Recap #148: Shivers #24: The Ghosts of Devil’s Marsh by M.D. Spenser
Title: Shivers #24 – The Ghosts of Devil’s Marsh
Author: M.D. Spenser
Cover Artist: Eddie Roseboom
Summary: BIG GHOULS DON’T CRY…
Samantha should keep smiling. Otherwise, tears of fear might ruin her summer and probably her life. But the summer was already bad news. There she was on the coast with her cousins. Boy cousins, always around, acting like—well, boys. But cousins can be cool!
Especially when you might need them to save your life. Is that cozy coastal town they’re on really haunted? Could be! That might explain all those strange things Samantha sees and hears.
It gets stranger and stranger when Samantha discovers the shocking truth behind the terror. Will all the cousins stay safe and sound or is it the beginning of the end for everyone?
LISTEN FOR THE VOICE OF DOOM!!!
You guys will remember the previous “Shivers” recap as one of the darkest books I’ve reviewed so far for this website. While this book isn’t necessarily as dark as “Weirdo Waldo’s Wax Museum,” I chose it because its primary theme is regret. And with the theme I’ve worked on for April 2017, an attempt to do some self-analyzing about my best friend’s death, the regrets in this book obviously hit close to home, otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen to recap it.
The villain in this feature has got to be one of the most understandable and relatable villains I’ve found in these books. Saying anything further would spoil what comes next.
Samantha McMillan warns you Bart’s Island is not what it seems. To everyone else, it looks like a cute, coastal town with its beaches, boardwalks, its pirate museum and its lighthouse with 129 steps, but those people don’t know about the ghosts. She used to be one of those people before last summer. [Wing: Well I would like to holiday there immediately.]
Sam wanted nothing to do with Bart’s Island. Or more specifically, she wanted nothing to do with the Dimswells, her cousins on her deceased father’s side. Sam’s mother had gotten a big promotion which meant she’d have to spend two months in France for her job but worried she wouldn’t have time to spend with Sam if she brought her along. So, Mrs. McMillan decided Sam could spend the summer with the Dimswells and could get to know her deceased father’s side of the family. Sam had no interest in being stuck with people she only met once when she was five, especially since all of her cousins were *Ugh* BOYS. She could tell even her mother wasn’t totally sold on the idea. But sure enough, Sam found herself on Bart’s Island, being picked up by her Uncle Tim.
Upon seeing the two-story Dimswell abode, Sam figured the place looked a bit rundown. But that made some sense since her aunt and uncle were marine biologists who worked all day. The moment Sam walked inside she was a bit overwhelmed by how messy the place was. Toys were all over the floor and the furniture looked incredibly worn. Sam sees her Aunt Sylvie shouting a warning from the bottom of the stairs for two of her kids to knock it off before she sees Sam for the first time in years. Sylvie is genuinely happy to see her niece but avoids overdoing it in the “Welcome” department, enveloping Sam in a hug. Sam’s not sure what to say and can only notice her aunt reminds her of someone when there’s a loud crash coming from upstairs. As Sylvie goes to deal with whomever or whatever made that noise, Tim brings Sam to her room.
Well, technically Sam’s staying in the attic and it’s just as messy as the rest of the house. There are more toys and an old sofa and TV with a video game system hooked up. Tim explains they weren’t sure where to place Sam among all the boys in the house, when Sylvie had the idea to set up a little makeshift bungalow for Sam, with a bed and dresser. Sam’s aunt and uncle hung blankets from the rafters to give Sam her privacy and from her windows, she’s got a good view of the island. Tim even mentions the quilt on her bed was handmade by her great-grandmother. As Tim leaves Sam to let her get settled, Sam only feels disconnected from… everything. There’s this understandable awkwardness of being immersed in family she barely knows, and all this talk about a father she’s never known isn’t helping.
I ran my hand along the edge of the patches. My great-grandmother. My aunt. My dad. It felt funny to think of these strangers as if they belonged to me.
[Wing: That really captures the disconnect people can feel with unfamiliar family.]
From the vent in her room, Sam overhears her cousins, Adam and Andy, arguing about something involving a snake before they both storm off. Adam surprises Sam and makes himself known as “The Little Shit” when he makes comments about how of COURSE Sam would be spying on them since she’s an, ew, girl. Sam is obviously thrilled at the prospect of dealing with this for the summer. Adam appears to be about Sam’s age and tells her the stuff his brother said about the snake wasn’t true until Sylvie starts screaming his full name. Seems young Adam was keeping a snake in his bedroom and Andy ratted him out. Sylvie orders Adam to bring the snake, dubbed Rosie, outside; Adam reminds her she works with similar animals at her job, but Sylvie reminds him they keep those animals behind glass. Adam takes an opportunity to mess with Sam by shoving Rosie in her face and asking if Sam’d like to give the snake a kiss before departing.
Sam becomes acquainted with her younger cousin Andy, who’s missing four teeth and thus has a pronounced lisp.
“You, sir, are still in time out,” Aunt Sylvie said, shaking her finger.
“I know,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
“This is Samantha,” Aunt Sylvie said.
“I know,” Andy said.
“Mr. Andrew, that wasn’t very polite. You’re supposed to say ‘Hello, Samantha.'”
Aunt Sylvie cleared her throat and sighed. “This is Andy,” she said to me.
“I know,” I giggled.
“I see everybody in this family is a comedian,” Aunt Sylvie sighed.
At that moment, Sam’s baby cousin Alfie awakens, giving Sylvie the cue it’s time to start dinner. With all the Dimswells at the dining room table, Sam meets her last cousin, 15-year-old Allen. Allen works at the local ice cream shop, Dennis’s Super-Duper Ice Cream Extravaganza, delighting Sam with the prospect of freebies. Sam notices Adam’s the only boy who doesn’t take after redheaded Tim; Adam’s got the same almond-shaped eyes and brown hair as Sylvie does. In fact, Sam realizes Adam looks like Peter Pan, which is exactly what her mom used to call her. [Wing: … “Almond-shaped eyes” is usually a red flag for some racist and badly written characters of colour.]
All during the meal Adam and Andy do gross shit like putting chewed food on each other’s plates, leaving Sam wondering why their parents don’t keep them separated. Adam continues to be an asshole and mess with Sam.
Adam speared a piece of hot dog with his fork.
“Beanie Weenies. My favorite!” he said. “Hey Samantha, know why beans are a specialty on Bart’s Island?”
“Adam,” his mother warned.
“Cause on Bart, we love to fa-…”
“That’s quite enough, thank you,” Uncle Tim interrupted.
You’ve no idea how surprised I was this included a fart joke. Almost none of the YA books I’ve read in this genre ever include them.
Sam helps her uncle clear the table while the boys run off to do God knows what and Sylvie gives the baby a bath. Unfortunately, at this point Sam begins to feel the beginning stages of homesickness. Tim realizes she looks a bit down and playfully nudges her to have fun outside at the nearby beach, explaining kids aren’t allowed in the house til sunset. Sam’s surprised by how lax her aunt and uncle are in that she’s allowed to wander around outside by herself. Sadly, the weather looks like it’s going to rain, so the beach is pretty gray and so’s the water. Sam can’t help but miss her mom and feels she’s about to cry when Adam and Andy pounce on her with water guns. The boys manage to squirt their cousin and drag Sam to the water, at which point Sam can’t hold it in any longer and the tears fall. Adam misunderstands and thinks Sam’s being a baby about getting wet. Sam tells him off, correcting him that her name is “Sammy,” not “Samantha,” but then gets some sand in her eyes. The boys help her wash it out, of course Adam makes another dig about her acting like such a girl.
As Sam heads back to the house, Andy asks if Sam would like to join them in some ghost hunting, or as he puts it, “Ghotht hunting.” Adam sneers girls are too wimpy to do such things. Sam insists they are not, exciting Andy who wants her to join them. Sam is hesitant, figuring Adam’s got a trick up his sleeve but she’s interested in the prospect of ghosts. Adam thinks it’s too late in the day, but Andy begs his older brother to show Sam the graveyard. The brothers call each other names when Andy blurts out Adam saw a ghost, and it even made him cry. That’s when the lightning and thunder arrive. The cousins try to head back to the house, Adam leaving Sam and Andy behind, when the rain pours in sheets.
And when a bolt of lightning strikes a tree right in front of Sam.
Sam sees the tree momentarily turn blue as it’s split down the middle. Sam’s ears are ringing, she’s lost her balance, and she’s terrified. Andy checks to see if she’s okay and the two hurry back to the house. Adam and his parents rush outside and safely get Sam and Andy back in the house. Sylvie calls a doctor and is advised to keep an eye on Sam and to bring her in if the ringing in her ears doesn’t go away overnight. Sam heads back to her attic bungalow, Adam following her to play video games for a while. Adam’s intrigued she’s got a Grateful Dead shirt, but Sam doesn’t appreciate his lack of manners.
“Can’t you knock?”
“How am I supposed to knock on a blanket?”
“Maybe you could just say it. Like, you know – knock, knock.”
“Very Funny Who?”
Adam quits joking for a minute and reveals he has something important to tell Sam. So important he forces Sam to do a blood swear using a sewing needle. It’s about the ghost. Sam can’t believe she’s agreeing to something so stupid, and looking back, wishes he’d never told her what she learned that night.
With the storm raging outside, Adam feels this is perfect weather for a ghost story. He directs Sam’s attention to her window, asking what she sees. Sam can’t see much because it’s so dark out, but Adam explains beyond the window, past some of the houses, is Devil’s Marsh. For years many unlucky people have gone into the marsh and have never come out. If the quicksand doesn’t kill them, the alligators will. Hell, he mentions some local woman lost her baby to an alligator that wandered into their backyard. Ate the child whole. [Wing: In fun timing, I was just talking to a friend about how, in Florida, she always checks the pool for alligators when she wants to swim at night, something I had never thought about doing. And maybe she’s teasing me, but I’d believe it.] Sam’s annoyed before Adam talks about the ghost. There are plenty of ghost stories about the marsh, including one about a farmer’s daughter.
THE FARMER’S PIG
Many years ago there was a small farm on the other side of the marsh. One day, a farmer’s daughter accidentally let loose their prized pig from his pen, and it wandered into the marsh. The farmer was angry because they’d needed the pig for food for the winter. The daughter was so upset by her mistake she went into the marsh to try and find the pig. No one ever saw her or the pig again. Her father was so distraught believing he’d driven his daughter to her grave, he took his shotgun and blew his head off.
Now, late at night, you can sometimes hear the high pitched squealing of a pig. Some people have heard a young girl crying, and gunshots. And some have even seen the farmer and his daughter.
Sam is horrified, but she’s more interested in what Andy mentioned about Adam seeing a ghost.
NOW YOU SEE ME…
One night, Adam snuck out to go crabbing at the pier with some of his friends. Around three in the morning, it started to rain pretty heavily, so Adam tried to head home. Adam rode his bike through the marsh when a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree. The force threw Adam off his bike, and like Sam, he had a ringing in his ears and felt like his insides had been rearranged.
Adam returned home and slept most of the day, but after dinner, he needed to get out of the house. He rode his bike back to the marsh and found the tree that’d been struck. Half of the tree was charred black and Adam was overwhelmed by a sickly sweet smell. He was about to leave when he’d heard a voice calling his name. The voice told Adam because of the lightning strike he could now see and hear things others can’t. Seeing the lightning strike granted him access to their dimension. It was like the voice was speaking directly into Adam’s brain.
The next thing Adam knew, smoke began to pour out of the split tree, and a giant face materialized. The face had two gaping, empty eye sockets, and as it opened its mouth to scream, horrible little things flew out and swarmed over Adam. They were like little gremlins with fox faces and talons and wings. Adam felt the little creatures trying to crawl into his eyes, ears, mouth, and nose before fleeing.
Adam caps off saying he only told Allen and Andy. Allen thought he was nuts, Andy bought the whole thing… and Sam’s not thrilled he’s only screwing with her and tells him to beat it. Before he leaves, Adam warns Sam if it happened to him, it’ll happen to her…
Adam makes a joke about the story the next morning at breakfast, and Andy finds it fucking hilarious. Sam’s not thrilled she’ll have to deal with her younger cousin believing she’s a butthead all summer.
The rules for the day are pretty simple. Tim leaves for work before Sylvie, Sylvie takes care of breakfast before bringing Alfie to daycare, which means Allen watches after Sam, Adam, and Andy. However, Allen sleeps in til lunch, then watches TV before heading to work. Which means, Sam and the boys are free to do as they please. Tim and Sylvie rented Sam a bike for the summer, so she follows Adam and Andy around Bart’s Island for a bit. They stop by Dennis’s and the owner gives them free gummy worms, which the boys use to gross out Sam. But then the boys ditch Sam and she’s left wandering around trying to find them.
Sam goes over practically the whole island attempting to figure out where her cousins went off too, and understandably gets lost. The one place familiar to Sam is the elementary school, which she’d seen on her drive into the island with Tim. However, Sam now finds herself coming across a shack on the farther end of the island. There’s a sign that reads “LIVE CRABS. SPELLS CAST. CHEAP.” Sam entertains the notion of cursing Adam with a blistering tongue or pus under his toenails when someone calls her name. It’s not Adam though. Sam finds herself face to face with a short, old, blind, dark-skinned woman. The woman refers to Sam as “Honey,” but keeps her distance. She points a finger at Sam, claiming Sam has “The power.”
Cue “You’ve Got The Touch” from the Transformers movie.
The woman continues on, saying Sam has “The devil’s power,” because she’s a touched one.
“You got the power, honey. You got the devil’s power, for sure.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I see it all around you,” she said, waving her arms. “You be a touched one. I see it with these blind eyes. You got the power. Take it,” she hissed like a snake. “Take it.”
Sam gets the fuck out of there, and firmly decides the minute she gets back to the Dimswell abode she’s calling her mother and will either drag her ass back to America or hop on a plane to France.
Sam’s bike ride brings her deeper into the island, the opposite of where she wanted to go, and is about to turn around when she sees a beautiful little jewel bird flying near her. Sam’s practically mesmerized as she watches the bird watching her, and then sees it land on a… tombstone. Sam has discovered an old and overgrown graveyard, the one Andy mentioned, and wishes to explore. She has a somewhat morbid fascination with graveyards and enjoys reading the names on the stones. Sam looks around, checking out the different grave markers and following the little jewel bird when it perches on top of a wall leading into a family plot.
HER family plot.
Sam reads the name “McMillan” on the archway, realizing this is her family’s private cemetery plot. Sam’s a little freaked out but tries to calm herself. This is a chance for her to learn a bit more about her dad’s side of the family. Her mom never really talked about the McMillans, and the one time they visited her father’s grave (not in this cemetery) was too much for Mrs. McMillan and she broke down in tears. Sam reads some of the names of her relatives, Hattie Smith McMillan, Nathaniel McMillan, and several others attempting to discern what their connection to her could be (As in were they grandparents, cousins, etc.). There are even four tiny graves, probably for children or even babies. Only one of the tiny markers has something written on it.
Lil’ Bit. We will miss you.
Okay so let’s not think about the possibility that Sam stumbled onto to the graves of an infant and possibly three stillborn babies. But what really scares Sam is the newer looking grave farther back from the others. Because you see, this grave HAS SAM’S NAME ON IT.
Samantha Lewis McMillan. May, 9 1906 to August 22, 1987.
And whoever this woman was, she died on Sam’s birthday!
Sam has trouble breathing, thoroughly disturbed by what she’s found, and accidentally knocks off a stone angel from the top of the marker. Sam calms down and inspects the broken figure, noticing someone had already broken the angel and haphazardly tried to fix it. Sam picks up something the angel held, a small stone heart, now with a crack in the middle, and pockets it while sweeping away the rest of the angel.
Sam tries to head back to town as fast as she can but finds herself smack dab in Devil’s Marsh. This is a good thing because now Sam knows she’s closer to town because the marsh is visible from her room. Sam tries to hurry as dark storm clouds appear, but is startled by several herons flying out of the marsh. Sam continues on her way, but it’s hard to bike on the marsh road. She then reaches a familiar tree. The tree from Adam’s story. One half of the split tree is dead, while the other pathetically clings to life with several small leaves growing on a branch. The rain begins to fall, and that’s when Sam sees something coming towards her in the dark rain. Something huge and white, and calling her name. Sam pedals away from the thing trying to reach her, and even hears a young girl crying in the rain. Suddenly, Sam recognizes the voice calling her. It’s Uncle Tim!
Tim’s following her in the car, with baby Alfie along for the ride. Tim advises Sam to leave her bike by the road and return for it the next day when the weather clears. [Wing: What, you can’t fit that thing in the trunk for the ride home?] As Sam enters the car soaking wet she explains to her uncle how Adam and Andy ditched her. Tim is on her side and explains he and Sylvie both expected the boys weren’t exactly honest when they said SHE ditched THEM. Tim warns Sam the weather can be kind of unpredictable during the summer and asks she stay away from the marsh when it rains like this. Sam adds this was just the beginning of her horrific experience.
Adam and Andy both get an earful from their parents for letting Sam get lost in town and are sent to their rooms after dinner. That night, Sylvie takes out an old photo album and shows Sam pictures of her late father. Sam is shown photos of her dad as a kid and a teenager, seeing sides of him she never knew existed. And she realizes she takes after him a lot; they have the same almond-shaped eyes and dark hair as Sylvie and Adam.
Sam is shown photos of an old woman affectionately dubbed “Nana,” but Sylvie hesitates before talking about this woman. The first thing she does is ask Sam if Mrs. McMillan ever told her anything about her dad’s side of the family. When Sam replies no, Sylvie seems to relax and explains Nana is Sam’s great-grandmother. Nana raised Sylvie and Sam’s dad in this house, which was built by her father Nathaniel, after Sylvie’s mom died giving birth to her. Sam remembers Nathaniel was one of the names she found in the McMillan plot. Sylvie adds she lived with her dad, brother, and Nana, although her dad served in the army so he wasn’t with them as much. Sam’s shown a photo of her grandfather, a young looking guy who was sent to serve in the Vietnam War.
“You know, Samantha,” she said, “I see a lot of your dad in you. And he looked a lot like his dad. I think your dad would be really proud of you if he could see you today.”
“I wish I’d known my dad,” I said.
“Me too,” Aunt Sylvie said.
God this book is so melancholic.
Sylvie promises she’ll tell Sam more about her dad tomorrow since it’s getting late. In her room, Sam finds herself truly missing her father for the first time ever, and almost falls asleep when she hears someone calling her name. Sam’s alone in the attic as someone or something repeatedly calls out her name, and it’s definitely not Sylvie. As the voice keeps calling Sam’s name, she runs downstairs to get her aunt and uncle…
And finds Adam, standing on top of a chair on top of his bed, whispering into the vent connected to the attic. Oh HELL naw! Adam loses his balance when he notices Sam, getting Sylvie’s attention demanding to know what the hell’s wrong with him. He could’ve broken his neck stacking the chair on the bed. Adam and Andy bullshit, or in Andy’s case, bullthitht, they were feeding a non-existence spider that lives in a web in the corner of the ceiling. Sam asks if they’ve taught this imaginary spider how to talk like a parrot.
Sam returns to bed and enters into an incredibly disturbing nightmare.
YOU BROKE MY HEART
Sam finds herself back at the McMillan plot, sitting on a stone bench outside the small cemetery, underneath a full moon. A black snake similar to Rosie slithers up to Sam, but this snake has eyes blazing with nothing but hatred. Sam is unable to move as the snake spirals up her leg and sinks its teeth into Sam’s flesh. Sam is finally able to move, screaming in pain as the snake tries to rip open her thigh, repeatedly biting Sam and drenching her leg in blood. As Sam falls and writhes on the ground, the snake departs into the McMillan plot. Sam suddenly hears two women arguing.
One says “Why did you have to treat her that way? She’s just a child.”
The other replies, “She has no right to be here. From the day she was born, she has broken my heart. And now she’s done it again.”
Sam struggles to get up and see who these women are, only they aren’t women. It’s the snake and the little jewel bird. The snake bares its fangs at Sam, poison dripping from its teeth and hatred radiating from its body, and it speaks in the voice of a woman. The jewel bird suddenly screams “Enough!” and attacks the snake to break her hold on Sam. Sam tries to run away from the graveyard into the marsh, but the snake is there too, wrapped around the branch of the split tree.
“You hear what they cannot,” she hisses. “You see what they cannot. This is how I will come to you. You have broken my heart and you must pay.”
Smoke pours out of the tree, taking the form of a giant snake head. Sam runs before she can see if little creatures will fly out of the snake’s mouth, but the snake calls her name over and over again.
Sam wakes up and still hears the snake calling her. Looking out her window, she sees a fire blazing in Devil’s Marsh. Sam runs downstairs, passing Adam and Andy’s room where the fire is visible from their window as well. Once she reaches Sylvie and Tim’s bedroom, the fire’s gone. Heading back to the attic, there’s still no sign of any fire as she goes past the boys’ room. Sam wonders if maybe her guilty conscience about the angel statue caused her dream, and figures she has to tell Sylvie about it in the morning. Yet Sam has trouble sleeping without smelling smoke every time her eyes close. Sam tries to read a little but wakes up the next day feeling stiff, sore, and with a throbbing headache.
Before Sam can tell her aunt about the statue, she gets a call from her mom. Sam tells her mother about the photos Sylvie showed her, and her mom’s voice takes an odd tone when Sam mentions Nana. Mrs. McMillan asks what, exactly, Sylvie told Sam about Nana. Sam doesn’t have much to say, so her mom thinks it’s good she’s learning about her dad’s family. As Sylvie talks to Sam’s mom, Sam finds Adam and Andy playing marbles outside. Adam gloats as he beats Andy, causing the younger boy to run into the house. Sam’s disgusted at Adam’s brattiness and tries to explain what happened the previous night. Adam teases Sam before he learns she saw a fire in Devil’s Marsh and becomes genuinely unnerved. Adam reveals this is a story he hadn’t told her about the marsh.
Turns out there’ve been a number of car accidents on Devil’s Marsh because the road is really narrow, and it can be especially dangerous when it’s foggy.
“I’LL KILL YOU BEFORE I LET YOU LEAVE ME!”
There used to be an old woman whose husband died, so she lived alone with her son. She wouldn’t let her son do anything even though he was an adult. When the son fell in love with a woman, his mother objected in the worst possible way. They argued about it constantly, and their worst argument occurred when they were driving through Devil’s Marsh. As they saw the headlights of another car, the woman grabbed the steering wheel, determined to kill her son to stop him from leaving, and made the car slam right into the other vehicle. The cars burst into flames, and everyone died.
People have seen fires spring up out of nowhere in Devil’s Marsh, only to disappear just as suddenly. One of Adam’s friends, Marty Thomas, his father saw the fire driving home one night. As he stopped to get out and check if anyone was hurt, the fire was gone. But he heard a baby crying and the sounds of screaming, plus the odor of burning rubber. Mr. Thomas thought the cars had gone into the marsh and contacted the police, but they found nothing.
Sam is so creeped out she feels she has to tell Adam about what happened after he ditched her. When she brings up how she got accosted by a witch, Adam figures she’s talking about Nadina, the local crazy lady. [Wing: Cooooooool. So glad the author added this. Good times. Magical Negro and ableism all at the same time.] Adam adds Nadina says creepy shit like that to everyone and manages to make Sam feel stupid for having been scared. Insulted, Sam heads back into the house.
“You are a such a girl!” Adam yelled after me.
Exactly, I though. And you are such a boy.
Sam grabs a bowl of cereal and watches “The Flintstones” with Andy, who’s still grumpy over Adam’s mocking. Adam tries to join them, and it looks like Andy’s switched sides when he snarls at Adam for calling her “Samantha.”
“Her name is Thammy,” Andy snarled.
Adam asks “Sammy” to explain what happened when she saw Nadina. Andy’s excited to hear Sam saw the local witch, but Sam, still peeved at Adam, forces him to get on his hands and knees and beg. And he does. Score one for her. Sam finishes recapping what Nadina said to her. Adam begins connecting the dots, bringing up his story about the lightning and figures Sam really IS seeing ghosts. Adam adds it might not have happened to him, but it’s happened to others. Adam points out Nadina couldn’t know Sam was practically zapped by lightning unless she could truly sense something, like Sam’s aura or something.
Sam continues her story, adding she went into the graveyard and the McMillan plot. Andy is really impressed because not even Adam’s brave enough to go there. Adam mentions Nadina’s espoused the McMillan plot is cursed, full of bad spirits.
“You told me no one pays attention to Nadina,” I said.
“Yeah, but why take chances?”
Sam reveals she broke the angel statue, and Adam can’t believe that she’d do something so reckless as upset a grave. Sam, now upset herself, screams it was an accident that wouldn’t have happened if Adam and Andy hadn’t ditched her on purpose. Sam runs back to her attic room and Adam follows, making an actual attempt to be apologetic by saying it could all just be superstitions. Only now Sam’s crying as she tells her cousin the bad shit’s already begun. Andy comes in, worried about Sam after she’s finished telling Adam about her nightmare. Adam decides their one course is to see Nadina and ask her how to stop whatever’s happening to Sam. Sam doesn’t want to go anywhere near Nadina; she wants to go home. Adam doesn’t think that will work, because ghosts can follow you. Adam and Andy both offer to go with Sam to see Nadina, and the three of them set out through Devil’s Marsh.
The shit hits the fan almost immediately. Sam hears someone that’s not the boys calling her name. Andy’s biking faster than Sam and Adam so they try to keep up with him when Sam hears a familiar female’s voice whispering she will pay. Sam hears almost nothing but sadistic laughter inside her head, the voice mocking her, saying she’ll never escape. Sam begs the voice to stop when she hears Andy screaming. Sam pleads with whatever is haunting her to spare the little boy. As she reaches Adam by the bridge, the two can only stare in mute horror as Andy is screaming. He’s stuck in the middle of the bridge, clinging to the railing, screaming because THERE’S A FUCKING ALLIGATOR ON THE BRIDGE!
Adam tells Sam not to move and orders Andy to stop screaming. Andy desperately clamps his mouth shut with his hands. Adam tries to get the alligator’s attention away from his brother, but Andy is practically hysterical and Sam hears the voice screaming all of them will pay. Adam throws more rocks at the alligator to stop it from moving towards Andy, but the gator keeps getting closer to the little boy. The kids are saved when a car speeds down the road, giving Andy the opening to move out of the way and scaring the alligator back into the water. The driver turns out to be a friend of Allen’s; the teenager comforts Andy and offers to drive him home. Sam and Adam, however, have to get to Nadina before whatever has invaded Sam’s mind does something worse.
Sam realizes they’ve reached the area where Sam left her bike, but she’s in for an awful surprise when she sees the basket on the bicycle is full of water. And EELS. Adam orders Sam to drop the bike, which shakes out the eels into the water. Sam’s overwhelmed again by the laughter, and Adam tries to make Sam focus on thinking the voice away. Sam yells she hasn’t done anything to this thing inside her, pissing the ghost off. The ghost seethes, screaming Sam broke her heart and stole it, and for that she must pay. The ghost’s voice begins to fade away again, and Sam turns to her cousin for support. Adam fully believes something is haunting her, and Sam is thankful she’s got his support.
The bike free of eels, Sam and Adam ride on to Nadina’s. Sam doesn’t want to pass the graveyard, but they have no choice. Sure enough, the snake from Sam’s dream manifests on a tree branch, and suddenly Sam loses control of her bike straight INTO THE PATH OF AN ONCOMING TRUCK! The truck just barely misses Sam, terrified beyond belief and not sure how she can keep going. Adam tells her she can do it, and the two of them try singing the happiest song they know to blot out further visits from the snake ghost. They end up singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith” all the way to Nadina’s shack.
Sam and Adam find Nadina in the middle of boiling crab. She’s familiar with Adam and wants to know what he wants before she senses Sam is nearby and wants nothing to do with her. Nadina sees with her blind eyes what Sam has and who she is, claiming “Miz Sam don’ like it none.” Sam doesn’t understand what Nadina means, and Adam tells the old woman they need help. Nadina refuses to let Sam in her house because of her negative energy, but will help them. For twenty bucks. Hey, she’s not running a charity, people. Adam promises to bring the money tomorrow as they sit down in some lawn chairs in the shade of a tree. Nadina lights cinnamon incense and mutters a few words, her demeanor changing as she addresses Sam. Nadina explains that Sam has got “Miz Sam’s devil” inside. Adam realizes Nadina is talking about Nana, but this confuses Sam more. Why is her great-grandmother trying to kill her?
“Listen, child, you got to make your peace or she will destroy you. You understand that?”
“She already got you, girl. She in you like a boll weevil and she will you brain from the insides out. Do you understand that? You got the lightnin’ power to see, to hear. Then you go and upset the dead. Not smart, girl. Specially when the dead be mad already. So mad, her evil energies take over and make her take on evil forms.”
Nadina explains Sam has to take a photo of Nana to her grave at night, but then stops and asks if Sam took something already. Nadina orders Sam to bring it back and apologize. Sam must then burn the photo and bury the ashes.
“Then empty your heart, and fill it with love. It be the only way, child.”
“Empty my heart? What do you mean?”
“Cast out all your fears, all your sadness and anger. All your negative energies. And fill it back up with love. With compassion. Miz Sam, she been in pain for so long. To free yourself, child, you have to free her, too.”
Nadina gives Sam and Adam a special little blue candle to burn the photo with. Adam thanks Nadina, but before they leave Sam asks Nadina why Nana hates her so much. Is it just because of the angel? Nadina doesn’t divulge any further, feeling Sam needs to talk to her aunt about why Nana’s so unhappy. This is a matter for the living to handle.
Sam and Andy head into town, getting sodas at Dennis’s (again, for free; Denny must really like Allen) and discussing if they should talk to Sylvie or Tim. Adam’s incredulous that his parents would believe them. Sam’s not looking forward to returning to the graveyard at night, but Adam doesn’t think she has a choice if she wants Nana to stop. Seeing everyone around doing normal summertime stuff, Sam wishes this was just her imagination going into overdrive.
Back home, Adam tells Andy Nadina cast some magic words and cured Sam. In the attic, Sam is looking through the photo album and pulls out a photo of Nana at the beach. Sam asks what she did to make Nana hate her so much when a violent gust of wind blows through the window and scatters the photos. Sam hear’s Nana’s laughter, so Sam grabs the stone heart and threatens to crush it. Nana doesn’t believe her before Sam grabs one of Andy’s toy cars and promises to follow through with her threat. Nana’s voice departs and the wind stops. Adam and Andy arrive, and Sam lies to Andy that she was doing a silly dance. Adam suggests they hide the messed up photo album in Alfie’s room so Sylvie will think he made a mess of it. He won’t get in trouble because he’s a baby.
Sam and Adam spend the afternoon discussing their evening plans. After dinner, Sylvie asks Sam where the photo album is. Sam decides it’s now or never and asks Sylvie to tell her more about Nana. Sylvie is worried, though. She starts off by explaining it’s easy to get the wrong idea about Nana being mean, but she wasn’t. Rather, she was unhappy, and her unhappiness made her difficult sometimes. It all stemmed from some severe abandonment issues Nana dealt with. Sylvie asks Sam not to mention this to the boys yet; it’s not something that’s come up before and she wants to tell them about it first. Sylvie and Sam go for an evening walk on the beach, and Sylvie tells her all about Nana’s problems.
It started when Nana’s husband walked out on her and their son for another woman. It was a humiliating scandal, and she was forced to move back in with her elderly father Nathaniel. A short while later Nathaniel passed away, leaving Nana to raise a child by herself. Nana poured all her energy into being a mother but we don’t learn much about her son other than he died young while serving in Vietnam, leaving Nana with the responsibility of now raising Sylvie and Sam’s dad. Their father’s death broke Nana. Sylvie adds Nana wasn’t a very strong person and she changed for the worse. Nana started believing the people she cared about were leaving her and as a result, she became clingy. That made things awkward when Sylvie married Tim. Nana didn’t come to the wedding, and while Sylvie was upset, she chose to focus on her own life.
Sam’s dad was a different story. Nana was too dependent on him, so he stayed with her for a lot longer than Sylvie did because he felt guilty. That is, until the summer when he met Sam’s mom. The future Mrs. McMillan was vacationing on Bart’s Island; she rented a boat from Sam’s dad, and the two hit it off. They started seeing each other romantically and, when her two weeks on the island were over, Sam’s mom and dad decided to get married. Sam expresses doubt her parents wanted to get married after just two weeks, but Sylvie remembers it was like the two were made for each other.
Personally, I worry that Sam’s dad rushed into this after how smothering his grandmother had been.
Nana went ballistic and decided she wanted nothing to do with her grandson. She wouldn’t speak to him over the phone or answer his letters. When Sam was born her parents tried naming her after Nana as their way of honoring her. Nana took it poorly, somehow believing (much to everyone’s confusion) the three, including baby Sam, were mocking her. When Sam was just about one, Nana’s health took a turn for the worse. Sam’s parents returned to Bart’s Island with her in tow to try and make peace with Nana. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
On the night of a very bad storm, Mr. McMillan and Nana had a horrible argument before she declared she was having a heart attack. Sylvie adds, despite Nana’s health, she had a tendency to be dramatic, so no one was sure if she was telling the truth. Regardless, the McMillans tried to drive Nana to the hospital. Because of the bad weather and how late it was, when their car reached Devil’s Marsh they were struck by another vehicle and crashed. Sam’s mom was thrown out by the impact while the others were trapped. Sam’s dad managed to get her out of the car first, but when he went back for Nana the car burst into flames. That didn’t stop Sam’s dad from trying to save his grandmother, but it was too late for her. Sam’s dad got severely burned for his troubles and he passed away a few days later in the hospital.
Sylvie wipes away a few tears as Sam finally understands why her great-grandmother hates her so much. Nana blames Sam and her mother for taking Sam’s dad away from her, and she hates Sam because her father saved Sam from the car first. Yikes.
Sylvie adds Sam has to remember her father loved her and her mother very much, and Nana did too even if she didn’t act like it. She finishes her tale mentioning there’s even a ghost story about how people have seen a fire burning in Devil’s Marsh late at night. They’ve even heard the cries of a baby as well.
But that’s just a ghost story.
Sam can’t even believe SHE is the baby people have heard crying in the marsh.
That night, Adam wakes up Sam and they sneak out to the graveyard with the stone heart, candle and photo. The two ride their bikes to the McMillan plot but are chased by a stray dog on the way. The dog stops as soon as they reach the cemetery. It doesn’t want to be anywhere near there. The two are nervous about entering the McMillan plot and take their sweet time getting inside. Sam tries to repair the crack in the heart with superglue before gluing it to the spot on Nana’s tombstone where the angel fell. The moment Sam touches the grave, it’s as if she’s been electrocuted and set on fire. Sam can’t let go of the grave marker and clutches her chest with her free hand. Sam can’t breathe as she hears Nana’s voice screaming this in no way makes up for the pain Sam has caused her. Sam begs Adam to light the candle and burn the photo as Nana exclaims she will make Sam know her suffering. Adam fumbles with the candle and lighter as Sam manages to tear herself away from the tombstone. Dropping to the ground, Sam sees the ghost snake wrapped around a tree branch. The tighter the snake constricts itself around the branch, the tighter Sam’s heart feels. Adam finally manages to light the candle and burns the picture, at which point the life spills out of the snake’s eyes and it falls off the branch.
Sam is able to breathe again and helps Adam bury the picture’s ashes by Nana’s grave. As they finish their task, only Sam can see the snake’s body fading away into a cloud of vapors, becoming the shape of an elderly woman. Sam realizes this is Nana’s true form and feels unbearable sadness and heartache in the woman’s eyes. Nana bows her head in shame and begins to weep. Sam feels no hatred or resentment towards her great grandmother’s spirit for what she tried to do. Sam begins to cry for Nana, her mom, her dad, and herself, soothing Nana by saying the old woman can rest. At the moment, another shape visualizes beside Nana. It’s an all too familiar looking man, Sam’s father. Nana buries her head in her grandson’s chest, and the two begin to disappear.
Sam assures Adam the ghost is gone and their ordeal is over. She can’t explain just yet what happened with Nana because she promised Sylvie she would let her explain to the boys what went on between their uncle and great-grandmother.
The rest of the summer went by with no problems. Sam and Adam kept their visit to the cemetery a secret, but then came Sam’s final night on the island and she saw a familiar glow out at the marsh. As Sam sees the fire burning, she realizes it’s different. This isn’t a car crash, it’s more like a campfire. Sam then receives an unexpected visitor at her window. It’s the jewel bird from the cemetery. And then Sam hears a voice she knows belongs to her father. He asks Sam to tell her mother he loves her, and that everything’s mended. He asks Sam to bring her the heart. The bird disappears, and for a moment Sam hears a baby crying before a man and a woman’s voices soothe the child to sleep with a lullaby.
Underneath her pillow, Sam finds the stone heart, looking as if it’d never been broken.
Sam brought the heart to her mother, but Mrs. McMillan has trouble believing her. Sam didn’t blame her, but Sam knows from now on she’ll always be more careful at cemeteries and she will NEVER be outside during thunderstorms.
[Wing: Minus the Magical Negro trope and a couple other things, I enjoyed the hell out of this ghost story. What a heartbreaking family situation, lingering from generation to generation.]
This is truly one of the saddest YA horror novels I’ve ever read. I don’t know what to say about the handling of Nadina; despite what “Weirdo Waldo’s Wax Museum” might have you believe, this series does have some problems with similar situations.
I wonder who the second woman Sam heard in her dream was supposed to be. They implied the jewel bird was Sam’s father, but Sam definitely heard two women. I’m wondering if any of the other McMillans buried in the family plot were unhappy with what Nana was doing.
Nana McMillan really is one of the most realistic and (no pun intended) heartbreaking antagonists I’ve come across in all of the books in this genre I’ve read so far. Her husband abandoned her and her child which left her with no other option but to move back in with her elderly father, and she probably had to take care of him and her son before her dad passed away. After that, she was forced to raise her grandchildren on her own after her son died in Vietnam. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be a single mother back during the 50s and 60s, and since it’s implied this book takes place in the South that must’ve been a special kind of Hell for her with the stigma attached to the way her marriage ended. It’s no wonder she became so smothering with her grandkids when all she’s known is raising children and losing people. Sylvie said Nana wasn’t a strong person but I think she was wrong. Nana had more strength than everyone knew, including her, and had she been more aware of it things may not have become so bad for her in the end. Her belief she was always losing people turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy and she DID lose people, but because she turned them away.
I feel for Sam’s mother, who obviously wasn’t telling Sam about her dad’s side of the family not because she resented them, but because it was so painful for her with the way her husband died thanks to the effect Nana had on him. He was so determined to save the only mother figure he knew that it ended up costing his daughter the chance to know her father the way he never got to know his own dad.
Jude on April’s recaps
I have to explain to you guys something about this month and why I’m doing my recaps in this manner.
On April 1st 2016, 10:55 AM, my best friend, Patricia J. Thompson, died. She was a writer and retired professor of women’s studies. She considered herself a Hestian Feminist and had constructed a Hestian/Hermean system on public/private thinking. She was the daughter of famed Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, but spent decades fighting to have her place as his daughter officially recognized.
Despite the massive gap between our ages, Pat was one of the closet friends I’ve ever had in my life. I met her my first semester at Lehman College when I enrolled in her Family Relationships course. We instantly became friends because I was the only person in her class who knew who the Greek goddess Hestia was. Pat became my friend during a very horrible period in my life and her classroom gave me a space to take about my problems at home, plus several other traumatic situations I never really talked about before I entered therapy. I enjoyed hanging out with her before and after classes, just talking about anything. When I took her last course before she retired, Women In Antiquity, she repeatedly praised my final paper on Wonder Woman as one of the best things she ever read. Pat was one of the only people I’ve felt comfortable being alone with and I’d visit her at her apartment in Manhattan, although with my anxiety I didn’t hang out for that long. Still, she cared about me so much she considered me an adopted grandson and frequently called me such. But, really, she felt like more of a mother to me than my birth mother has been.
You guys think I’m putting her on a pedestal because she was my friend, but I’m not. She was truly one of the most loving, kindest, caring people I’ve known. Even my horrible parents and my awful sibling liked her. Hell, my sibling cried after meeting her, exclaiming Pat had treated them so kindly. It still makes me cry thinking about it. Pat was always supportive of who I was and she made me feel like the things I had to say were worth saying and believing. She believed in me as a student, writer, and human being. The only time she ever got mad at me was after my suicide attempt in 2013. She… meant so much to me.
I, I can’t, you guys can’t comprehend what it was like for me to learn she died. It felt like such a horrible April Fool’s joke when I got to the hospital and learned her time of death, which was around the same time I’d left the house to visit her. April Fool’s, she was already dead by the time I left to see her! That month was a nightmare for me. I’d scared more than a few people into thinking I was going to kill myself even though I had no intention to. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Thinking about her death and how she died still makes me sad and angry I just want to, to, UGGGGH it’s so frustrating for me! And knowing she’s dead while so many other people out there keep making the world a horrible place I wanna scream and break stuff and, damn it!
So, look, it’s been two years since she died and I’m not over it. I thought maybe I could do some exploring on my feelings through the posts with this month and the books I’m reviewing. I’m not gonna pretend I’m magically gonna be over Pat’s death come May, but it’s better than doing nothing but stewing in my regrets.
So why did I choose this book for my ongoing analysis on my feelings about Pat’s death? Not for the reason you might think. This isn’t me relating to Sam who’d lost her father, but me relating to Nana. That my paternal grandmother was called “Nana” doesn’t help at all.
Pat was the third friend of mine to have died in 2016, nor was she the last. Regardless of how old she was or some of my other friends were, I wasn’t prepared to deal with five people I knew who liked me and cared about me dying. Hers was the third death to occur out of three consecutive deaths in three consecutive months.
A lot of my anger and resentment over how Pat died involved my parents and my sibling. I admit I may have been unfair for how frequently I’ve called them awful on this website, but it really is difficult on numerous occasions having them in my life. I’m constantly on guard and my first reaction is to fear the three of them are going to argue in some way, especially during holidays. I can’t really look forward to my birthday out of fear they’ll ruin it. Chris hasn’t even spoken to our dad since we found out he voted for Trump. Many of my issues stem from the constant arguments and unhappiness between the three of them that I’ve unwillingly been trapped in the middle of. When Pat died I lost a member of my family, and my grief became hatred over the unfairness of it all. That I would lose someone like her and continue to be left with people who make me unhappy so much. How dare they? How dare they continue to be like this and continue to be in my life when I had someone who was loving and supportive and treated me like someone who didn’t have to be on guard and unhappy all the time? How dare I be stuck with them while Pat’s dead?
And, there’s one other thing. I was also upset over the unfairness that Pat was unable to finish her last book before she died. It was a book about her relationship with her father, Mayakovsky. As a comic book fan, I’m quite open about how much the writers and editors who work for companies like DC and Marvel piss me off with their manhandling of characters and properties. It makes me especially angry knowing how unhappy my friends are and the damage these kinds of stories do to them and the others. How is it fair that someone as good and decent as Patricia Thompson died while trying to write about her father, when all those other ass kissing fuckwads continue to churn out the same sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, EVERYTHINGPHOBIC garbage and keep hurting people and making the world a worse place? How is that fair? How is that fair to her?! Fucking bastards!
In that regard, I empathize with Nana’s feelings of abandonment becoming bitterness and hatred, especially when aimed at people who don’t really deserve it. Even if, in my case, they are indeed assholes a lot of the time. And eventually, Nana’s hatred turned her into something ugly and monstrous and she strove to hurt people who did nothing to her, nor had they any idea of what she thought they supposedly did to her.
But lighting a candle and burning a picture isn’t going to magically fix me the way it fixed her. I think I’ve been a monster for a long time now.
[Wing: What, you can’t fit that thing in the trunk for the ride home?]
Well, at the moment it was raining pretty badly and considering the road through the marsh tends to have accidents on a regular basis (especially in bad weather), Tim was likely more worried with getting Sam out of there.