Recap #118: Spinetinglers #7: Snow Day by M. T. Coffin, a.k.a. “Is This The Book You Wished For?”
Title: Spinetinglers #7 – Snow Day
Author: M.T. Coffin, a.k.a. Robert Hawks
Cover Artist: ???
Tagline: The Weather Outside Is Frightful…
Summary: LET IT SNOW!
The kids all cheer when the bus driver tells them the schools have just been closed because of the snow. But the bus can’t make it through the blinding blizzard, and soon they are trapped in the freezing cold school bus. Through the wind and the snowflakes, someone sees lights on in an old farmhouse – and it looks warm and cosy. But what they find inside doesn’t make them feel safe at all! Strange portraits with glistening red eyes stare down at them. And when the kids go to the kitchen for something to eat, they have to pull open the heavy steel door of the freezer… and that’s just when the lights go out!
Here we have another of the supposed Goosebumps knock offs I mentioned, but much like Shivers the Spinetinglers series is much more darker and slightly geared towards a more older audience than the Goosebumps books were. I found out about this series when searching through Mark Nagata’s website and discovered one of the covers he did for this line. The first entry I ever bought was “Camp Crocodile,” but I’ve only read that book once. I have a modest number of books from this series, but “Snow Day” is currently my favorite.
M.T. Coffin is a pen name shared by a number of different authors, though.
I got this book in 2008 as a Christmas gift alongside “Weirdo Waldo’s Wax Museum,” which was appropriate because this is also one of the darkest YA horror novels I’ve ever read. I was instantly drawn to this book because, snow days and haunted houses, I live for those kind of stories, but that summary didn’t prepare me for the true horror behind it all. And none of you are prepared either. You think I’m being cute for drama, but I am NOT.
Thankfully the book isn’t all plot. A lot of it is geared towards the characters interacting with one another and their responses to the situation they find themselves trapped in. But that means this can be a slightly difficult book because you need to really focus on reading it. The author went through a lot of trouble to make sure the readers paid attention to what’s going on.
Just so you know, even if you can see the ending coming, that doesn’t make it any less horrible.
And it begins, appropriately enough, with the apocalypse.
[Wing: I’ve never heard of this series, either, but it sounds amazing so far.]
It started with the end of the world.
Or rather, a dream about the end of the world.
And Debi Greer knew this was a dream before it even started. Debi’s math class was interrupted when Ms. Peters stuck her head in the room and told Mrs. Fitzgerald “The cat’s in the cradle.” Mrs. Fitzgerald started crying. People started leaving school even though no classes were dismissed. Some even took their books with them. Debi asked Mrs. Fitzgerald what was going on, and her teacher told her it didn’t matter anymore. Because Ms. Peters has a sister who has a boyfriend who works for NASA and he found out and told her, and she told her sister, and now everyone knows that the meteor called Cheshire, twenty five miles across, has left its harmless orbit and is now coming screaming down to Earth’s surface with the power of a million hydrogen bombs.
[Wing: And the code for that is the cat’s in the cradle. This is fucking amazing.]
Debi woke up screaming from this enforced dream (she knew it was an enforced dream but she had no idea how or why she knew that phrase, let alone what it meant) and far away in the back of her head she heard a voice asking the same question:
Is this the dream you wished for? Is this the dream you wished for?
Now we get a look into Debi. 13 years old with red hair she’ll soon need to curl again and braces on her teeth, for most of her life Debi lived on an army base with her father and two older sisters. Dad is a real by the book kind of guy, but thankfully now that her dad moved to Wilke Fork, Pennsylvania, Debi didn’t have to spend her entire adolescence living by army rules the way her older, college student sisters had done. This morning, Debi was eagerly hoping school would be cancelled because of the snow, especially if it got so bad school would be closed for two days leading straight into the weekend and then Christmas break. Debi’s mainly worried about taking Mrs. Fitzgerald’s math test. She’s not a mathematician, she’s a poet, and already came up with a pretty good poem that morning.
Carlos Val the dread vampire
drove a hearse he had to hire
In the back he kept his box,
tattered cape and dirty socks.
He parked back in an alleyway,
hiding from the sun each day,
until he made one big mistake
and did not set the parking break.
[Wing: OH DEBI, you are adorable and delightful.]
Getting ready for school, Mr. Greer asks why Debi’s not wearing her boots despite the snow. Debi protests they look goofy and she’s already wearing thick socks and will be on a warm bus, not using a dogsled. Mr. Greer argues the boots are supposed to keep her warm, not look good. [Wing: You are going to regret it if you don’t wear those boots, Debi. Ugly or not, they help and cold feet suck.] Debi cranks up the radio to hear the morning news and drown out her dad, but is met by further disappointment when it turns out the schools will NOT be closing today.
But not every kid is being forced to go to school anyway like Debi is. When she gets on the bus, she sees there are only a handful of kids with her. Seems SOME parents like to give their kids a break. This motley crew is made up of:
- Cynthia “Cyndi” Brooks, lover of old war movies and paperback novels, currently reading a tale about a WWII submarine crew
- Larry Taylor, the token obnoxious loudmouth who likes to give people a hard time on the bus, especially girls
- Carl Lee, nice kid, but very reserved and seldom speaks
- Andrea Fritch, a.k.a. The Fritch, famous for her collection of tourist translation phrase books and her determined quest to master each language by the time she enters high school
- Thomas Tanner, a nerdy young boy Larry likes to pick on (much to everyone else’s disgust) who is reluctantly waiting for the bus with his mother by his side
[Wing: WHAT. That list of names contains waaaaaaaaaaaay too many of the real names of my family. WAY TOO MANY. If one of them is secretly a ghost writer, I’m going to set things on fire because they didn’t tell me.]
And behind the wheel was Milo, a.k.a. Mad Milo, the bus driver who acted like he was the operator of a carnival ride like a ferris wheel. Never a dull greeting when Milo’s at the controls.
“We’re fighting the elements this morning, all just to get you where you need to be.”
“Terrific,” Debi answered, climbing on board.
Milo never settled for a blah greeting. “Come on, smile, it’s almost Christmas.”
“I’ll smile next Christmas. Maybe.”
Sitting down next to Cyndi, Debi brings up her new poem and her dream before asking if Cyndi knows what an enforced dream is supposed to be. Cyndi responds she’s not sure, when suddenly Milo’s radio suddenly reports that, at the last second, officials have decided to close the schools after all! [Wing: This seems far too last minute, so I hope it ties into the weird dreams they’re having. Though around here, school is cancelled even for very little snow and it is called early on (usually before 6 a.m.). One time, Ostrich’s school was closed for a week for only a couple inches of snow.]
[Wing: Cheers to that.]
Cyndi doesn’t have that much time to celebrate though because she’s now the captain of a submarine under the ocean.
Or rather, she’s dreaming she’s the captain of a submarine.
All of sudden, we find ourselves in a dream with Cyndi as the star, being recognized as the captain of a submarine crew exactly like the one in the book she’s reading. Cyndi has always loved movies and novels about World War II, tales of battles and heroes and villains, and now here she is, captain of the USS Tigerfish, with the lives of every man on board hanging on her every decision. Cyndi gives the orders to Commander Walker, her second-in-command, on how to deal with an enemy boat in the vicinity. Cyndi takes in the sights and sounds of the submarine, how everything feels and seems real down to the last detail, when Debi appears and tells Cyndi they have to go. None of the other crewmen notice or acknowledge Debi is there when she grabs Cyndi’s arm and tells her they have to get away before it’s too late. Cyndi wants to enjoy her dream, only Debi tells her this is an enforced dream too, and the rest of the kids are all in horrible danger. Cyndi follows Debi through the submarine hatch back to the waking world, where there’s a problem…
Seems Mad Milo’s school bus has decided to become uncooperative. Milo is trying to turn the bus around to bring the kids back to their homes, but the bus manages to turn across the road before it shudders and stops. If another car, or worse, a truck, came down the road in this blinding snow, they wouldn’t notice a school bus with six kids and a driver unt-WHAM! Milo tries his hardest to get the bus moving, but it lurches forward just enough to slide into a nearby ditch. Realizing they’re now fully stuck, Milo turns to the radio to contact the bus headquarters. Unfortunately, Milo and the kids can hear the people on the other end, but headquarters can’t hear Milo and the kids. Larry decides to pitch in by complaining about how Milo got them stuck and how he should be at home playing the new Lizard Warrior video game. The kids, surprisingly, do not appreciate Larry’s contributions. Milo concedes defeat and tells the group they’ve no choice but to wait for someone to come along or until the radio works again, because the snow is too heavy for them to travel in. But hey, everyone’s got food, the bus is warm, and they have music to listen to. Milo even suggests they play Hangman to pass the time. By now, everyone’s gotten used to Milo’s Hangman games, and the creepy little poem he came up for it:
“Hangman, hangman, I know it seems absurd. A man may die, may really die if you fail to guess the word.”
Larry stomps that notion down pretty hard by telling Milo to shut up and focus on getting the bus going.
Debi can’t believe how this [INSERT TITLE HERE] has started. Carl Lee offers Milo a hand in figuring out what’s wrong with the radio. When Larry opens his mouth again, Andrea tells him to knock it off in both English AND French, making Larry sulk and Debi internally cheer on the Fritch. But while staring out at the thickening whiteness, Debi loses track of time and remembered stories her dad told her about cabin fever, about families in pioneer days who spent weeks or months trapped by snow until one day the isolation made them snap and they murdered their loved ones. Was there such a thing as bus fever? Cyndi breaks the monotony when she notices the cookie hiding in her lunch box.
“Ah, look at that,” said Cynthia, exploring her lunch box. “There’s a cookie hiding in here trying to look nonchalant.”
“Say what?” Debi didn’t understand; her mind had barely been on the bus, much less attending to cookies, but now even The Fritch looked over her seat to see what Cynthia was talking about.
“Nonchalant,” she was saying. “Not wanting to be noticed, because Mr. Cookie knows if I’m hungry I might notice and eat him.”
“Mr. Cookie?” asked The Fritch. “Monsieur Cookie is supposedly thinking about all of this?”
“Oui,” said Cynthia, using the only French word she knew, pulling open the plastic wrap and sticking the cookie into her mouth. “Oh, look, there’s another poor cookie, trying to act as if he didn’t notice what happened to the first cookie. Oops for both of them.”
[Wing: … Cyndi’s a little weird.]
Debi laughs, but then turns her attention towards the outside and wonders if the deteriorating weather will turn into a double snow day straight to Christmas break. Which would give her a better chance to study for the math test. Her mind wanders some more and she comes up with a rhyme, “When it snows things glow,” but she’s disappointed because it doesn’t make sense even though “Things glow” was the only way to make the rhyming meter work. [Wing: Um, Debi, that makes perfect sense. Talk about the lights on the snow, the way the sky seems lighter even though there are heavy clouds, etc.] Everyone else is busy around the bus, The Fritch showing her language books to Larry as he looks for curse words, Cynthia reading her novel, Carl Lee keeping to himself, and Thomas is napping. So Debi figures a little nap sounds good, but the moment she begins to drift off, someone begins screaming she has to wake up or she’ll die.
Larry has better things to do than die, because he’s inside his video game. It turns out the earlier science fiction writers like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne knew what they were talking about, because the first alien race to contact Earth did not have noble intentions. The D’aggi’annigs, a race of aliens who resembled mythical dragons, took over Earth like it was nothing and began to institute their way of life while utilizing Earth’s history to ease the human race into the process. Taking on forms similar to the Roman Empire, they became the D’aggi Legion, an all powerful and all protective empire. Larry, an orphan of the war between Earth and the dragons, was one of many human children adopted into D’aggi households. It was the D’aggi custom to take on the responsibilities for households of slain enemies, a way to transform hate to love, to turn enemy to ally.
Larry, however, was special, as he was adopted into the House of Ba’taul, the house that ruled all on Earth. And the child Ba’taul loved most was his human son. On the day of Larry’s birthday, Ba’taul announced they were restoring the position of prince chancellor in an effort to start slowly returning Earth’s throne to a human ruler, to celebrate good fortune and cement their togetherness. Ba’taul intones that Larry has now inherited the serpent ring, and is, begrudginly, asked for acceptance by Colonel Taanah and Saan the minister. As humans and dragons come forward to ask the prince chancellor for acceptance, Larry is surprised when, sure enough, Debi had to come in and ruin everything. Debi asks Larry if he knows what they have planned, and Larry says sure he knows the dragons are taking over Earth and the resistance has to stop them. Debi explains she’s not talking about his stupid game, but of Them. The only Them. The Them who have horrible things planned for Debi and the kids. Who want to make sure they can never go home…
[Wing: Well damn, all of this is really interesting. I like the weirdness of their dreams, and would happily read at least a short story about each world.]
Mad Milo is violently shaking Debi awake, screaming they have to get off the bus before they all suffocate. Milo is shouting he forgot about the carbon monoxide from leaving the bus running in one place. Milo is ordering everyone to get off the bus. Once the kids are outside in the snow and fresh air they begin coughing violently, recognizing how foul the air in the bus really was. And Debi realizes her dad was right about the boots, because her sneakers are getting soaked in the snow down to her socks. [Wing: YUP.] The bitter cold a nice wake up call, the kids decide, no problem, they can leave the engine on but open the windows. Except now that Milo’s turned it off, it refuses to turn back on. Larry is unrelenting in all this and continues to give Milo a hard time. Larry even describes Milo’s behavior as if he wakes up with a brand new brain every couple of months, getting them consistently lost and Debi, loathe as she is to admit it, realizes Milo’s personality and behavior does change a lot. Milo, on his part, seems incredibly upset about how things have turned and looks as though he’s on the verge of tears, so the rest of the kids try to assure him this isn’t his fault. Since the bus is stuck AND the engine’s no longer working, the kids have to look for shelter or let themselves freeze to death inside the bus. The kids and Milo discuss what to do, and Debi tries to play future peacekeeper by rationalizing, had the officials closed the schools earlier like they should have, no one would’ve been on the bus in the first place. [Wing: Also true.]
But now it’s Thomas Tanner’s turn to dream, and he’s living his desire to be a veterinarian when he gets older ten fold. Thomas has always loved animals, and admits his goal isn’t as exciting as most kids desire, but now he’s a, what do you call it? A zoologist in the Australian outback. [Wing: In the country where everything wants to kill you? GOOD LUCK, KID.] The air hot and dry, the jeep painted with zebra stripes, his driver named O’Toole, Thomas is completely taken in by how lush and alive this dream is, when he realizes the harsh truth that even dreams have dark sides. O’Toole brings up the problem of poachers, and Thomas notices a couple of high powered rifles in the back of the jeep. O’Toole promises Thomas those are only for emergencies, when, surprise of surprises, Debi steps in front of the jeep and tells Thomas they have to leave. Thomas pleads with Debi to leave him alone, gesturing to the animals around him and asking how she can expect him to abandon this. Debi simply responds because it isn’t real. O’Toole doesn’t even notice Debi standing in front of him. Thomas suddenly feels like he’s looking at a video on pause, and Debi warns him if they’re not careful, the whole world might end…
The kids and Milo are marching through the snow but have no idea what direction they’re going in. They might even be walking straight into the path of an oncoming vehicle but they wouldn’t be able to tell, the snow is so thick and fast and heavy. Debi thinks to herself how being cold isn’t really a thing you think about until you’re cold. The kids debate whether or not they should’ve stayed on the bus. Larry’s no help, making jokes like “I’m so cold I think I’m starting to warm up again” and going into painful detail about what hypothermia is as two of the kids start shivering. Which, he points out, is the first stage of dying from the cold. Things go from bad to worse when Milo somehow leads them to a sign that says “DEAD END,” which would mean they’ve been walking in the wrong direction this whole time. But wait! Larry is the first to spot salvation, in the form of an old, three story farmhouse with lights in the windows! Debi realizes this is the same house the bus has driven by multiple times in the past.
“There’s some lights on inside, that means somebody’s home.”
“Not necessarily,” muttered Larry. “Think about it. Mad Milo’s lights are on but there’s nobody home.”
“Be nice,” said Debi.
“I can’t be nice, because I’m being ice,” said Larry. ” He grinned from inside his hood. “See? I can be a poet, too.”
Debi is a little embarrassed Larry somehow knows about that, until the kids find another sign up ahead.
Muhlzae Maze Manor
Museum and Eventages – CLOSED FOREVER!!!
STAY AWAY! THIS MEANS YOU!
Well that’s not good.
The kids wonder what exactly a “Maze Manor” and “Eventages” are, but even with the sign’s warning, their only way out of the storm is into the house. It’s a good thing too, because now Larry’s starting to shiver as well…
Milo bangs on the front door, but nobody answers, yet the front door isn’t locked. The kids and Milo enter Muhlzae Maze Manor and find themselves in an entryway room, leading into five different directions.
“Hello?” Milo was creeping slowly into the big house, calling out through the entryway. “Hello? Anyone home? Is there anybody here?”
“Nobody but us ghosts,” answered Larry.
“There’s lights on, Larry,” said Cyndi. “I don’t think ghosts use lights.”
“They might if they were afraid of the dark.”
“It’s not dark outside.”
“Maybe it was dark when the ghosts got up to go to work in the morning.”
“Ghosts with jobs? Not too scary.”
But Debi’s attention is captivated by something besides the daily habits of the corporeal-impaired, a large painting in the entryway.
It was a strange, bizarre painting, very realistically done, like a photograph, except it was a photograph that couldn’t possibly have been taken in the real world. The picture showed a staircase inside of a mansion – maybe even this mansion – except the staircase stretched up, high, beyond any height possible. There seemed to be ten thousand steps, and none of them were level; all of the steps seemed off-kilter, shifting at strange, unlikely angles. The construction of an obviously mad carpenter, those steps would have been impossible to climb, to descend them a certain plunge, except at the top of the stairs – miles away it seemed – there was something that did not fall. At first almost too distant and small to make out, a few moments concentration showed Debi that was she was seeing up there was a tiny black cat with red eyes.
The eyes were as alive as she had ever seen in real life.
Pinpoints of life in an oil-and-ink vision.
The painting was the kind of thing that could hypnotize a person.
I’m sorry what were we talking about? OH YEAH.
Larry scares Debi out of her trance, and she asks what happened to Milo. It seems the bus driver is off looking for a phone, and Larry asks if Debi’s ever been in such a weird house. It almost feels like the kids are in a museum as they look for Milo and a phone to call for help. Debi and a few of the others don’t feel comfortable looking around, knowing this is someone else’s house and fearing what would happen if they were caught trespassing even if it was a matter of survival. The kids find an old fashioned phone inside a dustless sitting room. The room looks old, but is immaculate, which seems to be proof someone does live here. Yet the phone’s not even plugged in. Meanwhile, Thomas reports he got lost down a hallway of nothing but doors, but didn’t bother to see where they lead when the Fritch discovers the way to the kitchen. Larry decides to help himself to a snack when curiosity gets the best of him and he decides to inspect what’s inside the big, walk in freezer. He pulls open the door and everyone sees what’s inside.
But before Debi can even process the horrible thing inside the freezer, she finds herself standing on a castle rampart on a sunny day in merry old England. Debi knows she’s supposed to be in an old farmhouse, and recognizes the castle as the very one she often imagined whenever she read stories about knights and wizards. Debi is greeted by a knight named Lancelot, who explains she is queen of the castle Camelot, but Debi refuses to accept it. She knows she’s dreaming and demands to be let out. Lancelot doesn’t know what she’s talking about as Debi wonders if maybe this is a hallucination brought on by hypothermia, a dying dream. Debi screams at herself to wake up when Lancelot sees knights in black armor, assassins, bursting into the room. Seeing no other choice, Debi wonders, if she really is dying in a snowbank somewhere, maybe she can fly…
And instead wakes up back in the Muhlzae Maze Manor with Cyndi, Larry, and the others. No one knows what happened, but Cyndi and The Fritch mention having incredibly vivid dreams before Debi screamed and woke them up. Debi notices the freezer door now has a padlock on it, and Larry vehemently argues he didn’t see anything in the freezer because he never opened it. Debi knows he’s lying about something from the sound of his voice. Thomas pipes in he dreamed he was captain of the varsity football team and had a girlfriend. Debi’s thoughts return to cabin fever as the kids wonder if anyone is looking for them. Still not shaking free of her uncertainty around the freezer, Debi feels the manor is smaller on the inside than it looks. Larry adds they haven’t been upstairs yet, but The Fritch is totally against that idea and would rather stay in the entryway with her language books than rifle through a stranger’s home.
“Especially after being on that train?” asked Debi.
The Fritch shrugged. “That was nice. Maybe if I took a nap I’d have that dream again.”
“Maybe that’s the idea.”
The Fritch heads back to find her books while the others find Milo in the sitting room, trying the same phone and coming to the same conclusion they did. Larry decides to get comfortable while Debi retrieves her pen and notebook to focus on some poetry to keep her occupied. But it’s starting to get dark outside, and the moment Milo mentions they at least have electricity is when the lights go out.
Larry curses Milo for jinxing them, and Debi picks up on his agitated tone that he’s scared of the dark. Filing that away for future reference, Debi wonders why Milo keeps taking Larry’s abuse when Milo suggests they hunt for candles. Perusing through the kitchen, Milo pulls out a shoe box of over a 150 bits of assorted candles and reports there are more boxes just like this.
“How many are we going to need?”
“Depends on how dark it gets.”
“What? Dark is dark.”
“That’s not true,” said Milo, suddenly staring deep into Larry’s smart, wiseguy eyes. “In a strange house, far away from Mommy and Daddy, it can get a lot darker than it does at home.”
THIS BOOK CERTAINLY GOT DARKER THAT’S FOR SURE.
Milo says the heat won’t go out because he can hear the fuel furnace in the basement. Discussion goes to whether or not the house is haunted, then back to the dreams, and Cyndi finds it funny Debi’s the only one who had a nightmare, unless Larry had one as well but won’t say. Debi asks if Larry really did open the freezer; Cyndi thinks he did. Cyndi asks if Debi knows whose house this belongs to, saying Debi’s the type of person who just knows things.
Larry makes a crack about Debi’s poetry, so she decides to go to the entryway where The Fritch is… was, because she’s not there anymore. And if The Fritch left, she also took everyone’s wet coats, gloves, shoes, and book bags. [Wing: This is going well.] Milo panics and calls The Fritch by her first name. Debi fears The Fritch left, fears her friend is in big trouble. Yet Carl Lee finds no new tracks in the snow outside. Larry thinks the girl’s playing a game, Thomas thinks she went to explore the house, but Debi knows that isn’t true because The Fritch was vocally against rummaging through the house. Larry points out their stuff has to be outside otherwise the wet stuff would’ve dripped… and then he opens a door in the entryway that leads to nothing. Opens another door, and another blank wall.
“This isn’t possible,” said Larry, pushing a hand against a wall. “What kind of house has doors with walls behind them?”
“A haunted house,” said Cyndi.
Milo asserts the house isn’t haunted, and tells the kids not to rile themselves and that maybe they should go back in the sitting room and relax. Larry indignantly asks what Milo’s talking about when Milo explains his job is “To take care of you all” as best he can. Huh? Debi and Carl Lee exchange worried looks, wondering how Milo’s trying to tell them to take a nap. Cyndi sounds as if she’s about to cry as she says someone should take a picture of them all since it’s likely none of them will be together in a situation like this again. Thomas doesn’t find that funny when Larry asks if he’s scared he won’t see his mommy again. But, surprising everyone, Thomas calls Larry a loudmouthed jerk and soon a fight breaks out in the entryway. Carl Lee tries to break it up, and Larry gets in Thomas’s face saying he had much better dreams, where he was fighting against aliens ruling the Earth. Debi gets Larry to admit he DID open the freezer and saw whatever it was everyone else did, but all Larry remembers after opening the door is his dream and Debi screaming. Debi says they need to find Andrea. You know shit’s gone bad when they stop using nicknames.
Milo insists HE needs to find Andrea, but now the kids have had enough of him asking why he’s telling them to take naps when their friend could be hurt somewhere. Cyndi says splitting up to search is the last thing anyone should do in situations like this, but Carl Lee tells Debi she can check the upstairs while he checks the basement. Even when it’s pointed out how unlikely it would be of Andrea going near the basement, Carl Lee still wants to check to be sure. Debi tries her best not to look scared in front of the others, rationalizing Andrea probably went to look for a warm coat or jacket to wear when, armed with a candle, she ascends the stairs.
Debi calls out Andrea’s name as she climbs up the dark staircase with a stub of a candle, her only reassuring factor the voices below. Debi counts the steps and finds the staircase is going nowhere, just like the doors in the entryway. The house is like a carnival attraction, Debi’s realized. A funhouse. Some fun.
This house was barely real; it was as if it had been half thought out, part of someone’s imagination…
Or a dream? Was all of this a dream?
And then Debi hears the worst sound she could when she turns around and sees a panel sliding across the stairs below her, meaning she now has no choice but to keep going up. But another panel blocks off the top stairs, sealing her inside a small portion of staircase. Debi calls out to whoever is doing this, whoever owns the house, apologizing for breaking in even though it was an emergency. Debi fears she’ll run out of oxygen soon as she tries to find a way to pry the panels open. Setting the candle down on one of the steps, Debi tries to free herself when the light goes out.
And now she’s on a rocket ship, sitting next to none other than Mad Milo. Debi demands to know what’s going on as Milo explains they’re obviously about to go into orbit.
“No. This isn’t real.”
“It’s as real as you want it to be. It can last as long as you want it to. It could last forever. Ever thought about forever?”
Debi realizes Milo knows what’s going on, but Milo assures her he’s only trying to help her. [Wing: CREEPY. AS. FUCK.] Debi has had enough of this shit and gets out of her seat just as the rocket’s about to go off. Yelling for Andrea, Debi is told Andrea’s happy in France and that she needs to hold on. Debi ignores Milo, crying none of this is real as she feels the rocket blasting off and getting knocked into unconsciousness…
And wakes up in some half bedroom/half library, candles lit all around her. Hoping she really isn’t dead in some snowdrift somewhere, Debi cautiously gets up and inspects the bookshelves, but is not happy to see some of the titles, like
WHATEVER DREAM YOU WANT
COME ON DEBI, CONSIDER THE FUN
Debi throws that book away, and it dawns on her the bedroom seems half finished like the rest of the house. Not even that, but she knows her waking up in a bedroom after being on a rocket ship was ripped off from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” No one confirms that’s what this is when Debi finds a fish tank filled with cloudy water. She leans in close and BAM! Something heavy bangs against the glass and startles Debi. She tries to figure out what the purpose of all this is when she opens a closet to find six of everything, shirts and pants, inside, and six of the shirts have the same exact tear in the exact same place. Meanwhile, there are multiple sets of shoes, two of each pair. Debi isn’t surprised when she gets sealed inside the closet, threatening that her dad’s in the army and whoever is doing this is gonna get their ass kicked. And then she finds another door in the back of the closet. She has no choice but to investigate the incredibly narrow hallway, barely enough room to crawl inside. The incredibly tiny hallway leads to numerous other doors, peepholes in the wall… and a hangman’s gallows and noose. Debi tries incredibly hard not to scream as she tries the other doors, and ends up in a different bedroom, where there’s an open book atop the bed. Curious, Debi takes a peek at the open page.
which was a faithless way of reconsidering the things that happened that day. Hey, everybody else is happy in their dreamworlds, Miss Debi, why can’t you be? Don’t obsess what’s in the freezer. It’s a snow day, relax and enjoy it. You’ve got to calm yourself, don’t upset the others…
Debi refuses to acknowledge a book talking to her. How could she not be upset at this point?! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!
And then she hears the knocking.
“Shave And A Haircut, Two Bits.”
Debi jerks open the bedroom door just as the lights come back on, which would mean now she can see what’s in the freezer. But hey, there’s Milo at the end of the hall! And, at the other end of the hall? Huh? Taking the risk of running down the stairs again, Debi comes back into the entryway, where the cat in the picture is now taking up the whole frame. Overwhelmed by how she’s become trapped in a carnival funhouse, all Debi can do is reassure herself she’s not losing her mind, she is not insane. Milo tells her she IS. [Wing: Fuck out of here.]
Debi orders Milo to tell her where the other kids are. Milo explains they’re “Around.” They simply went off to enjoy the other rides. Debi said it was like being in an amusement park, but Debi never said that. Debi THOUGHT IT. Milo asks what her favorite ride at Disneyland is, and she replies “The haunted house.” Smiling, Milo reveals to Debi the reason her dreams keep turning into nightmare is because she won’t settle down and accept the idea of living in a dream. Milo brings out the logic that on a snow day, you never have to wake up from a good dream, but the moment Debi says how stupid that is, she finds herself in a rustic cabin in 1722. Milo comes in, dressed for the occasion, and starts to explain some of what’s going on. Milo claims one of the problems is that Debi’s hard to surprise, and he’s still not sure what she does and does not know. But no, she’s not crazy and she’s not dying in a snowdrift. Milo helps himself to some soup, marveling at how a person could eat ice cream every day in a dream and never get fat. Debi grabs the nearby flintlock rifle.
“Tell me or I’m going to shoot you.”
“You wouldn’t do that…”
Shaking, Debi raised the rifle and aimed. “Dare me.”
“Debi, this is all up to you.”
And is back in the farmhouse.
Debi briefly considers running into the snow even though she’s not dressed for the cold, but knows she can’t abandon her friends and rages through the sitting room and kitchen telling Milo to show himself. And he does. Twice. Because there are two Milos, standing side by side, discussing what to do with her. All Debi can do is think of a poem.
the rat ate the cheese.
it never said, “Please.”
the cat knew what to do.
it said, “Thank you.”
Debi asks what the whole twin situation is about, and one of the Milos seems to like that. They start talking about their grandma Muhlzae, an insane old lady whose husband was a hangman and got rich hanging people, but grandma couldn’t stand having the money so she spent it on the house always adding new rooms and doors and hallways and such. Grandma Muhlzae murdered their mother, they say, and refused to let them be twins. They could only be one person. Debi calls so much bullshit on that you wouldn’t believe it. She knows that’s a haunted house attraction story they’re narrating and their granny isn’t the one making her go through these enforced dreams, but the Milos assert the house WAS owned by a madwoman. They claim the Maze Manor is some kind of focal point. And a storage facility. They tell Debi she needs to settle down and accept her dreams like the others have, but then the Milos start arguing. They’ve gone through this before, they tell each other. Their notes read “The girl Debi won’t cooperate.” But they’re too mixed up over who experienced it first when a third Milo appears, and reveals Debi doesn’t remember what happened in the freezer because they won’t LET her remember… until now.
Debi. Cyndi. Larry. Andrea. Thomas. And Carl Lee. Inside the freezer, strapped to the walls. Their faces blue and frosty, with all sorts of wires and tubes stuck in their arms.
Debi can’t handle this information as the Milos explain they need her to calm down because they need her to finally understand why this is all happening. Debi is taken to another dream, a dream of the future, of glittering, metal skyscrapers and an endless city with no name. Milo, one Milo, shows off a futuristic suit of changing colors, his chameleon suit, as he explains there are so few people left in this future. But after they developed time travel, they figured out what to do. See, there are so many different versions of Milo because he keeps going back to different points in Debi’s present to change the outcome. That’s why Milo always seemed so different on certain days. Debi doesn’t get what this has to do with her friends when Milo asks if she’s heard of organ transplants. Debi freaks, but Milo attempts to calm her saying it’s nothing quite as severe. People in his time are dying off because their immune systems are shot. They have no resistance to disease. The city is almost empty. Which is why they need the kids. Why they gave them their dreams to make up for their lack of living. They need them. Or rather…
“We need your blood.”
Debi is then whisked off to another frontier, this time on horseback. Instead of Milo she find Carl Lee. Carl says he always loved western movies as Debi begs him to wake up, telling him this is a dream and he’s left behind his entire family, his whole life and future. Debi tries to tell him what’s really going on when Milo the Kid shows up with his gang of bandits. Debi asks why she has to keep quiet when Milo told her the truth. Milo says they only told her what she already knew, and a gunfight breaks out. Debi wonders why Milo’s men aren’t listening to him, and she wonders if this is actually her dream instead. Brought back to the farmhouse, Debi’s resolve is almost broken for good when the Milos show her something worse than freezer.
Because she’s THIRTY YEARS OLD.
The Milos tell her she’s spent years, decades, half awakening and ruining everyone else’s dreams. She’s wasted her life fighting. They stole years from her, and they’re going to keep doing it until she stops fighting. She only gets one hundred thousand more chan-
A shrill noise awakes Debi, and she sees Milo, the oldest Milo yet, unhooking her from the wall in the freezer. Milo tells her they have to hurry and get the other kids out, because it’s over. They’ll spend 80 years trying to control Debi and it doesn’t work, Milo the Elder explains. All that time wasted just to prolong their existence. Milo says they’re giving Debi and the others their lives back, having realized through all her fighting they never thought to change their future through the kids instead of harvesting their blood. Milo only asks that Debi not reveal this to the others, because his younger selves, the other Milos who haven’t given up, are still out there and just need one more snow day to try this again. Milo offers to let Debi go into her friends’ dreams to awaken them, which she does.
It was hard, but Debi managed to find the rest of the kids and another younger, confused Milo, to get out of the Muhlzae Maze Manor. Larry, seeming to have been thoroughly freaked out by the experience, confides in Debi he likes poetry too.
“‘Lightning zapped my best friend Fred, fried the hat upon his head. Spent ten days afraid in bed, thanking God he wasn’t dead.'”
“I know the feeling…” said Debi.
The kids returned to their homes as snow lost celebrities, Christmas break came, and eventually Debi came to believe the whole snow day was just a hypothermia-induced dream.
Until one day in class when she remembered the apocalypse dream, and she had a thought. The worst thought imaginable.
What if… the dream she most wanted was the dream of her freedom?
[Wing: OH SNAP. That is twisty and Matrix-y and terrible and wonderful.]
WHAT THE FUCK???? Was my feeling after reading this book, one of the most fucked up, satisfying books I have ever read in the YA horror genre. I went in expecting a haunted house and got a story about the apocalypse, of a doomed future, of blood draining ghouls and futility.
Poor Debi, who is so well crafted and determined and tragic and such a good friend.
WHY DOES NO ONE ELSE TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK?
[Wing: I would be it’s because not a ton of people have heard of this book, which is a shame, because holy shit that was great. I can’t wait for more in this series.]
Wow. I’ve never heard of this series. Something to look out for in the second hand bookstores and op shops.
I live in Australia, and yes, it’s the place where everything seems to want to kill you. I’ve seen grasshoppers the size of my head.
Jude keeps recapping series I’ve never even heard of before, and it is GREAT. (Though less so for my book budget.)
Okay so I didn’t know this until a short while ago, but apparently that whole bit about the grandmother who spent her hangman husband’s money adding more rooms to her house because she didn’t want money made from killing people may have been a reference to Sarah Winchester.
That makes a ton of sense, actually!