Recap #73: Silent Stalker by R. T. Cusick
Title: Silent Stalker by R. T. Cusick
Summary: Trapped in a madman’s castle, a young girl must fight to save her sanity
Thunder bellows as Jenny and her father pull up to the gate of Worthington Hall. As they inch onto the grounds of the ancient estate, a disheveled young woman thrusts her head through the open window. “Leave!” she yells. “Before it’s too late! He’ll kill you. I swear.” Jenny is terrified, but her dad laughs it off. The girl is just an actress – part of the medieval fair being held on the castle grounds. But it’s not long before Jenny wishes they’d heeded the warning.
The house is a drafty maze of narrow hallways and dungeons. Jenny wants to flee, but her father is intent on the work he’s come to do. Soon the Worthington family sets upon young Jenny, playing twisted tricks on her until she forgets what’s real. The Worthingtons play cruel games – and if Jenny loses, it will mean her life.
WELL THIS IS OFF TO A GREAT START.
[Note from the future: While I don’t remember anything else about this book, and didn’t think I’d read it, the rat scene from the cover seems immensely familiar. Not sure if I saw something similar in another book, though.]
We open with: Looking back, Jenny realized she should have listened to the warning. She should have believed what Nan was trying to tell her and stayed far, far away from Worthington Hall.
This would work much better as an opening if the back of the book hadn’t spoiled this part for us already. Opening with wishing she’d listened to a warning works better when we don’t already know what the warning is and why she didn’t listen to it.
Anyway, we open with Jenny and her dad, Ed Logan, who are on their way, in an old Chevy, to a castle. Jenny thinks they’re lost, because there’s no way to actually hide a castle in the woods, but Ed points out that it is a smaller castle, rebuilt in the style of the Worthington family’s ancestral home (including a lot of building materials from the old castle in England). Jenny is miserable with the weather, too, heavy clouds and thunder promising rain, terrible fog drizzling through the thick canopies of leaves. That is gorgeous, creepy weather. Exactly the kind I love about fall, though I prefer to be warm in general.
Ed is tense because they are more than two hours late to interview Sir John; Jenny is tense because they haven’t seen any cars or signs, even though there’s supposed to be a medieval fair going on at this castle. She’s also creeped out by close press of the trees on either side of the car and the restless black shadows caused by the headlights. This is kind of great, really, though since this is Cusick, I’m not holding my breath that it will last.
She’s also upset because she and Ed were basically strangers even while her parents were still married, and now, after the divorce, things aren’t any better.
They come around a curve and for the first time see something: a stone gatehouse arched over the road, lit by the pale moonlight. The guard (or “the guard”) stops them and spends an inordinate amount of time with the flashlight on Jenny, who wasn’t supposed to be with Mr Logan when he came for the interview. Jenny can’t make out an actual body for the guard, and this creeps her out even further.
Again, this whole thing is kind of great so far. A creepy, foggy setting, Jenny jumping at every shadow already, a tense experience with a guard who doesn’t actually say a word: it makes sense that she is freaked out and nervous.
And then a girl leaps into the backseat of their car. She has long, stringy mats of hair, dirty arms, and wide, dull eyes. She tells them they’re going the wrong way, and that “he” (presumably Sir John based on the rest of the names, but quite possibly a twist in the story) will like them, but they still have to leave before it’s too late. Before the guard tries to drag her from the car, she tells Jenny that she’ll be sorry because he will kill her. And then she scrambles out of the car, away from the card, and disappears into the darkness.
Jenny still manages not to see the guard’s body or face, just that gloved hand reaching in for the girl.
Ed believes that it was just part of the show, that the girl was one of the actors working at the fair, and them acting 24/7 is the whole point of the fair. They’ll never step out of character as long as other people are around.
When they finally pull up in front of Worthington Hall, Jenny feels like she is in a dream.
Worthington Hall rose up through the fog, its ominous silhouette etched against a backdrop of thickening stormclouds. Somber and watchful, it stretched deceptively into the surrounding darkness, its crenellated towers shimmering ghostly beneath a sudden glimpse of sickly yellow moon.
“Is it… is it real?” Jenny heard someone whisper, and then realized with a start that it was her.
“Well,” Dad said, “there’s only one way to find out.”
Is it real? And your dad goes along with that question? Cusick, are you trying to be as whimsical as Cooney?
Jenny keeps hearing a disembodied voice tell her to leave; her dad talks about how this was a good idea, her spending her summer vacation with him, even though she had plans with her friends, and he’s been working too hard to get in touch with her after the divorce and on and on to show himself as a terrible father.
Jenny cuts off all his excuses (and she’s frustrated because she’s heard them all before) to beg him to put off talking to Sir John until the morning, and to go find a hotel for the night. All the places nearby are full, because he didn’t think to reserve a room earlier, and he’s too excited about the great old house to care about what she wants. He thinks he should be writing about the house, not interviewing Sir John. UMM. What kind of interview was this, exactly, that you could so easily replace it with a story about the house again?
Jenny is not nearly as impressed by the house, and, in fact, finds it creepy as hell, including the water far, far below the wooden drawbridge. This house is amazing. And amazingly creepy, yes, but I like it.
Ed finds it strange that they’re in a courtyard but no one is around. DUDE. You are more than two hours late. What did you expect, a ticker tape parade? He decides that maybe they assumed they weren’t coming until the next day because they were so late, and now they’ve all gone to bed.
Even if they did decide you weren’t coming, it’s not even 10 p.m. yet. Why would they all be in bed?
Ed decides this is the best time to head toward one of the staircases, and Jenny is too freaked out to want to follow him, but eventually does; just as she starts after him, a huge limb falls onto the hood of the car, crushing the whole front end. Well damn. That is truly a massive branch.
When Jenny cries out for her dad, she turns around, and he’s disappeared.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss us the hell off.)
The storm finally hits, and in mere seconds, Jenny is soaked with water and the ground has turned into muddy slime. She continues to shout for her father, but her voice is lost to the noise of the rain. She can barely see through it. She manages to make it to the stairs where she last saw her father and duck under an overhang that keeps most of the water off her.
She closes her eyes, trying to brace herself to climb the stairs to the next level, when someone starts to talk to her out of nowhere; when she tries to scream, it covers her mouth. What the everloving fuck.
It’s a dude, and she can feel him against her, tall and strong, and he sounds amused, telling her that they torture trespassers. Jenny is terrified and tries to fight her way free, and he tells her to stop, it won’t do her any good, and it might just make him angry.
Jenny stopped. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest.
“This won’t do at all,” he said, his voice lowered. “I believe I can hear your heart racing. In fact… I swear I can actually see it beating right through your… clothes.”
In spite of her terror Jenny’s cheeks flamed. She stiffened as his hand relaxed… hesitated… then drew away from her lips.
“Now,” he said. “Let’s get a proper look at you.”
Are you fucking kidding me right now, Cusick? ARE YOU? He’s going to be the love interest too, isn’t he? This is gross and misogynistic and rapey.
I beat you because I love you: 1 (+1) (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)
SURE E-FUCKING-NOUGH, THE SECOND SHE LOOKS AT HIM, WE GET THIS.
In the flickering torchlight she saw the delicate contours of his face, his high cheekbones, his perfectly formed lips. The wind had tousled his wild dark mane of hair, yet his eyes shone down at her with an unexpected kindness and calm. As the light played over his body, Jenny could also see the blousy white shirt he wore loose over tight black pants, the boots that rose snugly to his knees, his tanned fingers resting casually on the wall above her head. Framed there by the walls of the castle, he conjured up every legend Jenny had ever heard about knighthood and chivalry and romantic heroes.
CHIVALRY?! ROMANTIC HEROES?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!
I hate Cusick, and she has ruined this book for me in only the second chapter. This recap is going to go well, obviously.
Jenny demands to know where her father is, and when the boy learns she’s Ed’s daughter, he says she’d better come with him. He leads her up the stairs into the darkness. He can walk the stairs without light, but when she almost falls, he finally turns on a flashlight for her.
She gets him to give her his name, Malcolm Worthington, as they walk through stained, slimy walls. This castle sounds amazing, don’t you think? Ugh. He again flirts with her, teasing her that he’s taking her to the dungeon and that some tortures can be enjoyable. GROSS. Not the tortures being enjoyable, that’s totally true for some people, but he’s being so fucking creepy with her. NOT A GOOD LOVE INTEREST HERE.
In fact, he then promptly turns a corner and disappears, leaving her terrified in the pitch blackness. She can feel something near her, a stirring in the shadows, and then icy fingers touch the back of her hair, move across her neck, and slowly slide down her spine. This is creepy as fuck, and an effective end to a chapter, so I’m not going to give it a trope point, even though I’m tempted, because that’s two cliffhangers in a fucking row, Cusick, do you think you’re STINE or something — never fucking mind, I’m counting it. Two in a row in the first two damn chapters. You’re worse than Stine!
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
In the distance Malcolm calls for her, and the fingers slip away from her, just in time for Malcolm to grab her. She babbles at him about whoever was touching her (she says another guy), and Malcolm gets snippy with her, because he can barely see her, of course he didn’t see anyone else, and now she’s made him drop his flashlight and break it, so they have to walk in the dark. How the fuck are you blaming her for you not being able to hold onto your damn flashlight? Fuck off into the sea, Malcolm.
I beat you because I love you: 2 (+1)
He then brushes off her fears, telling her the passages are old and filthy, and it was probably just spiderwebs or a draft. Because those feel exactly like fingers, but whatever. Also, why the fuck is this place so gross?
Malcolm leads her to the great hall where, he says, her father is enjoying his dinner. UMM. SERIOUSLY. IF THIS IS FUCKING TRUE…
Without warning a door creaked open, revealing a sudden burst of softly flickering torchlight. It was a huge room, wide and long, hung with tapestries and shields and the stuffed, mounted heads of wild animals. A fireplace took up one entire wall, and as Jenny moved cautiously forward, the sweet fragrance of herbs drifted up from the rush-strewn floor. Several dogs skulked into corners as she passed, but though they cast her wary looks, they didn’t seem particularly interested. Approaching the raised dais at the end of the room, she not only recognized her father at the oversize table there, but realized there were three other people sitting and talking around him, their faces indistinguishable in the throbbing lights and shadows from many candles.
“Father,” Malcolm announced, steering Jenny to the base of the platform. “It seems we have an unexpected… visitor.”
“Jenny!” Mr. Logan exclaimed cheerfully, looking up from his plate. “Oh… have you been outside all this time? This is Sir John. Sir John, my daughter.”
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, CUSICK?! HE LEFT HIS GODDAMN DAUGHTER ALONE OUTSIDE IN A STORM AND CALMLY EATING FUCKING DINNER. HOLY FUCK. Parents are generally useless in these books, but this has just rocketed into complete bullshit. I never thought I’d miss parents just gallivanting off to Europe.
Not only is he sitting there eating, but he STILL hasn’t told Sir John that he brought his daughter along. Ed reassures Sir John that she won’t be any trouble, and will be helping with his notes. A voice from the other side of the table starts to say she shouldn’t have come, but Sir John interrupts to talk about how lovely she is and orders her to come closer. Malcolm nudges her forward to his father, who has “[a] startlingly gaunt face, silver hair flowing to his shoulders, silver goatee upon his chin.” And he looks at her “like a predator gauging its kill” then tells Malcolm well done.
WELL THIS IS CREEPY AS FUCK.
Again, that other voice says that she shouldn’t be there; again, Sir John dismisses it, though this time he says the speaker is his other son, and that what he means is that “girls — forgive me — young women — are a rarity at Worthington Hall.”
JESUS CHRIST THIS IS TERRIBLE.
A jester pops up to break the tension, though he just makes Jenny even more uncomfortable, though she notices his “cute, boyish face, and eyes that crinkled up to match his mischievous grin.”
He proposes a game, because there are so many of them and only one of them, and so they should fight to win her heart. Malcolm, who has now sat down and left her alone, says that she’s his by right because he saw her first.
THIS IS SO FUCKING GROSS.
It goes on and on, and the only thing of use is that we finally get a name for the other son, Derreck, who has Malcolm’s face, clothes, and same amused smile. This confuses Jenny to no end, until the jester (Wit) explains that they are twins. In fact, “they’re beside themselves.”
Oh god, that is terrible in a very different way than the rest of this book. (Terrible in the kind of way I can love.)
Sir John tells them that they love playing games, and in fact, the house itself is a game, full of secrets and mysteries and puzzles. On the one hand, that itself sounds amazing, because I love puzzles and games and escape rooms. On the other hand, I hate every character so far except maybe Jenny, so this isn’t going to be much fun.
Wit brings up a family curse, but before he can go into more detail, Malcolm tells Sir John (and Ed, who apparently paid zero attention to Jenny outside) that their car has been crushed, and so of course they are going to stay the night.
The boys seem secretive and unhappy about this, and there’s a lot of strange whimsical poems and rhymes and annoying things because the characters are annoying as hell. Sir John says they’ll put her in the tower, and tells them he hopes they won’t find their visit uneventful. Well, that’s creepy.
Ed admonishes Jenny for being a brat and upsetting him, which rich considering how little he’s actually paid attention to her since they arrived. Jenny is shocked that he’s mad at her when she’s so scared. He accuses her of always trying to ruin his plans, just like her mother, because he is a complete bag of dicks.
Malcolm and Wit show them to their rooms, which are in different wings. The way Ed is behaving, Jenny is better off without him anywhere near her. I hope the Muffin Man goes for him first.
At first Jenny is afraid they’re going to make her stay in the tower, but Malcolm tells her that they don’t use that wing of the house. While Jenny takes a quick break in the bathroom, she listens to Wit and Malcolm talking through the door, but can’t make out everything they’re saying.
“–believe it,” someone mumbled. Wit, she thought.
“–have to be careful–” Malcolm?
“–seen him yet–”
“–you know – locked – but locks mean nothing–”
When she leaves the bathroom, she finds the corridor empty. The way the sconces flicker high on the walls makes the passage throb with shadows, and she thinks it looks like it’s breathing, like it’s alive. That is terrifying. Also, for people who are so reticent to have Jenny be alone in the castle, they sure the fuck do leave her alone all the time.
She tells them to come out and quit playing a joke on her, and something stirs in the shadows at the far end of the passageway, something that then slips behind a huge tapestry. She goes to investigate it even though she doesn’t want to do so because she knows she’ll be at the mercy of the boys’ tricks for her whole stay if she doesn’t face up to them now.
She’s almost to the tapestry (and can see something barely showing just beneath the fringe — a foot, she thinks, or a shoe, because those two things look exactly alike most of the time) when Malcolm and Wit turn up at the other end of the hall. They claim Sir John needed them and they didn’t think she’d be out of the bathroom so soon. So, that was supposed to be a shit break, was it?
She tries to tell them about the tapestry moving, but again, Malcolm waves it off as the drafty castle, but he and Wit keep exchanging weird glances. So many weird glances. That’s pretty much all they do: exchange weird glances, pick on Jenny, be secretive. Write more better, Cusick.
They take Jenny up a winding flight of narrow stone steps, even though they claimed they weren’t putting her in the tower. Also, the stairs are damp and everything feels abandoned. She, understandably, freaks the fuck out.
The boys talk about growing up in the castle and how they knew it like the backs of their hands, blah blah blah. They were sent off to boarding school for awhile, Sir John is weird, this is really fucking boring, and also, they’ve been climbing these stairs forever.
Since school, they’ve split up. Derreck works in constructions, Malcolm works his way through Europe whenever he can, Wit is a starving artist who lives by the ocean. … how old are these guys? At least one of them reads like he’s being set up as Jenny’s love interest, and they’re sort of written like teens, but now they’re basically adults? Whatever, Cusick.
(We learn Malcolm is afraid of water and can’t swim. Bets on whether this will become important later in the story?)
Jenny asks if they’re around for the fair (and they’re still fucking walking to her room at this point), but they have actually been summoned home because Sir John is growing frail. (“Crazy” Wit says, and I hope he dies second. I knew we couldn’t get through a book without this trope kicking in. We couldn’t even get through more than a few chapters.)
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.)
There’s a lot more blathering, and mostly pointless, though we do learn that the reason the castle is such a mess is because Sir John can’t afford decent help, it’s too expensive to maintain and impossible to really clean. He’s had to open the castle for tours to make money, and rent the ground out for the fair.
There’s not even any electricity in the part of the castle where Jenny will be staying. Because that makes total sense. Stick the stranger up a long, wet staircase with no power for lights, and let her break her neck. Awesome.
Before they leave her room (yes, they finally arrived), Malcolm warns her there is a lock on her door and that she might hear noises at night, but she shouldn’t be worried. She then stops them to ask about the family curse, and Wit gives a little rhyme: They never survive at Worthington Hall — they shiver or shriek or they take a great fall; they’re never the same once the ghost comes to call — when they look in his eyes and see… nothing… at… all.
Finally Wit says what we’re all thinking. When he says “they,” he actually means women. Women at Worthington Hall see a ghost and go made or die or disappear. Awesome.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)
Jenny spends some time freaking out and hating on her parents, which is completely reasonable in this situation. Both your parents are bags of dicks. You’d be so much better off if they just bounced away to Europe for awhile.
After she changes into her nightgown, she sees her shadow on the wall, moving with her, of course — until it slowly lowers its arms when she hasn’t. She finally turns around, but there’s nothing behind her. She takes herself to bed, first checking to make sure there’s nothing under the covers, but lies awake for awhile, thinking about the weird sounds she’s hearing, and the strange flickering shadows, and the terror of the castle itself and the storm outside. She starts to drift off to sleep on thoughts of Malcolm, only to jerk awake an indeterminate amount of time later, the dying stub of a candle on the table. The other candles are out, and she can hear soft scurrying sounds moving along one wall just out of reach of the light.
Her candle dies and she shouts for Malcolm even though she doesn’t know why. In the darkness, she can hear the scurrying sounds become louder and louder, as if there are millions of tiny claws racing to encircle the bed.
She tries to run for the door, but something furry runs across her foot. She finds a candle and matches and when she gets one lit, she sees a human shadow standing at the foot of her bed, tall, silent, and deathly still. He wears a hood and carries a hangman’s noose. The figure melts onto the wall and Jenny flings herself onto the stairs.
Her candle goes out again, and she has to stop, because the stairs are too narrow and steep for her to be able to walk them in the dark. She tries to run, the shadow comes after her, it whispers that it will take her to him, she begs to be let go. This should be awesomely creepy, but it’s not. There was too much walking and talking earlier, I’m bored, and I’m having a hard time focusing on this story.
She’s dragged along awhile, then dropped, someone who reminds her of Malcolm and Derreck finds her and ties her up with rope. That someone then whispers that they are going to play a game of scaring Jenny to death, and they’ll just make the rules up as they go. The voice teases her about how there are three of them, she’ll never be able to get them in trouble, they have to play to see who is best about hiding in the darkness, she’s the prize, and then they drug her to sleep.
How is this so damn boring? HOW? It should be great, and yet.
She wakes up, sick and groggy, to find Wit and Malcolm tending to her. She immediately accuses them of being terrible to her the night before; they claim that they found her at the bottom of the tower at the foot of the stairs. She frantically tells them that she did fall down the stairs but then she was taken to that room, and tied up, and they were all there and laughing at her and their terrible game.
They tell her she was dreaming it, she freaks out even more, as she should, and Malcolm leaves her alone with Wit briefly. He gaslights the fuck out of her, and I hate everything about this book.
Wit teases her a long time, and then says, in his weird, teasing way, that she needs to know how to tell Malcolm and Derreck apart in case she runs into them in a dark hallway:
“Derreck is quieter. Malcolm has more to say. Malcolm is the charming one; Derreck’s more mysterious. They’re exactly the same height, they have the same color hair and eyes, the same shaped face – though Derreck’s is a bit thinner – the same arch to their brows. You can’t tell them apart hearing them speak – though Derreck’s voice is a trifle deeper. Same build, same weight, same bone structure. But…”
He scooted forward and rested the tip of one finger against his left earlobe.
“Perhaps it is that Derreck has a scar – just here. Beneath his hair, behind his ear? Small and… intimate, shall we say. Not so easy to find. You’d have to be quite… close,” he finished smugly.
Jenny watched him a moment, then frowned.
Don’t just frown, Jenny darling, punch him in the damn face.
Malcolm returns and when she asks for her father, they tell her she can’t see him. It’s three in the morning, and they were only coming to check on her; Ed told them not to tell her until the actual morning. Checking on her at 3 a.m. sounds totally legit and not at all creepy.
They claim Ed got an emergency assignment and left her there until he comes back. Please tell me that he’s dead. Come on, Muffin Man, make something happen.
Parents? What parents?: 1 (+1) (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.)
Cheer on the killer: 1 (+1) (Because
the protagonist every character but the protagonist is such an insufferable wretch that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.)
The next morning, Jenny is exhausted from her nighttime adventures and barely being able to sleep. Wit takes her back to the main house (if her father is out of town, why the fuck can’t she have a room in the main house now?!), but leaves her alone to eat.
Jenny has a call in Sir John’s office, and on the way, she conveniently overhears Sir John talking to Malcolm or Derreck (or some secret evil triplet perhaps?) about how he can’t turn her out now and they can’t do anything to arouse suspicion. Sir John then says that it’s up to the three of them to take care of things.
Unsurprisingly, her phone call is from Ed, who says that it’s an important assignment, he’s the only one who can cover it, he doesn’t have a choice, and with her mother off galavanting around Paris … jesus fuck, these characters are insufferable. Jenny, I’m liking you more and more simply because everyone around you is so terrible.
Parents? What parents?: 2 (+1)
Cheer on the killer: 11 (+10)
Ed then fucking dares to tell her to do his work for him, asking questions, write down her impressions of the castle, the fair, and the people, take pictures, take notes — holy fucking shit, Ed. Come do your fucking job, both as a parent and as a whatever the fuck kind of writer you actually are supposed to be.
Sir John gives her a free pass to the fair, and when she asks if she can’t stay in the room her father was using (because she is sometimes fucking smart; Jenny, I like you more and more), he says that the storm broke one of the windows and it is not inhabitable anymore. Right. Totes believable.
Jenny is freaked out about what she heard and what happened the night before, but tries to talk herself out of it, because Ed is right and she does have an overactive imagination, etc. She also doesn’t believe any real person could be as cruel as they were last night. Oh, Jenny. They’ve gaslit you real damn well.
With nothing better to do, she heads off to the fair, and is pleasantly surprised. I love renaissance fairs and the Society for Creative Anachronisms and other such things, so I am delighted by this part. Really, Jenny and the setting are the best parts of an absolutely horrid book:
Everywhere, in any direction she looked, there was something going on – minstrels singing, costumed street characters greeting one another, vendors selling food, craftspeople at their trades, demonstrations of physical prowess and skill, musicians playing instruments, acrobats, mimes, lords and ladies parading with their retinues. Jenny could scarcely take it all in, it was so real, so convincing. Wandering through the lazily twisting maze of pathways, she soon realized that the fair was set up as a series of large open clearings connected by wide avenues of sawdust-covered earth, overhung and enclosed by a natural landscape of thick, lush trees. There were authentic shops, huts, and theaters; footbridges over gurgling creeks; tents and carts; even a petting zoo with baby animals. As she came upon a food area, such delicious aromas wafted over her that her stomach growled, and she remembered she hadn’t really eaten much of her breakfast. She walked slowly around the enclosure, trying to decide what to get – everything from meat pies to dried fruits, apple cider to ale, scones to pizza – and finally decided on a roasted turkey leg hot off the grill.
Munching her snack, Jenny went on, smiling as people greeted her, getting totally caught up in the friendly atmosphere. She passed a falconer with his falcons, hawks, and eagles, then paused to laugh at a puppet show. She watched as apples were squeezed in a cider press, as the art of blacksmithing was demonstrated, as two competitors tried to outwit each other in an ongoing game of chess.
TURKEY LEG. OMG I HAVE SUCH A NEED RIGHT NOW.
Anyway, this good time is ruined by Wit grabbing her from behind, because everyone thinks that’s exactly the thing they should be doing to her.
I beat you because I love you: 3 (+1)
He teases her about black and blue looking good on her, which is basically saying that her bruises from her fucking fall down the stairs look good on her. That’s not a creepy abusive thing to say in this situation at all.
I beat you because I love you: 53 (+50)
He then freaks her out by telling her to close her eyes because there’s something on them — a kiss. And then he kisses one. WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK IS THIS SHIT, CUSICK?!
He was exactly her height, with a slight, slender build, and a dimple showing in one cheek. There was a naughty twinkle in his blue eyes as though he were up to something delightfully wicked, and when he began walking again, she noticed a spring to his step, as if he were not only weightless but without a care in the world.
“Cute,” Jenny said, hiding a smile. “Has anyone ever told you how cute you are?”
“I am, indeed, there’s no one in the world as cute or clever as me.” Wit beamed. “I’m the best at being cute, but I never get the girl.”
Jenny laughed. “She’d have to be a fool to fall in love with you.”
OH JENNY NO. NO NO NO NO NO.
Oh, good, he takes her to a “gypsy” camp, thrilling and certainly not a racial slur at all.
Racism: business as usual: 100 (+100) (If you’re lucky enough to see a person of colour in any of these books, they’ll be stereotyped to the hilt.) (They throw the word around a lot, so we’re coming out of the gate with 100 points.)
She sees one of the twins swallowing fire, which is, yes, pretty damn hot. (Oh god, Wit has infected me too. Goddamnit.) She’s not sure if it is Derreck or not, and Wit doesn’t answer when she asks.
The Twin says he’ll need a volunteer for his next event, and his voice is deep and seductive. Wit of course gets Jenny chosen and embarrasses her, because tormenting Jenny is the thing to do around here. (I HATE YOU ALL. Except Jenny.) The Twin ties her to a wall, because that is the other game around here, and then throws daggers at her. Again, fucking hot as hell, but everything is terrible so I can’t even enjoy it.
ALSO NOT TELLING HER WHAT HE’S DOING IS PRETTY SHITTY.
I beat you because I love you: 4 (+1)
The Twin cuts her neck on one of the throws, and Wit teases him that he needs more practice even as he stands there not helping the bleeding Jenny. Holy shit, is every dude in this damn book a terror and a menace? (YES.)
I beat you because I love you: 5 (+1)
Wit rushes her off to a wagon, is very little help at all, and Nan shows up, who is the girl Jenny met the night she arrived. Nan talks in phrases almost like Wit’s riddles, but he’s super fucking grumpy with her for someone who talks the same damn way.
The Twin shows up and tells Nan it’s time for her to dance; Jenny accuses him of nearly scarring her for life; Nan claims she’s never met Jenny before, and when Jenny talks about that night, Nan looks like she has no memory of it; Jenny starts to remember something strange, but can’t quite get there; the boys are grumpy and mysterious and terrible as always.
I think this recap is wash, rinse, and repeat.
The Twin claims that he didn’t throw the knife that cut her (and calls her attractive, because of course he does). Jenny demands to know which twin he is, but he teases her and refuses to tell.
Wit makes up another ridiculous rhyme: There was a young girl at the fair, who dodged a sharp knife in thin air! When she tried to find out what the fuss was about, everyone that she asked said ‘Beware!’
There’s a bunch of back and forth over who threw it and how Jenny is really just paranoid. Are you kidding me? Why so much goddamn gaslighting, Cusick?
Jenny storms off, but gets distracted by Nan dancing on stage. There’s a weird moment when Nan looks at her, and Jenny thinks for that second the only thing Nan sees is her, but then she returns to her dance.
Despite all the crap that has been happening, Jenny takes herself off into the woods, hoping it is a shortcut. OH JENNY NO.
At least it sounds beautiful.
Quiet enveloped her almost at once. As Jenny ventured farther from the fairgrounds, she found herself entirely surrounded by lush, low-sweeping branches, deep carpets of pine needles, and sloping banks of ivy. Mist hung in the air from last night’s rain, curling up like steam from the wet places below, muting the songs of the birds, swirling the scenery in hazy shades of green.
She decides she needs to think, so finds a seat against a log while she obsessively thinks about everything that has happened and how everyone keeps telling her it was mostly all a dream and she’s just paranoid.
Unsurprisingly, she’s just relaxed when she hears someone call her name. It’s darker under the trees now, darker than it had been only moments before. She wonders if she fell asleep, and how long she was possibly out if she did.
Again she sees the shadowy man with the hood and the hangman’s noose.
She runs away, but doesn’t believe she can escape him, so instead she finds herself a hiding place inside a thicket of clotted shrubs and vines. He stands near her for a long time, waiting for her to make a mistake. A racoon startles her from her hiding place, and she’s terrified a gloved hand will grab her at any moment.
And then it hits her: the thing she’d been trying to remember earlier was that when she first met Nan, a guard who wore gloves, who stayed out of the light, tried to grab Nan while she was giving Jenny her warning.
Jenny tries to rationalize everything, but it doesn’t make her feel better. She sets off to find the castle before it gets even darker; she’s feeling sluggish and mechanical. Whatever that means, because sluggish is not how I would describe mechanical. She doesn’t find a castle around the next grove of trees; instead she stumbles upon yet another secret conversation. Cusick, this is getting old, and it is a terrible, lazy way to write a story and tell your protagonist and your readers information (or to tease them with fake tension). Be better, damn it! This story had such potential.
Several voices are arguing, low and urgent, and again, Jenny only hears pieces of the conversation:
“You’ve got to do it. Do you hear? Look at me!”
A male voice. Tight with barely controlled fury. There was a soft scuttle, and then sharp gasps, as if someone were being shaken. Alarmed, Jenny heard the sound of crying. A girl?
“You know what’ll happen if you don’t.” The boy spoke again. Malcolm? Derreck? “You know we’re all in danger. Every one of us.”
“I – I – can’t. He won’t like it–”
“Won’t like it! Who the hell cares what he likes! Today could have been a disaster! Not to mention last night! Do you even realize how close–”
“It wasn’t my fault!”
“Look… don’t cry… What we’re trying to say is, you can’t treat this like something normal anymore.” Another voice this time. Softer. Kinder. Wit? “It’s not normal, understand? This sort of thing… it’s–”
“I’m warning you,” the first voice broke in, seething. “We’re all warning you. It’s got to be done soon. And keep… your… mouth… shut. If I find out you’ve tried to help him–”
“Leave her alone! Threatening her won’t do any good – she doesn’t understand–” And there was fear in this voice, Jenny could actually feel the fear – feel its panic. But the same voice or a different one? I can’t tell –
“She better understand. She better damn well under–”
Abruptly the voices stopped.
She hears hinges groaning, something being thrown to the ground, and then hopeless sobbing. After a moment, she calls out, asking if the person crying is Nan. Whoever it is runs off, and Jenny assumes she frightened them away. She can’t find anything in the area where she thought the voices were gathered.
Until she conveniently leans against a rock that isn’t a rock and is, instead, a door.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 (+1) (“Oh, gee! You mean Billy-Bob has the exact information we need? What are the odds?”)
The door leads into a narrow, arched tunnel, the ceiling so low she has to bend over to walk. There are stubs of candles set in the slimy walls, many already burned out, and Jenny goes as quickly as she can before the reset leave her in total darkness.
She becomes aware of an unpleasant smell, faint at first and then stronger. She’s certain the scent wasn’t there when she first came in, but now it is growing stronger and stronger; it smells like something dead, like something rotten.
Her fears, both of the tunnel itself and of everything that has happened, overwhelm her, and she takes off running through the tunnels, until she slams into the wall, which gives way beneath her. She ends up lying on a straw-covered floor. There’s a single candle in one corner, just enough to show her a tiny window covered with bars and rusty manacles on the walls, heavy chains on the floor. She’s in the dungeon, and three huge rats gnaw something raw nearby.
She tracks the disgusting smell to a cage hanging above her, one that looks like it has a body in it.
One of the twins turns up yet again and tells her it’s called a gibbet, as if that is the important thing to Jenny right now.
Otherwise, though, he’s gentle with her, and kind, talking to her about how dangerous the castle can be, but not in the creepy, teasing way everyone else has done. He talks about how realistic the dungeons looks, for the tour, of course, because people love all the strange and horrible things people do to each other.
She guesses that he is Malcolm, and he agrees. He’s certainly not acting like Malcolm has in the past.
At least, until he starts to tell her how the gibbet works:
“When a person was hung in chains, he wasn’t necessarily dead, you see. Often he was very much alive… or half alive, depending on the torture he might have suffered before. Then he just hung there… forever… with no food or water. Hung there until he simply… rotted away.”
Creepy as fuck, that.
Malcolm wants to know how she got down there, what with it being so late and the dungeons out of the way (except, you know, set up for a fucking tour, so not that far out of the way), and she covers by saying she went exploring and got lost, basically.
When he brushes his hair behind one ear, she realises the guy throwing knives earlier must have been Derreck because he was wearing an earring.
There’s some talk about rats and how you just need to take the time to get to know them, to understand them, and then he creepily talks about how with the rats and the dampness, there’s always something molding or rotting or dying in the rooms. SUPER COMFORTING, THAT.
Unsurprisingly, Jenny has to struggle not to cry in front of him. She feels helpless and frustrated, wishing she could leave, knowing he’s watching her. He comes and holds her, and she notices how handsome he is; he kisses her cheek, her throat, and tells her she’s perfect for this place. When she tries to question that, he kisses her, holding her so tight “that she couldn’t get away…even if she’d wanted to.”
FUCK GROSS FUCK.
She’s so lost in the kiss she doesn’t hear Derreck come up behind them. He takes a long time looking at Jenny, because why not ramp up the creepy abusiveness of this scene. There’s more weirdness between the brothers over the cut on Jenny’s neck and their jealousy, or Derreck’s jealousy, or whatever, I’m so grossed out by this “romance” that I can’t even focus.
She follows Derreck out of the dungeon for awhile, and then this shit happens:
He stopped so abruptly, she didn’t see him.
He grabbed her arms and shoved her back against the wall, and as she opened her mouth to protest, his hand clamped down over it with frightening strength.
“If it were up to me, I’d have you out of here in a second!” he hissed. “You don’t belong here – you have no business going anywhere in the castle, understand? And if it takes fear to get you to leave… then I promise you… your nightmare’s just beginning!”
I beat you because I love you: 6 (+1)
I hate this book so much.
Nan is serving them at dinner that night, and doesn’t seem to remember Jenny. Wit says that she rarely remembers anything. Jenny, carrying the idiot ball, tries to talk about Nan’s warning, which piques Sir John’s interest, of course. She puts him off with a story about how Nan warned her about all the stairs, and Wit seems relieved by this.
Until Jenny talks about Nan dancing. Sir John sends her away, and then shouts at the boys for letting her wander. Good lord. I hate everyone but Nan and Jenny. (And Jenny is starting to walk a line with the terrible choices she’s making.)
After dinner, Jenny tries to get Wit to tell her about Nan (and whether she’s really crazy, because of course).
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)
The only thing he’ll say is that they’re not related, she just works at the castle because she’s quiet and loyal, which is what Sir John wants. Jenny then asks about the women who never survived Worthington Hall. He hems and haws, but eventually tells her a legend.
“The legend started hundreds of years ago. In England. At the original Worthington Castle. The first mistress supposedly lost her head. I mean” – he pulled one finger slowly across his neck – “literally – lost her head.”
Jenny suppressed a shudder. “How?”
“It seems her husband – the duke – was an extremely jealous man. But not so loving or romantic to suit her tastes. At any rate, the lady took a lover. And when her husband found out…”
Jenny shook her head slowly. “He couldn’t have. His own wife?”
“He was what you’d call the jealous sort. If he couldn’t have her, then nobody else could have her, either.”
“But… is that really true?”
“As true as all legends are true.” Wit smiled mysteriously. “It set a… precedent, shall we say. For all the women who’d come afterward. Something always happened to them – not just to family members, but to servants, as well… even female travelers who stopped there for the night. And it wouldn’t necessarily happen right away – oh, no. Some would meet strange fates farther down the road. But all strange… and horrible.”
“But it could have been coincidence, couldn’t it? I mean, back then, with ignorance and superstition–”
“Who can tell? All I know is, that’s what the legend says. Some women were brave enough to challenge the curse and went right on marrying into the Worthington bloodline. Bore Worthington sons and daughters. But they always met a tragic end, sooner or later. And they always saw the ghost before it happened.”
“Or so you’ve heard.” Jenny gave a nervous smile.
“Or so I’ve heard. Some were found in their beds, smothered in their sleep. Or stabbed… or poisoned. Some fell from the highest walls of the towers, crushed on the rocks below or drowned in the moat. Some went completely insane, as if they’d witnessed something so horrible, their minds never recovered from the shock of it. And then there were those who disappeared… and were never found again.”
And then he gives more whimsical rhymes about a freak of nature that runs in the family with eyes that watch and and hands that kill. Because that’s totally helpful, Wit. Totally.
Wit reminds her that she can never truly tell Malcolm and Derreck apart, and now she’s worried that Malcolm’s kiss and touch might actually have been Derreck’s. And certainly not some secret evil triplet or anything.
From her expression, Wit figures out one of the twins kissed her, and starts to tease her about it. And she slaps the shit out of him. Fucking get it, Jenny. (I know, I know, violence isn’t the answer, but seriously, in this situation, it might be. I’ll give it a point anyway.)
I beat you because I love you: 7 (+1)
She apologises (as she should, but I’m still thrilled she slapped him), and tells him about seeing Malcolm in the dungeon. Wit is obviously shaken by this. When she tries to question him further, he actually runs away.
Jenny ends up locked in her bedroom, and is freaked out both because she’s stuck and because she’s afraid that the same thing will happen tonight that happened the night before. Oh, hell, is this only the second night? The damn book is never going to end.
She shakes off her fear and decides to figure out how the man got to be in her room, because she doesn’t believe in ghosts. She searches for a secret panel for awhile, and then checks the chimney, which, sure enough, has a crude ladder carved into the stone. She climbs it, cementing her place as a badass again in my world.
It’s a hard, terrible climb, with spiderwebs on her face and things crawling on her legs and terror in the darkness, and she’s just fucking amazing throughout this, terrified but determined. I kind of love her. Good work, Cusick.
She finally emerges at the very top of the castle, and it’s gorgeous.
On every side long gray battlements lay deserted in the moonlight, their walls forming crenellated patterns against the sky. Like huge old gravestones, more turrets rose up around her with doorways as empty and black as crypts, and as the wind sighed mournfully along the walkways, shadows and long-dead spirits merged and became one with the darkness.
She explores for awhile in the darkness, until she sees a light beckoning her before it abruptly goes out. She follows where it was to another tower, and as she approaches, hears someone laugh a strange, cruel laugh and mumble to itself.
“Let them come,” a voice whispered gleefully. “Up and down the stairs… round and round the towers… They’ll never find you… They’ll never find any of you!”
Jenny went cold all over.
Beside her the tower door yawned open, macabre shadows leaping up the inner walls, dimly showing steps in a downward spiral. That’s where he is… whoever’s holding the candle… somewhere down below…
For a long moment there was silence.
Then suddenly she heard a different sound – jagged and scraping – as though something heavy was being forced across a rough surface.
“They won’t know,” the voice whispered again. “Because I’m so clever! Much too clever for all of them! To be this close – and not – ever – to know!”
The tower echoed with wild, weird laughter.
It floated out into the night and wrapped around Jenny like a cold shroud.
Jenny clutched the wall, fighting to shut out the maniacal sound, but it hung in the air long after the whispering stopped and the light had disappeared.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 4 (+1)
Jenny continues to be a complete badass (and to make what are likely terrible decisions), and goes in to explore the new tower. It is in complete disrepair, and she quickly realises that she’s likely not going to be able to tell what was moved.
Still, she manages to find that there is a loose stone, and that’s what made the scraping sound. It takes her ages to get it open, and then even longer to dare look inside — and she finds rotting skulls grinning up at her.
OKAY, THAT IS CREEPY AS HELL IN A GREAT WAY.
She’s still freaking out over this when Nan turns up and scares her again. Jenny tries to run away, but Nan catches up to her when her t-shirt gets caught on the wall. They talk in circles about “him” going wherever he wants and how he likes Jenny, and Nan knows because he told her.
“He likes you. He hides where you don’t know. He watches when you think you’re alone. But he’s only waiting. It’s only a matter of time, you see… ”
NAN. We get enough of that shit from Wit.
I beat you because I love you: 8 (+1)
Nan is terrified of him, but also takes care of him even when he hurts her. Fuck, get out of there, Jenny, and take her the fuck with you.
I beat you because I love you: 9 (+1)
Jenny manages to make it back to her room after Nan abandons her, to find the candle by her bed burned down to almost nothing. She’s terrified now that he could be anywhere; he could have been in her room, he could have been listening to her talk to Nan, he could be anywhere and everywhere.
She sets herself up to keep watch in case he comes down the chimney again, and tries to come up with a way that she and Nan can escape. Jenny, somehow you have been an amazing protagonist. I’m a fan. Keep being awesome.
She knows getting Nan to leave quietly will be almost impossible, and no one will believe her — but oh! She has a camera! She can take pictures! THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. And exactly what she needs to do. Oh god, am I actually starting to like this story?
One of the twins comes to get her for breakfast; she identifies him as Malcolm, and he tells her she’s getting good at telling them apart. She starts to ask him about what happened in the dungeon, but then is afraid of what the answer will be, especially if he tells her it wasn’t him. She forces herself to say something anyway, and he apologises for maybe being out of line.
Oh god, there’s more flirtation, more kissing. Actually, I don’t mind it so much this time, because Jenny is being so proactive and tough and making her own decisions, not just doing whatever the dudes around her tell her to do. That’s pretty delightful.
Okay, get yourself some, Jenny. Just stay focused, too.
They make out awhile, Malcolm is sad but relieved that she’ll be leaving soon, I don’t super care about this part so moving on. As she goes down to breakfast, she sees the tapestry moving again and goes to check behind it; there’s a doorway, and she can just barely hear voices. She, again, goes exploring, which is a terrible idea but also awesome.
Terrible but awesome is not a bad way to live your life. Go, Jenny, go!
(Damn it, Cusick. I both love and loathe this book.)
A twin, Nan, and Wit are in a room talking, and Jenny eavesdrops yet again. This scene would work well, IF YOU HADN’T ALREADY DONE IT HALF A DOZEN TIMES, CUSICK.
The three of them stood beside a table. Wit reached down and picked up a small bottle while the twin – Jenny couldn’t tell which one – spoke to Nan urgently.
“You’ve got to do it, Nan, understand? You’re the only one who can. No one would ever suspect you of doing anything.”
Nan stared first at the bottle, then up at him, nodding in her slow, uncertain way. Her eyes were wide and listless.
“It’s not really wrong what we’re doing,” Wit said gently. “You know that, don’t you? It’s not like – well, what I mean is, it is like–”
He looked helplessly at the twin, who broke in quickly.
“A game, really. Just a game. And once this is done, we’re taking you out of here – to a different place.”
“You can’t stay here anymore.” Wit gazed earnestly into Nan’s blank face. “And what’s going to happen – what’s been happening – it’s got to be our secret.”
“Wit’s right. You mustn’t say anything.” The twin turned Nan by her shoulders to face him. “Our secret.”
Nan’s stare was unblinking. Her eyes never left his.
“No one must know, Nan,” Wit whispered. “It could be dangerous.”
The twin nodded solemnly. “Believe me… it’ll be better this way.”
Without a word Nan threw her arms around the twin’s neck and hugged him tightly. He smiled and hugged her back, and as Jenny watched, Nan broke away again and slipped the tiny bottle into the pocket of her dress. Then she vanished quietly through the hidden door.
She then hears Wit and Twin talking about how this is murder. She, of course, thinks this means her. I’m betting they’re going to try to off Sir John. (And power to them!)
At breakfast, Jenny questions Sir John about stories of the castle, because she has the cover story of her dad’s article. Sir John does not take to this line of questioning, though, and actually leaves breakfast. Good work, Jenny. NOW RUN.
Wit teases her some more, then tells her she should go to the tournament, where scores of dashing young knights (his words) will compete to win a lucky lady’s hand. Oh good lord, of course they will. Where are the lady knights? They can fight to win my hand.
He then teases her into giving Malcolm a kiss for luck, though she doesn’t want to. They keep pushing (NO MEANS FUCKING NO, GODDAMN IT), and finally she checks for the scar behind the ear and kisses one of them. They laugh at her logic, claiming that is just a story Wit tells. I hate all of you and hope the tournament involves horses that trample you to death.
I beat you because I love you: 10 (+1)
Wit follows her and tries to apologise, but she tears into him because she doesn’t find it funny that they keep trying to make a fool of her. You go, Jenny! Hell, the way they’re acting, no one would blame you for slapping the shit out of him again. I encourage it, in fact!
(Yes, I’ll even give myself a point for that. I beat you because I love you: 11 (+1))
Wit does act serious for a moment, though, and warns her to go after the nice, pretty story her father wants and to not chase any others, and then to get the hell out, as far away as possible.
JUST FUCKING RUN, JENNY. IT IS TIME TO GO. There are a ton of people at the fair, get a ride out with one of them. Sneak into their car. I don’t care, just GO.
I do love that Jenny finds herself terrified and angry in the middle of a crowd that doesn’t know anything is wrong. That sort of scene is creepy and wonderful. Wit comes back to her, won’t leave when she tells him to leave her alone, gives her grief for playing games with him (WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK, CUSICK), and finally forces her to play a game with him or he’ll embarrass her in front of the entire fair.
I beat you because I love you: 12 (+1)
CUSICK, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Anyway, he tells her another story about one of the twins having a scar: this time, he says that Derreck has a scar across his left palm, a souvenir of a knife that went astray. She doesn’t believe him and shakes him off so she can run into the crowd.
Racism: business as usual: 200 (+100)
More gypsy camp, more racism. Jenny hides herself behind a tree to watch the tournament area where knights are prepping for combat. She is about to give up when she sees one of the twins (she guesses Malcolm) slip out of the woods and into the dressing room. He’s stained and disheveled and out of breath. She has a straight view to where he’s changing (way to perv it up there, Jenny), and when he takes off his shirt, his ribs are bruised and ugly red scratches cross his skin.
Nan surprises him and tries to tug him away. Whatever she tells him makes him freeze, but before he can do anything else, a group of knights grab him and his weapons and take him off to the arena.
Jenny races over to grab his discarded shirt, which is spattered with blood. She watches him fight another knight, and force that knight to the ground. He’s just raising his sword when she runs away.
Jenny, blood on his old shirt or not, I’m pretty sure he’s not about to cut off some knight’s head in front of a billion people. Liiiiiiittle bit of logic, please. Especially when you don’t run for safety, but back to the house. She heads toward what she thinks will lead to her tower room, which pretty much guarantees it won’t, right?
Nan terrifies her by grabbing her arm out of the shadows, because no one in this damn castle understands personal space. She says “he’s” sleeping now and won’t wake up. Nan is crying and her outfit is also smeared with something dark and wet.
Jenny follows Nan down the steps, and realises that the tower is almost as deep as it is tall. Nan leads her into a dungeon room (one with a gibbet, and Jenny assumes it is the same room as before, but any number of rooms could have gibbets, of course), where Walt is chained to a wall and covered with blood.
Jenny checks for a pulse, but we don’t know if she finds one. Instead, we’re told that his skin is cold and clammy and that she can’t hear him breathing. She orders Nan to get help, but instead Nan starts singing an off-key lullaby. CREEPY AS SHIT.
Frantic, Jenny begins to tear away Wit’s costume, trying to find his wounds. The rats start creeping closer, drawn by the smell of blood, but Jenny stays strong. She begs Nan to get water and some help, and then wants to know who did it. Nan shows doubt for a moment, then tells Jenny she knows who did it, the one who hides, the one who watches in the dark.
Okay, kudos to Cusick, this whole part is creepy and tense and wonderful.
Jenny at first thinks Nan is the one who dragged her into that room the first night, and then freaks out that Nan is talking about how you can’t tell him apart, so of course it must be one of the twins. Which, fair enough, though the way things have been going, I’m surprised she hasn’t wondered about a secret triplet locked away.
Jenny finally sees the wound, a huge, jagged wound with ripped flesh and shattered bone. Holy fuck, this is intense. She’s trying to convince Nan to take her back so they can get help before he bleeds to death (so I assume she found a pulse earlier), but then he starts trying to talk. He begs her to leave and take Nan with her.
She convinces Nan to get her back to the main part of the house, and Jenny runs into Sir John’s study to call for help. She finds one of the twins there, just as a convenient, dramatic storm starts outside. Twin tells her that he came in to use it himself, but somehow it’s gone out of service. Also convenient, but I’m going to let it go here because this entire section is fun and creepy and tense.
Sir John comes in and says that’s bad luck, modern conveniences always go out when you need them most. He asks Jenny what’s wrong, and she isn’t sure how much she can say in front of Twin, because he might be the one who hurt Wit. She asks Sir John to come with her. When he asks why, she finally blurts out that it’s an emergency, and there’s been an accident.
They all head off for the dungeon — well, a twin comes behind them, she’s not sure if it’s the one from the office — but when they get there, Wit is, of course, gone, and there’s no sign that anything happened.
Sir John brushes this all off as one of Wit’s perverse practical jokes. He tries to get Derreck to back him up, but Derreck doesn’t say anything. Jenny is disbelieving at first and then infuriated. As she demands to be taken back to the main part of the house, Derreck finally asks where she saw Wit. She snaps at him, and eventually he leads her back to the house.
She cries to herself for awhile, then remembers what Sir John said that first night, that he loves games. She decides that everything that’s happened since she arrived has all been one big practical joke.
While she’s raging, Nan brings her hot tea before she goes. Jenny snaps at her, too, but then talks to her about how Nan says she’s going to live that night, and when she told him, he got upset. She’s also not sure she should have told, and she doesn’t remember things. I feel for Nan and for Jenny. This is such a nasty situation for them both.
AND THEN JENNY DRINKS THE FUCKING TEA LIKE A JACKASS.
Sure enough, the room starts spinning and she can’t sit up. It takes her far too long to realize that there was something in the tea, and then she falls asleep.
She doesn’t know what wakes her later. She keeps thinking about needing to get photos, and briefly worries about Wit, but she’s groggy and can’t focus. She manages to get to her feet for a minute, and tries to climb the chimney again, but this time completely fails at first. She keeps trying, and eventually makes it to the roof, because drugged and dizzy are great things to be on a dangerous roof.
She hears someone singing, sees a shadow dancing, sees an outline of a sword, and sees the blade fall and the singing stop.
She’s terrified and still sick from being drugged. She runs and falls and runs and falls, climbs most of the way back down her chimney, but falls the last part. She’s shaking and dizzy and in pain when a twin comes in, acting terrified for her. She tells him that something terrible has happened, and he says that’s why he has to get her out of there to a safe place.
She babbles about seeing Malcolm and his sword; Twin tells her that he’s not Malcolm. When she asks where they’re going, he tells her not to talk. She’s so tired and terrified that she listens to him. He’s careful and gentle, and she thinks that she never expected Derreck to be like that with her.
She cries out that she thinks Malcolm killed Nan, and Twin sweeps her up and carries her into the darkness, promising to tell her everything now. He tells her that he’s sorry that she had to see what he’s capable of, and that insanity is “a family’s blackest secret. A family’s worst shame. Something to hide and turn away from.”
ARE YOU FUCKING KDDIN-MOTHERFUC-GODDAMN IT CUSI-A;ASLDKFJASD;LFJKAWOPEING;ALSKDNASODIFNWEEOIGNPOASIDNAS;LDKFJO;IWGIANSDG;LASJDF.
and so Wing went boom and burned the world to the ground so it is impossible for you to be reading this now
somehow, from the ashes, rises the rest of this recap
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity and all the fires of a dying universe
Mental health bullshit, he loved you the first night when he touched her, she’s safe now, she’s being lowered into someplace that smells of mildew and damp and has a cold, wet floor. It’s raining still, hard enough to flood this place, I’m sure, but she doesn’t think it it is the storm that she’s hearing. She asks where they are, and he tells her they’re in their secret place where nobody ever leaves. He promises not to take the light, because he wants her to see what’s happening, and that it might be entertaining for her, but it is too bad she won’t be able to put it in her story.
He leaves her with the candle, and she finds herself lying on a ledge with steps at one end that lead up a high wall. They end several feet below a small barred doorway, and she can feel someone watching her from there.
She’s in a huge cavern with other ledges around the walls and water underneath her. She calls out for Derreck to come back for her, but then she tells herself that it wasn’t Derreck, it was Malcolm, talking about himself.
The executioner comes for her, and tells her that the game is over and he wins the prize. The tide is coming in, because of course it is. It rises fast and with it comes his friends, the rats, hundreds of them, swimming and swimming and terrified and so very hungry.
If I hadn’t already burned the entire universe to the ground, I would think this was quite creepy, but since I did, fuck you Cusick.
He tells her that she can fight them off for awhile, but eventually she’ll tire and the water will be over her head. She’ll either have to drown or be eaten alive, and he’s doing it because he wants her to stay. She promises to do anything if he’ll just let her out, but he wants her to die for him.
The rats come, he throws one on her, she’s bleeding and trying to fight and absolutely terrified. I wish I could enjoy the horror of this section.
She scrambles up the steps, the rats follow, she screams for help from him, he ignores her and watches her doom come. And then he babbles at her, because that’s just what this story needs, villain monologuing:
“I’m the best, Jenny – I am,” he sneered, his fingers curling around the black, black fabric. “I’m the one who’s kept you guessing all along! I’m the one who touched you in the passageway that very first night… and spied behind the tapestry… and crept into your room. It’s my game we’ve been playing – my game – and oh, how much fun it’s been to see you fooled! It was me you ran from in the woods – me you kissed in the dungeon, Jenny – and me who threw the knife – just to make you feel my power – just to make you afraid – because you’re so beautiful when you’re afraid. Fear’s a funny thing – so much more powerful than love or even hate – because when someone’s afraid, they’ll do anything, won’t they? Promise anything – obey anything – anything at all. Totally in my power – their life in my hands…”
He paused a long while. His low, deep laugh shivered coldly through the shadows.
“I’m the one who hides, Jenny. I’m the one who watches in the dark.”
And he was pulling the hood away from his head… and the light was throbbing, fading, flaring one last time –
“My God…” Jenny murmured.
She saw his dark handsome face – Malcolm? Derreck?
And the candle went out.
Someone else starts shouting for her, and she screams for help again. There are people and lanterns and open doors suddenly, and someone asks Jenny to swim to them. It is, of course, one of the twins, and she is, understandably, afraid. And then there is another twin on another ledge. And the executioner has disappeared.
AND THEN, SHOCKINGLY, A THIRD TWIN SHOWS UP ON THE THIRD LEDGE I AM SURE YOU ARE COMPLETELY SURPRISED
The third is Edwyn, and he’s the reason Sir John called them home, and he’s insane, and if I hadn’t already destroyed everything because of Cusick, I would be furious right now.
They all try to convince her that they are the safe one, she doesn’t believe any of them, there’s lots of fucking ableism and I hate everything except my own rage has burned itself out into a black hole of fury.
She ends up in the water, someone grabs her, she sees the scar on the palm and knows it is Derreck (though why she decides to trust that story from Wit again), then realises it was just a shadow after all. She tries to fight her way free, he tries to convince her he’s Malcolm, and then someone else follows them. The boys all fought in the water, Edwyn got away, now there’s smoke instead of fog, the guys rush her out of there, they run through the smoke for ages and end up on the battlements because they need to get to safety from the other tower.
And then who appears but Edwyn and Sir John, struggling on the narrow ledge of the wall. Edwyn tries to trade their father for Jenny, but Malcolm shoots that right the fuck down. Sir John talks about how they are right to hate him, and everything he did was to protect Edwyn, though really it seems to have been to protect the world.
Sir John falls to the stones, Edwyn raises his sword, and then a dagger hits him in the chest and he falls off the ledge. Derreck, of course, never misses, he says.
And then the fire leaps out of the one tower, and they must again flee to safety. That is some conveniently timed fire, I must say. Jenny tries to get them to help save Sir John, but he tells her to leave him because they’re right to hate him, and tells Malcolm to save Wit, but Wit is already in a safe place.
Derreck puts Sir John over his shoulder, though, and they try to escape through the tower. Jenny starts to black out, and comes to herself outside in the rain, watching Worthington Hall burn. Sir John is nearby, saying that all his boys are gone, and it is right for them to go, because people will be there soon with help and questions and good intentions and his boys never cared for inconvenience. He will never see them again, he knows, but he’s certain that she will. That’s more of a threat than anything fucking comforting, but whatever.
This is kind of great, though: Beneath the storm-ravaged sky, Worthington Hall fell gloriously into ashes.
Unfortunately, we get an epilogue after that epic final line. Jenny is back with her mom, and she makes her promise not to ever send her on a vacation with her dad again. Mom agrees, and says she thought he had changed, but Jenny points out he never changes. Which is the fucking truth, and her mom should have known it all along.
It’s been a few months since the fire, and Jenny told everyone that Sir John got her out, and didn’t mention a thing about Derreck, Malcolm, or Wit. She told her dad that they’d left the day before the fire.
And no one ever found Nan or Edwyn, but there were layers of scorched stone and smoldering timbers, all the secret tunnels caved in, and it was just a damn shame about the house, everyone said.
Jenny gets a letter with no return address and no stamp that says:
Don’t try to run
Don’t try to hide
You won’t get far
We’re right outside
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME
Jenny rushes to the back door, sees a car parked at the curb, and starts laughing.
Obviously the fire at Worthington Hall was a metaphor for how I have destroyed everything forever. This could have been a fun book (and a great one, if handled by anyone else), but not only did things not make sense (why did no one just flat out refuse to let Jenny stay? Why did no one tell her the truth? Why did no one stop playing fucking games?!), but then Cusick had to be the shittiest shit to ever shit about mental health, and I had to burn the universe to ash. #sorrynotsorry
Cheer on the killer: 11
I beat you because I love you: 12
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity and all the fires of a dying universe
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1
Parents? What parents?: 2
Racism: business as usual: 200