Recap #251: Spinetinglers #16: We Wish You A Scary Christmas by M.T. Coffin
Title: Spinetinglers #16 – We Wish You A Scary Christmas, a.k.a. “I’ve Got Santa In My Basement”
Author: M.T. Coffin, a.k.a. George Edward Stanley
Cover Artist: ???
Tagline: Not A Creature Was Stirring…
Summary: It’s Every Kid’s Worst Nightmare!
There’s a rumor going around that Santa Claus will not be making his rounds this year… and worse yet, he may be gone forever! Santa Claus is missing… and no one knows where he is.
But somewhere, deep in a dark basement, a figure lies hidden, helplessly held prisoner by some strange people. And if you dare to try and set the prisoner free… beware! You may be spending your Christmas trapped in that same dark basement… with no New Year in sight.
You guys remember the Spinetinglers review I did for last Christmas, the magnificently underrated “Snow Day?” Well I’m following up with the OTHER holiday-related entry in this series. Unlike “Snow Day” this is explicitly about Christmas and it’s not as dark as “Snow Day.” But I know Wing always has some keen observations to make on Santa-related fiction so I’m wondering how she’ll feel about this one. [Wing: Huh, I’ve never felt like I have keen observations about Santa, but I’m well pleased by this compliment. Thank you! And as always, we’re celebrating specific holidays late around here, but that’s just how we roll.]
The drawing point for this novel for me would have to be the empathy the main characters have for their friend.
It started off on one of those December days where the sun is out and it feels warm. Shad Robertson and his best friend, Virgil, were trying to think of something to do. Shad’s parents were farmers, while Virgil’s spent most of their time on the road as truck drivers. Whenever Virgil’s parents were out of town, Virgil stayed at the Robertson house. He basically lived with Shad’s family. [Wing: Huh. I’m surprised that both Virgil’s parents are over-the-road trucker drivers and yet still had a kid. Also, anyone want to make a bet how many times I type Virgin’s name instead of Virgil’s? Based on this comment, it’s going to be many times.]
They discussed heading over to the Miller Farm to see if their tree house was still up. They’d built the house last summer, in one of the canyons on Mr. Miller’s land. But after he passed away, the farm was purchased by the weird Slagels. The VERY weird Slagels. Shad doesn’t want to go over there, remembering how Mr. Slagel brandished his shotgun at the boys when he saw them. Virgil argues he wasn’t really going to shoot them. Shad doesn’t believe Virgil since Mr. Slagel chased them off his property. On the way out the boys saw those strange deer the Slagels kept in their pasture. Very strange.
The boys decided to wait until the next day, but then the temperature dropped dramatically so they stayed in and played video games. They’d go to the Slagels when Christmas break starts.
Shad mentions the tree house became the least of their concerns that Christmas.
At school the next day, Shad and Virgil looked for Emery Slagel. Emery and his older brother Diek transferred to their school at the beginning of the semester and both were a bit… odd. Emery never spoke to anyone, he’d always look straight ahead, and during recess he’d simply walk around the school building. Diek was a seventh grader who looked like he belonged in high school. Or rather, he looked like he belongs in a monster movie. They weren’t exactly kids you hung with if you didn’t want to get stared at. Ouch. [Wing: Yeah, that’s cold. Of course, I’m predisposed to be fond of Diek; Ostrich was also a seventh grader who looked like he belonged in high school and/or a monster movie. He’s always been a hulking giant.]
The boys try to ask Emery about what happened to their tree house, recalling it was located in one of the canyons on their farm near where they once saw some weird deer. Emery starts shaking and quickly leaves, which is when the boys realize Diek’s coming after them. The older Slagel brother demands to know what the younger brother said, confusing Shad who has no clue why Diek wants to know.
Shad tells Diek they weren’t bothering Emery AND Emery only ran away when he saw Diek approaching. He asks Diek about the tree house, and Shad’s shocked when Diek bluntly states he tore it down. Unmoved from his goal, Diek warns the boys they’ll be dead if he finds out Emery told them anything.
“Well, actually, he did say something, Diek,” I said.
Virgil gave me a puzzled look.
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘What? What do you want? Well, okay. What do you want?’ Those are his exact words.”
Shad’s got a snarky streak.
Virgil’s all “Oh yeah, yep, definitely, that was everything, yep, yep pleasedontkillme.”
Diek stares the boys down before finally leaving, so Shad and Virgil are left wondering what the hell just happened. They consider Emery knows some embarrassing stuff about Diek and Diek wants him to stay quiet, but as far as Shad is concerned Diek is strange enough so what could HE possibly be embarrassed about?
“Maybe he eats bugs,” Virgil said.
“There are probably some kids who’ve already thought that, too,” I said.
If you need proof of how weird Diek supposedly is, Shad reports he’s seen Diek constantly watching Emery from afar. Diek never lets his brother out of his sight and until now, Diek hasn’t done anything because no one’s gone near Emery.
The boys are intrigued by whatever it is Emery isn’t allowed to talk about and spend most of the day considering gruesome possibilities. When lunch comes around, Virgil suggests they stay behind for a few minutes so when they get to the cafeteria they can discreetly sit with Emery after all the other seats are filled. No one ever sits with Emery unless they have to.
Shad and Virgil kill time by asking their homeroom teacher questions about their homework assignments for Christmas break. They even attempt to eat their lunch standing up when another teacher points them to the empty seats near Emery.
Emery pays the boys no mind when they sit down with him, but Shad and Virgil recognize Emery is definitely on edge about something. Their morbid curiosity is turning into genuine concern and say they’d like to be Emery’s friends, regardless of Diek.
“If there’s something wrong, just tell us and Virgil and I will help you. We promise.”
All of a sudden, this really wasn’t a joke anymore. Emery Slagel was scared to death of something, and his brother didn’t want him to tell anyone what it was.
Okay that was some pretty good turnaround in the asshole department, because I’m not sure I could’ve handled an entire book of these two trying to grill Emery for embarrassing stories for laughs.
Unfortunately, Diek’s headed for their table but Emery can’t take it anymore. Just before his older brother pounces on them, Emery warns Virgil and Shad that something horrible is about to happen and then runs out of the cafeteria.
Diek is prepared to beat the snot out of the boys to learn what his brother said, when who should appear but Mrs. Noble the principal. Shad informs Mrs. Noble that Diek refuses to let Emery be their friend, and she’d like to know what Diek’s deal is, yo. Diek claims Emery isn’t allowed to talk to anyone at school, but Mrs. Noble ain’t putting up with that shit and says Emery can talk to whoever he pleases. Shad lies and says they only invited Emery to play video games at Shad’s house, but Emery said he couldn’t because he has chores. Diek seems to buy this but orders the boys to stay away from his brother.
Shad explains to Virgil he didn’t say anything about Diek’s secrets because Diek would’ve probably taken it out on Emery, whose nerves are more of a mess than the boys thought. Back in class, Shad and Virgil are told by Mr. Davis that Emery suddenly left school because he was sick, and this isn’t the first time it’s happened. [Wing: I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to be sharing that kind of information.]
On their way back to Shad’s house, the boys try to figure out what Emery is so upset about. Virgil’s feeling pretty guilty and realizes they should’ve made an effort to befriend Emery when he first transferred to their school, because this is clearly bigger than some odd secret about his brother. In fact, Virgil wonders if whatever’s going on might require the police. Shad says they don’t have any proof to justify calling the cops-OH SHIT IT’S DIEK.
Shad moves out of the way just as Diek reveals himself around the corner, but Virgil’s not as lucky. Diek makes a grab for Virgil and Shad yanks his friend away, ripping Virgil’s shirt in the process. The boys try to run and attempt to hide in some nearby shrubs but Diek grabs them when they think it’s safe to leave.
With no principal around, Diek wants to know what Emery really told them. Again the boys claim Emery said nothing, with Shad accusing Diek of scaring away anyone who likes Emery. Diek eventually lets the boys go, and a woman living in a nearby house orders the three to get away from her shrubs.
Back at Shad’s farmhouse, the boys discuss what to do about Emery. Tomorrow’s the last day of school before Christmas break, and with the state Emery’s in they fear he won’t make it to the new year. Their one chance to talk to Emery without Diek haunting them would have to be during the class Christmas party. Virgil fears Emery might not be in school if he isn’t feeling well, but Shad reminds him they also have two different tests that Emery won’t be able to miss.
Not entirely convinced Emery will attend school, Virgil decides to find out for himself. How, you ask? Apparently Virgil’s good at doing impersonations and his take on Mr. Davis is practically flawless. The boys dial the Slagel farm and “Mr. Davis” finds out how Emery’s feeling and if he’ll be attending school. Thank God the Slagels don’t have caller ID.
The next day Emery is back in school and twice as twitchy. Shad and Virgil decide to keep their distance until the Christmas party, since Diek’s already wary of them and would probably gave Emery a heart attack. Following lunch the boys return to their homeroom where Mr. Davis and the homeroom moms (I never knew this was a thing before I read this book) [Wing: It wasn’t a thing in my school.] have the place decked for fun. Soon the other kids are chatting, eating refreshments, and discussing what they want for Christmas. Shad and Virgil take the opportunity and approach Emery to ask him what’s wrong.
Emery drops the bombshell of the 90s.
“My parents are holding Santa Claus hostage in our basement cellar, and they won’t let him go.”
Okay the boys laugh, what did you expect? Their laughter attracts the attention of a girl named Melissa. Despite having thought what Emery said was funny, Shad wasn’t going to say anything to Melissa because he didn’t want to humiliate Emery or anything. Emery does a good job of it himself and tells Melissa exactly the same thing. Emery can’t believe Melissa and all the other kids who hear them don’t believe what he’s trying to say, like don’t they get the severity of the situation?
HE’S GOT SANTA CLAUS IN HIS BASEMENT!
Shad realizes Emery genuinely didn’t think people would have a hard time believing him. He tries to defuse the situation by saying Emery’s only kidding around. Virgil helps Shad and they convince the others Emery’s only joshin’ their crank, ya know?
Seeing a different approach is needed, Shad decides he and Virgil will wait until the rest of the kids leave and then offer to walk with Emery on the way home. Since the Slagel farm is down past Shad’s, he knows Emery’s walked past his house on the way home from school. By the end of the day, Shad’s surprised when Emery actually asks to join him and Virgil. On the way out of the classroom, Mr. Davis says he hopes Santa Claus brings them what they really want for Christmas. Emery sadly shakes his head and isn’t sure Santa will deliver any gifts unless he can free Ol’ St. Nick.
Virgil’s incredulous that Emery really believes in Santa Claus. As Emery puts it, if he didn’t believe in Santa Claus before then he sure as FUCK believes now.
Emery reveals to Shad and Virgil how his family used to leave in Caribou, Maine, until one day his parents decided they were moving. They lived in several different places before settling in Mortonsville, but Emery thought it was weird how his mom and dad wanted to leave Maine. Throughout it all, his parents brought around a large old trailer he was never allowed into which he figured out they were using to hide Santa.
Shad WANTS to tell Emery there’s no such person as Santa Claus but he holds his tongue. Emery’s incredibly earnest about all of this, so Shad figures there’s something deeper going on.
Emery says his family stuck with Mortonsville because they claimed it’d be good for Diek, who supposedly needed a “warmer climate” or something. Virgil asks what his parents have against Santa Claus, deducing it could be a mall Santa in Emery’s basement. Emery insists the guy he’s seen is the real deal, and if the boys got a glimpse they’d believe too.
So Shad asks if they can see him.
Emery ponders on this and says it’ll be difficult because they keep the basement door locked at all times. Oh but don’t worry, because Emery knows where they hide the key. He went into the basement one day while everyone was out of the house. That’s when he saw Santa Claus strapped to a bed.
[Wing: I’m not going to judge a Santa fetish.]
By the time they reach Shad’s house, Shad swears he and Virgil will help Emery free Santa Claus and for the first time in a long time Emery smiles. He offers to come by Shad’s house tomorrow to discuss a way to free Santa before Christmas Eve. Virgil doesn’t understand why there’s a time limit when Emery’s all “Hello! Because Santa delivers presents on Christmas Eve?”
Like oh my GOD Virgil you don’t just ask why you need to free Santa before Christmas Eve.
Back inside Shad’s house, Virgil thinks Emery’s lost his mind but Shad doesn’t. Oh he doesn’t believe it’s Santa in the Slagel household, but he does believe there may be SOMEONE trapped in that house and Emery only thinks it’s Santa Claus. Shad thinks they should sneak over to the Slagel farm later that night and try to get a glimpse of Emery’s unwilling guest. Virgil hypothesizes that Emery could be making this up to get attention, having seen some afterschool special about a boy who did something similar to make friends.
While Virgil reads some of Shad’s comics (“Tarantula Man” BTW), [Wing: NOPE.] Shad’s lost in thought trying to decide what the proper course of action to take would be. He truly doesn’t believe Emery is saying shit to get people to like him. Emery’s been upset about something for too long, and he appears rather sincere in his belief there’s someone in his basement. Shad concludes he has to do something, because if there’s a person being held captive on the Slagel farm then Shad has a moral obligation to help that person.
Shad tells Virgil they have to find out for themselves what’s going on with the Slagels. If they’re lucky, their basement may have a window or two they can use to get a look at whoever or whatever is inside. That’s when Shad stumbled upon the logical conclusion to this path. If the Slagels are holding someone prisoner, what would happen to Emery? His parents could end up in jail and he’d probably be put in a foster home or something. Shad believes Emery doesn’t deserve to be stuck with people who would hold someone against their will, parents or not.
I guess Diek can go fuck off, then.
After dinner, the boys wait until Shad’s parents and little sister Julie fall asleep to head for the Slagels. Shad and Virgil plan to leave via the tree growing outside Shad’s bedroom window. Using the branch, Shad’s recalled a few times he’s climbed down the tree during the night (like when he needed to borrow someone’s math book) but tried not to do it too much or his parents might find out. Just before they leave, Shad props a book up against their door to warn them if anyone entered the room while they were gone. If his parents are gonna kill them, Shad wants to know in advance.
The night is cold, but the sky is cloudless so the light of the moon illuminates the way. The boys regret not properly getting their winter coats for the excursion, but they couldn’t risk waking Shad’s parents. They have to sneak past the local cemetery which makes the experience even creepier. Only the porch light is on at the Slagel house, so the boys have to figure out which side of the house has the basement windows. While searching, Shad hopes the Slagels don’t keep any guard dogs or the like on their property or they might be screwed.
Finally, the boys locate two windows looking into the farmhouse’s basement. There are no lights on so the boys need to make due with the moonlight. Peering through the glass, Shad realizes the windows are being covered by something on the other side. The covering on one window is hanging off just enough Shad can make out some light in the basement and sees…
A black boot and part of a red pant leg.
Shad asks if Virgil is seeing this.
And then asks again.
Diek would you let go of Virgil so he can-OH FUCK.
Emery appears and orders Diek to let Virgil go. Diek exclaims the boys found out “the Secret” and are gonna tell everyone. Well Emery says HE will tell their DAD if Diek doesn’t leave Virgil alone. Shad’s surprised Diek complies, and is especially shocked when Mr. Slagel appears…
With the shotgun.
Well at least he doesn’t have it aimed at the boys again.
Emery tries to tell his dad that Shad and Virgil are his friends, but Mr. Slagel says he doesn’t need friends who snoop around private property. Shad tells Mr. Slagel they really are Emery’s friends and, you know, wanted to see how he was doing. In the middle of the night. Just guys being guys. Mr. Slagel scowls and heads back into the house after his sons.
Shad hurries Virgil off the Slagel farm yet feels as though they’re being watched by multiple pairs of eyes as they leave. The boys stop to catch their breath by the cemetery entrance when Shad realizes they aren’t alone. There’s someone moving around in the cemetery, and it’s probably Diek. Shad and Virgil keep their eyes on the cemetery as they walk down the road, which allows Diek to surprise them AGAIN when he jumps in front of them. Like seriously, put a bell on this kid!
Diek attempts to grab Virgil but they manage to outrun the older Slagel boy and make it back to Shad’s house before Diek can catch them. Scurrying up the tree, Shad’s glad to be back in the warm, relative safety of his bedroom and is happy to see the book by the door is still upright.
The boys definitely believe Emery’s parents have someone trapped in their house, and have to agree on what to do about it. Virgil doesn’t think they can call the police yet because what would they say, Santa Claus is strapped to a bed in their friend’s house? Shad thinks they should learn the identity of the man in the bed, then get the police.
Shad’s unable to sleep, trying to figure out why Emery so stubbornly believes Person X is Santa Claus. He realizes going over to the Slagel house was stupid, because Mr. Slagel and Diek are gonna be especially suspicious of anything Shad and Virgil do from this point. Shad’s not sure what to do next, when the the following day he catches the biggest fucking break imaginable.
Mr. Davis calls Shad’s house, and at first Shad thinks he’s done something wrong. Turns out Shad’s in the clear, but there’s a problem with Emery. Mr. Davis unhappily reports that Emery failed both tests the previous day, but he’s spoken with the Slagels and is offering to let Emery redo the tests the first day everyone returns to school since the grades won’t be turned in until the end of said day. If Emery’s grades don’t go up on these tests, he might be held back next year. The reason Mr. Davis is calling Shad is because he’d like Shad to help Emery study for the retesting, since he seems to be the only friend Emery has. [Wing: … wouldn’t it be better to choose a tutor based on, you know, understanding of the material? Skill in tutoring? Something useful?]
Shad cannot believe how fucking lucky this is, but his luck’s almost dampened when Mr. Davis says Emery will be studying at SHAD’S house. Asking why they can’t study at Emery’s house, Mr. Davis says he didn’t understand it either when Mrs. Slagel said her husband gets nervous around company. Thinking quickly, Shad says it’d be better to study at Emery’s house because Shad’s relatives are visiting, including his sick, frail, sick, feeble grandma. Who’s sick. Poor Granny’s nerves are shot, you understand.
Mr. Davis is more accommodating than Shad thought because he has no problem with Shad studying at Emery’s place. If he’s already willing to help Emery, the least Emery’s parents can do is allow Shad to do it at their place. [Wing: Uh, yeah, no. No teacher gets to say a family has to let someone into their home. What the fuck kind of logic is that?] At least Mrs. Slagel didn’t give Mr. Davis a hard “No” on allowing Shad into their house. Oh, and Shad’s more than willing to start studying as soon as possible. Would today be okay?
Later in the day, Mr. Davis drops off Emery’s textbooks at Shad’s house. Shad kindly offers to bring the books over to the Slagel place, and Mr. Davis is touched by how much Shad is willing to help young Emery. Shad and Virgil ride their bikes over to the Slagel farm and are greeted by Mrs. Slagel. The boys notice she’s wearing a stethoscope for some reason, and she’s not pleased to see two instead of one. It’s Emery to the rescue, who says Virgil’s also a friend.
Mrs. Slagel says the boys can study in Emery’s room, but they cannot wander around the house. Something is definitely off about the Slagel abode; the moment Virgil and Shad step inside they’re overcome with a sense of general wrongness. Shad doesn’t have to look behind him to know Mrs. Slagel is watching the boys head upstairs. He loudly tells Emery not to worry, because Virgil’s good at math and Shad’s an English wiz so Emery’ll be chugging out As in no time. Virgil’s about to ask what the fuck Shad’s talking about when he realizes this is their cover story so Mrs. Slagel doesn’t call Mr. Davis and ask why both of them are here.
The three boys study for about an hour, but Emery seems to understand everything they’re reviewing. He explains the reason why he failed the tests was because of his nerves due to the whole Santa Claus business. Shad and Virgil try to get Emery to understand there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Even if the person in the basement LOOKS like Santa doesn’t mean he IS Santa. The boys have to remember to keep their voices down as the Santa debate continues. Who knows what Diek and the Slagel parents would do to Virgil and Shad if they knew what was going on?
Emery reveals Diek is definitely helping his parents in their kidnapping scheme but he doesn’t understand why. Like yes Emery that was kind of obvious from the second chapter alone. Virgil wonders if maybe the person in the basement is some unhinged relative Emery’s parents are ashamed of. By any chance is anyone in your family named “Bertha,” Emery?
Emery refuses to believe the person downstairs could be anyone BUT Santa. Shad’s growing increasingly worried for Emery’s sake, because this mess is getting him wound tighter and tighter by the second. The boys point out they need a plan, and there’s not much they can do when they’ve only seen Emery’s room. Emery comes up with a brilliant idea: Virgil and Shad can spend the night for an all-night study session because his grades are so bad!
Shad is hesitant because as much as he wants to help Emery and Person X, the idea of spending the night in this place is too terrible to contemplate. In fact, Shad decides to be upfront about it and admits to Emery he’s terrified. Diek’s scary, their mom and dad don’t want the boys here, it’s a difficult situation. Emery pleads with the boys he can’t rescue Santa by himself and would need someone to create a diversion so he can sneak into the basement and free St. Nick. He knows where they’ve hidden the key after last night, but Emery hasn’t had a chance to get to it because his family’s been watching him.
Shad gives in and is ready to spend tomorrow night at Emery’s. Emery will get his parents to agree and tells the boys to come by at 6 since the family eats at 6:30. While considering the grotesque possibilities of tomorrow night’s cuisine, Shad has to wonder how in God’s name did a nice kid like Emery get saddled with this creepshow? But wait, what if…
What if Emery is IN on whatever his parents are doing? What if the Slagels are using Emery to get more victims into their basement? A lot of unnerving thoughts plague Shad’s mind between leaving Emery’s room and reaching the front door. Shad almost changes his mind and tells Emery it might be too dangerous, but Emery doesn’t know what else to do.
Shad and Virgil are his only friends.
Shad promises he’ll do his best, and convinces Virgil on their way home they can’t back down now if Emery needs them so badly. At Shad’s house, his sister Julie asks for his help writing her letter to Santa Claus. God it is always Santa, Santa, SANTA!
Shad wonders if Julie might’ve waited too long to mail her letter, which upsets her since their mom said it wasn’t. Mrs. Robertson hears the commotion and “Thanks” Shad for his help, when Shad offers to EMAIL Julie’s letter instead. It’ll definitely get to Santa on time through that new fangled internet, because it was the 90s you see! Mom is impressed by Shad’s quick thinking since she never considered email, which makes sense she doesn’t use the computer that much.
Julie hugs her brother because she really, really wants the new things on her list when Mrs. Robertson says Santa might not be able to get her everything. The boys begin to discuss the ins and outs of Santa upstairs, since even Virgil is starting to wonder about Person X.
If Santa’s real and the Slagels have him hostage, Julie and lots of other kids aren’t gonna get presents. Yet how does that work, exactly? Does Santa only deliver presents to people who believe in him? What about the presents you get from your parents? Virgil’s definitely seen his folks put gifts under their tree. Shad can’t make sense out of it.
During dinner, after Julie finishes talking about her letter the boys talk about sleeping at Emery’s house the following night. Mr. and Mrs. Robertson aren’t too sure because of how peculiar the Slagel parents can be. Even Shad’s mom doesn’t understand how Emery’s a member of that family. Mr. Robertson warns the boys if they really want to do this they should be careful since they’re expecting snow which might turn into a blizzard. Remembering the weather report worries Mrs. Robertson, but her husband figures if the boys really want to go and they take the proper precautions everything’ll be fine.
Hey, the Slagels have a big house for Shad and Virgil to explore the boys can have LOTS of fun.
Shad barely gets any sleep because of nightmares over what the Slagels might do to him and Virgil, but the following morning Emery calls and says he checked the guy in the basement. It is definitely Santa. Somehow that doesn’t make Shad feel better.
It starts snowing before the boys leave, and Mrs. Robertson’s worried asking why the boys can’t help Emery study AFTER Christmas? She doesn’t want them staying overnight at that house if the heat goes out. Shad tells his mom they need all the time they can get because Emery might, uh, be visiting his extended family after the 25th and won’t be back until break is over! He’s not TOTALLY lying, because for all he knows the Slagels might do that. Shad never asked.
Shad has the same discussion with his dad when Mr. Robertson gets ready to bring the boys over to the Slagel farm. The idea of being snowed in with Emery’s parents and Diek has him worried. Mr. Robertson just HAD to mention the phones might go out if the snow’s particularly bad. THANKS FATHER.
Emery warns Shad and Virgil how Diek’s peeved the two are spending the night. Virgil immediately thinks they should run after Shad’s dad, but Shad is all “No don’t worry we’re here for you, isn’t that right VIRGIL?” Shad’s nevertheless surprised by how bright and cheery Emery’s living room is, his parents really went all out on decorating.
In Emery’s room, Emery discusses the plan he’s come up with to get Santa out of the basement. Around midnight, he wants Shad and Virgil to try and get something from the fridge while he frees Santa. See, the fridge is strictly off-limits at night because his parents have Diek on a super strict diet. If he eats something he’s not supposed to, Diek apparently freaks out or something. Their parents decided the fridge would be off limits to everyone.
If the boys try to raid the fridge, Diek’ll be on them in a heartbeat and it’ll be a disaster. While that’s happening, Emery will get into the basement and rescue Santa. Emery adds once his parents finish dealing with Diek, Shad and Virgil need to be all “Sirrah, we are outraged at being treated so deplorably! We must away into the night!” Santa will be waiting for them on the front porch and then Christmas will be saved.
I-it’s foolproof. Genius.
Except that it’s snowing, so how’re they gonna get Santa to Shad’s house if it’s snowing? Emery admits he hadn’t factored in the weather, so they’ll just have to wing it. [Wing: Well then clearly everything is going to go perfectly.]
Dinnertime arrives and Shad’s amazed at how delicious the food is, complimenting Mrs. Slagel’s cooking. No amount of good cooking can alleviate the tension around the table. Shad’s sure everyone is shooting glances at the basement door when they think no one else is looking. He almost chokes on his green beans when he hears a loud noise from the basement.
The boys and Emery decide to skip dessert, figuring Emery’s parents and Diek want them gone so they can check on the basement in private. Upstairs, they discuss the noise and Emery is horrified at the idea Santa might be trying to escape. He fears what’ll happen if St. Nick tries to get free on his own with his family around.
Around 10 PM the lights in the house go out. Now they have a blackout AND a blizzard to deal with. Emery keeps calm and gets the flashlights out while Mrs. Slagel checks on the boys. Oh and guess what the telephone’s out too so no calling Shad’s parents for a timely rescue-I MEAN in case of an emergency. Even with these conditions, Emery’s focused on completing the mission and saving Christmas. They’ll simply need to hide Santa Claus outside until morning. Santa Claus is used to the cold, he can tough it out.
By midnight Emery’s trying to wake up Shad and Virgil so they can finally save Christmas. Shad and Virgil try to point out with the amount of shit that’s changed since Emery conceived his first plan, they need to come up with a new one. It makes more sense for all three of the boys to go into the basement to help Santa out, you know, considering he’s a big guy.
Emery leads the boys down the hall and down the stairs, being able to maneuver them over the squeaky parts of the staircase so they don’t wake Diek or the rental units. As Shad heads downstairs he wonders what’ll happen if the Santa in the basement really is a mall Santa. If he doesn’t have any powers, how’re they gonna make it through the snow? They might freeze to death. See, this is the side the media doesn’t show you about what it takes to save Christmas.
Down in the living room, the boys find a lit kerosene lamp on one of the tables. Mrs. Slagel’s apparently afraid of the dark so she often leaves lights on before going to bed. Shad uses the lamp to look outside and is shocked when he sees how high the snow’s piled up by the window. Emery remains calm, explaining the snow’s not that high it just drifted up against the window.
Annnnd there’s Diek, asleep in a chair near the basement door. Fuck no wonder he hadn’t heard them upstairs, he was already waiting for them! Emery argues they’re past the point of no return, so they have to do something Diek or no Diek. While Emery sneaks over to the cupboard hiding the basement key, Shad tries not to think about how terrifying Diek looks illuminated by the lantern glow. Emery manages to sneak past Diek, the howling wind covering any noise he might make, takes the key, inserts it into the door…
Holy SHIT the lock being undone sounded like a gun going off!
Diek wakes up and starts calling after his parents while Emery runs down the basement. Virgil and Shad decide now’s the time to make a hasty exit, otherwise the Slagels might lock them in the basement too. Just as Mr. Slagel appears, Virgil and Shad make it for the front door and throws themselves out into the snow!
Diek and his father try to follow after the boys, screaming at them to come back to the house. Shad would rather take his chances in the blizzard then in the gripes of an angry Slagel. It’s not snowing so much the boys can’t see, but it’s hard to walk through it. The boys have to sort of jump through the snow, but they’re tiring out quickly. Seeing they’re on the road but with Diek and Mr. Slagel behind them, Shad thinks they can hide in the cemetery for a bit to catch their breath.
Shad worries about the footprints in the snow acting as a beacon, and thinks maybe they can loose their pursuers by darting into the woods. Keeping his eye for dark patches of ground on the forest floor, Shad and Virgil eventually emerge into the cemetery and hide in a nearby tomb. The boys can’t rest for long because Virgil complains about feeling sleepy, which Shad realizes is a sign his friend’s starting to freeze to death. Pulling Virgil, the boys continue through the cemetery until they reach Shad’s house and collapse through the front door.
Mr. and Mrs. Robertson gets the boys blankets and hot cocoa, then demand to know why the boys were out in that snow instead of sleeping at Emery Slagel’s house. Shad can’t hide it any longer and tells his parents the whole story, how Emery needed their help to free Santa Claus from his parents and brother.
Of course Shad’s parents start laughing and ask why they really left. Mrs. Robertson thinks they made up that story because they didn’t really want to stay with Emery in the first place. She recalls a time when she was their age, when a classmate invited her to sleep at her house. Mrs. Robertson only said yes because she felt kind of bad for the girl, but she felt so uncomfortable at the girl’s house she made up an excuse about feeling sick to leave early.
Shad insists he and Virgil really do like Emery, but the Robertsons have their minds made up on this explanation and don’t press the boys any further. Parents, they’ll believe anything.
Shad can’t believe how, just an hour ago, he was being chased through the snow by Diek Slagel and his father because he tried to bust Santa Claus from their basement and now he’s drinking cocoa in his kitchen like nothing happened. Weird. Very, very weird.
The next morning Shad is ready to go back to the Slagel farm to help Emery. Virgil doesn’t want to, but Shad fully believes that’s the real Santa and he needs help. Emery’s been so convinced it’s the real Santa, it just has to be. After breakfast, Shad announces he wants to go sledding with Virgil and convinces his mom to allow it by saying he’s feeling restless. That’s usually a good way to get his mom to let him do something, since she’s not fond of him bouncing around the house with too much energy and nothing to do.
Shad says he’ll tell Virgil the rest of the plan later, and is more motivated to rescue Santa when Julie says she’s glad it snowed a lot because it’ll help the Man in Red deliver presents. The boys are using “Sledding” as an excuse to be outside and can head over to the Slagel farm during the time when Emery has chores in the barn (Shad remember overhearing Emery explain his routine to Mr. Davis). Stashing their sleds somewhere safe, the boys manage to sneak up to the Slagel barn without Emery’s parents or Diek noticing.
The boys see Emery come out of the barn and are grateful he’s okay. Surprisingly his parents haven’t tried to kill him for going into the basement. He’s barely seen them all day. Thankfully, Emery’s family had no clue the two boys were trying to go into the basement. They really thought Shad and Virgil were trying to get food out of the fridge and had no idea why they ran out into the blizzard. But more importantly, Emery has something to show them in the barn. Emery starts removing piles of hay to reveal a big, red sleigh buried underneath. This is enough to finally convince Virgil it’s Santa Claus in the basement.
Shad thinks it’s a bit too convenient how Emery’s parents supposedly weren’t trying to trap him and Virgil last night, so he figures the two will need to be on guard if they’re gonna help Emery any further. Surprisingly, Virgil’s the one to assure Emery they’re with him on this. Shad’s still trying to process everything that’s happened when he asks Emery what their next step is.
Emery wants them to get the reindeer and harness them to the sleigh. He means the “Weird deer” mentioned earlier in the book. Emery’s counted them and it’s only the original eight from “The Night Before Christmas,” no Rudolph (spelled Rudolf). This is surprisingly a nice way to acknowledge Rudolph is actually a recent addition to the Santa mythos.
Shad mentions he’s never harnessed a reindeer before but there are some books on it back at his house. Emery asks the boys to come back later that night, but Virgil wonders if this’ll give Santa enough time to head for the North Pole. Well Emery strongly believes Santa can do it in time, thinking he’s finally got the steps figured out.
Shad and Virgil make it back to Shad’s house without the rest of Emery’s family knowing. At home, Shad casually reveals they caught up with Emery and cleared the air. Last night was just a big misunderstanding. Santa Claus, how deliciously absurd! And to show no hard feelings, Emery’s parents even invited the boys to a little Christmas party at their house. Mrs. Robertson would prefer the boys stay home, but Shad claims it’ll really be a short, intimate get together with snacks and some kids from school. Maybe an hour or two long, no biggie. He doesn’t want to keep giving Emery’s family the wrong idea, or they may not let him and Virgil be friends with Emery anymore.
I dunno Wing, but I’m kind of impressed by how seamlessly Shad’s able to come up with these cover stories.
Shad and Virgil don’t mention it until it was just about time to go, that way Mr. Robertson won’t really be dressed to drive them over and they can walk by themselves. After lunch, Shad offers to read to Julie. Specifically, “The Night Before Christmas.” A rather low-key way to familiarize himself with the reindeer and how the harnesses should look. Unfortunately, Shad hits a snag when he wants to take the book with him and almost makes Julie cry catching their mom’s attention. Sheesh, who knew saving Christmas would be this much work?
Virgil uses the picture book to draw images of the reindeer and harnesses for reference, that way Shad can give the book back to Julie without any further problems. Shad needs to time their departure just right, wanting to get to the Slagels by 7 PM to harness the reindeer to the sleigh. While walking to Emery’s house, Shad remembers a time a couple of years back when he and his cousin were wandering around town. The cousin couldn’t believe Shad had so much freedom.
I was glad that I lived in Mortonsville, so I could walk a couple of miles in deep snow to help a friend rescue Santa Claus.
The moon’s so bright the boys have no trouble making it to the Slagels. First they have to get the harnesses out of the sleigh and then find the reindeer. Luckily the harnesses are super light, which makes some sense if the reindeer need to be able to fly. The boys know where to find the canyon where the Slagels are keeping the reindeer since it’s the same one where their tree house used to be. Shad and Virgil follow a small stream and are pleasantly surprised to learn Diek hadn’t torn down the tree house after all. He’s a liar liar pants on fire is what he is!
The boys find the reindeer and decide to start with Dasher, who heads towards them when he hears his name. But then suddenly Shad and Virgil hear howling all around them!
OH SHIT THERE ARE WOLVES, WING! [Wing: WEREWOLVES ARE THEY WEREWOLVES I WANT THEM TO BE WEREWOLVES.]
Five wolves are on top of the cliff above the reindeer. Now the reindeer are spooked and jumping around, but Shad says they still have to harness them or Christmas will be ruined. The boys try to distract the wolves by waving their flashlights at them, but Virgil’s worried the wolves will attack them instead. As the boys get closer to Dasher, the wolves seem annoyed at the interlopers getting between them and their dinner. Shad keeps flashing the light in the wolves’ faces to disorient them while trying to get closer to the reindeer. The boys call them out by their names and say Santa Claus needs their help.
While the boys try to get the harnesses on, the wolves are getting more impatient. Shad handles the distraction while Virgil does the harnesses himself. Virgil leads the reindeer back to the barn when Shad notices three of the wolves are gone. Fuck they might be planning to ambush the reindeer by the stream!
Shad tries to keep calm and warns Virgil they’re being followed by the wolves, patiently stalking the boys from a distance. However, the wolves lose their nerve when they see the boys and reindeer approaching the barn, clearly not wanting to go near human territory.
While trying to get the reindeer into the barn so they can be hooked up to the sleigh, the boys hear the wolves howling in frustration. The reindeer have no trouble moving the sleigh towards the barn entrance, as if the sleigh weighed nothing. Now the boys are waiting for Emery to appear with Santa. It’s all up to him.
Suddenly, lights begin to blaze at the Slagel house, and the boys watch as Santa emerges from the chimney with Emery!
BUT OH SHIT EMERY’S PARENTS AND DIEK ARE OUT THE FRONT DOOR AND, and, they’re telling the boys to hurry up?
Mrs. Slagel’s especially glad Shad and Virgil harnessed the reindeer since Diek came down with a bad cold and couldn’t do it himself.
Emery says the basement had a fireplace so that’s how he was able to get Santa out, when his parents finally explain what was going on. Diek was in on their plan and kept an eye on Emery to protect their secret. But they were never holding Santa hostage. They were helping him recover from a horrible accident he had last year after he delivered the gifts to their house.
Seems even Santa can get a cold, and it gave him an inner ear infection that screwed up his balance and caused him to take a nasty fall off their roof. He’d been unconscious for days and was suffering from memory loss, so he couldn’t remember the words needed to make the sleigh fly and call the reindeer.
Mr. and Mrs. Slagel tried to keep it secret because could you imagine what’d happen if everyone knew Santa was real and in their basement? However, they admit they screwed up by not trusting Emery because otherwise they could’ve avoided all this nonsense. Once Emery was able to talk to Santa and convince him how all those kids out there are depending on him, that was enough to restore him back to 100% working condition. Seems Santa is more willing to listen to kids then adults.
It was all just a wild misunderstanding!
[Wing: But, uh, why didn’t they tell Emery? I’m very confused by, well, the choices that were made.]
But anyway, Emery’s getting the mother of all karmic rewards for what he tried to do to help Santa. He’s going with Santa to deliver the presents! Oh his parents say Emery’s going to keep his eyes open in case Santa has any dizzy spells, but can you imagine helping THE Santa deliver presents on Christmas Eve?
Shad and Virgil watch as Emery and Santa Claus fly off into the night in the reindeer-drawn sleigh, wishing him a Merry Christmas.
[Wing: Uh, hasn’t Diek been helping him this entire time? Shouldn’t he get to go with Santa, too?]
That was kind of a ride, wasn’t it?
Because we spent so much time at the Slagel household I think maybe the ending was a bit rushed, but I enjoyed this book due to the strength of the main characters.
Shad, Virgil and Emery feel like they belong in the “Graveyard School” universe, especially due to how down-to-Earth Shad can be. He’ll show hesitation and may need some prodding, but he genuinely wants to help Emery and Santa because he believes it’s the right thing to do and moves past his own anxieties to lend a hand.
Emery I’m impressed with due to his ability to come up with the plans and make an effort to follow through on them because if he doesn’t, who will?
Virgil isn’t totally willing to go along with this, but he sticks by Shad and doesn’t act as a detriment to their plans. He doesn’t initially believe Emery, but he believes in Shad.
I loved the way the writer asks the question of what would happen in the Slagels actually were kidnappers and acknowledges the real world consequences of a kid whose parents get arrested for kidnapping. It’s a rare time a YA horror book asks what happens when the drama ends.
I distinctly remember reading a review of this one on Goodreads and thinking this sounded kinda lame, at least with the whole misunderstanding stuff.
Characters seems nice though and the reveal that Santa is indeed real but he just had memory loss is kinda funny.
Yeah despite the Christmas setting and the characterization of Shad and Virgil, this hasn’t been one of my faves.