Summary: Katie Sullivan has everything – nice roommate, cool friends, and a great guy. Until the day she and her boyfriend are out on the river and their canoe overturns. She survives. He doesn’t. Katie can’t stop thinking about the accident, weighing the evidence, wondering if it was her fault. But someone else has already reached a decision about Katie. The verdict is guilty. The punishment is death.
Notes: I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.
Thankfully, we’re back once again to a Nightmare Hall book actually written by Diane Hoh. Though none of the books so far have been as good as I remember, once again, I have distant memories of liking this one back when I first read it, especially the climax. [Wing: I love the window book covers for Nightmare Hall, but this one cracks me up. Is she drowning inside a room at Nightmare Hall? How is that even possible? If an actual pool, why does the pool have a window? Oh, cover designers. So delightfully ridiculous.]
The standard killer POV prologue has an unidentified person saying that “she” had a fair hearing, but she had been found guilty. She has to be sentenced, and the only appropriate sentence is the death penalty. Muffin Man thinks Nightmare Hall is the perfect place to carry out the sentence. I guess the series needs a way to keep the “Nightmare Hall” moniker, considering only the first book so far has actually been set there. [Wing: Makes about as much sense as the cover window looking into spaces that aren’t actually inside rooms like that.]
Chapter 1 opens at orientation, where Katherine “Kit” Harrington Sullivan (Kit Harrington, lol) is nervous because of all the people. Her close friend, Allen Caine, who has come to Salem University with her from their high school, is more comfortable, able to make friends much easier than Kit. He’s talking to a cute, tall, muscular guy, and is soon bringing him over to meet Kit. His name is Robert “Brownie” Brown, and he uses some corny pick-up lines on her, and Kit is able to match wits with him. Is it just my juvenile sense of humour, or does Brownie as a nickname make you think of, um, poo? It’s not a nickname I’d pick! [Wing: I went there too, so if that means a juvenile sense of humour, well. The second place I went was edibles, so not a great combo.] In short order, we’re also introduced to Kit’s roommate LuAnn Price, and Brownie’s sister, Callie Brown, who Kit likes instantly. LuAnn is very flirty with Brownie, and I like the fact that Kit isn’t jealous or snotty about this – she hopes LuAnn can give her lessons!
We then get a bit of an info dump, in which Brownie’s new best friend, Davis Teale, is mentioned. The group become firm friends and for the next several “wonderful” weeks, do everything together, and Kit and Brownie become a couple. Kit is so happy with him, she doesn’t care that other people probably wonder why popular, out-going, life-of-the-party Robert Brown had picked quiet, efficient, reliable Kit Sullivan.
After a Saturday night dinner at Hunan Manor, a Chinese restaurant, Kit is looking forward to spending the next day with Brownie. He had planned a canoe ride, but Kit is very anxious when she sees the muddy, swirling river behind the university. Recent rains had raised the river’s levels, and widened it considerably. Brownie likes a challenge, and says she has nothing to worry about, and to have faith. Kit wonders if it’s too late to go with her friends, but Callie, Davis, Allen and LuAnn have gone on a hike, Callie borrowing Brownie’s camera, and they all plan on meeting up at the bridge later. Kit sees that two other canoes are gone, and figures that other people have considered the river safe enough to go canoeing, so they won’t be the only two people out there.
Wrong. When the canoe is sucked into the wild river, Kit can tell that Brownie knows they’ve made a mistake. Oh, come on. There are no warnings about wild rivers and rising water levels? Is Salem University just asking for a lawsuit? When Kit can see that Brownie is clearly scared, she is only more frightened. Brownie can’t control the canoe, and it hits a tree branch jutting out of the water. The canoe capsizes and Kit and Brownie are tossed into the river.
When I was at high school, they were big on canoeing. It was a major part of the sport subject, and all students were forced to participate in sport up until year 10. I HATED it. Both sport and especially canoeing. I pretty much refused to take part. I can understand Kit’s fear, but think she should have done more to stand up to Brownie in this scenario, and Brownie could have been a bit less of an asshole, and been more considerate of Kit’s obvious apprehension.
[Wing: I love canoeing, and am sad that I didn’t get to do it as a school subject. Boo. However, you’re absolutely right that Brownie should have taken more care with her concern, and also been more careful of the dangerous situation anyway. He’s more experienced, it’s on him to not put them into danger.]
In the vicious waters, Brownie at least starts acting like a proper boyfriend again, telling Kit to put her arms around his neck and go limp, so he can support her. Holding each other, they are at the mercy of the river, but people on the Twin Falls bridge see them, and Kit realises that those people have called for help. Just as Kit is about to give up, and let go of Brownie so that he can be saved (she thinks she’s holding him back), they get carried into calmer water closer to the riverbank.
Kit gratefully struggles to shore. When she turns to find Brownie, she discovers he’s not there. He’s still in the inlet, floating on his back. Kit believes he’s too worn out from hauling her on his back, and feels bad that she didn’t help him to shore, but had thought he was right behind her. She starts wading out to help him, at which point a fresh burst of water river catches him, and drags him away.
We then get a newspaper article excerpt, stating Brownie’s body has been discovered, and that the cause of death was drowning.
It is now a month later, we find out, because Kit admonishes her roommate LuAnn for calling her Kit, when she’s insisted for a month now that she wants to be known as Katie, and won’t respond to anyone unless they use that name. LuAnn wants Katie to help tidy their dorm, because it’s a pigsty, remarking that Katie always used to be so neat. Katie refuses, saying that cleaning is “boring, boring, boring,” and life’s also too short to do boring things. Katie is heading out to the movies with Allen, Davis and Callie, and LuAnn asks if Katie ever gets tired, because she’s out late every night, hardly eating anything, not sleeping, and having awful nightmares. Katie’s response that life is too short to get tired. [Wing: Ugh, Katie, my heart hurts for you.]
At dinner before the movie, Katie’s friends insist that she eat something, so she gets snotty and tells them they’re taking too long to eat and that they’ll miss the movie. Allen tells her to relax, that she can’t sit still for five minutes, but Katie witnesses Callie warn him off. She thinks that they’re still looking after her, careful not to mention Brownie and insisting that it’s not her fault. She can’t bear to think his death is her fault. She flees from the restaurant. She thinks that everybody is looking at her as if she was an oddity, talking about her because she’s the girl Brownie died trying to save. She can’t tell whether people blame her for the loss of Brownie, or if they thought the loss had unhinged her and waiting for her to shatter into hundreds of pieces. [Wing: All of this feels realistic to me, from her concerns to their reactions.]
Davis comes out to find her, and she tries to convince him to ditch the movie and go dancing. Allen and Callie argue that they planned for a movie, and Callie thinks a quiet movie would be good for Katie, because she needs to relax. Katie responds that relaxing is a colossal waste of time. However, she’s outvoted, and they go to the movie. Katie can’t focus on the movie, and gets up all the time to get food from the concession stand, although she doesn’t eat it – she just needs something to do. Her friends are annoyed by her yo-yo actions and she’s annoyed at them for being annoyed.
After the movie, they go out to her car. Allen remarks how filthy it is. What her friends don’t know is that she often drives her car along the dirt road behind campus that wanders alongside the river, which is always muddy. She parks at the same place where she and Brownie stepped into the canoe. I must admit, although I’m finding it a bit exhausting being in Katie’s headspace, and am finding her a little annoying (yeah, I can be pretty insensitive), this is a very believable and sad portrait of somebody caught in a quagmire of grief.
Callie sees something on the hood of Katie’s car, asking, “What is that?” Callie and Davis try to block Katie from seeing it, but are unsuccessful. Somebody has written GUILTY in the dirt on the car.
Allen says WASH ME would have made more sense. Davis asks Katie if this is the first time she’s received a message like this. She realises that he thinks the same as her, that the message is not related to the car being dirty at all. Katie thinks about how everyone assured her it wasn’t her fault, even Callie, who was Brownie’s sister. At first, she had been distraught, asking why Katie got out safely and not Brownie, but had later apologised and they had a good cry together. Allen suggests that it’s nothing, that it was just some jerk seeking to rattle somebody’s cage, and wouldn’t have known who’s car it was. However, Katie’s car is an orange Honda and has a licence plate that says KIT-18, given to her by her stepfather on her 18th birthday, so she has to wonder. [Wing: Subtle.]
Katie eventually decides it’s a coincidence and she’ll wash the car tomorrow. She insists she wants to go dancing now, and that her friends should agree to come with her, because she sat through their boring movie. Allen says she wasn’t in her seat long enough to make that judgment. Alas, I admit Katie is testing my own patience. I don’t think it’s nice to tell your friends that what you’re all doing is boring, no matter what the circumstances are. The group veto dancing, but Katie announces she’s doing it, and starts speeding back to campus. She’s warned to slow down, as she already has two speeding tickets. Allen tells everyone she used to be known as Pokey Joe, because she used to be such a cautious driver.
They reach campus, still alive with Friday night activity. Just as the group is beside a water fountain. Although Katie knows she’ll fall asleep as soon as she gets back to her dorm room, she’s terrified of having the nightmare. So when a couple walk past with a radio, she gets them to set it on the fountain’s stone wall, hops into the water, and starts dancing. Friends, eat your heart out. This book came out in 1993! Her antics draw a large crowd, clapping in time to the music, but Katie’s friends try to get her out of the fountain. It’s cold outside, so she could get sick. As she’s taken away, a crowd member remarks that it’s no wonder Katie and Brownie were so nuts about each other, because they were like two of a kind. Katie thinks how she didn’t used to be like Brownie at all before he died.
And how do all these people know who Katie and Brownie are? Surely by now Diane Hoh knows she wasn’t writing about a boarding school, but a university? You’re generally pretty anonymous at university, other than your own circle of friends. [Wing: I still wonder why she didn’t just write a boarding school. If her characters were seventeen and eighteen, they could still have all the same adventures without the weirdness of how the social structure at this university works, even a small one.]
Back at her dorm, Katie can’t get warm. LuAnn, after hearing what happened, isn’t sympathetic, thinking it’s all her own fault, and lamenting she used to be so level-headed. “Everyone on campus is going to think I’m rooming with a nut case.” Fuck off, LuAnn.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 point
Katie thinks about how supportive and patient LuAnn has been up until that point, though, comforting her after each nightmare. She has been witness to a lot of Katie’s erratic behaviour, including the two speeding tickets, nearly running over a dog, and Katie constantly playing loud music to escape her own thoughts. LuAnn tells Katie she’s going to Nightmare Hall to stay with Linda Carlyle for the night (they’re on the swim team together). Katie thinks it must be pretty bad if LuAnn is willing to spend a night in Nightmare Hall just to be away from her, where LuAnn and Linda can gossip about LuAnn’s “crazy roommate.” [Wing: She’s not wrong about the Nightmare Hall part, though, especially with the way gossip spreads at this university.]
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 points
Katie admits jumping in the fountain was a stupid thing to do. She doesn’t want to miss school. She already missed two weeks after Brownie’s death, and is still catching up. She thinks about how Callie missed a lot of classes after Brownie’s death, and she was his sister, and she wasn’t going around jumping into fountains and not sleeping half the night. Katie reflects on a time when Brownie told her to jump into life with two feet, to show the world she wasn’t afraid. Apparently, Davis thinks she’s taking that advice to heart too much, trying to fill the gap left by Brownie’s absence, by trying to be more like him. Katie’s friends are actually quite astute sometimes. Maybe Davis is doing a Psych degree. Katie thinks maybe GUILTY is referring to her acting like an idiot, and if the person who had wrote it saw her dancing in the fountain, they would have written CRAZY instead.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 points
Katie falls asleep crying, and is woken at 3am by a sound. She realises it can’t be LuAnn, because of the late time. But she heard something – a car door slamming? Screeching brakes? Then a male voice says, “It’s all your fault!” It get said another two times. Katie is terrified, because the voice belongs to Brownie. The phrase is repeated over and over again, seemingly going on for ages, before it stops and the room becomes silent. But Katie doesn’t move, remaining wide awake until LuAnn returns at 7.30 in the morning. She decides not to tell anyone about the voice, because they’ll all think she was just dreaming it.
The next chapter is your standard gaslighting chapter. Katie can’t find a budget she did for sociology class that was due that afternoon. Her gas tank is empty, but she insists she filled it on Saturday. At the mall, her wallet isn’t in her purse. I thought a wallet and purse were essentially the same thing? [Wing: Nope! Generally a purse is more of a bag (in a huge variety of shapes and sizes) and a wallet a smaller thing that goes inside it. The purse can hold more things, the wallet generally only cards, cash, and maybe a checkbook depending on the size and whether people still use checkbooks at the time.] The group get the shuttle from the mall back to campus, and LuAnn convinces everyone to get off at the stop for Nightmare Hall, so they can help plan a party for Linda Carlyle.
Trudging up the hill to Nightmare Hall, Katie is impressed by the building’s fire escape. Instead of going inside with the others, she decides she wants to climb it, even though everyone thinks it would fall over if a leaf landed on it. Because it’s the sort of thing Brownie would be, Katie goes ahead with it. When Davis and Callie won’t follow her, Katie calls them chicken. I’m trying to be patient with Katie, I really am, but being willfully mean to her friends makes it very hard for me to like her. I know calling someone “chicken” is at the lower end of the scale, and Katie’s friends don’t take offence, but it’s such a bullshit bully tactic you would more likely expect from a primary school kid, not a university student. [Wing: She is lashing out in nasty ways, and I can absolutely see how she would wear at a reader. I really like her, mostly because she is so sharp and raw and vicious and vulnerable all at the same time.]
Allen is very annoyed with her, saying she never used to like heights. For Katie, that was before. She’s different now. The others go inside, and Katie keeps on climbing. She decides to aim for the smaller window right up the top, near the roof. She winds up in Nightmare Hall’s attic. This must be where that prologue comes into relevance. She feels her way through the dark room until she finds a doorknob, and enters a long, narrow closet. She turns on the light. Large white plastic garment bags, with a zipper front that opens out like a tent door are suspended from a thick metal rod. She checks out a navy blue long-sleeved gown, but scratches her finger on something. When she jerks away in shock, she hits her head on something heavy and blacks out.
When she wakes up, she’s inside a garment bag. She thinks she fell into it by accident (er, no), [Wing: That would truly take some talent.] but when she reaches for the top, it has been zipped closed. And we all know we zip things up from the outside. How horribly claustrophobic! The plastic is unyielding when she pushes against it. Understandably, she begins to freak out. Then she remembers that she scratched her finger. She drags down the navy gown, and finds a hatpin that is keeping the corsage in place. She manages to poke it through the plastic, but it eventually pops out again. She tries again, angling it down at an angle, and the pin slices through the plastic, creating a small slit. She pokes her hands through and drags the zipper down enough for her to be able to crawl out.
Phew. That was some Macgyver shit there. The light in the closet is now out. Katie goes into the attic, and the window is now closed. Still feeling faint, on the top most floor, she finds a bathroom and splashes her face with water, sitting down until she pulls herself together. She follows the staircase to the ground floor, where her friends are. They are surprised to see her. They searched the whole building for her, but not the attic, and figured she came to her senses and went home instead of climbing the fire escape (except Callie and Davis had already seen her climbing it, so that doesn’t make a whole let of sense.)
Katie tells them what happened to her, and drags them up to the attic to show them. She indicates the open window, but Mrs. Coates (the housemother from Silent Scream) says she closed it. She must have been up there when Katie was unconscious. They go into the closet, but not a single one of the plastic garment bags have a hole or slit in them.
The scenario of being stuck in a garment bag was scary and suspenseful, but Hoh is ruining it with all this gaslighting bullshit. The timeline is too fudged. How did the Muffin Man get up there, without being seen, to dump poor Katie into the bag, if Mrs. Coates was roaming around the building and even in the attic itself? Plus, all of our suspects were on the ground floor together. What time would the Muffin Man have to slip away from them all, once again without being seen or noticed, to conveniently find an unconscious Katie and put her in the bag, THEN steal away AGAIN to hide a damaged garment bag, without encountering Katie, who is on her way down? It just beggars belief. In real life, the book would be over at this point. I suppose the Muffin Man could have got Katie into the bag while they were all searching for her, but why wouldn’t one of them be assigned to check the attic? And there just simply isn’t a believable way for the Muffin Man to have gone back there a second time to hide the bag. [Wing: Yeah, it would make more sense if they were all still scattered around in various places or they were coming in and out of the building, something to give more time. I’m not sure what purpose the gaslighting serves, anyway. What good does it do? Isn’t it creepier for her if someone is after her, whether or not anyone else knows it?]
I’m thinking about this way too much, aren’t I?
No, wait. I’m not. THIS ACTUALLY MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL. The only way the Muffin Man could know his murder attempt was unsuccessful was when he saw for himself that Katie was okay, the same time as everyone else. After that, there was no opportunity for him to go up there and hide the damaged bag. Plus, if the Muffin Man thinks Katie is guilty and her punishment is death, why bother with the gaslighting, unless he knew beforehand his murder attempt would be unsuccessful?
Okay. I’m moving on. My head hurts. Hoh didn’t think that thing through at all.
Her friends are all sympathetic, but they aren’t saying, “We have to find out who did this to you, Katie,” which is what she wants to hear. Back at the Quad, she tells LuAnn she’s going for a soda, but she instead goes out to the riverbank once again. I think Katie’s still at the anger/denial stage of her grief. There’s some recapping of what’s happened so far, some musings on how she doesn’t feel safe in familiar places anymore….and then she finds Brownie’s wallet.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 point. That Katie, of all people, would find this, is just a little too serendipitous.
She goes through it, experiencing memories of her relationship through the pictures she finds in there. But her favourite picture, taken at a tennis match, of her and Brownie smiling at each other, is not there. Brownie liked it so much he got two wallet-sized copies made, one for him and one for her. Katie is incredibly sad that that picture, of all of them, would be ripped away by the river. But doesn’t she have her own copy? LuAnn freaks out when Katie returns, because she had been gone so long. When Katie says she was at the river, LuAnn doesn’t think that’s healthy. While I like LuAnn least out of Katie’s friends, she may have a point. If Katie is going to the river to process her grief, that may be one thing, but this is more Katie holding on to her grief. The river is where Brownie died. I don’t think she’s going to remember the good things about their (brief) relationship by obsessively visiting the place that ended those memories. Good grief. This Point Horror is making me think Deep Thoughts. [Wing: Makes for great reading for the rest of us! And you make a good point; it hasn’t been much time at all, so I am sympathetic and willing to cut her a lot of slack, but she isn’t doing things that are healthy for her. I understand how that can work, I’ve been there myself, and I wish I’d listened to my friends just like I wish she’d listen to hers.]
We then learn Callie and Davis have broken up. Wait – they were a couple? The next morning, Davis shows up and asks Katie to go for a coffee, where he tries to convince her to speak to somebody. This is portrayed well. Davis is not being critical or judgmental, he simply thinks Katie would benefit from speaking to a professional if she feels she can’t talk to her friends. [Wing: Davis is amazing here.] It’s Katie who is angry at this, and then spends the rest of the day doing things that she thinks “normal” people would do. She decides not to give Brownie’s wallet to Callie, as she had previously planned to do, because that would make them cry about Brownie, and ruin her “normal” day.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 4 points
After lunch with Allen and Callie, where she notes they would make a good couple, she studies at the library, then goes back to her dorm to nap. When she wakes, it is dark, and LuAnn and Linda are on LuAnn’s bed “studying”. [Wing: Making out? Because that’s where my mind went.] Katie hates the look of sympathy in their eyes for her, the “basket case who had to sleep during the day just to say afloat.” If it was a sin or some of personality fault to nap during the day, I’d be screwed.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 5 points
Deciding she’s no basket case, Katie cajoles Linda and LuAnn into coming swimming with her in the Olympic sized pool the swim team uses, even though it’s closed. She figures she will be safe with two other people around.
Then why not just stay where you are, in your fucking room, where two other people are already with you, Katie? Good grief. Have a threesome, or something. [Wing: I just burst into applause.]
DED FROM STUPID: 100 points (we all know something’s going to happen).
The two girls are scared of getting caught, but Katie says she’ll take the blame if they are, because everybody thinks she’s crazy anyway.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 10 points
I will counter these mental health counters with the fact that the majority of them are coming from Katie herself, and her own judgmental attitude towards what she is feeling, and dealing with those feelings, which may actually be an accurate representation of a teenage girl struggling with significant grief for the first time in her life, when she isn’t sure how to cope with that. As evidenced above with the scene with Davis, Hoh is actually much more sensitive about this than other Point Horror authors – she’s saying it’s normal to feel the way Katie is feeling, and it’s good to talk to someone and there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help to do so. Once again, Deep Thoughts here.
[Wing: I agree. I’d still rather it not be in the book, because I don’t think it adds anything to it, and we could understand Katie’s struggles without the language (her story wouldn’t lose any weight without them or without her constantly thinking about how she must be crazy or how everyone else must think she’s crazy). However, Hoh handles it a lot better than many authors would, and the text doesn’t really support Katie in her belief that this is what’s going on and what people think about her.]
The three girls go swimming, but do so in the dark, to not attract attention. Katie finds it very relaxing, easing her muscles and worries. After an hour, LuAnn and Linda get out because they’re starving (or want to sneak off to make out). [Wing: Dade, my dude, you and I are on the same wavelength.] Katie won’t go with them, despite the rule nobody can be in the pool alone. She says it’s too late to worry about rules, that she’ll catch up with them, and sends them on their way.
Even though, an hour earlier, she came here with two other people in order to stay safe.
DED FROM STUPID: 1000 points.
It should be no surprise that somebody else hops into the pool with her. An iron-like grip keeps grabbing her by her ankles, or her waist, or her shoulders, dragging her back down into the water each time she tries to resurface and swim to safety. I’m not sure how Muffin Man intends to drown her without drowning himself, but there you go. [Wing: Right, this sort of scene works better when it is a supernatural thing, generally a ghost, that drags her down. When it is another person, unless they’re kitted out in snorkeling gear or something — or can hold their breath for record-breaking lengths of time — there’s no way for me to suspend my disbelief that they could both try to drown her and keep themselves hidden without also drowning themselves.] While this scenario is creepy, it’s essentially rendered ineffective because its set-up is so artificial and so very, very, very contrived. There just isn’t any conceivable, reasonable explanation for Katie being alone at this point. Katie’s elbow is free long enough to slam it backwards, where it meets hard bone, and she gets free. She runs away, and runs into a security guard. I think we all know what happens next:
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 point (Security guard thinks she’s making up a murder attempt to get out of trouble for swimming in the pool when she shouldn’t. When, you know, reporting a murder attempt would generally involve attracting more attention from even more authorities.)
The security guard gets her name (Katie gives a false one), warns her not to tell porky pies, and drops her at her dorm. Katie figures if the security guard won’t believe her, neither will the police. Shouldn’t the security guard notify the police of her claims, as a matter of law? In any case, with people being easily knocked out of fourth story windows (Deadly Attraction), being easily able to rig dorm buildings to explode (The Silent Scream), keep deadly weaponry in their rooms (The Roommate), blown out onto observation decks or have buses easily stolen (The Wish), or buses crash with cheerleaders inside (The Scream Team), and now kids being allowed to go canoeing in clearly unsafe conditions and break into swimming complexes, you’d be forgiven for thinking Salem University is actively begging for a lawsuit. Unless they have some sort of awesome insurance policy. [Wing: New theory. Salem University kidnaps and brainwashes teens into thinking that they are attending a university just to watch them tear each other apart.]
Back in her dorm, Katie has a shower, and when she gets out, LuAnn has left her a note to say she’s at Nightingale Hall. So LuAnn and Linda didn’t even bother to see if Katie would catch up to them like she said. Which only furthers my belief they were sneaking off to make out. At that point, Allen and Davis arrive for a visit. At this time of night? Were they off having a little make-out session too? [Wing: All the queer make-outs. All of them, Hoh. Give them to me.] She’s about to tell them what happened, when the phone rings. It’s for LuAnn, but that’s when Katie sees in a mirror reflection that the framed photo of her parents that normally sits on her bedside table has been replaced with a framed photo of Brownie.
This would be more effective if that photo had been mentioned before this point. Note: it may have been, because 20 years of beer drinking has slowed my brain down a bit, but I don’t think it was. Hoh has pulled this sort of trick before, in Deadly Attraction, when Hailey was saved by a hangbag she was carrying that had never been there prior to it rescuing her from certain death.
Davis and Allen wonder why she’s looking at the picture like she’s never seen it before, but when she tries to tell them, they chalk it up to being the same as the other things going wrong in her life – the gas tank being empty, the missing assignment etc. She starts searching for Brownie’s wallet, but can’t find it. I’m not sure what happens to Davis and Allen (why did they even drop by to visit?) because next thing, LuAnn is back at the dorm, and Katie is asking her if she has told anyone that Katie has the wallet, as LuAnn was the only person Katie told that she had it.
When Katie says she can’t find it, LuAnn says it’s no wonder because the place is always a pigsty. Hurt, Katie says LuAnn can always move out, and LuAnn says she probably will. While I don’t really like LuAnn, I don’t really blame her for feeling this way. Katie takes this opportunity to ask LuAnn if she switched over the photographs. What motive Katie has for thinking LuAnn would do this is not explained.
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 point
LuAnn is understandably upset, and things are tense when the girls go to bed. LuAnn seems fine the next morning, though, and reminds Katie about Linda Carlyle’s party that night. Katie had forgotten all about it, and doesn’t really feel like going, until she realises this is a good opportunity to find that missing damaged plastic garment bag (so people will finally believe she’s telling the truth). Once at the party, Linda announces a treasure hunt, [Wing: Well that’s damn convenient. And I was going to say unlikely for a university party, but I definitely did a scavenger hunt or two in my time at university. Not generally at a party, but still.] so Katie figures this is a good time to investigate. Although returning to the attic makes her feel sick, she manages to do it, but can find no sign of the garment bag.
Katie gives up and goes downstairs to the dining room, sinking into a dining room chair, opposite a big cake. The house is empty, because the scavenger hunt has moved outside. Katie is about to join in, when she hears somebody singing Happy Birthday. She is horrified when she realises the singing voice belongs to Brownie. Of course. Not sure how the Muffin Man could predict ahead of time that Katie would be alone, in this very location, AT A PARTY, but my head still hurts from that sequence at Nightmare Hall, so I’m just going to move on. [Wing: I’d say that the Muffin Man is simply taking advantage of situations as they find them, but there is a lot of work in each of these situations. Doable, but often far too convenient, and I would actually believe more of them in a modern setting with smart phones.]
She’s found slumped in her chair by her friends and multiple other party-goers. After Katie gets Davis to get the other party-goers to leave, she tries telling her friends that she heard Brownie singing, but they – shock, horror – don’t believe her. Katie decides to leave the party, and Allen insists on keeping her company. Davis offers to come with them, but Katie says no. She can see the concern in his eyes, and wishes his feelings for her were something entirely different. This surprises her, and makes her feel guilty, thinking it’s too soon to feel this way after Brownie’s death. [Wing: Poor girl, that’s hard. But also, she and Brownie hadn’t known each other for very long, so it’s understandable, too.]
She immediately suggest to Allen they go the tower, the tallest building on campus, which has a great view. He vetoes this, saying she’ll probably dance on the 18th floor terrace wall. He thinks it’s lucky she didn’t get pneumonia after dancing in the fountain. She’s annoyed, accusing him of sounding like someone’s mother. This leads him to mention that no, he’s not her mother – or father – or brother, and that’s what a lot of people assumed he was. Hmm. Interesting.
They go to Burgers Etc instead, where Allen suggests she can transfer to a university closer to home, and he can go with her, if it makes her feel better. Hmm. Interesting. She says she wants to stay at Salem, and Allen agrees, saying he’s not keen on leaving either, now. Katie thinks this is because he is developing feelings for Callie, but I’m not so sure. Davis, Callie and LuAnn show up because the party is over.
In the next chapter, we learn that Callie and Allen are spending a lot of time together, making Katie feel a bit lonely. She’s avoiding Davis, because she feels guilty about her changing feelings for him. She thinks it makes her disloyal. We get an interesting flashback about Brownie’s jealousy and anger over what he thinks is her checking out another guy. He apologises later, saying it’s only because he loves her, which she’d liked hearing. But she realised there were so many things about her that seemed to annoy him. And she’d come to realise, in her darker moments, that the only way she felt she could keep him was to be more like him.
I really like this. When Hoh’s in good form, she can bring so much more depth to the material than other authors. As demonstrated in The Silent Scream as well, she can subtly and effectively reveal the controlling or abusive elements to a relationship, and that these aren’t good things to have in a relationship.
We also learn that LuAnn has ditched Katie as a roommate, and moved in with Linda Carlyle at Nightmare Hall. Since this book seems to be existing on the same timeline concurrently as the events in The Silent Scream, we can assume for a fact that there isn’t a spare room in Nightmare Hall. So LuAnn and Linda would be sharing a single bedroom and single bed. I knew they were dating. [Wing: I ship them. Only for love or lust will a girl risk living with a ghost when she had a perfectly good room elsewhere.]
On her first night alone, she convinces Allen, Davis and Callie to come to Vinnie’s. While Callie and Allen play pool, Davis tries to have a conversation with Katie, asking her how she’s feeling. She hates everybody looking at her as if she’s “that girl”, but Davis suggests it’s just because she looks good in her red shirt. She tells him he’s doing a bad impression of Brownie. He counters that with how Katie has been trying her best to act like Brownie, and it’s doing her no good. She should go back to being who she really is. Katie argues that the person she used to be is the one who got Brownie killed. Ack. Sometimes this book is just too observant, smart, and on-the-nose for its own good.
Davis says that Brownie was foolish and irresponsible. He never should have gone out on the river that day, and risked Katie’s life as well as his own. She’s not guilty of anything other than loving him. Katie rightly points out that somebody doesn’t agree with that. After Vinnie’s, Katie convinces Callie to come back to her dorm with her. They have to study, and both have a philosophy assignment overdue. When Callie goes downstairs to get coffee, Katie can’t find her philosophy book in her backpack. So she checks Callie’s.
Out fall two audio cassette tapes. Haha, cassettes. Remember them? They’re labelled BROWNIE. Katie plays the first one, and it’s of Brownie singing Happy Birthday. She plays the second tape, which is of Brownie saying, “It’s all your fault.” Callie, of course, conveniently returns at this point.
So, yes, it was Callie who played the tapes to make Katie think she was hearing Brownie’s voice. The Happy Birthday tape is self-explanatory, just edited to remove Callie’s name. The “it’s all your fault” tape was an answering machine message after Brownie’s car ran out of gas because Callie used it before him. Haha, answering machines. Remember them? Callie was also gaslighting Katie with the assignment, the gas tank, and the switcheroo of Katie’s wallet. However, she denies the GUILTY message on the car, and the attempts to kill Katie in the Nightmare Hall attic and the pool.
When Callie makes no move to kill her, Katie comes to accept what she’s saying. Callie was just extremely upset because she still blamed Katie for Brownie’s death, even though she pretended everything was copacetic between them. She hated the way it seemed as if Katie was still partying, even after Brownie’s death. She wanted Katie to be as miserable as she was. It’s even the reason why Callie and Davis broke up – he knew Callie still blamed Katie, and got so sick and tired of hearing Callie bitch about Katie that he didn’t want to be around Callie until she got over it. When Allen seemed interested, the break-up didn’t seem too terrible. Callie also mentions that Davis has the same tennis court picture of Brownie and Katie that Katie thought there were only two copies of (her and Brownie’s). Now that Callie’s actions are all out in the open, Callie is very tired, and doesn’t feel so angry anymore. She says she would totally understand if Katie reported her and got her kicked out of Salem.
Katie is a far better person than I am, because she agrees not to say anything, reasoning that both she and Callie lost somebody close to them. See, once you cross me in that way, that’s it! I could hold a grudge for Australia (as could most of my family). In Katie’s shoes, I would have reported Callie and got her kicked out of school. Callie actively set out to HARM another person. Maybe not physical harm, but she was intentionally harming another person, nonetheless. Personally, I don’t think that’s very forgivable, grief-stricken or not. Katie being a bit mean and thoughtless to her friends pales in comparison.
However, Callie isn’t the true Muffin Man, and Katie agrees not to say anything, so long as Callie spends the night. Callie, being the grateful, snivelling coward she is, readily acquiesces. Katie tries calling Davis to ask him about the picture, but he’s not at his dorm. She wonders where he is, since it’s quite late. On a date with Allen, maybe? Katie actually gets a good night’s sleep. The next morning, the two girls actually have a conversation about Brownie, prompted by Callie not being surprised that a picture got sucked out of Brownie’s wallet – he was really knocked around by the river. There was a terrible gash on his skull when the police found him. It’s believed he hit his head, hard, and that’s what caused him to drown.
[Wing: Suitably creepy and foreboding, that.]
Katie heads out, looking for Davis, wanting to ask him about the picture. When she finds him, he’s looking tired. She remembers he was out late, and wonders if he had a heavy date. Yes, Katie, with Allen! Anyway, Davis says he got the negatives from that day from Brownie, because he had good memories of “creaming Jon Shea” (from The Silent Scream). Hmmm. That would be an interesting set of pictures, but of course, I have a smutty, juvenile sense of humour. [Wing: My sister used to work developing photos, and the things people would take in. People are dirty. Heh.] Davis particularly liked that picture, because Brownie was his friend, and Katie was in there too, and that seemed right somehow.
Katie goes to the fountain and sits, brooding over how suspicious she is of everybody, how she doesn’t feel safe etc. Allen finds her and sits with her, sympathizing when she tells him she only just found out the circumstances of Brownie’s death. Katie keeps complaining that nobody told her, and it’s grating on my nerves. It is not Katie’s friend’s responsibility to keep her up to date with every single piece of information. Katie seems like a capable person – she can find things out for herself, once in a while, can’t she? [Wing: Katie! Why would they tell you? You’re already acting in really destructive ways, and everyone thinks you are mourning deeply. They don’t want to add that to you.]
Allen says seeing Katie pensive like that was kind of like old times, so she snaps him out of that delusion by behaving like a bitch and hopping into the fountain to splash water on him. Kit is gone forever, okay?!? Allen is understandably pissed off, asking when is Katie going to wise up and realise that acting like Brownie isn’t working for her. Feeling bad, Katie goes back to her dorm, where Davis soon arrives, wanting to know more about why she was asking about the pictures, and why it was so important where he got the picture from. She says the picture used to be in Brownie’s wallet, but wasn’t there when she found it. Davis realises she thinks that means he found the wallet and took the picture, so he leaves to get the negatives and prove it to her.
All this talk about pictures makes her think about the pictures Callie took on the day that Brownie died. She gave them all a set, apparently. [Wing: … What. Why. On a day like that, why would you give everyone copies of the pictures? Whether or not Brownie is in them — no. Just no. Not okay.] Katie looks at them. Thankfully, Brownie isn’t in any of the pictures – but neither is Allen. She thinks it must be because he doesn’t like his picture being taken, and ducked away whenever Callie tried to take one of him. At that moment, Callie calls to ask her to stay over at her dorm, so Katie mentions the pictures, and Allen’s absence. Callie reveals it was because Allen actually ditched them during the hike and went back to his dorm.
This has Katie thinking that perhaps Allen saw something on the day Brownie died, like him struggling to shore, and might know what happened. She thinks maybe he wouldn’t have said anything because it would hurt her too much. Um, Katie, none of this reasoning makes a lick of sense, and you essentially know how Brownie died, now. None of this is going to help you with your grief. Of course, we the reader know that this is likely author contrivance, so that Katie can find herself at the mercy of the Muffin Man. I think by now it’s obvious that Hoh is leading to the reveal that Allen is the Muffin Man. Or, the other Muffin Man, as it were, as Callie was behind a lot of stuff as well. The two deserve each other, really.
Katie goes to Allen’s dorm on the fourth floor first. The door is unlocked, but he’s not there. Figuring he’s at the library, and she’ll need a heavier sweater if she’s going out on campus, she decides to borrow one of Allen’s. She goes to his closet, and when she pushes aside some shirts, she sees a large, blown-up version of the picture of her and Brownie, but Allen has replaced Brownie’s head with his own.
Oh my God. The whole bad-guy-putting-their-face-in-other-pictures trope is one of my favourites in 90s thrillers and made-for-TV movies, so I loved this little tidbit. And do you think this is a good time for Allen to show up? You bet.
Allen reaches into his desk and retrieves a knife. Katie is trapped by the closet door. As it turns out, Allen hit Brownie in the head with a rock, took his wallet, and let the river take him away to his death. He killed Brownie, because he hated how Kit had fallen for him, when he was so conceited and show-offy. Kit was supposed to be with Allen when they got to college. Everybody knew it – his parents, her parents, their friends. Although they were pals, he had always been confident Kit would start to see him differently, and they could plan their life together, and Brownie ruined all of that.
The missing damaged garment bag was folded up and put inside another garment bag, which was why Katie never found it. Still doesn’t explain how Allen ever had the time to do that, though.
But if Allen doesn’t think Katie’s guilty of being responsible for Brownie’s death, why is he trying to kill her? Allen now has a grip around Katie’s waist, and a knife to her throat, and reveals that she’s guilty for killing Kit. After killing Brownie, he was furious that Kit went away for two weeks, and Katie came back in her place, acting just like the guy he’d killed. Allen couldn’t stand it. He kept waiting around, reminding Katie of what she used to do, or used to be like as Kit, but Katie kept on coming back. So, Allen wrote GUILTY on the car, attacked Katie at Nightmare Hall and in the pool, and Callie did the rest.
Allen has the knife to Katie’s back, leading her into the hallway, and to the stairwell. They see nobody on the way. Allen explains that Katie is guilty of killing Kit Sullivan, and the punishment is death. Katie realises that Allen is taking her to the river where Brownie died. They reach the old railroad bridge that goes over the river, although trains hadn’t used it for a long time. Salem students are warned not to cross it, because it’s deteriorating. But they can take canoes out in dangerously wild conditions, obviously. [Wing: I’m pretty sure that Hoh loves to write the same visuals I love to write, because she constantly makes actions happen in the same places I want to write about them happening. Creepy old railroad bridge falling apart? CHECK.]
Knife pressed to her chin, Allen wants her to cross the bridge on a narrow black railing that spans the length of the bridge. It’s not even as wide as Katie’s shoes. She insists she can’t – she’ll fall into the river and die. Allen thinks this is the perfect activity for reckless Katie Sullivan, who’s always climbing up fire escapes and dancing in fountains. Knowing she likes a crowd, Allen promises to clap and yell as she’s crossing. Katie climbs a side beam, and steps onto the railing. Above it, there’s an overhead support, but Katie will only be able to hold onto it for a short while before it slopes away at an angle she can’t reach. Allen remarks this would be much more interesting if she were hearing high heels.
If she falls, Allen says everyone will think it’s suicide, that she finally couldn’t cope with Brownie’s loss any longer. The overhead support finally slopes away, and Katie is forced to balance on the railing with nothing to hold on to, with Allen jabbing his knife at her legs to keep her moving. Oh God. I swear I’ve had nightmares similar to this. Hoh is good at describing the events, so you can just picture them happening. My stomach is churning slightly as I read this.
Katie starts thinking how Allen is intent on killing Katie, not Kit. Well, she used to be Kit, didn’t she? How would Kit have reacted to being made to walk a narrow bridge railing high above a river? She’d be paralysed with fear, which isn’t much of a stretch for Katie either. Trying to appear more helpless, making her voice more breathy, more like Kit, Katie begs for help. She starts reminding Allen of all the things he did in their past to help Kit and protect Kit. Allen slowly begins to believe that Kit really has come back.
When Katie starts wavering on the railing, Allen drops the knife and hops up to help her. The knife falls through a gap in the bridge. If he’d known this was all it took to get Kit back…but when he reaches a hand to her to help (and he’s taller, so he can reach the overhead support that is too far to Katie’s left), Katie gets a picture of him braining Brownie, and recoils. He realises instantly that she tricked him, and slaps at her, knocking her completely off-balance. She grabs hold of him as she falls, and ends up dragging him off the bridge, down into the river below.
Katie is surprised when the impact with the river doesn’t kill her, after all. And the water, though viciously cold, is not swirling angrily. She forces herself to swim to the foreshore. Kit Sullivan did die in the river that day, but the Katie who survived thought life was too short and precious not to fight for every minute of it. A nice, succinct way of describing Katie’s will to live. Katie does make it shore, where Davis and Callie are arriving. Apparently Allen swam to shore as well, and promptly passed out.
As it turns out, Davis had suspected Allen all along. He’d noticed Allen leave the movie at one stage, and his hand was dusty. He wasn’t with the group for a bit when Katie was stuck in the garment bag. Davis had realised Allen really seemed to resent the change from Kit to Katie, and was looking for signs she was still Kit. He didn’t say anything – letting Katie think nobody believed that she was being stalked – because he wanted to be sure, and get some proof, before going to the police.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? REALLY, DAVIS?!!?? ARE YOU REALLY, TRULY FUCKING KIDDING ME?!!? YOU COMPLETE FUCKING TURD!
I want to bang my head against the desk. If I’d gone though what Katie had gone through, I’d smack Davis in the face, not lay my head gratefully in his lap. Good grief. He knew Allen had written GUILTY in the dust on Katie’s car and NEVER FUCKING THOUGHT TO MENTION IT TO A SINGLE PERSON?!?
This just beggars belief. I’m having trouble getting past it.
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: INFINITY
[Wing: That is some serious bullshit on Davis’ part. No way I’d stay friends with him.]
As for Katie, she’s pleased that she has friends who still care enough about her to search for her, and although she’ll always miss Brownie, she’s finally free from the guilt.
In general, Guilty really works. Katie isn’t always likable – in fact, close to unlikable on many an occasion. But this is a surprisingly deep, for its genre, examination of a teenage girl and how she copes with severe grief. Of course, she’s also coping with the fact one friend is a bitch trying to gaslight her, and her best friend wants to kill her for changing too much because of said grief. However, Katie’s feelings and motivations are explored sympathetically and intelligently, and she genuinely comes across as a real person, flawed and all.
I also really liked how grief worked itself into so many angles of the story. Allen killed Brownie out of his grief (and I guess anger) of losing the life he had planned out for himself. Then grief at losing Kit made him target Katie. It provided a very effective contrast to the main storyline. In fact, this is the rare occasion where the emotional and psychological aspects of the plot were actually much more effective than the suspense elements. The two big set-pieces – the Nightmare Hall attack and the pool attack – just didn’t work as well as they could have, because the circumstances of the first were physically impossible, and the second operated entirely against the previously established motivations of the characters. And that utterly stunning miscalculation with Davis’ revelation in the last couple of pages was a major bummer.
Otherwise, this is probably the best book so far in the Nightmare Hall series. It corrects the problems evident in previous outings: too many red herrings (The Silent Scream), main character with no real investment (Deadly Attraction), or too many characters simply trotting from one place to the next (The Wish). It’s emotionally intelligent and observant, and that climax was as intense and suspenseful as I remember it being.
Oh yeah, and LuAnn and Linda were definitely a couple.
[Wing: Still ship them. And I agree with everything you’ve said here. Guilty was, I think, my first Nightmare Hall book, and remains one of my favourites because of how well it deals with grief and how Katie lashes out in her pain, which is something I found very believable and, to me, sympathetic, because it rang true to how I reacted at that age, too. Some of the scenes felt set up to be very cinematic without enough attention paid to whether they would actually work, but it’s a fun, tense book.]
DED FROM STUPID: 1000 points.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 10 points
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 point
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 point
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 point
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: INFINITY