Title: Graveyard School #21 – The Skeleton’s Revenge
Author: Tom B. Stone/Nola Thacker/D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Mark Nagata
Summary: He’s Baaaack!!!
Skate McGraw and his family are spending Thanksgiving at his uncle Edgar’s house on an island. It sounds cool, but when they arrive, Skate immediately gets the creeps. The first thing that makes him uneasy is the scary skeleton in his uncle’s study. Then Skate begins to hear sounds at night-sounds like bony feet walking the floor and bony fingers turning the doorknob to his room. But when Skate sees the horrifying figure in action, he’s convinced. The skeleton on the skateboard is back for the ultimate revenge!
Our first scheduled break in the chronological reading order, because this is the only book in the series to take place during Thanksgiving. It’s also the only sequel in the franchise. To its credit, this one isn’t quite as obvious as the previous “Skeleton” book and you are in no way prepared for how this book ends.
Now, despite taking place during Thanksgiving, the story is set on a tropical island, and it replaces skateboarding as the focus with surfing. And unfortunately, Vickie Wheilson is only in the story for the first couple of chapters.
[Wing: Skate! Surfing! Tropical island! YAY! NOT ENOUGH VICKIE! BOO! I’m excited about a sequel, though.]
We start off with a prologue that revisits the climatic skateboarding battle between Skate McGraw, Eddie Hoover, and Ben Marrow, the Skeleton on the Skateboard. Literally the prologue reprints several paragraphs from the first book word for word. It turns out in the weeks since Skate battled and fought Ben, Skate’s been having nightmares about the sinister skeleton. So, even if Skate won the skateboarding race, Ben Marrow still got his revenge, because he revisits Skate every night in his dreams.
(Skate and his beloved board by maleksohl)
[Wing: That is such an adorable piece of artwork. And I feel sorry for Ben having those terrible nightmares.]
The following afternoon, Skate is about to open his mail box when his cousin Vickie Wheilson asks what the hell is wrong with him?
His cousin, Vickie Wheilson, stood on the sidewalk behind him, one foot on her purple, red, and neon green skateboard, both arms folded. Her orange hair sprang out like exclamation points around the lime-green-and-red-striped ski headband beneath her helmet. Lime green gloves under her wrist guards stuck out under the rolled-up sleeves of an oversized, ancient bomber jacket that was part of Vickie’s winter uniformed. A purple sweater and red turtleneck, ripped blue jeans, battered knee guards, and burgundy high-tops completed the outfit. In the gray, pre-Thanksgiving landscape, she was a startling blot of color.
DON’T YOU JUDGE ME I HAD TO PUT THAT IN YOU DON’T KNOW ME!
[Wing: OH MY GOD. I love her. I LOVE HER SO MUCH.]
Vickie expresses her outrage and confusion at the appalling sight before her eyes, asking Skate how he couldn’t know how dangerous that is. Skate doesn’t reply, simply frowning, so Vickie takes that as her cue to rant.
In one practiced motion, Vickie unfolded her arms and stomped on the tail of her board, flipping it up into her hands. “You didn’t see that movie? The one about the postal worker? And what about the one where that guy just reached into his mailbox without looking? Boom. Road hamburger in the sky. Honestly, Skate. I don’t know how you’ve survived this long.”
YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND I LOVE HER SO MUUUUUUUCH SHE’S TO ME WHAT REI HINO IS TO JET WOLF
[Wing: And here I just worry that there might be something lurking inside that I hate. NOW I HAVE A BRAND NEW FEAR, THANKS VICKIE. I LOVE YOU VICKIE.]
Skate rolls his eyes, but still peers inside before removing the mail. As Vickie reminds us, it never hurts to be prepared.
Curiously, Skate discovers there’s a small package made out to him with a postmark from Florida. Vickie wonders if it’s something from their uncle, Edgar McGraw, who invited Skate’s family to spend Thanksgiving down south. Vickie muses how lucky Skate is that he not only gets to spend Turkey Day someplace warm and tropical, but he gets to miss an extra three days of Graveyard School (the mere mention of which conjures a gust of cold air). Skate’s more focused on opening the package, and whoever sent it went all out on securing the contents because it’s taped AND stapled shut.
“He’s a writer,” Skate reminded (Vickie), as if that explained everything.
It takes all their combined efforts (and considerable strain on their teeth) but Skate and Vickie manage to open the package. Skate has to shake the package to loosen whatever is inside, which falls in a heap of tissue paper into Vickie’s hands. But the moment Vickie unwraps the item in question, she screams and chucks it away. Skate has to make Vickie calm down long enough to confirm with her it was indeed what they both thought.
“It… looked like… a… bone,” she gasped.
After settling down, Vickie and Skate search the yard to find where the bone landed, and promptly hide it from Mrs. McGraw when she tells Skate to come inside to finish packing. Sure enough, it is indeed an honest to God bone, a jointed, index finger bone. Which means someone has LITERALLY given Skate the finger. Skate can’t believe Ben Marrow is still finding more ways to torment him, but before she leaves, Vickie expresses her concern that whoever sent this might be trying to warn Skate about something. Vickie advises Skate to watch his back while he’s away.
When he reached the door he said, “See you when I get back.”
“If you get back,” said Vickie.
He pretended he hadn’t heard her.
We then cut to sunny Florida, and Mr. McGraw gets to show Skate’s little sister the Gulf of Mexico while they wait for their ferry. Skate’s dad reveals they’re travelling to, wait for it, BONE Island. [Wing: I love this. It is terrible, and I love it.] Skate immediately believes the finger in the mail was his uncle’s, who it turns out is a famous horror writer, idea of a morbid joke. [Wing: UMM, IS SKATE’S UNCLE SUPPOSED TO BE STEPHEN KING? BECAUSE I CAN GET BEHIND THAT.] It turns out Skate’s family hasn’t seen Edgar [Wing: Allan Poe.] in over a decade, as he’s been traveling in the Amazon. Unfortunately, Skate recognizes the cabdriver is uncomfortable with knowing the McGraws are going to Bone Island. Skate asks what the problem is, but the driver suggests Skate ask his uncle that question before driving away. Uncle Edgar is waiting for the McGraws at the pier on Bone Island.
Skate had expected a large man to go with the booming voice. But the man his father was thumping delightedly on the back was small, a deeply tanned lawn gnome of a man, with a shock of wild hair that had been bleached by the sun into gray and white, and eyes of pale blue that looked as if the sun might have scorched the color right out of them. He had on khaki shorts that flapped around his bony knees, and a faded blue workshirt that fluttered in the wind. On his bony feet were ancient tennis shoes with the toes cut out.
Skate shakes his uncle’s bony hand and HMM YOU THINK THEY’RE TRYING TO HINT AT SOMETHING WITH ALL THESE VARIATIONS ON THE WORD “BONE?”
Edgar’s hand has got all ten fingers, Skate notices, but then his attention goes straight towards his beloved skateboard when he’s told to put it in the back of Edgar’s truck with the rest of the luggage. Skate fears his board may fall out of the truck and get crushed or run over or struck by lightning or devoured by snakes or stolen by Donald Trump!
Skate gave his mother an anguished look. She narrowed her eyes at him.
As they drive to Edgar’s house, he explains it’s not likely Skate’s board would get run over because there are so few people living on the island all year round, and driving on the beaches is forbidden because it’s harmful to the local fauna and makes the beaches smaller. It turns out Bone Island’s a barrier island and somewhat unstable, especially during bad weather and tropical storms. Bone Island was originally part of a much larger island until it broke apart due to decades of hurricanes. It’s why practically no one else lives here, houses are likely to be washed away during the storms.
“Who’s crazy enough to buy land that can go from waterfront to water-bottom overnight?”
“You?” Skate blurted out.
Oh my GOD, Skate.
[Wing: Fuck off, Edgar. But OMG SKATE I LOVE YOU.]
Edgar finds that hilarious though, and then explains the name “Bone Island” possibly came from all the pirates who were marooned on the island or fed to the sharks, their bones washing up on shore or bleaching in the sun. Of course, Edgar adds with a touch of regret, there aren’t any pirates left.
Skate’s attention is drawn to the Gulf, and he sees someone in the water. Or rather, he sees someone STANDING ON the water. When Skate gets his family’s attention, the figure, unexpectedly, disappears. Edgar even hands Skate a pair of binoculars stashed in the truck’s side compartment to better inspect, and sure enough Skate only sees sparkling blue water… and then the figure returns when Skate hands the binoculars back. Way out in the distance, a figure waves its arms excitedly, trying to get Skate’s attention, no boat or anything. And then he hears it.
“Skate? Skate! C’mon, Skate. Come and play! The sharks are waiting.”
The farther Edgar drives away, the more Skate tries to convince himself he didn’t just see and hear that. Finally the McGraws arrive at Edgar’s beautiful home, BONE Castle. Why don’t they just call this book BONY BONE MCBONINGTON BONES A BONER? [Wing: /dying] Skate is unimpressed by his uncle’s humor, and even less so impressed by the lack of roads to do some sweet boarding. His only assurance is finding his skateboard was undamaged in the back of the truck. The McGraws are shown around Edgar’s home, Christine’s given a room with a view of Perdido Bay (remember that name for next month), [Wing: Lost Bay. I see no way in which that is going to go badly.] and Skate gets a room with a view of the Gulf. Skate is slightly mesmerized by the blue water, but snaps out of it long enough to get his uncle alone. Skate takes out the package and asks Edgar if he’s the one who sent it. When Edgar sees the bone, his jovial mood vanishes and he demands to know how Skate “Knew.” Skate is led to his uncle’s private writing study, containing, among other things, a human skeleton.
With a missing index finger.
Skate tries everything not to shit himself right there as Edgar says he bought the skeleton on one of his many travels. Edgar views the idea that someone might’ve sent the finger to Skate as inspiration for a great horror story. Pfft. Like anyone would read that. Skate tries to get as far away from the skeleton in the study and asks Edgar if he can go swimming. Edgar mentions when Skate gets back “We” will have a nice dinner waiting. Skate asks who else lives with his uncle, and Edgar responds it’s just him. And a mermaid. [Wing: A face-eating mermaid? Because that would be amazing. And was. I’ll talk about this more in Final Thoughts.]
Skate’s family has fun on the beach, Christine splashing around and chasing the waves with her dad while Mrs. McGraw teaches Skate how to body surf. Skate decides to go for a walk down the shore, and while he laughs at the idea that he could possibly go too far (they’re on an island for goodness sake), Skate wanders so far down his parents and sister have disappeared. But it turns out Skate’s not alone. Skate sees a lone surfer ripping the waves effortlessly through a series of S-turns in the water. Skate is mesmerized by how good this surfer is, realizing for the first time the allure of surfing and realizing how much bigger a surfboard is compared to a skateboard. Skate wonders how similar the two sports might be, and yearns for the feel of wheels over asphalt. The surfer returns to the shore and Skate gets a better look at him.
He was dressed in a black wet suit from his neck to his bare feet. The black suit made him seem long and lean and somehow mean. His dark hair lay in dank strands over his shoulders, as if he wore a seaweed wig.
The surfer snarls at Skate to take a picture if he’s so interested. Skate apologies and compliments the surfer, who responds by calling Skate “Barney.” Skate, a boardhead, knows immediately the word is a “Slapdown” and timidly introduces himself before compliment on the surfer’s board. The surfer asks if Skate boards and Skate tries to figure out how old, or young, the mystery man is. Skate wonders if this was the guy he saw earlier, but the surfer mentions the water up where Skate is talking about is a nasty and possibly dangerous area for surfers. Skate explains he saw someone behind the waves, and the surfer says it’s impossible to surf behind them. The surfer says someone is calling Skate’s name, and when Skate looks back, the surfer vanishes. Even the wind is beginning to blow away the traces of footprints in the sand. Like he was never there.
Who does this remind me of…????
Skate goes back to his family, but after seeing some real surfing he now thinks body surfing is, like, so totally bogus. [Wing: Oh, Skate. Also, it’s less likely you’ll faceplant while body surfing.] But hey, it’s better than nothing. As Skate lets the water take him, he remembers his uncle’s warning about the undertow and the steps to take if you get caught in it, otherwise you could end up halfway to Mexico or Jamaica. Skate waits for the perfect wave, but panics when he sees a gray fin and starts screaming “Shark!”
“Shark!” he managed to scream. “Shark!” Then the wave crashed over his head.
Something flashed past his eyes.
It was so short, thought Skate confusedly.
SKATE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. [Wing: He makes me laugh so, so hard.]
Skate is yanked out of the water by his dad, and while his parents check to see if he’s okay. Christine points to the shark, and Mr. McGraw begins to laugh when it turns out it was really a dolphin. Mr. McGraw says they’re common in this part of Florida, and supposedly very intelligent, even more so than humans. Skate’s not impressed, and as he begins to dip in the water one last time now that the commotion is over, he hears the voice again.
“Skate,” it murmured just loud enough to be heard above the splash of the waves. “Sssharrrk, sssharrrk, shark… this shark’s for you.”
Of course no else hears it, and Skate knows his parents and his uncle would never believe he’s being stalked by something only he can hear. So basically he deeeeeeeead.
Later that evening, while the rest of the family prepares for bed, Skate tries to sneak into his uncle’s study to get another look at the skeleton. The door locked, he spies through the keyhole the skeleton is still there, when someone or something starts walloping Skate on the back of the head. Skate turns around and finds himself face to face with a small woman in a big dress, armed with a broom. The woman says her name’s Dolly, and she’s his uncle’s mermaid. Skate doesn’t understand what she means by “Mermaid” since she’s obviously got two feet. Or rather, what look like two feet.
She sighed. “You’re not the shiniest pot on the stove, are you? It’s a joke.”
Not his best day. He’d been called a Barney and compared to a dull pot. And that wasn’t the half of it. He began to get annoyed. “What’s so funny?”
“Mer-maid. Mer means sea, see? The archaic meaning of maid was, of course, ‘female,’ short for maiden. But the common meaning nowadays is a female hired to clean up. That’s me. I’m your uncle’s housekeeper. I live by the ferry. Since I live by the water and clean house, I call myself a mermaid. Get it?”
Skate got it. He just didn’t think it was very funny. “Ha. Ha.” he said.
[Wing: Skate is correct here. Unless she turns out to be a face-eating mermaid.]
Dolly doesn’t appreciate Skate’s lack of appreciation, and tells him to stop snooping around his uncle’s private study. Skate says he didn’t know it was private, and Dolly asks how he failed to notice with the door being locked at all. Dolly warns Skate to do the Christopher Columbus/Marco Polo act somewhere else, and Skate is suddenly feeling deja vu, noticing how tightly Dolly’s sun-etched skin is stretched over her face and hands, and is left wondering if he’s ever met Dolly before. Dolly raises her broom again and tells Skate to beat it.
At dinner Edgar gushes about all the carnage and mayhem he created in the afternoon. Skate deliberately ignores his uncle’s wink, noticing how Dolly seems to float around the room as she serves the food, and muses on his uncle’s desire to keep whatever’s in that study a secret. Then Skate has his “Eureka!” moment and remembers there’s a window in his uncle’s study. Surely nothing can go wrong now!
That night, Skate begins his venture into breaking-and-enteringtude, but briefly wonders what the fuck is he doing?
I’m having an out of body experience. No, I’m having an out-of-my-mind experience. I’ve been taken over by aliens. Or my cousin Vickie.
WELL EXCUSE YOU SKATEWARD, BUT YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY.
[Wing: TOO MUCH TALKING ABOUT VICKIE, NOT ENOUGH VICKIE.]
Anyway, Skate is sneaking outside the house and is trying to get into Edgar’s study. The window is in the back of the house and, unfortunately, it’s too high for Skate to hoist himself inside. Skate is briefly scared by a rustling in the bushes and he starts to wonder if snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, live in this part of the country. And if they don’t, could they swim to this part of the country? Or, could a hurricane blow snakes to the island? (Coming this summer, from the makers of “Sharknado,” it’s “Hurrisnake.”) The moon is just full enough that it elongates Skate’s shadow and makes him think somehow else is with him, and he can’t help but remember the last full moon was on Halloween, when he-no, Skate tries not to think about it more than he already is. [Wing: Needs more werewolves.] Hidden within the safety of a canopy of Spanish moss, Skate sees a boat in the backyard is up on cinderblocks, and uses a couple of spare blocks to create a makeshift to climb into the study (and mutters to himself why he’s surprised they’re heavy because DUH). Skate opens the window with ease, but immediately thinks this might be some kind of trap because it’s too easy. Inside the silent study, the full moon allows Skate to make out some of the titles in his uncle’s bookshelves (A Personal History of Poison, Memoirs of Mayhem, Dial P for Poltergeist), and the skeleton’s bones seem to glow in the moonlight. Skate begins to inspect the skeleton’s hands, when all of a sudden it begins to jerk around and tries to grab him. And no, Skate hasn’t just jostled it, the skeleton reaches its arm out and tries to grab Skate’s shoulder. Skate effectively gets in a fistfight with the chattering skeleton, and wins when he sends it careening on the floor and shatters into pieces. Unfortunately, Skate’s victory is shortlived when his parents and uncle barge into the study and see the destruction. Skate begs for their help to stop the skeleton from murdering him, his parents say he should be so lucky. Seeing the broken skeleton, the scattered papers and books and overall mess, Mr. and Mrs. McGraw do the worst possible thing they could do. They tell Skate to hand over his skateboard FOR.
Even Edgar, who has the most cause to be pissed off at Skate, thinks this is too much and recognizes Skate is legitimately upset about something, but his parents don’t care. As Skate is led to his room, he barely listens to his mother’s scolding and thinks about how they’ve ripped his heart out.
He was lost without his board. Terrible things would happen to him. It was bad enough to have to spend a week on an island where he couldn’t ride.
But to give his board into the hands of strangers? Who knew what would happen to it?
Of course, his mother wasn’t a stranger, at least not to Skate. But she was to his board.
“Take care of it,” he said with a heavy heart. His board seemed to pull back as he handed it over. It doesn’t want to go, thought Skate wildly.
Skate’s mother didn’t answer. She kept her lips pressed together in a thin line and took the board.
She walked out of the room and closed the door behind her, leaving Skate a broken lad.
[Wing: I love how Skate so deeply adores and anthropomorphises his board.]
Skate wakes up late after his parents and sister have headed to the beach. He eats breakfast while Dolly cleans the dishes, and she chastises him for his late night skeleton waltz. Dolly tells Skate to take this as a warning to be careful. VERY careful. Or else something very, VERY bad could happen.
She smiled a thin-lipped, mirthless smile. “I can feel it in my bones,” she whispered.
Dolly I have no idea what your deal is but I love you and if I have to be devoid of Vickie for this you’ll do.
Skate reconvenes with his family but exchanges as little words as possible before deciding to go for another walk by himself. And once again, as he did in the last book, Skate’s anger makes him connect dots that a rational person wouldn’t, and starts thinking Vickie set this whole thing up with the finger bone and the skeleton, and possibly with Edgar’s help, as some elaborate prank. Skate’s so lost in his troll logic he doesn’t notice when the mystery surfer starts walking alongside him. The surfer finally introduces himself as “Shell,” which he claims is a nickname. [Wing: What, was “skull” taken?]
Further down the beach, Shell reveals a number of surfboards propped up in the sand, and picks up a sleek and dangerous looking board as he prophesies “It” is coming. [Wing: UNCLE EDGAR IS STEPHEN KING!!!] Shell advises Skate start using the “Egg” board, a small, squat board meant for beginners. [Wing: UMM. Most people learn better on long boards because it distributes weight across a larger surface.] Skate doesn’t like to think of himself as a beginner, and it makes his heart ache for HIS board. Shell suggests it’ll take Skate’s mind off his shit, and Skate’s got nothing better to do anyway. Shell starts to advise Skate on how to position himself and when to ride and paddle, complimenting Skate’s balance. Skate can’t help but feel giddy like a school girl at being on a board again. For the rest of the afternoon Skate tries to get the hang of surfing, watching Shell master the waves, and by the time he meets back up with his unforgiving family he’s decided he’ll dominate surfing… even if it kills him. Meanwhile, Skate’s board sheds a single tear.
Skate dreams of the perfect wave, but the dream becomes a nightmare when he looks back and realizes the wave is too big and too deep for him to handle. And then came a TAP TAP TAP and Skate believes the skeleton has found him again. Skate wakes from his underwater nightmare to face his skeletal nightmare, but it’s just the branches of a tree tapping on his window. Looking outside, Skate realizes it’s way early, and he wonders what it’d be like to surf at dawn. Dressed in his bathing shorts Skate is out of the house and races to the beach, “Luckily” finding the egg board from the other day. Despite his common sense telling him he shouldn’t be surfing alone, Skate tries it anyway, even as he’s paddling in the water and thinks he REALLY shouldn’t be doing this. Skate thinks to himself he can do one wave, he’s got it, he’s got it, he don’t got it. The board goes straight up and Skate goes under the waves. Skate feels himself doing the underwater equivalent of his wipe out on Dead Man’s Curve the summer before when someone yanks him out of the water. Surprise surprise, it’s Dolly, on her way to work and asking what the fuck is wrong with him swimming alone like that. She tells Skate to get his board and he should be lucky he wasn’t carried halfway to the Caribbean and lists all the horrible stuff out there, like barracudas, stingrays, jellyfish, and SHARKS. Skate asks if she’s gonna tell his parents, and Dolly decides to give him a break, but tells him not to do it again.
“The only thing worse than a stupid kid is a stupid dead kid.”
Skate can’t find Shell or the egg board later in the day, and is going through serious withdrawal as he tries to compensate with body surfing. The next morning he looks for Shell and is ready to leave when the surfer isn’t there, but of course Shell makes his grand entrance just in time. Shell casually mocks Skate’s desire to play it safe.
“Where have you been?” Skate demanded.
“I left a board for you,” Shell answered.
“I’m not supposed to swim alone,” said Skate.
“Really?” Shell raised one pale eyebrow. “You didn’t tell me you weren’t a good swimmer.”
“I am a good swimmer,” said Skate. “It’s just safer.”
Shell said, “Safe? Do you need a life vest? A helmet?”
Shell directs Skate to the egg board, and Skate enviously glares at the bigger surf boards and surfs with Shell until the sun fully comes up. Skate realizes he needs to get back to the house fearing his parents might be pissed. Shell doesn’t acknowledge Skate’s departure. Dolly is waiting for Skate at the house, and once more Skate tries to figure out who she reminds him off as he breathlessly tells her he wasn’t by himself.
Mrs. McGraw suggests Skate take Christine to search for shells, and Skate goes along with it to try and get time off with good behavior (especially if they learn he was surfing with Shell super early). As Christine gets her bucket ready, Edgar chimes in on how much fun Christine’s having collecting the bones of sea creatures. That stops Skate dead to rights as Edgar explains that shells are the outer skeletons of some sea creatures. File that away as foreshadowing. Down on the beach, Skate broods while Christine collects shells and mentally tallies all the strikes this vacation’s got.
- Miles from skateboard turf
- His board taken away til Christmas
- Stuck on an island with a horror writer uncle
- And a weird housekeeper
- And forced to watch his sister collect shells
Skate looks back to his uncle’s house, thinking it seems innocent enough, but…
But how innocent could the house of a horror writer be? What kind of a sicko wrote horror books for a living?
Well I know of at least one who also enjoys cozy mysteries, magical girl anime, putting honey in his coffee, and commissioning artwork of fictional male characters as fatter than they usually are, BUT THAT’S ME.
[Wing: SKATE. Please step back from the horror books and writers and uncle and let me have them instead. I could do a lot with that situation. Also, tell me more about this honey in coffee thing. Does it make it taste less like coffee?]
Shell steps up beside Skate as he watches Christine, and Skate’s not even bothered by it anymore. Skate asks if Shell lives in the area, and Shell glibly mentions he commutes via boat. Shell asks if Skate would like to surf while Christine is swept up in her shell collecting. However, Skate has learned from earlier and is hesitant to leave Christine by herself. Shell presses the matter and asks what could possibly happen during one quick ride along the waves?
Shell said softly, “You’ll have to practice if you want to be ready.”
“Ready? Ready for what?”
“For the big wave. The giant roller coaster.” Shell’s eyes were half closed, as if he was seeing a picture behind his eyelids. “No one knows where it comes from or what makes it happen. It’s not just a wave, it’s a perfect wave. But it’s big. Bigger than you can imagine. If you can catch it and ride it and finish the ride…” Shell’s voice trailed off.
“What? What?” said Skate.
“Immortality,” said the surfer, his thin face taking on a lean and hungry look. “Life forever.”
“You mean you’re so famous that no one ever forgets your name?” asked Skate.
Shell’s eyes blazed.
[Wing: I didn’t realize we’d stepped into Point Break over here.]
Shell orders Skate to get his board so they can practice. Skate notices Christine’s watching something in the water, and briefly thinks one wave couldn’t hurt, but then he turns back to Shell and notices an inhuman, molten rage burning deep in Shell’s eyes. Skate blinks, and Shell’s eyes are blank once more. But Skate can only see Shell’s acting rather pushy and competitive… like… like…
Shell bids Skate adieu, or rather, tells Skate “Ssuit yourssself,” and Skate immediately runs to his sister and stops Christine from grabbing something in the water. Skate flings it away before Christine touches it, and immediately starts grabs his hand in pain. Using his good hand, Skate takes Christine and runs back to the house while Christine cries for her bucket of shells. Skate returns to Bone Castle his hand throbbing and Christine crying. Edgar sees Skate’s hand and realizes he was stung by a jellyfish, which Edgar finds odd because they aren’t common this time of year. Christine tearfully recaps that Skate wouldn’t let her touch it as his uncle pours vinegar on the sting to soothe the pain.
The next few days Skate develops a pattern of getting up at dawn and surfing with Shell, while he spends the day with his parents or explores the island, including some abandoned cabins [Wing: How have they not been destroyed yet, after all that talk of storms and damage?] and the ferry. Shell grows increasingly silent and distant the more Skate surfs with him, but Skate notices Shell has been watching him a lot. And Skate finally admits to himself the way Shell looks at him is almost exactly the same way Ben Marrow used to watch him. Skate tries to reason Ben is dead, but then again, Ben was already dead when Skate met him.
Ben Marrow, the skateboard king. Ben Marrow, the vert dog of truly immortal note.
Ben Marrow, who haunted Skate’s dreams.
Could Shell be…
Skate wracks his brain, one minute thinking it makes sense, the next minute thinking it doesn’t. Shell is Ben Marrow, Shell isn’t Ben Marrow. If Shell IS Ben, he followed Skate all the way from Graveyard School to get revenge. If Shell ISN’T Ben, who is Shell, and is Ben truly back anyway? How had he gotten here?
[Wing: Damn, I get to make a lot of “Ben is Glory” references lately.
And here it is again.]
While waiting with Edgar to receive the supplies for Thanksgiving, Edgar notices the water’s running higher than usual and fears a storm may be on its way. Edgar assures Skate if it was a hurricane, they would’ve been properly warned, but he’s still a bit uncomfortable. Edgar tries to move past the tension and inquires on the state of Skate’s vacation so far. Edgar asks if Skate’s found anything interesting while exploring the island, like, oh, I don’t know, the old pirate graveyard on the other side of the island. Or at least, that’s what people called the small assortment of headstones worn down to blank slates from the tropical storms. Skate can only say “Graveyard” on repeat as he realizes he found out Shell’s home address.
Now, being a Graveyard School alumnus, Skate’s got plenty of experience dealing with graveyards, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling creeped out as he vainly searches the tombstones trying to find the name “Marrow.” Like back home, there’s nothing. And like back home, Skate feels someone’s following him, but when he turns around, there’s no one. [Wing: Unlike back home, there is no Vickie, and we all mourn.]
Thanksgiving morning, Skate wakes to a dark, gray sky. Skate goes down to the water, seeing the Gulf looking more furious than he had at any point during this vacation, his heart gripped in terror and excitement that this is the wave Shell predicted. Shell appears with his monstrous board and asks if Skate is afraid. Skate looks at Shell and thinks he let his imagination get the best of him. Shell isn’t Ben Marrow, he thinks as he follows Shell out into the water even as it surges around them. But by the time Skate reaches Shell, Bone Island’s no longer visible. In fact, Shell claims the island is underneath them, or rather, all the parts of the island that got washed away over the years. Shell even calmly mentions they’re now in shark territory, and sharks go after surfers because from below their boards look like seals. Skate’s board especially looks like one, and that snaps Skate out of his trance. As Skate wonders why the fuck is he out here, because no one human could survive these waters.
And no one in a boat could survive them either.
Skate asks where Shell’s previously mentioned boat is, and Shell laughs as he points downward.
“You might say it’s anchored to the bottom. It has been for over two hundred years.”
Skate looked down as if he could see the wreckage of the boat. Dimly he heard Shell laughing.
“Don’t you know who I am, sucker?” Shell howled.
“Shell is a nickname I recently acquired, when I became a shell of my former self. In life,” said Shell, “I was called Shark. Shark Marrow. You met my brother, Ben.”
[Wing: SHARK. FUCKING. MARROW. WHAT EVEN IS THIS.]
And as Skate receives his confirmation that Ben truly is dead, Shell/Shark spells out his endgame and why he is, and why Ben was, doing what they’re doing.
“He had a second chance. He had it all set. And you ruined it, you miserable little human.”
“But he was stupid. He challenged you on your own turf. He tried to play fair. I’m not so stupid.” Shell threw his arms wide. “This is my turf. My Gulf. I rule here. You don’t have a chance.”
He snapped his fingers, and a flotilla of jellyfish suddenly darkened the water as far as the eye could see. Skate instinctively drew his feet up.
Shell laughed and snapped his fingers again. The jellyfish were gone, replaced by wicked triangular dorsal fins that cut through the water like knives through butter.
Still laughing, Shell snapped his fingers a third time, and the water shifted beneath Skate’s board with a horrible sucking sound.
“So now it’s my turn,” Shell concluded. He got to his feet on his board, and Skate rose unsteadily to his. He could feel the weight of the great wave above him, hear the roar of it around him like a never-ending freight train.
“Surf,” Skate McGraw howled. “Surf for your life, Skate McGraw!”
And Skate knew he was going to die.
[Wing: THIS IS SO FUCKING AMAZING.]
Skate valiantly tries his best to navigate through the roaring black tunnel of water, zigging and zagging back and forth, almost falling off every time and struggling just to keep his balance. In the darkness Shell appears beside Skate, having lost his human vestiges, seaweed streaming down his bare skull and blood seeping through his teeth. [Wing: THIS IS EVEN MORE AMAZING OH MY GOD.] Shell mocks Skate and tells him to give up, to accept his new home in the ship of bones. Skate tries to surf away from Shell in the tunnel, until he sees the shark fins slicing through the water. Skate’s control ebbing ever more so, he can hear Shell’s laughter in his head, and Skate realizes he can’t win Shell’s game. So, SCREW IT! Trapped between Shell and the sharks, Skate has decided he’d rather fight the sharks head on and dives off his board into the water.
Underwater, being pulled in all directions, Skate can’t see them but he can feel the sharks swimming by and he lashes out against them, furiously punching and kicking as his lungs cry for air and the ringing noise in his head becomes the skeleton’s laughter. Of course, remember how Skate risked his life to save Eddie Hoover in the last book? Well karma’s decided to pay Skate back, because now is when the cavalry appears.
A great shark gnashed the water near him. And a sleek gray shape wit a bottle nose and a high domed forehead dove between Skate and his doom.
Now the dolphins were everywhere, parrying the sharks’ movements, spinning around and around them as it were all a great game. Something rubbery and soft almost touched Skate’s arm. Instinctively he grabbed it.
He was jerked forward. Now he wasn’t tumbling through the waves but being pulled through them. Faster and faster he moved.
He heard a horrible shrieking in his brain.
“Noooo!” howled Shell. “Nooooooo!”
And then Skate felt sand beneath his knees. He put down his feet and stood up.
A fin surged past him. He caught a glimpse of a grinning bottle-nosed snout, the smooth pearl-gray of skin, and then the dolphin slipped away, diving back into the water where it ruled.
Water rushed past Skate’s thighs and pushed him forward. He staggered up onto the beach, as far as he could get from the water. “Thanks,” he whispered to the dolphin, and fell exhausted on the floor.
Skate comes to on the beach when Dolly appears and orders him to get up, having no sympathy for Skate swimming alone at this hour. Skate sees the weather has cleared and the Gulf looks normal again. As they walk, Skate can’t help but notice how smooth and elastic Dolly’s skin feels as he holds on to her arm, how bright her aqua-colored eyes are, and how a strand of wet hair escapes from her maid’s cap…
Skate spends the rest of the vacation close to the shore, wearily keeping watching for a surfing skeleton. But of course, Thanksgiving came and went, and by the time the McGraws were ready to leave, there were no further problems. Skate, of course, is kicking himself for how Shell had hypnotized him, how he’d been behind everything like the skeleton in the study coming to life and Christine almost getting stung by that jellyfish. And now there are two skeletons to haunt Skate’s memories.
On the day they’re ready to head home, Skate’s parents are encouraged by Edgar to give Skate his board back earlier than planned.
He clutched it to his chest. He felt stupidly happy.
Skate thanks his uncle, which Edgar repays by mentioning his skeleton dancing lessons provided plenty of good inspiration. As the ferry departs, Skate looks back and notices Edgar AND Dolly are waving goodbye.
Only Dolly is waving with nine fingers.
Skate retrieves the package with the finger bone and, while waving to Edgar and Dolly, he covertly drops the bone into the ocean.
Underwater, a dolphin snags the bone before it hits the bottom of the ocean. The golden tailed mermaid swims gracefully towards the dolphin, sensing all the while the bones of Shark Marrow are rolling around on the ocean floor and the sharks are circling further out at sea, both stewing in impotent rage. The mermaid was tired, thinking of all the work she’d done to warn Skate by sending him that message at great personal cost. Of course he hadn’t understood, and neither did Edgar McGraw weaving his tales of “Horror.” But she liked them. Skate might be stupid, but he’s brave and well meaning. The mermaid received the bone and, in the blink of eye, gave the dolphin a ten fingered wave. The dolphin called back in its own language.
“Hello, Dolly,” the dolphin said.
[Wing: I’m too shocked to even make a musical reference here.]
I told you no one would’ve seen that ending coming, right? Last time we had an epic skateboard duel, this time we got an army of badass dolphins led by a badass mermaid fighting against a pirate skeleton surfer and his lackey sharks.
I also kind of love how Vickie was only in this for like ten pages and, as we found out, ONCE AGAIN SHE WAS COMPLETELY RIGHT FROM THE START. Last time she guessed right off they were dealing with a ghost, and this time she guessed right off the finger bone was a warning. YOU SEE HOW MUCH SIMPLER YOUR LIFE WOULD BE IF YOU LISTENED TO YOUR COUSIN, SKATE?
[Wing: I LOVE THIS I LOVE IT SO MUCH I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT.]
I like how Stone/Thacker/Athkins played with our expectations that it could’ve been either Shell or Dolly who was the skeleton, and then we’re led to believe it’s Ben Marrow really back for revenge. For that matter, Stone and Nagata were sneaky with that cover, in that you could interpret it as Skate’s nightmares about Ben coming back instead of it being the actual Ben. And can we all appreciate how it turns out “Ben Marrow” really was Ben’s name and not just a pun he came up with?
I’ve long since considered an idea for a third book in this storyline, “The Skeleton on the Slopes,” which would include Ben and Shark’s younger sister and a snowboarding duel that involves Skate and Vickie trying to outrace Ben and Shark’s honest to God fucking pirate ship on a snowy mountain as their skeleton crew fires cannonballs at them.
As a bonus, I had to share this:
This is apparently the Lithuanian cover artwork for, not “The Skeleton’s Revenge,” but “The Skeleton on the Skateboard,” even though whoever made this basically mashed up the cover for the sequel with, I shit you not, “Field of Screams” from “Ghosts of Fear Street.”
Activities Section: Another ad-lib story.
My friend RAQUEL doesn’t go to regular school. RAQUEL goes to skeleton school. In skeleton school, the students VOMIT on THE WHITE NATIONALIST MOVEMENT instead of sitting on chairs with desks. Instead of math, the students take HOW TO TAKE A CHAIR TO THE FACE 101. Instead of English, they take MIDWIFING 101. Instead of gym class, they DIIIIIIIIIIIIIE. First thing in the morning, the students pledge allegiance to the EMERALD EYE OF EKRON. For lunch, the cafeteria serves MEEEEEEEEE, or WHIPPOORWILLS, with a side of PLACENTA, and they have a choice of flavored SPLOTCHY MORPHINE to drink. At the end of day, instead of a bell ringing, you can hear SHARKS FARTING. Skeleton school is a HERETICAL place, but my friend loves if. RAQUEL is a skeleton, after all!
[Wing: Amazing. And now, a brief revisit to my face-eating mermaids: I recently reread “Rolling in the Deep” and read INTO THE DROWNING DEEP for the first time, and I love them both so much. MURDEROUS MERMAIDS. MYSTERIOUS DEPTHS OF THE OCEAN. DANGER AND CHARACTERS I LOVE AND ALL SORTS OF DEATH.]