Summary: Beware the kindness of strangers
After crashing her car, Pamela Westbrook awakens to find that she has been rescued and cared for by the Whittakers, a family living on a remote farm in the Ozark hills. Still reeling from her accident and haunted by a tragic loss, Pamela takes comfort in the farm’s quaint setting and the family’s peaceful ways.
But soon, Pamela becomes wary of her surroundings. Micah, the strange, silent son, is treated cruelly and seems desperate to convey a message to Pamela. Girlie, the youngest child, possesses frightening, unnatural powers. When it’s time for the ritual burning of the scarecrows, Pamela comes face to face with a terrifying evil. She is ready to get away from the family’s dark rituals – but the Whittakers don’t want her to leave.
I’ve never read this one before, but after revisiting Silent Stalker for the recent podcast episode, I am not feeling very generous to Cusick or excited to read more of her writing. Which is a shame, because this, too, sounds like a fantastic setting with an interesting, creepy story. I love the Ozarks, I love kids with unnatural powers, and I love the idea of a ritual burning of the scarecrows.
Unfortunately, this is Cusick, so I am not holding my breath.
[Note from the future: I SHOULD HAVE BRACED MYSELF BETTER.]
Content Note: Rape discussion inside.
We open with a prologue, which is doing nothing to make me feel any better about any of this — except that it is amazing:
Sometimes they reminded her of the dead people, propped up on sticks, their arms outstretched in silent, eternal pleading that no one could hear but her. But mostly she just liked to play among them and use them for her special kind of magic.
“Come,” she said now, and the scarecrows stared straight ahead, their faded features as blank and beaten as the endless Ozark hills that enclosed them from the whole rest of the world.
No one had ever told her the story behind the scarecrows, but somehow she knew what it was. She’d seen it all happen before… all her life, in fact… in her own mind… Dreams of savage scarecrows in ragged tatters that filled her heart with terror and with pain. She never understood how she knew these things; she just did.
“Come,” she sighed again, a long, deep sigh like the back-hill wind, a sad sound that always made her feel so lonely.
Maybe it would work this time.
Maybe… if she wished real hard…
The little girl’s wide eyes swept over the fields… the woods… the sagging porch…
Sometimes the scarecrows seemed just like the dead people, lost and wandering around, looking for a way out they’d never find.
She watched the crows settle down among them, black wings beating back the cold, deep night.
She wished the scarecrows could keep all the bad things away.
But there were already too many shadows sliding softly over the old house…
And a chill of death in the autumn twilight.
“Come,” the little girl whispered. “Oh, please… come.”
And then we skip to our actual main character and first person POV, which I generally hate. Can we go back to the third person narrator I assume is the creepy kid with unnatural powers? Because she’s GREAT.
Anyway, I’m also going to assume this is Pamela. She’s waking up, and she thinks that the people moving around and talking are angels come to take her to Brad and Kerry. The “angels” are talking about how they will have to watch her, watch her close, but not why. Then Pamela is fully awake and she sees that she’s in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar bedroom staring out an unfamiliar window. She’s wearing an old-fashioned nightgown with long sleeves mended multiple times and is lying under a faded patchwork quilt.
She’s terrified at first, because the last thing she remembers is being in the cold, wet dark, and now she’s in an unfamiliar place with strangers. That would be a creepy thing to wake up to, especially not wearing your own clothes! Who stripped her? Who saw her naked? What a terrifying mess.
The first person she actually sees is a tall man with a lean, tanned face streaked with dirt and sweat, high cheekbones, straight nose, and dark mustache flowing into a short beard. His voice is harsh and authoritative, and she thinks he looks displeased.
He helps her remember that she had a car accident and hit her head pretty hard; they’re treating the concussion with some seriousness, so it’s not a walk-it-off trope moment, but they also haven’t taken her to the hospital or anything.
When she tries to get up, he tells her not to move because it will just make it hurt worse, and that he’ll send Rachel to bring her food.
Rachel and another woman come to check on her, and we learn that the man was Seth. The women look like they’ve come from another time, but when Pamela tries to figure it out, she can’t; they’re not dressed like they’re from the Great Depression, Appalachia, the Amish, but they are wearing bits and pieces of all of that. The younger one is in her late teens; she has straight, shoulder-length hair the color of straw, green eyes, and a mischievous smile that makes Pamela smile back.
The older woman is a “pale shadow” to the first girl’s “sparkle and light.” She’s in her thirties, like Pamela, but her eyes are an old woman’s eyes. She has black hair knotted at the nape of her neck and a jagged scar splits her cheek from her chin to just beneath her left eye. Pamela still thinks she looks tragic and beautiful, and thinks she can identify with the woman’s pain.
Rachel sends Franny to get the bread she forgot. Pamela tries to tell Rachel that she doesn’t remember anything and she followed colors off the highway because they were so beautiful and they wanted her to follow them and of course Rachel must think she’s crazy, but she’s not, it was real, she can’t possibly be crazy.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1)
ANYWAY, what she’s describing sounds like the spook light stories we have here in this part of the Ozarks. (I know they also have similar stories in other places, like will-o’-the-wisp.)
She’s been there unconscious for three days, and Pamela absolutely refuses to believe that and is shocked to hear that she almost died. And then she asks why they didn’t just let her die as her thoughts turn back to Brad and Kerry.
Rachel’s quiet a moment before she asks why Pamela wants to die.
Pamela says that she should have known better, should have never left on her own, but Brad always took care of things and now he’s gone. She goes back to talk about how she was acting crazy, a long time ago, but she’s fine now.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)
Rachel says she believes her, though Pamela doesn’t know what all she’s saying she believes. She talks about the people in the house (Seth and Franny, mostly), and then gives her herb tea to drink.
When Franny comes bounding back into the room, there’s some gentle banter about how Franny wasn’t around when they passed out manners. It’s kind of a cute scene between them, and they get Pamela to eat some soup and bread.
Pamela gives them her name, but they don’t recognise it; she’s curious at first, but then decides that Brad’s reputation as an artist was mostly on the west coast, so there’s no reason they’d know him out here.
The room starts to sway, her head is heavy, and, gee, I’m shocked to learn that she’s been drugged. SHOCKED I SAY.
She tries to tell them that she’s supposed to be surprising her sister in St. Louis, but got lost. She got really lost if she was driving from California to St Louis and got lost in the Ozarks. Though I suppose she could have gone the very southern route that cuts up from Oklahoma into Missouri and brushes against the Ozarks. Depends on what part of California, I suppose.
Oh, I see, she was intentionally driving through the Ozarks because Brad always wanted to paint it, and her doctor thought that it would be a good trip for her. She asks for her clothes, because she needs to leave, but they tell her she still needs time to heal. There’s no hospitals or doctors around, and Girlie was the one who said she’d wake up in three days — and she did — and who saved her. Seth got to her, but Girlie told him where to look.
Franny then runs off to help Micah, and Rachel tells Pamela that Micah won’t care if she uses his room for a bit, he can have the storeroom downstairs, and then explains that Girlie has the Knowing, the Gift, and it’s God-given, it’s what she was born for. Dramatic capital letters from Cusick herself.
Pamela figures out that she’s been drugged, mostly because she’s free from pain now, and she falls back to sleep, but not before she hears someone whispering to watch her, watch her close.
That’s what she heard after Brad and Kerry’s funeral, what the doctor said after she took the bottle of sleeping pills. Some figure is watching her from the doorway, shrouded in darkness. Here we go again.
The next time she wakes, it’s because she’s woken herself up calling for Rachel. We get another great image of what she sees out the window when she manages to get out of bed: A sickly yellow moon hovered above the trees, transforming them to skeletons clawing their way from foggy graves. I could see the muddy outline of hills all around, shapes shifting themselves in the darkness below, and from the deep, surrounding silence came the hollow call of an owl.
Then she thinks that she sees a figure moving in the shadows, but when she tries to look closer, there’s nothing there.
She tiptoes through the house which is dark and creaking, and though she keeps calling out for Rachel, she can’t find her. Just as she finds a staircase and hears people laughing downstairs, a little girl comes out of the shadows. Of course she does. All anyone can do is come out of the shadows.
The girl is wearing a baggy shift that hangs to her ankles, her hair is chopped into crooked angles, and she looks solemn and like she might cry from being scolded.
She leads Pamela downstairs to the others, and she finds herself in some sort of parlor. They don’t have electricity at all, which is why she couldn’t find a light earlier, and the room is crowded with odds and ends of furniture, including an old organ, several wooden benches and stools, and an old-fashioned loveseat. Franny’s sitting at a round table, and Pamela knows that Seth is somewhere in the room, watching. There’s no one around who might be Micah.
They talk again about the three days and saving her life, and when Pamela wishes that they’d just let her die, she thinks that Girlie can read her every thought. Seth is cold to her throughout, especially after she admits that she doesn’t know what to believe about Girlie, and then he says she shouldn’t be there and he shouldn’t have brought her. So why the fuck did you?
Pamela suggests to Rachel that she could leave in the morning if her car isn’t too bad, and Rachel says that it caught on fire and it’s a miracle she got out at all.
Turns out, Seth hates people, so they live about twenty or twenty-five miles from their nearest neighbor, Dewey, who is a cousin on Rachel’s side. Then there’s Cranston, which is the nearest town, but it’s really more like a spot on the road, and it’s a day trip there and back.
Pamela thinks back to how Brad, who so desperately wanted to paint the Ozarks, would say, over and over, that you never wanted to get stranded there. Why in the world did you think it was a good idea to go through them if your husband actually disliked them?
Again they talk about her leaving and how it’s important she stay and heal and be safe, and they talk about how she must have a real bathroom at home, but all they have is a privy. Franny takes her out to it, and it is cold and dark and weird for her, which, you know, valid. This is wild.
Pamela remembers that shadow she saw, but when she tries to talk to Franny about it, Franny says that it was probably the scarecrows. They make a fuss about them, and she’ll take Pamela out to see them in the morning.
The next morning, Pamela finds clothes waiting for her, but not here clothes: sensible underwear, no bra, plain brown jumper and faded cotton shirt with long sleeves under it, and clodhopper men’s boots. (Clodhoppers.)
She goes exploring, figures out where pretty much everyone sleeps, and downstairs finds a formal sitting room that is cold and filled with stiff, somber furnishings; it’s dusty enough she can tell it is rarely used.
As she explores the bar, she runs into a boy younger than Franny with blond hair that looks like a halo in the light. When she says hello, he freaks out, says “Girlie … no” and has to steady himself on the wall so she won’t fall. He’s missing one hand, and she feels terrible for freaking him out.
Franny comes looking for her to show her the scarecrows, and Pamela learns that Franny is actually Rachel’s sister, and though they’re only five years apart, Micah is Franny’s nephew, and they’ve been basically raised like brother and sister. Girlie, at six, is her niece, and Pamela is surprised at the age difference between Girlie and Micah. Considering I was raised with a sister nineteen years older than me, I am neither surprised nor impressed.
Rachel and Franny come from a family with twelve kids, and when Rachel married, she didn’t want to leave Franny, so she brought her along, though she was very little at the time and doesn’t really remember anything. Their mother died when she was born, and Rachel, ten years older, was always the one acting like her mother. (Which means that Rachel is only fifteen years older than Micah, which means she had him pretty damn young. Ouch.)
Franny talks about how no one else in her family wanted anything to do with her because she was the youngest and the girl to boot, and that they’re all dead by now, but it was a long time ago. She’s eighteen, but it sounds like all of this happened decades ago. I like that strangeness.
Rachel ends up joining them to go see the scarecrows at Pamela’s urging. It’s interesting, to have switched from Cusick’s teen characters to having her protagonist being in her thirties, but except for the tragic backstory of dead husband and kid (well, that’s what I’m assuming, at least), there’s not a ton of difference in their voices just yet.
They spend the walk talking about gardening and how to keep food good without electricity, and they seem a little sorry for her, not understanding how to survive without all of her city conveniences. It’s interesting enough; I like this sort of writing anyway, and this is where Cusick excels, creating spooky settings and interesting characters.
I just really want to get to the scarecrows, though, after that prologue.
Franny is very practical about how hard it is, and how the land can turn on them (and the weather) no matter how much they take care of it, while Rachel and Seth are much more take care of the land, trust the land, do right and be God-fearing, etc.
Franny flits off ahead of them, and Rachel admits it’s nice to have another woman around to talk to, she loves Franny and Seth, but they bicker a lot about Franny’s dreams, and also, Franny is still so young.
I … I am starting to ship Rachel and Pamela. Of course I am. Creepy Ozark gothic farm outside of time and field of scarecrows and women surviving creepy shadows. I’m feeling it. Which just means that things will be even more terrible when everything falls apart.
And then we get our first scarecrow:
It was an angel.
At least that’s the first thing I thought as I gazed at it, but after a split second of wonder, I chuckled in appreciation. Two stakes had been fastened together in the form of a cross, and draped from the horizontal limbs was a long gown, once white, now dingy and tattered and immodestly threadbare. And yet in the morning breeze it did almost look like fragile wings folding and unfolding around the frail figure. It had no actual head to speak of, but a delicate wreath had been woven with bits of white ribbon and remnants of lace, and this, like a holy crown, hung around the scarecrow’s slender neck.
The angel is Rachel’s scarecrow, and Rachel thinks of her as a guardian angel watching over her garden. She’s embarrassed by the praise, and really sweet about it; Pamela calls it an avenging angel, since it does protect the garden, and I am ridiculously charmed by all of this.
They make scarecrows every year and for everyone but Seth, it’s a competition to be clever and cute and fun. They’re spread out around the house in various places: Franny’s is in the orchard, Girlie’s by the road, Micah’s in one of the vegetable patches, etc. None are near enough the house that Pamela could have seen it outside her window, and Franny writes it off as a deer or something.
Pamela decides she must be right, because she always used to have empty fears (sounds like anxiety) and Brad used to tease her about being afraid of things that weren’t real, that couldn’t hurt her.
They talk some about Rachel’s family, but when she asks about Pamela’s, and the wedding ring she still wears, Pamela’s grief starts to choke her until Franny runs up wanting her to look at Micah’s scarecrow.
Now I stared into the loose black folds of a flapping coat… two bony arms dangling… huge black gloves that were limp, lifeless hands…
And then, horribly, it came to life.
One ragged sleeve lifted and beckoned… the empty hat that had no head, swaying now, struggling to pull itself upright…
Flabby fingers flew up and brushed across my face.
You’re meant to be here.
And even as I shrieked and peeled the clinging fingers from my skin, I knew that Death had followed me again.
This could be a needlessly dramatic cliffhanger ending, because it’s just the wind, but I actually like this and how Rachel is reacting. She’s anxious and mourning, and the way it swamps her feels realistic and heartbreaking.
Rachel sends Franny to get Seth, and they all carry Pamela inside. Rachel promises her that she will never be a bother, and ugh, these two. There’s something sinister and twisted going on underneath this all, obviously, but I really love it so far.
… who wrote this? It can’t have been Cusick.
Pamela retreats to the porch to cool off while Rachel cooks, and ends up in another confrontation with Seth, who says he can’t be stopping his work every time she can’t keep up; when she says she wants to get home, though, he talks about how happy Rachel is with her there, and then tells her she’ll never get home.
She tries to figure out ways for her to leave, but he shoots them all down and then terrorises her with thoughts of coyotes and bears and copperhead snakes if she tries to walk it. Well, now, this is more like Cusick, especially writing men. At least this one isn’t supposed to be Pamela’s love interest (… god, I hope not).
Over Pamela’s late breakfast, she and Rachel talk about how Seth isn’t a bad man, he’s just been through a lot and is stressed and tired and worn down by the world, and then about shy Micah; Seth thinks he’s slow, but Rachel just thinks he’s different. He can’t learn much from books, but can build anything he sets his mind to it, which is very smart and so strong.
He lost it in a trap, Rachel says, but won’t tell much more of the story.
After helping Rachel clean up, Pamela goes off on her own on a walk, and runs into Girlie again. Girlie takes her hand and tells her that Brad misses her and Kerry still wonders where she is — and that they wish she was dead, like them. Well damn, kid. That’s creepy as fuck.
Again, this could be a cliffhanger trope moment, but I am enjoying myself enough that it doesn’t feel overly dramatic and unnecessary. Which is weird, because Cusick!
Girlie tells her that she heard them and they woke her up; they made her cry because they were so sad and they made her tell Pamela what they said.
Pamela gets so desperate she shakes Girlie, and Girlie begs her not to hurt her because she likes her. Pamela freaks out at hurting her and hugs her and apologises over and over — until Girlie says that she liked her all the time, even before she was real.
This does not freak Pamela out nearly as much as it should.
(Maybe I’m predisposed to find weird things children say extra creepy considering I don’t much like kids.)
Girlie drags her off to see a scarecrow, which she claims is Pamela, even though it’s just a crude little stick doll. Pamela has been getting more and more freaked out by Girlie (about time!), but this just makes her laugh.
Girlie tells her she’s a lot prettier real, and Pamela is amused by her seriousness as she takes care of the scarecrow:
The scarecrow wore a long dress that swept the ground, and what looked like an old tablecloth had been draped over its pillowcase head and fanned out across its shoulders like a veil. Tucked beneath each cuff of its sleeves was a glove, and bunches of flowers, long since dead, were still clutched, or tied into, each hand.
Micah helped Girlie make it, and Girlie knew she’d have brown hair that was down long because that’s how Girlie made it (from a strand of horse’s tail) and blue eyes (which, Pamela realises, are shaped like hers), and a veil because she knew Pamela would be in mourning.
NOT SO FUCKING AMUSED NOW, ARE YOU?
Girlie goes on to say that the scarecrow is carrying her flowers for her husband and her little boy, and she wants to be with them, but Girlie can’t let her, because Girlie wants her to be there to be her friend.
Girlie runs off, and try as she might, Pamela can’t find her. She does find a building that isn’t the house, and she doesn’t think she’s gone far enough south to have reached the barn, so she doesn’t know what it is. Trees press close on all sides, and she has to struggle to make her way around it.
It looks like it’s been abandoned so long it has fallen into ruin, and it is made of logs and red clay dirt. Despite the disrepair, it is charming, and she’s irresistibly drawn to it.
Inside, once her eyes adjust to the dim light, she can smell something weird, something that reminds her of meat and hickory and something greasy. She looks up to the ceiling, where the rafters are exposed and there are lengths of wire and thick, dark shapes swinging and she’s freaking out about the animals swinging up there —
— and then Seth interrupts, demanding to know what she’s doing.
She says she was looking for Girlie, and he tells her she’s back at the house playing inside. He also says it’s a smokehouse where they cure meat and hides, skunks, raccoons, and sometimes Rachel puts her vegetables in there, too, onions, peppers, herbs.
He’s still very abrupt and rude about everything, but they have a brief, decent exchange about the fall and how weird it would be to live somewhere that didn’t have leaves changing and cool, crisp air, and also that he left for awhile, but came back. He was the only one who came back. And about how much they both dislike change.
That is the wrong thing to talk about, though, because it makes Seth standoffish again about how he’s family’s been “hiding” in the hills since 1854 when his great-great-grandfather settled it because he had a good feel for human nature and didn’t want to be around the terrible people in the world.
Dude, sing it. There’re plenty of times I’ve wanted to just disappear to avoid the terrible people in the world.
She admits that she thinks he’s lucky, because he has this place, this family home, and he knows he belongs; he tells her that there’s order and harmony and no betrayal, though it pains him to say that part.
He leads her back to the house, but before she can go inside, Micah grabs her and tells her she has to get out of there, Girlie’s the reason she’s there, and she’s not a part of it, she has to leave, Girlie didn’t mean anything by it, but…
She won’t let him finish his sentences before she’s interrupting with demands for more information (or at least that’s how it’s written — I think Cusick might have meant for her to be prodding him to go on after he’s stopped on his own). He promises he’ll help her get away, and then he runs off.
Pamela has a nightmare about Brad being there, touching her, keeping her safe, and then there were all sorts of other hands, scarecrow hands, Micah’s hand dangling bloody from a steel trap — pretty sure this is the set up for at least one porn story.
She goes to the window to cool off from her terror, and sure enough, sees that shadow again pulling itself slowly into the woods. She freaks out and runs to Franny’s room — except, in the dark, she ends up in Rachel and Seth’s room. She wakes them accidentally and tries to flee saying it is nothing, but Rachel comforts her and Seth sits in the moonlight (NEEDS MORE WEREWOLVES) and watches and says nothing.
She finally admits what she saw, and Rachel sends Seth to check it out even though he says they both know it’s nothing. Oh, god, I kind of love Rachel. She says she’s glad Pamela woke them, because it’s terrible to be alone when you’re afraid, and invites her to stay while Seth goes out to check.
(…SHIPPING THEM SO HARD…)
Pamela refuses, because she’s bothered them enough, and again Rachel tells her she’s not a bother and they’re never going to let anything happen to her.
As Pamela makes her way back to her room, she hears Girlie laughing, high-pitched, haunting, like an old warped record or the unnatural realness of a talking doll. Those things sound nothing alike.
The next morning, Rachel reassures her again and again that there was nothing out there, and Franny suggests it was the wind, which woke her too with all the wailing and howling (WHERE ARE MY WEREWOLVES). Cold weather is settling in, and they talk about the differences between summer and winter work while Pamela tries to figure out how to talk about her leaving.
There’s a little bit of folklore about it being bad luck to drop a dishrag on the floor, and Rachel, when she does, throws a pinch of salt over her shoulder; if they rub sow’s milk in their eyes, they tease, they can see the wind. A knife under the pillow keeps nightmares away. Etc. (I’ve heard that last one, at least.)
Seth is burning the last cornfield that day, and so they burn all the scarecrows, too. Seth makes them do it, though it’s pretty clear there is more to it than that. Things get a little weird as they talk about Girlie, and then Franny wants to drag Pamela out to see her scarecrow, which is the best, but Rachel wants to make sure she eats a good breakfast first. Pamela brings up leaving, which Rachel doesn’t seem to hear, but does agree to set up the tub later by the fire so she can take a bath.
On the way to see Franny’s scarecrow, Pamela gets lost in thoughts of Girlie, and how Rachel says she believes everything is real and that little girls do that sometimes, and how that scarecrow did look a little like Pamela — and then they reach Franny’s scarecrow, which she calls her Prince Charming:
In that first crazy instant I thought it was Seth.
Seth standing there against a backdrop of meshed trees and towering hills and glimpses of ice blue sky between flaming red leaves. Seth, menacing and invincible and relentlessly watchful… But of course I realized in the next second that it was only Seth’s clothes and not a real person at all, and as my heart caught fearfully in my chest, I managed to take a step forward, to keep my voice steady.
“Franny… it’s so…” My voice trailed off as I stared up into its almost-human face. Whereas all the other scarecrows I’d seen until now had been makeshift forms of the most primitive kind, this one was frighteningly different. His head was uncannily lifelike – beneath a hat and a thick shock of what appeared to be real human hair, a face gazed back at me with features that seemed to shift and alter even as I watched. Amazed, I took a step closer, trying to examine the cheeks without touching them, the chin, the smooth forehead, the wrinkles at the corners of the eyes. It looked like real skin, so supple in places, so taut in others, and all of it so natural, so natural, except for the white, white coloring and the black holes where eyes should have been. The eyes… My hands reached out, hesitated just inches from those empty, repulsive eyes, yet at the same time they were so horribly beautiful and fascinating and I was afraid, wanting to back away from him, wanting to give in and caress the lines of his cheeks…
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)
Holy shit, this is great, though.
Franny opens up to Pamela about how frustrated she is that Seth gets mad when she talks about boys and stuff, all the things she’d like to have, but she has a right to them and if he doesn’t want them, he doesn’t have to have them. He tries to hide them up there, and it’s her life, and she should get a say in it. He claims she doesn’t understand the outside world, but Dewey sneaks her magazines sometimes, and she loves them, she wants the pretty clothes and parties and money.
(I’ve just realised this reminds me a lot of The Village, which I love and which desperately NEEDS MORE WEREWOLVES too.)
Franny then gets very direct and asks how many times Pamela’s made love; Pamela is embarrassed, but gives her an honest answer, which is that she’s never kept count, but it was beautiful.
Franny admits that she let Dewey touch her breasts once, even though he’s married and old, and it made her feel good everywhere. She just knows she’d love the rest of it, too. Pamela finds it odd that the scarecrow she loves so much looks like the man she hates for holding her back.
Franny weaves her a tale about sneaking out to meet her scarecrow in the dark and how they talk all night and how sometimes, under the moon, he makes love to her, and when she tells Pamela to touch him, she can’t help herself and touches his face, because the skin moves and responds to her touch, and she’s terrified and confused.
But when she tells Franny it feels alive, Franny laughs and says it’s just an animal hide. They talk a bit more about how frustrated she is with Seth’s rules, and how Pamela had a father who was similar, but even though she always wanted to run away, she was too scared and never did. Franny sends her away so she can take down the scarecrow for the burning, even though Pamela wants to help her.
On her way back to the house, she runs into Rachel, who’s taking food to the men in the fields (…so Seth and Micah then? And Micah isn’t a man yet), and she’s had an idea. Dewey will be bringing their supplies any time, and he can drive Pamela into town to use the phone so she can go home. Pamela’s relieved and now she can enjoy her time with Rachel while she waits, which is awesome, but also clearly this is not going to go the way she thinks it will go.
The burning cornfield is also great, all jets of flames and burned wasteland and charred patterns of stubble and ashes. I need this to be a movie, and I want to watch this scene forever.
Girlie is there too, and at first Pamela thinks her eyes are watering because of the fire, but then Seth breaks her scarecrow (her Pamela-crow) and even though she knows better, Pamela stands with Girlie, both of them shaking, watching as it burns.
Rachel remembers that Pamela wants a bath, but the bathing tub at the house is missing, so she takes her out to the barn instead. Rachel heats water for it, then leaves her there, and Pamela is understandably shaken over it. It takes her some time to get in the tub, but eventually she does, and enjoys the warmth, but then just as her mourning settles over her again, a cold wind whips through the barn and the lamp goes out.
She feels like someone is there, watching her, coming closer, moving the water so it laps at her breasts — it’s all very creepy and sexually violent (of course it is, can’t have a woman in danger without sexualising it), but Rachel shows up with another lamp before anything else happens.
And then, as she dresses, she sees bootprints leading away from the tub out into the darkness of the barn. Bootprints she didn’t make.
She can’t sleep that night, and eventually Franny comes visiting to tell her that she hid her scarecrow (“her prince”) so that Seth will never find him, will never even know.
Days and days go by without Dewey showing up, and Pamela’s anxiety continues to grow. She begs off a trip out to pick black walnuts one day so she can explore. First thing, she follows the narrow dirt road into the woods, hoping that she can get the lay of the land for now; she won’t try to run off until she gathers food and supplies.
She follows the road until it disappears into the trees. Literally, disappears, as in gone, she can’t find it going any further, and it ends in a dense bit of woods that no one could pass through, so there has to be another way, she thinks, but she can’t find it.
At least not until she heads back and sees a path mostly hidden behind a fallen tree. As she follows it, she feels like she’s descending somewhere, and it makes her dizzy; eventually she slips and falls, and when she gets up, she finds a graveyard. And then she notices that nature has gone quiet ever since she entered the clearing it is in, no birds, no bugs, nothing.
Bad sign, Pamela, especially if they were making noise while you bumbled through the trees.
There are no headstones, only five wooden crosses. She tries to clean up one of the crosses, but it comes apart in her hands because the vines she’s pulling away were literally holding it together. She finds the name “John Seth Whittaker” on it, and decides that it must have been one of Seth’s relatives. On the other graves she finds these names: Sary Maud Whittaker, Zoe Ruth Whittaker, Elizabeth Darrow Whittaker, Wilburn Seth Whittaker — and then something filthy and disheveled, covered in mud and wet black leaves, creeps toward her.
It’s Girlie, and she says that Dewey won’t come, he won’t ever come.
When Pamela talks to Rachel and Franny about this, they both try to put her at ease, because Dewey always comes and Girlie just likes to make up stories. No matter what they tell her, though, she’s still ill at ease.
Franny drags her off to show her a secret place, a small gorge so completely surrounded by forests and bluffs that it’s a nice little hiding place, Franny’s place, and the only one who knows about it is Girlie, who knows everything. Except you were literally just telling Pamela that Girlie’s wrong about Dewey not coming, so sure. Okay.
Of course this is where Franny has hidden her scarecrow, and again, Pamela freaks out at first because it looks real, really Seth stretched languidly beneath a tree, long, lean body almost insolent.
… Pamela. Are you having a thing for Seth now?
(No lie, I had a little flutter at that myself, as much as I dislike him.)
Franny then begs Pamela to take her with her when Dewey comes. Oh, Pamela. I knew this was coming, and my heart breaks for her. Poor girl. She tries to talk Pamela around, but fucks right up when she mentions how she’d be good company now that Pamela’s husband and little boy are dead, which, really, NOT THE WAY TO GO, FRANNY. She says that Girlie told her, of course, but Pamela is still freaked out because there’s no way Girlie could have known about it.
Except, Franny says, Girlie always knows. She really does know. Just like she knew that Pamela was coming to them.
“We were all at supper. And she looks up from her soup and says to Seth, ‘There’s a lady on the road, and she’s dying and you have to save her.’ And we all just looked at her, and then Rachel, she says, ‘Are you sure, honey?’ And Girlie, she nods and says it again, looking at Seth the whole time, and Seth says, ‘It’s none of our affair.’ And Rachel says, ‘It is our affair if someone’s in trouble and dying, and we can’t ignore it.’ And Seth starts cussing and says he wishes to hell Girlie would stop, he can’t keep bringing strangers here and upsetting everything just ’cause Girlie knows about them, and then–”
“Wait,” I stopped her, my hand numb on her arm. “Do you mean this has happened, before?”
Franny regarded me levelly, but I was sure. I’d seen something just then, a flicker of what? – fear? – deep in her eyes as she grew silent for a moment. At last she said, “She knows when people have trouble on that road. And when they get lost. When their cars break down. You know. And Girlie, she always tells us.”
I stared at her, not sure I believed her. For some reason I felt there was something more, something she wasn’t telling me.
REAL SLICK THERE, FRANNY. REAL. DAMN. SLICK.
Anyway, Franny says they always leave again, walking off with Dewey to wherever he leaves his truck (because there’s not actually a road all the way to the house), and she never knows where they go because Seth won’t let her walk with them, but she doesn’t mind strangers coming around, especially when they’re in trouble.
Pamela says this must be hard, to be so private but to feel a sense of duty to help. Pamela, who has let down her guard, says it’s more than duty, and that the night Pamela came, Girlie said they had to get her because Girlie made her real to be her friend.
They talk a bit about how Girlie can be scary, but mostly Franny is used to her, and then Pamela opens up a little about how her husband and two-year-old son were killed by a drunk driver. Franny tries to comfort her by saying that she’s lucky, she can find another man and have more babies.
FRANNY. AGAIN, SO MUCH FAIL.
Pamela tries to get Franny to talk about Micah, but she says she can’t, Seth won’t like it. She then asks again if Pamela will take her with her when she leaves, but in the end, Pamela says she can’t, it would be wrong.
UMM. Isn’t Franny an adult? Why the fuck wouldn’t you let her come with you?
That night, Rachel talks about how it’s strange Dewey hasn’t come yet, and then suggests that if Seth goes down to check out some fence that might be out, he take Pamela with him so she can see the beautiful land.
Seth grumbles about it, Franny gets all huffy and runs off, Micah finally turns up to eat and is quiet and hiding, and then they all sit down together to listen to Rachel playing the organ. It sounds lovely and creepy at the same damn time, and is just great.
Pamela wakes later to find herself alone in the room, the lamps burned low, the fire flickering, and again, Cusick does a damn good job at setting atmosphere:
I’m not certain what woke me. I sat up with a start, blinking sleepily, trying to remember where I was. The room was bathed in deep shadows – the lamps had burned low, and the flickering fire sent pulsing shapes up the walls, making the little room throb with a repressed life of its own. Seth’s chair was empty; there was no one on the rug beside the hearth. I shook my head, trying to clear it, wondering uneasily why everyone had gone off and left me.
I got up slowly, crossing to the window where the frosty air scraped branches across the glass like groping fingers. The yard was awash with silver, a ghostly moon bobbing among the trees and torn ribbons of clouds. A light fog crept up from the woods like smoke, swirling around the tree trunks and the corners of the house. I hugged myself against the damp and turned around to go.
The eyes were watching me from the darkness.
It is, of course, Girlie again. She hushes Pamela and takes her out the back door and into the darkness. Girlie takes her into the barn after some creepy walking around, and shows her a metal ring in the floor. Pamela is uneasy but tries to convince herself that Girlie likes her and wouldn’t lead her into a trap. Eventually, she opens it, and Girlie disappears into it, encouraging Pamela to follow her.
Pamela does, but all the while feels like they’re being watched.
There are chains in the straw, and bloodstains, and Girlie says that sometimes Micah has to come and stay there, but not much more, because he’s going to die.
Again, I should probably count this as a cliffhanger, but I just can’t. It’s fun, and though there’s a slow drag to the story at times, it’s in a good way, and I like the build and build and build — crap. I can’t believe I’m enjoying a Cusick book this much.
The next morning, a storm is coming on, and Pamela talks her way into going with GIrlie to find Micah. Of course, they find him in Franny’s secret hiding place arguing with her over the scarecrow, and he’s begging her to get rid of it, sounding urgent enough that it scares Pamela.
They all get caught in the rain, and while Rachel is changing Girlie’s clothes, Micah starts to tell Pamela something about Dewey, but Rachel comes back before he finishes it. They all end up in the same room by the fire, and Rachel talks a little about the scarecrows. Even though she likes them each year, she says letting them last after the season (“keep[ing] them alive”) would be unnatural, like a person outliving their time. WELP.
Eventually, Rachel goes to do work elsewhere, and the first thing Micah says to Pamela is that in France people call scarecrows terrifiers. THAT IS NOT USEFUL INFORMATION, MICAH. He adds that some people believe scarecrows see everything that goes on around them. Slightly more useful, BUT NOT WHAT YOU SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT.
They overhear Rachel and Seth talking about taking Pamela down to where the fence needs to be mended yet again, and Micah freaks out and tells her to meet him by the barn because she has to get out of there, and she’s not the first. He pulls away after that, and she grabs for him, feeling his thin wrist and his good hand and the thick spongy ridges of the scars on his other wrist.
We don’t get to see the day pass or what happens, only Rachel thinking back on it, which sucks considering that Seth finds Franny’s scarecrow. Of course he does. He shouts about her and demands to know whether she knows what she’s done, she doesn’t understand, it’s not done like this, it’s never done like this, and Rachel pulls Pamela back into her arms. She tries to hold Pamela back as Seth and Franny storm outside, but she rushes after them just in time to see the scarecrow explode into flames and writhe on the ground as if it is actually burning alive.
Franny throws herself into the fire trying to save it, but Seth pulls her away and Girlie healed her, taking away the burns. Pamela tries to tell herself she never saw the scars or burned flesh, but she smelled it and heard the screams — but she just can’t believe that Girlie can heal people. (And if she can, why the fuck does Micah still have scars?)
Pamela is terrified about sneaking out, sure she’ll wake people, then decides she’ll just tell them she’s on her way to the privy. She makes it out of the house without any noise until the old hinges on the screen door are terribly loud, and we get this:
It never occurred to me how miraculous it all was, how easy. Much later, thinking back on it all, I’d always remember the house being so cooperative…
I freaking hate that. This isn’t a flashback. Just fucking tell us the story. Don’t step out of it like that, especially when we’re about halfway through and it hasn’t been done before. [Note from the Future: And it literally never comes up again; she doesn’t think about how easy it was nor follow up on this sinister idea that someone did something to make it like that.]
Another storm comes, Pamela doesn’t find Micah outside the barn so she goes inside, assuming he took shelter there, and sure enough, there’s a lamp — but no Micah. Only Seth.
Seth knows exactly what has happened, that Micah promised to help her escape, but he says that she can go whenever she wants, and she should just be glad that he got there first and shouldn’t say anything about it. Micah’s not right and not safe for himself or anyone else. He gets rid of things if he doesn’t want them around anymore: a house disturbed him, so he burned it down with everybody inside, and Seth’s folks disturbed him once, so he held pillows over their faces while they slept.
And then he says that Micah would have killed her too, with a long, thin knife.
He says that sometimes Micah is like that, and has to be locked up, and after he just doesn’t remember and Seth doesn’t want him reminded. He also says that Micah always gives a hint about where and when he’s going to do it, if you’re listening. ASKING HER TO MEET HIM AT THE BARN ISN’T SO MUCH A HINT AS A CLUE-BY-FOUR.
She jumps on that, coupled with what Franny said awhile back, and asks if he’s killed the others, strangers like her. Seth promises to show her if she comes with him tomorrow, and then adds that he’s not sure he can stop it now, because of the scarecrow. She laughs and says that he talks as if something awful’s going to happen because it wasn’t burned right away.
He points out that something awful almost did.
… point to Seth.
The next morning, Pamela does decide to go with Seth. It’s beautiful, but she’s too shaken up to enjoy it, because there’s so much terror and tragedy going on. She doesn’t understand how they can raise Girlie in that environment in particular, or hide Micah from the authorities. The walk is awkward, and they stay far apart, but eventually they eat together and she tells him about Brad and Kerry being killed almost a year ago.
He’s worried about Dewey not showing up yet, too, and tells her that betrayal can’t exist in their world, which is not what he said earlier and is super fucking intriguing. Then he says it’s time she knew the truth. He takes her to a cave (through yet another storm — I’m starting to wish I’d waited to write this recap during a thunderstorm) and shows her rows and rows of graves. He even digs up bones to show her, and then says that no one can know about the cave. None of them know, only him — and now her.
Dear god, that’s a lot of pressure on a fucking stranger, SETH.
And then Seth rapes her on the cave floor. Because of course there has to be rape. She’s screaming for him to stop and shouting no and begging him to let her go. It’s fucking rape. What the ever loving fuck, Cusick?
She runs off into the storm, falls down into a ravine, and is nearly bitten by a copperhead before Seth shoots it and carries her into the shed, locking them inside.
She sleeps, and when she wakes again, she feels terrible — for Rachel. UMMM. Are you going to try to turn this into it not being rape and her actually wanting it even if she didn’t want to admit she wanted it? BECAUSE THAT IS NOT WHAT YOU FUCKING WROTE, CUSICK. THIS IS WHAT YOU WROTE:
Seth slammed the door against the pelting rain, darkness closing the space between us.
“How could he?” I said again. Oh, Brad, what am I going to do – and Seth’s hands were suddenly on my shoulders, pulling me toward him. “I don’t want to stay here anymore, I’m so scared–”
“You should never have come… never…” And Seth towering over me, blocking out the storm, the wind, the rain. “Never…”
And Brad had never smelled this way – not like the land I was smelling now as Seth leaned closer – the strength, the roots, the dirt and sweat and endless toil – the very earth, the life I was smelling as he lowered me beneath him, his body pressing mine to the floor –
“No!” I screamed, even as Brad flashed through my mind, the joys, the memories, the aching, endless loss – “No! No!” – and Brad’s face fading into that overpowering scent of rain and sky and autumn as Seth pinned me relentlessly, my arms in grips of cold steel, the rip of cloth as my blouse came apart, my breasts spilling out into his hands, his mouth, my skirt falling away, heaped about my bare feet, bare legs, deeply, deeply into the shadows, the wooden floor hard at my back and Seth above me, consuming me, and “Stop!” I screamed, crying, begging him even as the tears ran down my face at last, “Stop it! Let me go!”
And it was over, as quickly as it had happened, and I was outside in the rain, trying to run up the jagged incline of the hill.
He tells her that it’s not like that with Rachel, and then he rapes her again, and the next morning, she wonders how she’ll ever be able to face Rachel again, and she’s shamed and full of disbelief.
… now, this could be a rape survivor working through terrible emotions. HOWEVER, it’s coming across more as someone who willing slept with her friend’s husband, which was not what was written earlier.
This is disgusting, and unnecessary. Completely unnecessary. It adds nothing to the damn story. It didn’t need to happen. What the fuck, Cusick?
Back at the main house, Girlie comes to Pamela while she’s freaking out alone in her room and says she knows what she did — only for them to be interrupted by Rachel screaming Micah’s name; Pamela knows, even before she gets to them, that Micah is dead.
Seth brings in a mangled, bloody body, then stops the clock on the mantel. Rachel is heartbroken, of course, Franny terrified, Girlie solemn, and Pamela stares at her in horror. Rachel’s crying reminds her too much of when Kerry died, and she flees to the porch because it should have been her, not Kerry, it should have been her.
Girlie follows her out and then starts to lead her away, but Rachel comes out to hold her and cry on her.
The story, at least, is that Micah fell down into a gully and there was a rock slide that cut him to pieces. Pamela tries to comfort her by saying he probably broke his neck and didn’t feel a thing after, which does bring Rachel some peace.
Franny runs out to tell them even though he’ll say the scarecrow did it, that’s not what she meant, she wouldn’t have hurt Micah, not ever, and it’s not her fault Micah died.
Pamela, of course, agrees with that, but Rachel says that it should have been burned with the others and Franny knew it. Franny keeps freaking out and then grabs Girlie and says that she could bring Micah back.
Rachel sends Franny back inside and tells Girlie that she didn’t know what she was saying, she’s grieving and not thinking, as if she’s trying to convince Girlie not to do it. (“As if” oh god, Wing, you know that is exactly what she’s doing.) And when Rachel goes back inside, Pamela is scared because she sees hate in Girlie’s eyes.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 103 (+100)
(Tossing some backlog of points there, because Micah was dangerous because he was crazy, and now Franny is crazy with grief and therefore saying dangerous things. Crazy is totally dangerous, always and forever.)
They lay Micah’s body out in the formal sitting room, circled by candles and empty chairs, and Rachel wraps his head in towels soaked with soda water to keep him from turning dark. I love interesting death rituals, and when I have time, am going to look some of these up, to see if they’re actual ones or if Cusick created them.
His body is there for three days while Rachel keeps vigil, and when they finally bury him, it is, of course, raining again. Each of them toss a handful of dirt onto the coffin, and as Pamela does so, she thinks about the graves in the cave that Seth showed her. YOU KNOW RIGHT BEFORE ALL THE RAPE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE.
I leaned wearily against a tree, tearing a leaf into thin, wet shreds. What could I say to Rachel now – to comfort her, to give her hope, to offer understanding and friendship – after what I’d been through with Seth? I was still angry with him, still frightened of him… and yet the memory of his lovemaking still burned within me, leaving me shocked and ashamed of my feelings. I couldn’t bear to think of it, and yet I could hardly stand to be near Rachel, to look her in the eye for fear of giving something away. I had to stop thinking about it… to even acknowledge it had happened. To hurt Rachel would be unforgivable to me.
CUSICK ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? THIS — THIS FUCKING — THIS GODDAMN – ARE YOU GODDAMN SERIOUS — WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN — MY GOD, CUSICK, THIS IS SUCH FUCKING SHIT.
BURN. THE FUCKING. WORLD. TO ASH.
I am done with this recap.
Fuck. I can’t leave a project undone.
- Franny begs Girlie to bring Micah back, Girlie blames Franny for his death, says she told. Pamela, overhearing this (you know, one of Cusick’s favourite ways of giving information) thinks that means Franny told Micah about the murders he did when he wasn’t aware of it. Girlie also says that she’ll bring something back.
- Pamela starts to hear something from the smokehouse, decides she’s imagining it, and goes to dinner instead.
- Turns out the bridge has gone out, and maybe that’s why Dewey isn’t there, because it’s the only way he could get there unless he walked through the hills. Rachel also doesn’t want Pamela to leave, because she’s been such a comfort.
- Girlie takes Pamela back to the barn and tries to open the trapdoor again – Rachel tries to stop her, but it bursts open, throwing them both into the straw, and finally she goes back into the room. It smells different, and she realises the chains are too big and too thick for Micah’s body, surely. And now there are chunks of flesh and hair in the chains, something she hadn’t noticed before.
- (Not even a fucking werewolf — not even a goddamn pack of werewolves — could save this book for me now.)
- (I FUCKING KNEW BETTER THAN TO LET MYSELF ENJOY A GODDAMN CUSICK BOOK. I KNEW BETTER.)
- Girlie talks about Micah, but all she can say is that Micah can’t sleep and that Pamela will see. Kids, man. So useful.
- Girlie then takes her into the woods to Micah’s grave, and Seth is there, too, and Girlie sinks down and says only “gone.”
- Pamela takes another bath in the barn, because that worked out so well last time, and thinks about everything, trying to figure out what Girlie has been trying to tell her. While she’s doing this, Seth comes to her, because of course he does, and he was there that first night too, because of course he ways, and he wanted her then like he does now, because of course he does, and he’s been drinking, because of course he has. And then, again, Pamela wants him and acts like it wasn’t rape before. Then why did you write it like a fucking rape, Cusick?
- He tells her Rachel doesn’t like to be held or touched, and he gives her what she needs. Then he says he gave her the scar, when they were kids, and she was a pest, and when she kept picking at him while he was trying to work, he pushed her and she slid into a gully — like Micah, they both acknowledge — and ended up scarred. The other kids called her names, and eventually he thinks she started to believe she really was those names. Then, when she was older, some boys raped her. Because every woman needs a rape backstory. Great. Awesome. Wonderful. Seth married her because he felt responsible for everything that had happened.
- And then they have sex, because totally, awesome, fall in love with your rapist, that’s great. Everything is horrible. Why did I like even a single second of this book?
- Later, Pamela is dreaming about Seth when Franny wakes her freaked out because she hears something outside. It takes Pamela a minute, but then she hears it too, but can’t see anything. Franny says she heard a shuffling sound, like when people walk when they’re sick or, you know, dead.
- Everyone ends up in Pamela’s room, and Pamela takes Girlie back to bed to ask her about Micah. Girlie says that Micah doesn’t want to be dead, and Pamela is terrified but starting to believe.
- They try to help a sheep give birth, but the lamb dies anyway, and it really gets to Pamela, so they let her mourn awhile alone in the barn, only for that same stumbling sound to come along the wall. She sees the door open before the wind blows out her lamp and then she’s in darkness.
- She wakes to everyone worried about her because she wasn’t in the barn when Franny went back looking for her. Seth found her on the path at the side of the barn, and they couldn’t figure out where she was going. She tells Franny that she wasn’t going anywhere, and then that she heard something, and Franny figures the rest out.
- Turns out that when Franny told, what really happened was that she told Seth that Micah was going to try to help Pamela leave (well, duh), and she doesn’t seem to know anything about what Micah’s done. Or allegedly done. Whatever. And she says that Micah could never stand to see anything suffer or die and never did a mean thing in his life.
- The next morning, Rachel asks if Pamela heard any sounds in the night, and finally admits that she thinks Girlie did something, maybe, and she doesn’t want to believe it, but — and then Seth turns up for coffee.
- One of the cows goes missing, so even though the weather is still bad, Seth has to go look for it because they can’t afford to lose a cow. On his way out on the second time out, after a quick stop for food, he looks back. Both Rachel and Pamela focus on that superstition don’t look back as you’re leaving on a real important trip. Fail, Seth. FAIL.
- Seth doesn’t come back and doesn’t come back and they finish dinner and it starts to snow and they sit up until midnight and still Seth doesn’t come back. Good.
- Pamela wakes in the middle of the night, terrified, hearing something coming down the hall for her. It opens her door, and the dank graveyard smell washes over her and it watches her and waits — and then the door closes again. She lies awake the rest of the night, staring hard, but nothing else happens.
- And then we get another damn “if I had only known” blah blah fucking blah.
- Girlie wants Pamela to stay, and says that she brought her. She also has a newspaper clipping that is nearly a year old, an article about Pamela, Brad, and Kerry. She got it from a box of kittens that Dewey brought them that had newspapers in the bottom; it is from about a month before the accident. She liked how Pamela looked in the picture, and so she brought her there.
- Rachel interrupts them to say she’s going to look for Franny and Seth even though it’s going to storm before. Then Girlie stands outside Franny’s room and says that Franny won’t be coming back and then Pamela thinks to look in the wooden chest in Franny’s room and finds Franny there, curled and stiff, mouth open in a silent, endless scream. She’s not dead, but she’s not seeing anything either, and there is mud, bloodstains, and straw all over her face.
- Pamela has an epiphany and sneaks out that night to the old family cemetery she found. She doesn’t find Seth in there, or Micah, but instead a man with a deep wide hole in him. Girlie has followed her, of course, and says that it’s Dewey.
- She’s freaked out and terrified and confused and runs back to the house. Eventually, she sleeps.
- Rachel is gone by the time she wakes up the next morning, and there’s a rushed note saying she’s gone to look for Seth.
- Pamela keeps thinking about betrayal and how they’ve all betrayed someone except for Rachel and now she’s out there all alone. Pamela makes Girlie dress warm and they head out to look for her. Eventually, Girlie stops and says she didn’t wake Micah, he’s with Seth.
- Girlie takes her back to the cave and shows her a woman’s body with two handprints where she’d been strangled. So much for Micah being the killer, or at least the only killer.
- Pamela decides this means Seth did it all. She also decides that she’s going to rescue Girlie and Rachel and Franny, somehow. She and Girlie sneak from the cave and try to get back to the house; Pamela is terrified they’ll get lost, but Girlie leads them true.
- They make it to one of Seth’s sheds, with blankets and food and they will survive until morning — except then they find an axe in the corner and the blood. And Pamela passes out AGAIN. When she comes to, she finds Girlie staring at the axe. They spend the rest of the night in the shed, and then head for the house.
- When they’re almost there, Pamela makes Girlie hide outside and promise to run if she sees anyone; Pamela is going to check out the house first. She goes inside, sees someone standing in boots in Franny’s room and no Franny in her bed, flees to the barn where she takes a gun and hides with Girlie in the hayloft.
- He comes for them eventually, slowly, and she shoots him, sees tears in his eyes after he falls. She and Girlie scramble down there, and he says, as he dies, that he tried to kill Rachel and begs her to take GIrlie.
- They find Rachel back in the house, setting the table for one less than they need. She says Seth is still working, but, you know. Sure. Pamela gently asks if she thought Seth had left her, and Rachel says no, of course not, he never left her, not even when — and Pamela has to finish it, talking about the boys who raped her. (She says attacked, but call it what it fucking is.)
- Haltingly, Rachel tells her about it, and how the boys were dressed like scarecrows and after they chopped off her hair with an ax, and Seth found her, covered her, was kind to her, even when her father and brothers called her a whore and beat her. They then all died in a house fire. So that part of the story was true-ish.
- Micah was born from the rape, but she believes the Lord was making fun of her because he came from sin and sin should be ugly, so she cut off his hand and put him in the cellar. Oh, good, on top of all the other shit this has devolved into, we also get evil must be ugly and missing body parts, etc., because that’s certainly never been written before or done any damage.
- And that is why the scarecrows are burned each year, because she can’t let them live, not after what they did to her. Then Rachel says dinner is ready and Pamela go to the parlor to call them to food. Frany is dead, propped in the rocking chair; Micah is on the loveseat, body twisted, face no longer beautiful; and Pamela figures out that Rachel killed them all, and was the one who actually killed Seth, sticking the ax in his back, which is why there was so much blood when he came into the barn to warn them. Pamela keeps thinking about what caused Rachel to break and lose her mind and start killing. Of course. Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity and always
- Rachel starts to kill Pamela with the ax, but Girlie shoots her with the gun and says she loves Pamela.
- Girlie now lives with Pamela and has school and friends and fun and still breathes birds back to life sometimes. They name the baby bird she saves Seth.
This book could have been so, so great. Even the mental health stuff wasn’t as bad as it normally is (until that end when I was already incandescent with rage), but the rape. The fucking rape. The sex scene with a love interest written like a rape scene. The rape as dramatic backstory that turns Rachel into a monster. This is fucked.
And it’s all the worse because so much of the book is wonderful; it’s southern Gothic and Ozark horror crashing together, and it’s creepy and tense and exciting. Pamela is terrified, all of the characters are interesting, the horror and the mystery unfolds in excellent ways.
AND THEN THERE IS ALL THE FUCKING RAPE.
I don’t think Cusick intended for the first sex scene with Seth and Pamela to be rape. But go look at what she wrote. Look at literally everything Pamela was saying at the time. This is not written as a roleplay or rape kink. It is written as straight up her saying no and him doing it anyway. No sign that she wanted it or welcomed it at all. You wrote a fucking rape scene, Cusick, and then you wrote about a rape survivor feeling guilty that she’d done something to betray her friend, and then you wrote about a rape survivor falling in love with her rapist. Look at the words you used. If you didn’t want it to be rape, use different goddamn words.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity and always
I beat you because I love you: BURN FUCKING EVERYTHING
(Yes, I just added that last counter at the end because of my rage.)
(My book has pictures in the About the Author section, and there’s this adorable one of her when she was maybe a teenager or in her early twenties, I think, with a guitar, and she’s adorable. Baby!queer!Wing would have had such a crush. Current!Wing might have a crush too EXCEPT FOR THE BULLSHIT.)