cut hair. He tells them that this is the third year of the intern program, and it may be the last year because they’ve had problems in the past. No pressure or anything, though, current interns who probably had nothing to do with those problems.
One of the other interns, a tall pretty girl, tells them about some rumors she heard about Dr H, that he was let go from his last zoo because of his “peculiar practices”, like letting the animals roam free through the zoo at night while he rode around on the back of an elephant. Kelly and Rachel are unimpressed with this rumor. The girl claims she heard it from her father, who is an accountant for the zoo, and she overheard him talking to one of the board members. Kelly immediately decides that she’s a big-time liar.
Pam returns, and we learn there are six interns, four girls and two guys. The other interns are Sandy Lopez (rising senior, swimmer, and shy — this makes Kelly like her, because Kelly is also shy); Jon Frayne (thin, nervous-looking guy with lots of zits, goes to school with the other two as yet unnamed interns, likes science fiction and cars, and feels like he’s applying for a computer dating service — he makes everyone laugh); Melissa Robinson (the liar, rising junior, loves traveling to Europe and skiing in Colorado — this makes Kelly roll her eyes); and Griffin Black (taller even than Kelly, hunky with hair buzzed shorts on the sides, long and tangly on top, blond at the tips, big wide smile, rising senior, plays basketball, writes poetry, and loves all animals, especially bears — he’s the one who interests Kelly the most, and she immediately develops a crush on him).
Everyone but Jon and Melissa had to apply for the internship; Jon got his because his mother is on the zoo board, and Melissa’s dad, as we heard, is the financial comptroller and handles the books. Neither of them are happy with the internship.
(Melissa, at one point we didn’t see, told Rachel that it was “terrifically enlightened” of the zoo to hire “racially balanced” interns. Rachel is unimpressed by this and by rich white people in general. You and me both, Rachel. Kelly tells her she’s being paranoid, and Kelly, that is bullshit. You, a white girl, don’t get to tell Rachel, a black girl, that she’s being paranoid about the racist bullshit she has to deal with.)
They tour the zoo for awhile, but won’t get their assignments until the next morning. I have to say, so far, this book is making me want to work at a zoo. Is it too late to change my career completely? Again? (I’ve already done it twice.) [Dove: … actually, I could really see you working in a zoo. Animals > People]
Griffin offers them a ride as they’re leaving, but he’s touching Kelly’s arm as he says it. Unfortunately, Rachel has a car, but Kelly is pretty sure it won’t be the last time he asks her. Even Rachel points out there could be a summer romance on the horizon. Kelly is leery, but hopeful.
At home that night, Kelly has dinner with her parents, who like her “Greek taco casserole surprise”, but want to know what the surprise is. Apparently last week, Kelly put M&Ms in a salad. (This time, it’s artichoke hearts. Yum.) She and her sister Heather used to make dinner all the time because their parents work so much, and started surprising them with weird dinners.
We learn a little more about Heather, who was the wild sister to Kelly’s sensible one. Heather snuck out in the middle of the night about four months ago, after becoming increasingly rebellious and restless; she thought their parents were too strict and conventional and Danube too small. She wanted to be an actress, which she couldn’t do in a small town in the middle of Illinois. She wanted to be a TV star, party with rock stars, have a beach house in Malibu; Kelly wants to go to college to study French literature.
Kelly isn’t surprised that Heather ran away, but she is hurt that Heather didn’t tell her she was leaving or where she was going, and that she hasn’t been in touch since, though Kelly knows Heather is just protecting her from their parents grilling her for information. Their parents are frantic with worry and feeling guilty; they’ve hired a private detective, but no news so far.
Rachel shows up later, after she finishes a baby-sitting job, to spend the night, something they do at least once a week. They gossip about the other interns and what they want to do at the zoo, then study the materials Pam gave them. (You can hear a lion roar up to five miles away; most of the animals are endangered.)
They find a blood-red piece of paper shoved into Rachel’s bag: Be careful. Don’t turn your back on large animals. Cages don’t always hold.
I bet Dove is disappointed none of the messages rhyme so far. I’m relieved. [Dove: I would just like to point out, when Mr Dove rhymes, no matter how cheesy, Wing likes it. Then again, Wing likes Mr Dove more than she likes most PH authors, so maybe that counts for something.]
Kelly is freaked out, and considers quitting, because she wasn’t prepared for death threats. Pretty sure most people aren’t prepared for death threats, sweetie. Rachel says she’ll understand, but maybe they should sleep on it. Kelly dreams of lions and tigers swiping at her with yellow claws, their eyes on fire as they try to rip her apart. Comforting.
Sandy: primate house
Griffin: mornings with the bears, afternoons in the snak bar
Jon: bird house
Melissa: giraffes and antelopes
Rachel and Kelly: big cats, where they report to Lonnie Bucks.
Rachel is super excited about this. Jon is sarcastic about it; they’ve already learn that he’s miserable at the zoo and hates animals. Fuck off, Jon. [Dove: Double fuck off, Jon. BIG CATS ARE AWESOME. Wing, Mr Dove and I all fell silent when we saw a white tiger go for a swim. So far this is the only thing that has ever silenced the three of us simultaneously.]
Kelly and Rachel talk about the threats as they walk to the big cat house (along a tree-lined gravel path. I seriously want to visit this zoo); a storm is blowing up, and the heavy leaves whip frantically in the wind. Rachel suggests they show the note to Pam and tell her about the phone call, but Kelly shoots that right down, because she doesn’t want anyone to tell her parents. *facepalm*
DED FROM STUPID: 1 (+1) (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.)
Lonnie is middle-aged, tall and lanky, with thinning hair, stubble on his chin, and a jutting jaw. Everything about him looks sad. When they find him, he’s mixing meat and supplements for the cats’ daily meal. The cats pace back and forth, making low, menacing rumbles and ominous gurgling. They sound awesome. I want to hang out with the big cats. Lonnie explains that they feed the big cats behind the scenes because it freaks some people out to see how vicious they are with their food. I want to watch! [Dove: Yes, Wing, but your favourite animal is a velociraptor, so you like feisty animals.]
Lonnie isn’t much of a talker, but he introduces them to Ranger, the mountain lion (also known as a puma) who doesn’t like summer, because he prefers cool, dry weather. Kelly is a little freaked out that Lonnie seems to be talking to the big cat and expecting an answer. Look, Kelly, I talk to animals all the time, not because I expect them to speak back, but because I love them. Also, animals respond to the tone, so they do actually talk back, in their own way.
Kelly notices that Lonnie is very feline in his movements; for example, she sees him lick the insides of his fingers and smooth back the hair at his temple, just like a cat.
Other big cats: Madonna and Arnold and their cub Sylvester are lions; Rhett and Scarlett are tigers (Lonnie says they are the most powerful, most beautiful, and most dangerous to humans); Luther is a black leopard (also known as a panther), and Kelly finds him scarier than the other big cats, who seem like giant versions of Kelly’s house cat. Kelly. KELLY. NO. That is the sort of thought that has people making terrible decisions about big cats and getting their faces eaten.
DED FROM STUPID: 2 (+1)
Rachel whispers to Kelly that he’s a cat with attitude, and Lonnie overhears. He tells them: “Doesn’t like being in a cage. Animals in cages is a sad business. Creatures should have their freedom and this one longs for his. Longs hard.” Lonnie looked directly into Kelly’s eyes as he spoke.
McGuffin, ahoy!: 1 (+1) (An attempt is made to casually reference something that is clearly going to be a plot point at a later date. And it fails to be casual.)
Red Herrings: 1 (+1) (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.)
Lonnie isn’t super thrilled with letting them into the private spaces, but he does love having the help. He puts them to work preparing feed buckets and cleaning up the habitats while the cats are in their runs, then cleaning the runs while the cats are in the exhibit. They check the toys, put down mulch and twigs, and generally work really hard. I still want to work at a zoo! This sounds amazing. [Dove: The more this goes on, the more this job sounds perfect for you: routine, working with animals, being behind the scenes, and basically organisation.]
They talk about how much harder this work is than they expected, and Kelly points out that Rachel is the one who wanted to work directly with the big cats. Rachel says that she didn’t expect to be cleaning up big cat shit and blood from their meals, but instead thought they might get to pet the big cats. I can’t even give this a stupid point, though it probably deserves it, because I want to do the same thing.
(There’s a wolf refuge near me, and I really want to go take the VIP tour where you get to be close to them. Wild animals, dudes. They are amazing.)
Rachel then teases Kelly about Griffin stopping by to tell them they should come by the food court after closing for some free food. (And, obviously, so he can flirt.)
Neither Rachel nor Kelly feel very sexy after a day cleaning up like that, but head over anyway. Most of the other interns are there too; Sandy is telling everyone about how monkeys flirt. Brace yourself, people, I think we’re in for a heavy-handed metaphor:
“They show off, basically,” she said. “The males do anything they can to get the attention of the females. They scratch and screech and dangle like mad from the top of the cage, and you can tell it’s all to get the attention of one of the girl monkeys. It’s pretty funny to watch.”
“Sounds like high school,” Griffin said as he worked behind the counter.
There’s some flirting between Kelly and Griffin, and Melissa gets a little pissy. Awesome. Girls competing over boys. Y’all know how much I love that storyline.
After they’re done eating, Rachel asks Kelly to go back to the big cat house because she left her knapsack behind the feeding room. She acknowledges that was a ridiculous thing to do, so no points for her.
The big cats are all pacing and growling, and Rachel can’t find the light switch inside the feeding room. As they’re feeling around, Rachel finds an open cage door, but before they can run, they hear a low, rumbling breathing, a vibrating guttural sound so close the feel it as much as they hear it.
They are completely freaked out and grab each other’s hands. They try to back quietly toward the door, and then there’s a horrific, hideous wail (and almost human cry) and the big cat leaps past them, close enough its fur brushes against Rachel.
The big cat growls again, and this time Kelly thinks the growl is directed at them, and it is now hunting them. They manage to run out of the building, and hide behind the partition in front of the door to the women’s restroom. That doesn’t sound like a particularly safe place to hide, people!
DED FROM STUPID: 4 (+2)
They stare at the open door to the big cat house, wondering why it doesn’t close. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that it is on a closer arm that is supposed to pull it closed, but that certainly wasn’t the impression I got earlier. As they’re watching, Luther the black leopard slips quietly into the courtyard. He sniffs around, shocked by his freedom (Kelly is really anthropomorphizing the big cats!), and seems to have forgotten about them until Rachel whispers that they need to get to a phone.
He hears that and springs across the courtyard, lunging against the wooden partition. I told you that was a terrible place to hide! They run off to the corridor between the big cat house and the monkey house, and the back door to the monkey house is open. UMMM.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 (+1) (“Oh, gee! You mean Billy-Bob has the exact information we need? What are the odds?”)
There are way too many unlocked and open doors in this zoo. No wonder they have a problem with animals escaping.
The monkeys are screeching wildly, terrified of the big cat on the loose. Once the girls are inside, Kelly locks the deadbolt right before Luther throws himself against the door. Rachel says the scariest part is waiting to see what he does next.
They don’t have to wait long. He starts throwing himself against the thick front window of the monkey house. He doesn’t manage to break it, but Kelly is frozen in fear. Rachel, though, runs to the window to watch him, and says that he’s escaping out the zoo gate. Kelly calls for security.
The security guards head out to find Luthor, who is now running loose through town, and Griffin and Melissa turn up to rescue Kelly and Rachel from the monkey house. Wha-what the hell? How in the world are two other interns “rescuing” them from the monkey house? First of all, they don’t need to be rescued if the loose big cat isn’t in the zoo anymore. Second, if they did need to be rescued, why in the world would they send interns?!
Kelly thinks that Melissa is performing her emotions, but Griffin’s reaction is even more telling for her; he doesn’t say anything, just looks at her with utter relief, then puts his arm across her shoulders and lets her cry against him.
There was no self-consciousness between them. It was as if this horrible incident had skipped them over weeks of tentative flirting and getting acquainted. In this moment of relief, she felt truly close to him.
“It’s scary to think if anything had…” he started to say into her ear, but she pressed her fingers against his mouth.
“But it didn’t,” she said.
I guess that’s one way to get around having to write about their early flirtations. Melissa interrupts their sweet little moment, but shortly after, Pam and Dr H run into the building. Dr H wants to know who is the incompetent fool that allowed it to happen. Kelly starts feeling guilty even though it’s not her fault, because she hates people yelling at her; Rachel stands up to him. Dr H is not impressed. He keeps shouting about how the cage, the door to the big cat house, and the side gate is supposed to be locked. Well, no shit, dude. Why aren’t you on top of security at your own zoo?
Pam has even worse news. The security trucks haven’t been able to even spot Luther, much less catch him. She’s terrified of what he’ll do to humans without safety bars between them. I am not convinced that he is going to go around attacking humans rather than finding a big green space with water and a tree to hide in and wait, which is how leopards tend to hunt in the first place, but okay. People are scared. go for it.
Kelly, of course, thinks back to her threatening phone call: Girls can get hurt in zoos.
An hour or so later, all the employees and interns are back at the zoo, and Dr H tells them that they are certain to capture the escaped leopard, and they are determined to figure out what really happened. He has been discussing possible suspects with Lonnie, who allegedly had gone home before the girls returned to the big cat house. Dr H and Lonnie go deal with the press (… you’re putting Lonnie in front of the press?), and Kelly can’t believe how different Dr H acts in front of the big group, when he was blowing up at them earlier.
Melissa and Jon come gossip with Kelly and Rachel about Lonnie, and Rachel defends him, because she’s taken a liking to him. They think he’s the most likely person to have let the cat out, after Dr H because of that earlier gossip. Kelly, though, doesn’t buy it, because he’s worked at the zoo for nearly 20 years. Why would he suddenly let the animals out? She thinks it has something to do with Rachel and Kelly, but they STILL don’t tell anyone about the threats.
DED FROM STUPID: 6 (+2)
Rachel later explains that she’s not sure it isn’t one of the interns who made the threat, and now they can’t trust anyone. Oh, girls. They leave the zoo and are set upon by reports, of course, who ask if they were savagely attacked by the tiger. This is sadly realistic, reporters blowing rumors into facts. The girls take the time to set the reporters straight.
Griffin gives them a ride home. UMMM. Why? What happened to Rachel’s car? She drives them everywhere!
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!)
My, that’s awfully convenient: 2 (+1)
The police set a curfew until the big cat is found. Kelly’s parents immediately jump to check on her the second she walks into the house; they are, of course, watching her little interview with the reporters. Their parents check her for injuries and then demand that she quit the internship immediately. Kelly is determined not to tell them about the threats and not to quit, because the zoo needs her to help figure out what happened.
Of course it does, Kelly. No way the zoo could solve this mystery without you. *facepalm*
DED FROM STUPID: 7 (+1)
She manages to calm them down, and is headed to the kitchen to make hot fudge sundaes when the phone rings again. She expects to hear from either Rachel or Griffin (Well, that escalated quickly: 1 (+1) [Yeah, ok, so maybe the bad guy motivation isn’t quite as strong as you might hope.]), but instead she is blasted by the loud angry roar of a huge jungle cat.
The next morning, the front gate of the zoo is crowded with reporters and about a hundred people demanding to know what was being done to recapture the leopard. There are even some protesters demanding the zoo close. Even inside the zoo, everyone is nervous, and Rachel comes up with an explanation: I think the deal is that zoos are based on a fundamental principle – safety for the humans who come to visit. They want to observe without being bothered by monkeys, pecked by birds, crushed by elephants, and especially without being mauled by big cats. When the safety zone evaporates – the way it did for us last night – everyone gets shook.
She tells Kelly and Griffin this in the lunchroom, and Jon overhears, mentions that he got a weird phone call. Someone called him to forget about escaped cats and watch that old horror movie The Birds. [Dove: The Birds is my #LifeGoal for my back garden.] Kelly of course wants to know more details, but he couldn’t tell who was speaking, because it was a whisper, which made it even creepier. Rachel and Kelly finally admit that they have gotten similar threats. Melissa, who comes in during the conversation, adds her own story, too. She says someone grabbed her while she was jogging and whispered that she should think twice about working at the zoo because the animals might turn on her, and it was kind of like in The Godfather, where the advice is given in a fake-nice way that really is a threat. The person then ran past her really fast, and she didn’t really want to catch up; the person wore a unisex jogging suit and had a cap over their hair. Tall, though.
Kelly points out that some of them have gotten at least one threat, then asks where Sandy is. She doesn’t seem to notice that Griffin is the only one present who doesn’t have a threat story, though Melissa’s seems like a stretch. Kelly says that she saw Sandy riding her bike toward the zoo this morning while she and Rachel drove in together; she saw Sandy right near the old, abandoned underpass, which is about a mile from the zoo, out by the highway, and it has been closed to cars for years now, but everyone uses it as a shortcut when they’re walking or on a bike. I am confused why this small town has an abandoned underpass, and also confused why someone is riding their bike through abandoned areas when there is a freaking leopard on the loose. [Dove: I’m also confused as to why Kelly saw Sandy going into an abandoned place with a big cat on the loose and didn’t offer her a ride, even if it was just until Luther was caught, given that everyone basically treats the idea of going to the underpass to look for Sandy as a suicide mission.]
DED FROM STUPID: 8 (+1)
I’m giving it a point even though both Griffin and Rachel also point out this is a terrible idea. Kelly calms everyone down, and says that maybe Sandy just went straight to the monkey house. Griffin runs to check, but she’s not there. Kelly decides to call her mother to see if she’s home, and will make up something to not scare her mother if she’s not there. Sure enough, she’s not, and Kelly thinks they should go look for her. Melissa and Jon refused to help because neither of them want to crawl around underpass tunnels with a leopard on the loose, and Jon barely knows her. Griffin, though, will help them, and even offers to drive.
They drive slowly along Sandy’s most likely route to work, but find no trace of her. When they arrive at the underpass tunnel, the three of them head inside, sticking close together. You guys, I have suddenly been struck with the need for OT3 fic for them. Shit.
Darkness immediately fell upon them, and the warm humid day turned into a cool, clammy, instant night. Everything was in shadows. The underpass had been built ages before and was propped up with concrete pillars and, here and there where the structure had become weak, with wooden beams that were by now in some stage of rotting away. In some places water dripped from the ceiling, through patches of rust and furry moss.
They start shouting for Sandy, which doesn’t seem like the smartest idea if you really think there’s a big cat in the area, but there is no response for awhile, until they finally hear a faint response. They can’t tell where it is coming from, though, and have to rush deeper and deeper into the tunnel. They finally find her in a nook between two huge concrete pillars. Sandy is clearly dazed and her sweater is wrapped messily around one arm; her bike is a twisted metal pretzel next to her.
Sandy tells them her story while they stand there. UM. Maybe first get out of the creepy dark tunnel that very clearly has had a wild animal in it very recently before you start storytime, people.
DED FROM STUPID: 12 (+4)
Anyway, Sandy wasn’t nervous when she set off on her bike ride, even though she knew what happened and the news is full of wild stories, because it didn’t seem real to her. She took the underpass short cut even though she’s always been scared of it, and then she realises she’s not alone. Something kept pace with her awhile, then brushed past her in the dark, something black with sleek fur. She peddled as fast as she could, but it doubled back and lunged at her, catching its front claws in her arm and knocking her off her bike. She rolled into a convenient crevice where the stone walls didn’t quite meet the ground, and that was how she was able to escape Luther. She stayed hidden and very quiet, watching Luther pace. Eventually he got distracted by another smell and ran off, but by then she knew she was hurt. Her arm is “mutilated, etched deeply with five deep cuts running the length of her upper arm. The mark was fresh, a scab was just barely beginning to form over this signature, this warning from Luther.”
THIS WARNING?! Wild animals don’t warn you like that. That’s a human thing. Stop anthropomorphising the wild animal. Oh my god, people.
They take Sandy to Danube General Hospital and wait while the doctors work on her arm. That’s pretty awesome of them. The reporters are all over it, of course, and the evening paper already has a giant headline: Local Girl Mauled by Big Cat.
Kelly’s dad works at the hospital, and when he hears what happened, he comes down to shout at Kelly for getting herself into such a dangerous situation. UMM. I get that he is worried, but it’s quite possible that they saved Sandy’s life. Maybe don’t shout at them first thing. (No, this is actually super believable as a response, it just annoys me.)
Kelly knows they are both just trying to do the right thing, and apologises for scaring him, then promises not to get into any more dangerous situations, but crosses her fingers during that part, because she’s going to get into them if she has to, and she has crossed the line from being mostly afraid of the threats and Luther to being mostly angry about what’s going on.
Plus she liked the rush she got when she was her most courageous self. She wanted to keep this person alive, alive and fighting the forces of evil. It made her feel like someone with a mission, as opposed to someone with a summer job, and A’s in French, and good hair.
Oh my god, Kelly. I am simultaneously entertained and horrified by this.
After her dad leaves, Griffin comforts her, and then Rachel joins the conversation, reassuring Kelly that they will find Heather eventually and her parents will calm down. Kelly is pleased that Rachel seems to like Griffin and doesn’t mind his being around, because there have been other boyfriends where one of them dated him and the other didn’t like him and those are always rough. STOP MAKING ME SHIP YOU THREE, DAMN IT.
Rachel, of course, knows Kelly better than anyone, and points out that she was lying to her dad about not getting into more danger. Kelly more or less admits that she did.
The doctor takes Mrs Lopez back to see Sandy, and right after they leave, Pam rushes into the hospital. Well that took you long enough, Pam! They tell Pam what happened, and she seems both distressed and distracted. She admits that she is very frustrated, and the independent audit of the zoo’s accounts has been pushed back yet again, because of all the stress. Kelly wonders how Pam can be worried about some stupid accounting issue when everyone is in danger from Luther. Pam seems to read her mind and says that she wants the zoo to survive because zoos are one of the few safe havens for animals that are being hunted to extinction, and they’ve never had a dangerous animal escape before in the history of the zoo. Sooooo, does that mean nondangerous animals have escaped? [Dove: “Ducks Flee Zoo!” isn’t really a money-making headline?] Anyway, Pam is supposed to be working with Mr Robinson, Melissa’s dad, to get the documentation to the auditors, but she hasn’t been able to get it all yet.
McGuffin, ahoy!: 2 (+1)
Red Herrings: 2 (+1)
Kelly asks if Pam, Dr H, and the police are looking at the possibility that someone is sabotaging the zoo. Well thank god someone is asking this question. She also wonders, but doesn’t admit out loud, whether Dr H is the one sabotaging it. Pam asks what she means by sabotage, clearly intrigued.
Oh my god, they finally tell her about the damn threats! AMAZING. They also tell her about some of the gossip, specifically that people think it is Lonnie, though Kelly is quick to add that they don’t think he did it. Pam agrees, but that just means they don’t have any idea who did it, and that person is also out there, on the loose, like Luther.
Stop anthropomorphising — oh hell, I give up. Whatever, do what you want, Kelly.
Kelly dreams that a big cat leaps out of a tree at her, crack a branch as it jumps, and wakes up to realise the noise was actually thunder. Rain pours in through her window, because she left it open. UM. KELLY. You are terrified of a big cat climbing a tree and attacking you, and you LEAVE THE GODDAMN WINDOW OPEN?!
DED FROM STUPID: 112 (+100)
Kelly gets ready to go to the zoo, and ponders what to wear, because her outfit has to stand up to dirty work, but she wants to look good for Griffin and the TV cameras that always catch her and Rachel whenever they are outside the zoo. She crimps her wet hair and leaves it still partially damp when she’s done, so it will fan out as it dried the rest of the way. Dove! You use crimpers and shit on your hair. Does this sound valid? It sounds like a terrible idea to me, but I have thick, curly hair anyway.
[Dove: Nope. Bad move. First of all, anything heated is generally designed for use on dry hair — there are some straighteners designed for wet hair specifically, but nobody I know is pleased with the results. This is the 90s, so it’s even less likely they were wet-hair friendly (so she’s burning her hair with this process). I can’t really see how it would work crimping it wet, and letting it dry naturally. If her hair’s still wet, it’ll pull the crimp out. Also, I don’t crimp, nobody has since about 1993. Don’t tell people I crimp. I curl. Or I straighten. My hair is very sexy.]
Kelly finds her mom downstairs, cooking breakfast and very agitated. Apparently Ed Finnegan, the detective they hired, may have a lead on Heather in San Francisco, where some kids may have recognised her from some photos; she was doing tech work at a rock club. Her mother is thrilled with the idea that they might get Heather back, and then tells Kelly that Ed wants them to fly out there as soon as they can get reservations. She is loathe to leave Kelly alone, though, especially with the big cat roaming around. What, you think Luther is going to break into the house? You’re already not keeping her at home, she’s in just as much danger whether you are around or not! [Dove: On the plus side, this reason for leaving is so much better than “Oh, you’re in mortal danger? Well, take care. I’m off to Europe.”]
Kelly is shocked to find Sandy in the locker room when she arrives at the zoo. Since when do they hang out in a locker room? Adams keeps throwing new spaces at us, and acting like they are regular places for the interns to hang out.
Anyway, Sally talked her mom into letting her come back to work even though she has fifty-six stitches in her arm. FIFTY-FUCKING-SIX STITCHES. I zero percent believe Sandy isn’t in so much pain that merely standing up hurts. COME ON. Sandy says that she doesn’t want to sit at home alone all day thinking about the leopard. [Dove: Screw that. If I need 56 stictches because work was lax, I’m staying home and binge watching Chuck on Netflix until those gouges become scratches.]
The zoo is pretty empty that morning between the rain and the runaway leopard. Kelly and Rachel work with Lonnie to trim all the trees in the outdoor cat habitats. The girls work on the lower branches and the bushes, while Lonnie climbs a ladder. He tells them a lot about the cats in his care, and admits that he’s lost a good friend with Luther being gone. I really like Lonnie, and the girls do too. Kelly appreciates how confident he is with the big cats, but she’s more scared of them than ever. Oh, Kelly, I feel for you.
Later, Lonnie pets Ranger (the mountain lion) on his soft furry head while telling the girls not to try it because he’s been working with them for years, but he knows any one of the cats could revert to its wild self and attack him. He says he takes the chance because his time with them is worth it and he loves them a lot. Oh, god, I hope you don’t end up dead, Lonnie. I really like you. [Dove: I really liked Lonnie when I read this too.]
Kelly’s heard from Jon that the board is even more suspicious of Lonnie because they see his attachment to the cats as overprotective. UMM. Even though he is outspoken about how bad captivity is for them, letting one roam free into a human-filled space is the OPPOSITE of being overprotective of the big cats, you assholes.
They get a break that afternoon, and Rachel teasingly suggests they go to the snack bar, knowing that there is no other place Kelly would rather be if Griffin is working there. He’s reading a newspaper article about the zoo, and wearing little wire-rimmed glasses, which makes him devastatingly attractive when combined with his basketball player physique. I AGREE, KELLY, DAMN.
Rachel says she needs a break from the zoo’s hysteria, and is going to read a book outside (a nice, quiet little murder mystery, oh Rachel, I love you). Kelly thinks Rachel is just giving them a chance to be alone, and that is adorable. Sure enough, Griffin tells her he was terrified that night when Kelly and Rachel were attacked, and he kisses her; Kelly thinks it is the most delicious kiss she’s ever had, soft, but passionate too, and it lasts forever. Oh, you two. Adorable.
They’re interrupted by Melissa, of course, who says she hopes she’s not interrupting anything important. Fuck off, Melissa. Kelly is so embarrassed she runs outside to be with Rachel, then realises that Melissa should really be the one embarrassed for bursting in on them. Oh my god, Kelly, you are kind of adorable.
Jon catches up with them as they leave the zoo, and Kelly tells Rachel to be nice. WHY? He’s kind of terrible. He invites them to come to his house that night because his parents are out of town at their lake house, and he doesn’t want to rattle around on his own. Kelly thinks it’s a little weird to have this sudden invitation, and babbles at him that she knows what that’s like because her parents are out of town too, and she gets scared sometimes when she hears noises. First of all, way to go letting people know you’re alone. Second, how the hell are they gone already?! She then goes on to say they can come over, because she really is babbling.
After he’s gone, Kelly talks Rachel into going with her, but Rachel says that Kelly owes her and they have to go see the Lipizzaner horses next time they come to Springfield (which is I guess the nearest city, even though I definitely thought they were closer to Chicago). Rachel. Marry me. I love you.
(The Lipizzaner stallions are amazing and precise. It is spelled wrong in the text, weirdly.) [Dove: My 12 year old self used to have posters of Lipizzaners on her bedroom walls. It’s like ballet.]
Jon is acting like the perfect host when they arrive. The house is big, but not a mansion, and the furniture is all perfectly matched or contrasting, and everything is super clean and dusted. He ordered the food already, and has picked out a couple of videos for them to watch. One is Jungle Prison Camp, which Jon says is one of his favourites, though he’s worried they have already seen it. Rachel is sarcastic about it, but he takes it as honest, and they end up watching “a harrowing pageant of violence” where people slice off people’s heads, trap people with giant logs and spikes, throw people into quicksand. It is terrifying, but Jon is super excited and cheers on the movie’s hero. [Dove: When I read the description of the movie, I immediately thought of the 70s-80s exploitation movies, like Cannibal Holocaust, which is one of the most disgusting, harrowing movies I’ve ever watched. (With one of the best scores, weirdly.) Those movies are just on another level to the likes of Elm Street, or Friday 13th.]
Rachel flat out asks how he can watch that garbage when they’re done. Good for her, but why didn’t she say something earlier? Even teenage!Wing would not have watched something like that if she didn’t want to watch it. He brushes it off because after awhile, you don’t even notice the violence. NOT A GOOD SIGN, PEOPLE. Even worse, he shows them around more of the house, and his room is a shock, because it is painted black, like a dungeon, and there are decorative weapons hanging on the walls and giant posters of martial arts movie stars. One of them has a large tattoo of the paw of the jungle cat, claws outstretched and drawing blood as if from the man’s arm.
Red Herrings: 3 (+1)
Jon seems to think the evening was a total success and invites them back; after they leave, Kelly tells Rachel about the poster, and they wonder whether he’s the one who let Luther out of his cage.
Kelly gets nervous when she remembers that she told him her parents are out of town. She asks Rachel to spend the night, but she can’t, because her mom is leaving the house early the next morning, and Rachel has to watch Stephen while she’s gone. No suggestion of Kelly spending the night at Rachel’s house, though.
DED FROM STUPID: 113 (+1)
Kelly stays up late, trying to make herself tired enough to sleep. When she goes to bed, though, she still tosses and turns, because the house sounds very different without the comforting presence of her parents. Floorboards creak and shutters rattle, the fridge compressor kicks on and off, Noodle’s collar tags jingle as he stretches out in the hallway outside her room. That throws me, because he’s slept in her bed before, so why not now, when she’s so freaked out?
(Random Wing fact: My dog freaks out every time the ice maker in the freezer makes ice, even though she’s heard it multiple times a day for three years now, and also loves ice, and dances around when I actually use the ice maker. She is ridiculous.)
Kelly tells herself she’s being silly, scaring herself, and rolls over to try to sleep, just in time to see a huge, terrifying shadow creep across the hall, a giant cat slowly moving across her dresser, raising one paw out to slice her with its claws.
Of course it is her cat, Marilyn Monroe. SHOCKER.
She scoops up Marilyn, scaring the cat, and when the cat swipes at her, all she can see is Luther attacking her. She lets the cat go and just stands in the middle of the room, shaking and crying. Oh, Kelly. Go spend the night with Rachel! You poor dear.
The next morning, she turns on the tv only to find that the police cornered Luther at some farm outside town, in an abandoned barn. He was too fast, though, and managed to get away without being caught in a trap or shot. UM. People manage to tranq animals all the damn time. Why is everyone failing here?!
Later, Kelly and Rachel go into the locker room to find Sandy and Pam comforting Melissa, who is weeping and asking why something was done to her locker. Five long scratches are deep in the metal, appearing to have been made by a big cat’s claws. Rachel guesses that Luther is back.
Red Herrings: 4 (+1)
Are you — are you kidding, Rachel? Don’t make me take back my proposal. Why the hell would he get into the locker room, swipe at one locker, and then leave again? How would he do that? [Dove: Why would he do that? My cat will occasionally take a swipe at my hand as I walk past, but he’s never taken a swipe at a cupboard or bookcase. Maybe someone had a laser pointer and was playing with him?]
Oh my god, apparently Pam thinks one of the OTHER big cats was let out during the night. Are you — are you kidding me right now? Kelly voices my thought, which is why isn’t there any security around? Pam gets super defensive because they’ve never had any trouble like this before, and Lonnie stopped hanging his keys out in the open after Luther was let out.
THAT DOESN’T EXPLAIN WHY THERE IS NO FUCKING SECURITY! You already know someone has let a big cat out. Cameras! More guards! Fucking something, woman!
That afternoon, Melissa invites everyone over for a “Chase the Blues” party so they can forget the gloom and party. Even Sandy wants to see if she can dance with her arm in the sling. Oh, Sandy. They make a plan for Friday night, at Melissa’s house. Jon suggests they have beer, and Melissa tells him he’ll have to sneak it in himself. Kelly thinks that both Jon and Melissa talk big about having wild social lives, but really are just lonely and unpopular and trying to hide it.
Rachel and Kelly have peanut butter and jelly for dinner that night at Kelly’s house, and Rachel suggests that they go back to the zoo late that night so they can keep an eye out and see what’s happening. Rachel has stolen a key to get into the zoo, because that is how loose the security still is, despite TWO DIFFERENT BIG CATS BEING LET OUT OF THEIR CAGES OH MY GOD.
DED FROM STUPID: 1113 (+1000)
They kill time until midnight, then dress in black tights, black turtlenecks, and running shoes so they can be fast. They each carry a flashlight, too. Rachel says the security guys might not even be in the zoo but out searching for Luther. ONCE A-FUCKING-GAIN, PAM LITERALLY JUST SAID ANOTHER CAT WAS LET OUT. Was it then returned to its cage? Why is there no security in the zoo? Why has no one suggested that it was a person who made those scratches on the locker? OH MY GOD.
DED FROM STUPID: 2113 (+1000)
They make a slow circuit around the zoo, riling up the animals who are used to being alone at night. Except — you know what, no. I’ve already made my point about how security should exist, I’m not going to keep repeating myself.
However, I will add that they are apparently walking around in pitch darkness and can only tell where they are based on the animal noises nearby. So, this zoo has never heard of emergency lights? There’s no lights for cameras, even after multiple big cats have been let out of their cages?
DED FROM STUPID: 3113 (+1000)
When they get to the primate house, they notice that it is lit from within by a soft yellow light, and someone is playing “Greensleeves” on “a reed instrument, a flute or recorder.” Now, I think I know what Adams is saying, but not using the serial comma means that it looks like Adams claims a flute or a recorder is a reed instrument, which is wrong.
Anyway, Kelly and Rachel put on rubber Halloween masks they grabbed from Kelly’s basement so they won’t be recognised. Girls, you’re now dressed as the Terminator and Frankenstein (I assume Adams means Frankenstein’s monster), you’ll be lucky if no one shoots you.
They find Dr H sitting in the midst of a group of rapt and silent primates who are all sitting on or hanging from tree branches or perched on rock shelves; he is wearing a baggy old tuxedo and is playing a private flute concert for the primates. UMM.
They slip back around the corner and don’t think that Dr H noticed them, but the primates caught their scent and start freaking out. Dr H tells them to come out or he’ll use his weapon; the girls think he is bluffing and run for the gate. I told you someone was going to get shot!
Then Dr H activates the zoo’s alarm system, which includes a noise like an air raid test siren. Wait a fucking minute here. There is an alarm system, but it never went off when the FUCKING BIG CATS ARE BEING LET OUT OF THEIR CAGES, WHAT THE FUCK?!
DED FROM STUPID: 5113 (+2000)
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 (+1)
Then four burly security guards start chasing them. Where the fuck have you guys been every other night? How do you even know which gate the girls are using? Unless you have radios, in which case, why has no one used them before now? FUCKING HELL, ADAMS, I AM TRYING TO SUSPEND MY DISBELIEF, BUT YOU ARE MAKING THINGS VERY, VERY HARD.
They escape, drive off, stop about a mile away to calm down, which seems too close still, but okay. Kelly thinks that Dr H must be the bad guy because he is clearly a nut. Fuck off, Kelly.
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.)
Rachel says that just because he’s peculiar doesn’t mean he’s dangerous. Thank you, Rachel. My proposal stands, and you are the best.
The next day, Kelly finds it weird that there is no mention of unknown intruders in the news, and no one says anything about it to the interns when they get to work. They kind of shrug it off, and that’s about all we get of that day.
That night, however, is the party at Melissa’s house, and the “few other kids” Melissa said she would invite is about 50 people, mostly people Kelly doesn’t know. The party is in full swing by the time Kelly and Rachel show up; Melissa’s parents hired a DJ, and the music is loud and seamless, the back deck a throbbing dance floor. There’s a buffet set up on the lawn behind the house, and a big punch bowl of alcohol and fruit juice thanks to partiers sneaking liquor into it. Some kids even have cans of beer.
Melissa’s friends are a wilder crowd than the one Kelly and Rachel hang out with normally, or at least Kelly thinks so because they have pierced noses and eyebrows, magenta hair, big boots — so basically, people like Wing and Dove, because we are awesome badasses. [Dove: Wow. That’s actually how Wing and I looked back then.]
Rachel and Kelly snoop around the house a little, because they are both ridiculous and delightful. I really love their friendship. Melissa’s room has a queen-size waterbed, a stereo set, and a computer area. This is supposed to make her seem super rich, and I guess the computer area does, since it is just for her and most families either had no computer or one computer for the whole family to use at this point. I had a giant waterbed too, though, that we got for super cheap, so that doesn’t impress me.
The master suite is a combination bedroom/health spa filled with exercise equipment, a giant canopy bed, an oil painting on hinges to hide a small safe, and overall just sounds ridiculous.
Rachel muses that Mr Robinson is doing pretty well for an accountant, who are generally middle income types. Rachel’s starting to suspect that he’s behind something hinky with the zoo, because Rachel is awesome.
When they get back downstairs, Griffin has arrived, and Kelly thinks he looks great; he’s wearing pleated khakis and a dark denim shirt with a wild Hawaiian print tie and white leather basketball shoes. Kelly thinks this is dressed up. I am too busy laughing at pleated khakis. (Oh my god, here is Kelly’s outfit: long, baggy white shorts, a navy shirt, and a forest green vest. Dear god, the preppie side of the 90s was TERRIBLE. I’m more of a flannel, band t-shirt, jeans, and Chucks kind of dresser.)
Melissa interrupts their flirting and drags Griffin off to meet her friends. Kelly drags around feeling pretty down about it for awhile, until Griffin turns up again and apologises for taking off; he has a hard time saying no to people. They make out for awhile, and Kelly forgets all the things she was going to tell him about Dr H.
Kelly’s mom wakes her with a phone call around noon on Saturday. Her mother is not feeling very confident about finding Heather; the girl Finnegan found wasn’t her, but their parents want to stay out there a few more days to check out other possibilities. Her mom does ask Kelly if she wants them to come home, but Kelly tells them she’s fine, and they should stay out there and try to find Heather. This is a lie, Kelly really wants them to come home, but she’s been hiding too much from them, and if they come home, she can’t keep investigating with Rachel.
After the call, Kelly decides to go for a run. She acts as if this is something she does all the time, but we’ve never heard about it before. Also, she wears her Walkman, so she won’t be able to hear anything coming. I just — there is a big cat loose. She is terrified. And she goes for a run, alone, into the countryside and not through town. OH MY GOD, KELLY, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!
DED FROM STUPID: 10,113 (+5000)
Adams, this is really sloppy writing. You are forcing characters to make terrible decisions just because you want the story to go a certain way. There has been nothing to show us that Kelly would go run into the countryside on her own with a big cat loose. She’s freaked out being alone inside her house! What the hell. [Dove: This. I was yelling at the screen as I read this.]
A storm blows up, because of course it does. Kelly thinks about going back, but she’s feeling too good out running free, so decides to go another half mile and then take a shortcut. KELLY. WHAT. THE. FUCK.
DED FROM STUPID: 15,113 (+5000)
She realises she hasn’t seen anyone else since the beginning of her run. She even thinks about how people are staying inside their houses because Luther is still roaming around, and yet doesn’t seem too worried about HERSELF.
She then thinks about the town meeting a few nights before, which we’ve heard nothing about until this moment. God damn it, Adams. Inside the high school auditorium, locals weren’t so much frightened as angry, angry at Dr H, angry at the police who have no idea where Luther is. There have been clues: the mauled carcasses of two sheep in some pastureland a couple days ago. Pastureland like where you are now running, KELLY?
FINALLY she starts to get a little worried about Luther, even though she is determined not to let him ruin her life. EXCEPT YOU HAVE BEEN TERRIFIED OF HIM UP UNTIL THIS POINT. Look, if you want to run, at the very least do it in public with other people. Go to a track. Go to a fucking gym. GODDAMNIT WOMAN.
She finds the shortcut, a narrow blacktop road that circles back to her side of town. It takes her through dense woods the entire time. KELLY.
DED FROM STUPID: 20,113 (+5000)
My head is about to go boom from disbelief, y’all. She turns up her music even louder, but she’s getting scared. You should be scared, Kelly! You are making terrible choices and deserve to be eaten!
Then she sees a tall, thin man and a large, dark animal he seems to be training or playing with. They’re off to the side, quite a ways off, in among the thicket of birch trees. He waves a greeting, then beckons her over.
She thinks that would be a terrible idea. No worse than RUNNING THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE AND DARK TREES WHILE A BIG CAT IS ON THE LOOSE, KELLY! But then he starts to look more familiar, and the animals is large and dark, but she still can’t tell what it is. If she’s close enough for him to look familiar, she should be able to know at least generally what kind of animal it is. Big dog. BIG FUCKING CAT.
A couple miles later it hits her that the guy is Lonnie, from the zoo, and the big, dark animal must have been — oh god, no. [Dove: I suddenly flashed back to Sebastian walking Fluffy from The Attic.]
Red Herrings: 5 (+1)
She calls Rachel as soon as she gets home, but only gets the answering machine. She calls Griffin after, and he’s home, but about to leave with his dad to help deal with a broken lawn mower. He says he’ll stop by in a couple hours if her story can wait that long, and she agrees, but isn’t happy about it.
The phone rings while she’s trying to figure out who she can call. It’s Jon, asking her to go see a new martial arts movie. She says she’d love to (stop lying, Kelly!), but she’s doing something tonight. He wants to know what, which is pretty demanding. She doesn’t take it well either, and tells him she’s seeing somebody else. Of course he asks who, and she tells him it’s Griffin, and he’s coming over in just a little while.
She’s super creeped out and worried that his interest isn’t just a crush, but something weirder, creepier, sicker, involving cats and claws. Because of the posters in his room? That seems like a bit of a stretch, Kelly. And if it’s true, it’s really sloppy writing.
Red Herrings: 6 (+1)
Rachel never calls back, and she’s all worked up when Griffin makes it to her house. She offers to make something to eat while she tells her story, because if he thinks she’s crazy, at least she’s a crazy person who can cook. Fuck off, Kelly.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)
Kelly makes scrambled eggs with cheese and toast with jam. Delicious meal. They cook together, eat, Kelly tells her story, and Griffin suggests they look up Lonnie’s address in the phone book and drive by his house. Creepy stalkers. (Also, phone books, so useful, I miss them.)
Lonnie’s house is in a run-down part of town, and is an old two-story frame box with a deep front yard. They can see someone walking around inside, and a lower, darker shape pacing back and forth.
Red Herrings: 7 (+1)
Griffin says they were too far away to really see what was inside the house, and he thinks it would be a bad idea to get any closer on foot to really get a good look. They decide to try to figure out a reason to visit him in the morning, make out for awhile, and then Griffin drops her at home. He offers to come inside and keep her safe, but she says that’d be more dangerous than big cats. Oh, go on, just hook up already.
He heads back to his car, then calls her down to look at something. The front seats have been slashed in groups of fives, what looks like a claw, the same claw that scratched Melissa’s locker.
Kelly starts looking around for Luther. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! HE WOULDN’T HAVE JUST SLASHED THE SEAT AND RUN OFF. OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU SO RIDICULOUS AND TERRIBLE, KELLY? WHY?
DED FROM STUPID: 30,113 (+10,000)
IT IS A PERSON. IT IS A MOTHER FUCKING PERSON. SOMEONE MAKE THE GODDAMN SUGGESTION AT THE VERY LEAST. [Dove: Also, I’m no expert in big cats, but I’ve been swiped plenty of times by my regular cats, and they tend to leave four marks, not five. They don’t tend to dig in the “thumb” claw because it’s at a slightly different angle. Would this be the same for big cats? So, yes, human with a claw.]
Oh my god, finally! FINALLY! After they look around a bit and listen for growling, Griffin points out that leopards don’t try to make a point, and this is a person trying to scared them by marking all the places they’ve just been. Griffin doesn’t know how they’re making the marks, but is certain it is a person. Griffin, I like you. And this is doing nothing to fix my OT3 feelings for Griffin, Kelly, and Rachel.
First thing Kelly does when she goes inside is see if she has any messages from Rachel, but she doesn’t. She then goes around making sure all the doors and windows are locked, and then goes upstairs, turns on a fan, and tries to sleep.
Then she realises no one has checked the basement door, because they hardly ever use it. She lives in an old house, and the basement has never been modernized, so it is a crumbling space with old beams and dusty brick walls, and a charred patch where there was once a furnace fire. That sounds suitably creepy for an attack, I must say.
She goes down to check the door, and it is locked, but as she’s going back across the basement, she feels fresh air, and eventually finds an old window that is open. She closes it and looks around the basement, but nothing seems to be missing. UM. Probably you should be more concerned about what might have been added to the room, Kelly.
She tries to convince herself that her father opened the window at some point without telling anyone, but it had never been open before. She gets a flashlight and checks around the house — there are, of course, claw marks in the dirt in front of the window. Oh, Kelly. I’m sorry someone is messing with you. That would be super freaky.
She eventually manages to fall asleep, only to be awoken by the phone around midnight. The call is super scratchy and she can barely hear anything; the caller identifies herself as Rachel, and says she’s calling from a pay phone and the cord is shredded, but she had to tell Kelly that she thinks she saw Heather. Rachel says she went to the movies with Sandy and then out for pizza after (and Kelly is feeling hurt that she wasn’t invited, which makes sense), and Rachel thinks she saw Heather slip inside the side door of the ice rink. She’s been watching the entrance ever since, and she hasn’t come back out.
Kelly says she’ll head over and asks Rachel to wait for her, but Rachel says she has to go home because her mother is expecting her. Kelly points out that Rachel’s mom is supposed to be at her aunt’s, and Rachel says she’s come home. Kelly wonders if it was all a story she made up so she didn’t have to spend time with Kelly. I’m wondering who the fuck is watching her little brother all this time if her mother is still out of town, because it has been a couple days, at least, and Rachel has been with Kelly much of that time.
Kelly tires to hurry to get ready, but things keep going wrong, and she feels all off balance. Why would Heather be hiding in Danube? Why is Rachel acting weird? Kelly is super agitated and keeps scaring herself with random thoughts (expecting Luther to leap out of the backseat, seeing Lonnie but then realising it’s just a tree, etc.), and this is great and creepy and frustrating all at the same time, because it is so realistic.
She slips into the ice rink, which of course isn’t locked up because no place in this town believes in security, my god, and makes her way in the darkness to the ice. Even though it is summer, it is filled with ice, which surprises Kelly, but that is kind of the point of indoor ice rinks. She props open the door so she doesn’t get locked inside the cold rink, and then goes looking for her sister. She finally hears someone respond from across the rink, and she takes a few tentative steps onto the ice. She can’t skate, and she is really freaked out trying to walk across it. I feel you, girl. That’s hard to do in tennis shoes whether you can skate or not.
Then the door slams shut behind her and she can hear the bar slide across, locking it in place. Locking her inside. She realises she’s been tricked and Heather was never here, and then she hears the low, hoarse, vibrating growl of a large jungle cat. My god, I hope Luther hasn’t been in the ice rink for long, that is not jungle cat temperature. [Dove: As someone who owns both cats and a laminate floor, this scene immediately became hilarious.] She tries to run, but slips and falls flat on her face, cutting open her forehead and bloodying her nose. Because fresh blood is just what this situation needed.
Luther roars, Kelly screams then lies flat on the ice in total silence, and something large leaps past her overhead. And then she feels the claws.
After that, everything goes black. Eventually she wakes up again. She asks if she’s dead, and Rachel tells her no. When Kelly tries to sit up, she can’t, and Rachel tells her not to do too much too soon. She also tells her that she has a few stitches and knocked herself out falling on the ice, and they doped her pretty good so she would sleep, but most of what is wrong is superficial. Also, they caught Luther, got him with tranquilizer darts and hauled him back to the zoo. They didn’t catch him at the rink, of course, but down in those caves by Hudson’s Quarry, where he’s been hiding. Other than the two sheep and Sandy’s arm, he hadn’t caused any more harm.
Kelly wails that she should count, too. Rachel says that Luther was already back in his cage when Kelly went to the ice rink, so it was clearly something else. Rachel asks why in the world she went there, and Kelly tells her that Rachel is the one who told her about Heather in the first place. Except nope, because Rachel had to go pick up her mom and didn’t get home until 1:30 a.m., when the hospital was already calling.
Kelly also wants to know why her parents haven’t been called, but apparently they’ve left San Francisco and headed into the mountains because they think Heather might be in a cult up there.
Griffin turns up and joins them. and she retells the story to him. When she’s done, Griffin asks to see her wounds, and has Rachel shut the door so they won’t get caught taking off the bandage. Because that’s a smart thing to do.
There are five claw marks, and they are gruesome, but they are not as deep or vicious looking as the ones Sandy received from Luther. Griffin points out that they are evenly spaced, and he thinks they’d be exact matches for Melissa’s locker and the dirt outside Kelly’s window. They agree it is a person causing trouble, but argue over who it is, Dr H or Lonnie.
Before they can come to a decision, a nurse busts them and finds the bandage still undone. You are all terrible spies, people. She sends Rachel and Griffin away, and leaves Kelly alone once her wound is rebandaged.
Rachel calls later with a plan, and they need Kelly to act healthy and be bait in the trap.
Sandy and Jon visit her in the hospital, and she acts as if she feels better than she does so she can be released. Dr Benson turns up to check on her, and she convinces him that she’s ready to go home even though they really want her to stay a few more days; the fact that her parents aren’t around hasn’t made it into her chart, but apparently this hospital is willing to release an underage patient to people not her parents. BULLSHIT, ADAMS. BULLSHIT. This is terrible sloppy writing.
Rachel picks her up and they go recruit Pam to help them. Pam reluctantly agrees to go ahead with their plan to use Kelly as bait, but Griffin throws a fit about it. They fight, he storms off, and basically threatens never to see her again after she’s done being a superhero. UMMM. Griffin, you’ve been doing ridiculous, dangerous things with her up until this point, why the hell aren’t you just pitching in to help them? This characterisation seems off.
The plan is to pretend that Ranger, the mountain lion, has a bad infection in his teeth, and Kelly is going to spend the night to give him his antibiotics every two hours until the veterinary dentist can get down from Chicago. That has fallen on the interns (the cover story is that Lonnie is out of town getting a cheetah cub, though he’s really just home for the night, none the wiser about their plan), and Jon and Melissa both tell her that she’s pretty brave to stay in the big cat house alone, especially after everything that has happened to her.
Kelly makes up a bed on the cot and settles in to wait. She dozes off a couple times, gets up to give Ranger fake antibiotics in case she’s being watched (pretends to fold the pill into a chunk of meat that she tosses to him), and settles down again. Morning comes without anything happens, and they are all disappointed. Kelly thinks they should all try again, and Pam again reluctantly agrees. Even Rachel is questioning whether one more night will do anything, but Kelly has a good feeling that one more night is exactly what they need. Here’s hoping no one double checks this story with Lonnie, who is about to show up for work without a cheetah cub, therefore blowing the whole plan.
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 12 (+10)
This sloppy plotting and writing is getting really damn annoying, Adams.
The second night is not quiet at all. She hears one person, light on their feet, moving into the big cat house. The big cats start growling in low, agitated ways, and suddenly the intruder starts moving very quickly toward her. She’s just starting to freak out when the lights flash on and two security guards wrestle an intruder to the ground. The fake claws end up being a five-tined gardening tool.
I AM SURE YOU ARE SHOCKED TO LEARN IT IS MELISSA.
Shocked, I tell you.
Melissa flat out admits that she was trying to protect her father, who has been embezzling from the zoo for some time now. SHOCKING. And also, sloppy, if his teenage daughter figured out what was going on. She was also jealous of Kelly because Griffin started falling for her. She starts off sad, but ends up bragging about how well she scared people.
Kelly says that her “intuition” for the second night was really because she knew Melissa was supposed to be in Chicago the first night and wouldn’t be there to cause trouble. Apparently, Kelly has been suspecting her, even though Kelly is our POV character and we’ve heard nothing about that at all.
Lonnie turns up, worried about his cats, and sure enough, he was playing fetch with his black lab, Homer. SHOCKING. And also, a black lab looks nothing like a big cat.
DED FROM STUPID: infinity
That’s all for you, Adams. You are a terrible, lazy writer here.
Then we learn that Dr H has been researching the effects of classical music on the temperament of primates, and his research, plus Kelly’s bravery, will keep the zoo open. Yay.
OH MY GOD NO. Now Rachel is blaming Melissa being crazy as why she did the things she did. GOD DAMN IT.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)
Rachel, you were my favorite. WHY, ADAMS? WHY? You did not need to add that tiny throwaway sentence. Fuck off.
Griffin brings her flowers to apologise, and asks her out on a date the next night. And the next morning, her parents show up with Heather. Sure enough, Heather was with the cult, and she’s not quite ready to talk about it, but Kelly is sure she will tell her all about it later. She then lies about her injury, because of course none of the truth will be in the news or anything.
Adams, you would get another stupidity point here if I hadn’t already hit infinity. Fuck off.
Most of the bad parts of this story are squarely on the lazy writing. Adams sounds so awesome, too; the author blurb mentions trained wolves, motorcycle racing, and cliff diving, which are all things I love, but come on! This book could have been awesome, and almost was, except for that ableism streak, but mostly because literally everyone is carrying the stupid ball at one point or another, and things just don’t work the way you think they work, god damn.
All that being said, I mostly loved the hell out of this book. What a ridiculous, fun story with mostly likeable characters, even if they made terrible choices that felt more like the author imposing a storyline and making the characters fit it than actual organic character growth. I really liked the diversity in the teen girls, which was a nice surprise for Point Horror.
[Dove: I thought it was fun too. It had high points and low points — as Wing said, the diversity was a nice change; the idiot ball and lazy writing, not so much. I thought this was going to be one of those stories like the episode in Buffy season 1, where one of the keepers was worshipping/controlling the animal. Shocker, it’s a girl, who’s party motivated because she wants a boyfriend.]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 12
DED FROM STUPID: infinity
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 2
McGuffin, ahoy!: 2
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3
My, that’s awfully convenient: 2
Red Herrings: 7
Well, that escalated quickly: 1