Title: Goosebumps Series 2000 #20 – Be Afraid – Be Very Afraid! a.k.a. “YOU FINISH THE RECAP”
Author: R.L. Stine
Cover Artist: Tim Jacobus
Tagline: There’s a new beast on the block…
Summary: The dragon’s wings stretched… stretched like a ship’s sail unfurling… and cut through power lines over the side of the street. Electricity crackled and sparks flew as the lines came down.
I watched, frozen in terror, as the dragon turned its massive body toward my house. It pulled back its head in an angry roar of attack.
“It’s – it’s coming here!” I choked out. “It’s coming after us!”
It’s the beginning of the year and it’s wintertime, which means I’m stepping into the role of recapping another Goosebumps 2000 book thanks to my zeal for seasonal nostalgia.
This is one of the 2000 entries that’s been especially prominent in my thoughts since “Return to Ghost Camp” had a preview for it at its end. The title and summary don’t allude much to the actual plot besides the prominence of dragons, so I’ll explain it’s about a card game that seemingly comes to life as three kids play it. However, the story bizarrely gets rather… meta, near the end, and I can’t tell if Stine is mocking his own writing style or what.
My name is Connor Buckley, and I am the King of Evil.
Nice to know Stine’s not mincing words with our protag, only no, Connor’s not an ACTUAL king. That’s just the role he plays in the game. What game you ask? We’ll get to that later. First Connor wants you to know he is BOOOOOOOOOOOOORED.
Like, Connor’s always full of energy and bouncing around. His best friend Emily Zinman tells him he should switch to decaf, but what 12 year old drinks coffee? *looks at camera ala “The Office”*
Well, summer vacation’s ending in a few weeks but Connor and Emily have got nothing to do. They finished all their summer reading, gone on their family vacations, played every computer game they own like a smillion times, swam, played tennis, hung out with friends, vandalized property, smoked crack behind their school, they are bored. Bored. BORED!
Also they’re bored.
[Wing: Pretty sure a real King of Evil would never be bored, Connor.]
Today they’re sitting around in Connor’s yard, on the weird looking maple tree that’d been split down the middle by a bolt of lightning the previous year, trying to think of something to do. Emily considers going home and streaking her hair again, even though she’d already streaked it while she was on vacation.
Finally, the two kids notice something interesting. Over on the next corner it looks like there’s a garage sale at mean old Mr. Zarwid’s house. No one particularly likes Mr. Zarwid because he’s a mean old man who’s mean to everyone because he’s mean. Once, Connor innocently knocked on Zarwid’s front door trying to sell candy for a school fundraiser, and Zarwid sicced his German shepherd on the kid. Emily briefly mentions a bad encounter her sisters had with the old man, but doesn’t elaborate on how he scarred them for life.
Connor figures they don’t have anything else going on, so they can at least check out what weird shit Zarwid has for sale. Maybe he’s getting rid of his old bullwhips and torture racks to buy new ones. Kinky!
It turns out Zarwid isn’t into BDSM (that we know of). The garage sale’s full of typical garage sale stuff like old magazines and knickknacks. Connor briefly describes Zarwid’s physical appearance when a woman asks a question about a painting.
He has wavy white hair parted in the middle and a white mustache that’s really weird. It stands straight from both sides of his square red face. I never saw a mustache do that.
But it’s his eyes that really give me the creeps. His mean little blue eyes always seem to be glaring angrily. He scowls and mutters to himself a lot too.
He was wearing baggy, stained khaki shorts and a sleeveless red T-shirt that just barely covered his big belly. I could see tufts of white hair on his chest.
…*shudder* he’s discount bear Santa. Everyone likes different things, Jude. That’s what I keep telling myself. [Wing: No body shaming here. We’re all about calling out bullshit attitudes and writing, though. STINE. LOOKING AT YOU.]
ANYWAY, Emily’s disappointed by the amount of junk on sale until Connor notices a table partially hidden in the garage. It’s covered with ornate, seemingly handmade candlesticks carved in the shape of strange animals like dragons and centaurs. However, Zarwid calls over to Connor and Emily and demands to know what they’re trying to steal. Shocked, Connor and Emily state they aren’t stealing anything. All eyes are on the two kids as Zarwid embarrasses them, saying they should probably be at home playing with “Their teddy bears” and calling them “Hoodlums.” The adults at the sale begin to glare at the kids even though Connor and Emily haven’t done anything, and the kids run back to Connor’s house in humiliation.
Back home, Connor shows Emily what he stole. DAMMIT, CONNOR!
Well, Connor tells Emily he grabbed something off a table as they were running away because he was so angry at Zarwid for humiliating them like that. Emily goes from shocked at Connor stealing to disappointed he only stole a deck of cards. Sorry it wasn’t the Hope Diamond, your majesty!
Connor consents a deck of cards was a dopey thing to steal, since he can never sit still long enough for card games. The writing on the box says the card game is called “BE AFRAID.” Opening the box, Connor finds the cards are decorated with graphics of fantasy creatures like dragons, animal men, and evil looking dwarves. Emily wonders if the cards are worth something since they look a bit old, when someone suddenly screams “PREPARE TO DIE!”
[Wing: This game already sounds great, and Connor’s friends ridiculous. So far, I kind of love this book.]
Oh don’t worry it’s just Connor’s other friend, Kyle Boots. Yeah puberty hit Kyle like a ton of bricks and his voice got deep when his balls dropped or something. He’s always doing that “Prepare to die” shit to show off his voice. Connor describe Kyle as big and blonde and powerful looking; Kyle plays on the junior high football team but looks like he belongs in high school.
“What are you doing down there, Connor? Looking for crumbs?”
“Huh? Crumbs?” I gathered up the last of the cards. “Why would I be looking for crumbs?”
“That’s what my dog does,” Kyle replied.
I climbed to my feet. “I’m not your dog.”
“I know,” Kyle replied. “I can tell the difference. My dog is smart.”
Kyle’s told about Connor’s burgeoning career as a professional thief and shown the cards. He claims to be familiar with “Be Afraid” and says lots of kids play it. It’s your typical role playing affair and there are hundreds of different cards and deck types. Many spend a lot of money on the game. Kyle takes the cards to get a better look at them… and is horrified by what he sees!
Kyle laughs at fooling Connor and Emily, then swipes a soda can from Connor’s fridge and proposes the three play “Be Afraid.” He offers to moderate since he knows the rules. Connor retrieves four dice from the board games in his family’s den and finds Kyle’s divided the cards into four piles.
THE RULES OF THE BE AFRAID
- There are four card types: Character, Action, Power, and Fate
- The types of characters are: Kings, Goths, Jekels, Krels, Mords, Knights, and Dragons
- Players roll dice to determine how powerful they are, how big their armies are, etc.
[Wing: The character types are a weird mix of okay, okay, normal, recognise them — what the fuck is a Jekel, Krel, or Mord?]
Connor draws a King card, and Emily’s initially annoyed thinking this makes him too powerful until Kyle explains he could be a very weak king. Emily gets a Goth, which grosses her out as Kyle explains a Goth is a type of mutant sorcerer. He’s not entirely wrong. Finally, Kyle selects a Krel, which is a type of animal man. The Krel can be good or evil. A Goth can be more powerful than a King. It all depends.
[Wing: AND YET THERE ARE NO WEREWOLVES. KREL = ANIMAL MAN BUT NOOOOOOOO WEREWOOOOOOOOOLVES.]
With the characters selected, Kyle says it’s time to roll the dice for power points. Players get a hundred points for whatever they roll. Connor’s ecstatic for getting fives and sixes which makes him really strong. Kyle says he may have to team up with Emily to overthrow the King.
Now to set the scene.
“The game is like an ancient story. Shut your eyes. Pretend we’re in ancient times. We live in a forest. At the edge of a forest stands a tall castle.”
“My castle!” I interrupted.
Kyle ignored me. He lowered his voice to a deep whisper. “The forest is filled with all kinds of danger. Strange creatures. Masked knights. Mutant invaders. Krels and Goths and Mords and Jekels. Strange animals, poisonous plants, evil enemies lurking everywhere.”
[Wing: Kyle’s turning out to be a good DM, damn.]
Connor’s told to start the game by selecting an Action Card, and he needs to be prepared for whatever happens. Kyle’s doing a good job of unnerving Connor by how serious he seems. The first card has a lightning bolt on it…
Almost immediately it starts raining outside.
Connor’s shocked because it’d been sunny and cloudless before, but he’s even more shocked when he sees the hideous face outside the window!
Oh it’s just Mr. Zarw-OH CRAP IT’S MR. ZARWID!
Connor opens the kitchen door to find his grumpy neighbor standing in the sudden downpour. Zarwid says he remembered them from the garage sale – and he’s looking for a deck of cards that went missing. Emily looks like she’s about to confess when Connor steps forward and says they don’t know anything about it. After all, they aren’t thieves. Zarwid warns Connor that he better be telling the truth, because those cards can be dangerous. He then tells the kids to [INSERT TITLE HERE].
After Zarwid leaves, the kids burst into laughter. Like GEEZ, it’s just a card game, how dangerous could it possib-lie be?
Then the lights go out as soon as Connor draws a pitch black card. Now Connor thinks there certainly might be SOMETHING going on, but Emily tells him to calm his tits. Lights can usually go out during a thunderstorm and playing in the dark could be kinda cool. Connor follows her advice, but proposes doing one better and finds a few candles and matches. Now they can play by candlelight, like they did in the olden days. Why, back in my day, we had to walk Fif-TEEN MILES to the nearest comic store to buy OUR Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and in those days you had to worry about getting Fif-TEEN COPIES of cards like Dream Clown or Trap Master.
The mood set, it’s Emily’s turn to draw and she gets a card with crossed swords and a helmet on it. She’s apparently conjured an army to attack Connor’s castle, so Connor has to go out and get another. To do so, he has to roll the dice to raise an army and gets a hundred soldiers for every double. Connor has to ask if Kyle’s making this stuff up as he goes along. [Wing: One of the risks of trusting a single person to explain the rules. And yet, still fun.]
Connor rolls the dice and gets a triple, gaining three hundred soldiers. That’s when everyone hears some loud noises coming from next door. Laughter. Shouting. Whinnying? Emily thinks it’s only the sound of the storm. Connor’s told to roll again to increase his army, and then again to attack and claim a new castle. He only just barely gets enough points on the dice to properly attack when they hear what sounds like an explosion. Outside the window come the sounds of battle, metal against metal, cries of pain!
Scared, Connor decides they’ve played enough and puts the cards back in the box. The moment the box is closed, the lights come back on, the rain stops, the noises outside cease, and the kids have a new guest. An ugly looking man appears in the room, dressed in furs and leather. He laughs and thanks the kids for freeing him and vanishes out the kitchen door.
[Wing: GO BACK TO PLAYING, THAT WAS AWESOME.]
Taking a moment to calm down, Kyle recognizes the stranger looked exactly like a Krel. Emily saw it too, and so did Connor. He searches through the deck to pull out the Krel card for a comparison, but it’s gone. Connor flips through each individual card, but the Krel’s vanished. Kyle yanks the cards away to look for himself, and a dragon card falls to the floor. As Connor picks it up, he hears heavy footsteps outside. The dragon’s real!
No wait it’s only Connor’s mom and dad home from work and drenched from the downpour that immediately stopped as quickly as it started. Mr. and Mrs. Buckley ask if the kids saw what happened next door to the poor Nelsons. How did they not hear it?
Connor, Emily and Kyle head outside and find someone or something totally trashed the house next door! One entire wall is on the ground and half the roof has caved in. All the windows are smashed. The flower beds destroyed. Traumatized Mr. and Mrs. Nelson are telling police officers how some weirdos dressed as knights came out of nowhere and ransacked their house. Mrs. Nelson breaks down in terrified sobs as she tries to give her story to one of the cops.
[Wing: Okay, less awesome.]
Connor almost collapses from guilt, realizing HE conjured the knights from a card game HE stole. He feels like the other adults are looking at him, as if they know what he’s done, when Mr. Zarwid returns and coldly asks if Connor has anything to say. However, Connor’s more terrified of what Zarwid, nay, what the entire neighborhood would do to him, if they learned this was his fault, and continues to play dumb. Surely that won’t cause problems.
That night Connor has a nightmare about Mr. Zarwid summoning forth the characters from the game and creates a giant battle in Connor’s room. He orders Connor to be afraid. When Connor wakes up, he thinks it was a wild dream…
So why is his carpet covered in mud?
Thinking his dream was for real, Connor decides to give the card game back. He’ll drop the deck in Zarwid’s mail box or something to avoid a lecture. That’ll definitely work. If only Connor could find the cards, that is!
Wait, turns out Emily and Kyle are downstairs and already playing. They simply didn’t wait for him to wake up and took the cards from his room while he slept. Isn’t it great when kids recognize a concept like “Boundaries?”
Emily and Kyle can’t believe Connor wants to bring the cards back when they’re in the middle of a game, and he’s winning! Like the cards really summoned a bunch of knights and trashed the house next door. Obviously it got wrecked by the storm. Or clearly some cosplayers took their comic convention plans too far or something. Happens all the time.
You know, despite the clear evidence like THE FUCKING ANIMAL MAN WHO APPEARED IN CONNOR’S KITCHEN, the other two believe it’s still just a game. #BecauseGoosebumps
[Wing: Eh, I’ll give them this. The human mind is generally primed to make the unbelievable believable by slotting it into a worldview they already understand. Now, if things keep happening and they keep denying it, then I’ll get annoyed. There’s only so long you can use this as an excuse to cause conflict, Stine.]
Connor relents and agrees to one more game, then says they’ll bring the cards back afterwards. It’s Emily’s turn to draw, and she gets a doozy of a dragon covered in metallic spikes with big, silvery wings. On her next draw, Emily gets what Kyle describes as a “Switch” card, which means she’s gone from Goth to Dragon. Connor’s growing more uncomfortable by the second while Emily rolls for power. It looks like she’s gonna be a really powerful dragon. [Wing: O.O I WANT TO BE A DRAGON!] Connor attempts to send his knights to battle the dragon, but it’s Kyle’s turn at last.
Kyle’s decided the Krel will team up with the Dragon to take down the King. Krels are crafty and know when to switch sides. Kyle draws a card with an elf fisherman on it, then rolls to summon an army of TWO THOUSAND FISHERMAN to circumvent Connor’s army and take the King down. The King’s captured, and now the Dragon will finish him off.
Is anyone surprised when they hear inhuman roaring coming from outside?
The kids leave the house to find a dragon identical to the one on the now-missing card rampaging down the street. Neighbors and children are running away in terror as the dragon destroys trees and cars. Emily pulls the boys back into the house thinking if they put the dragon card back in the box, it’ll vanish. When they can’t find the card, Connor thinks the next best thing is to roll the dice to summon soldiers to fight for him like he originally intended. Luck, however, is not on Connor’s side and he’s only able to gain five measly Masked Knights.
The five Knights appear outside in front of the dragon, but the dragon quickly gets rid of two which sends the other three running for their lives. Now the dragon’s turned towards Connor’s house!
The kids hide in the kitchen, but hear the dragon lumbering towards the back of the house to find them. Panicking, Connor tries to shove the remaining cards into the deck box hoping this’ll be enough to get rid of the dragon regardless if the card of origin’s included. The minute the box gets closed, the kids hear a loud POP and the dragon vanishes in a burst of light. The damage remains, but the dragon’s gone.
Thoroughly convinced the cards are bad news, Connor and Emily decide they have to be returned to Mr. Zarwid. Before they leave, Kyle asks a rather important question. If Mr. Zarwid knew these cards were so dangerous, why the FUCK did he have them mixed in among his garage sale crap? Why would he try to sell something so dangerous? Emily doesn’t have an answer other than he probably didn’t expect anyone would try to steal them. [Wing: …that doesn’t really answer the question, Emily.]
Connor asks Emily and Kyle to come with him when he returns the cards, hoping Mr. Zarwid won’t give him as much of a hard time. As they leave, Connor fumbles with the box for a moment and a single card slides out. It’s a Wizard card, and the illustration looks identical to Mr. Zarwid. That’s when it hits the kids that “Zarwid” is an anagram for “Wizard.” With that in mind, the kids wonder if Zarwid has powers of his own and what he might do to them.
Connor tucks the Wizard card into his t-shirt pocket and they leave. The kids navigate down the street past all the horrific wreckage left by the dragon attack, and feel guiltier by the second. Somehow, Zarwid’s house is perfectly okay. Connor knocks on the front door and rings the bell, but gets no answer. The windows look dark and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s home. The kids almost leave when the front door swings open and they hear the sound of shrill laughter.
Connor and the others think Zarwid’s inside the house and laughing about something, but as the laughter gets shriller it sounds almost like a baby or animal. The three huddle together as they enter the house and find themselves in a cluttered living room, where Zarwid’s keeping a monkey in a cage. Kyle wonders if it’s really a monkey or someone Zarwid cursed, when their grouchy neighbor shouts it’s always been a monkey.
The kids turn around to find Zarwid standing in the entrance to the living room, looking just as displeased as the other day. He accuses them of breaking into his house when Connor explains the door swung open and they rang the bell and everything. Zarwid figures they’re here because of the cards. Connor sheepishly hands the deck forward, confirming Zarwid’s suspicions. He of course doesn’t accept their apologies about the theft and the destruction they unleashed, even as Connor exclaims they didn’t know the game was magic.
Zarwid figures the kids need to be taught a lesson because they know too much. Holding the cards up, he declares if they love “Be Afraid” so much they can simply LIVE the game. Zarwid throws the cards over the three kids, and as they flutter to the ground darkness begins to descend over them. Darkness and pain.
I didn’t move. But I felt myself falling. Falling into the dark, into the frigid cold.
And then an explosion of pain made me scream.
Pain that shot out from my chest, through my arms, my legs. A burst of pain that made my head ring.
My head… my head…
I knew it was about to explode from the pain.
My eyes popped out. My teeth flew out of my mouth.
My brain shot out through my open, screaming mouth.
I know this cold darkness, I thought.
I know this chilling stillness.
Except no, he didn’t die.
Connor, Emily and Kyle wake up outside underneath a starry night sky. Getting their bearings, the kids look around to see they’re in some big field near a small farming village. The village has got a bunch of huts made from straw and there are a few wooden wagons. Connor tries to remember what Zarwid said before he vanished, and Kyle reminds everyone he said they could live the game.
Terrified at the idea they’ve all been sucked inside a Magic: The Gathering rip-off, Connor and the others have to scramble when they hear someone approaching. Across the field, they see a group of spear-wielding little men marching towards them. Kyle recognizes them as Jekels, evil hunters who eat human beings. The Jekels hum “Hup, hup, hup, hup” as they get closer so the kids need to hide.
Connor, Emily and Kyle manage to find shelter by hiding within a giant mound of hay. It doesn’t last for long because the hay’s itchy and gross, swarming with disgusting bugs that start to crawl all over the kids. There’s no mention of spiders, Wing. Connor can’t hold it in any longer and loudly sneezes, which brings them to the attention of the Jekels. The armed creatures grab the kids out of the hay and take them prisoner.
None of the Jekels speak English and herd the kids into a hut using their spears. Emily wonders if the Jekels are going to throw them into a fire to cook them when Kyle says Jekels kill their food before they eat. Yeah that’s helpful. Rushing the little guys wouldn’t be a good idea since Kyle claims they have super strength. The Jekels proceed to make way for one that appears to be their leader, since his hair is blonde and his clothes are neater.
The leader Jekel understands and speaks English, demanding to know who or what Connor and the others are. Kids? What are Kids? Connor stammers they were sent here by a wizard, so the Jekels initially think they’re wizards too and have magic powers. Connor tries to explain they’re harmless, but the leader decides they need to take the Truth Test. Some Jekels appear holding up a big silver goblet filled with some unbelievably nasty looking gunk. Connor’s expected to drink the brew, being told he’ll survive if he’s telling the truth.
Too bad no one’s ever survived the Truth Test before.
Connor has the goblet pushed up against his lips, the noxious odor overpowering him as the liquid bubbles, hot and tarlike, against him. He’s about to open his mouth when everyone hears a familiar roar and cries of panic. Dragon attack! Outside the hut, the Jekels are being attacked by a bunch of knights riding atop dragons! The Jekels abandon their leader, who runs after them demanding they fight. Everyone forgets all about Connor, Emily and Kyle.
The kids proceed to run since they don’t want to take their chances with the knights. They manage to find a large cornfield over a nearby hill and plan to hide until its safe. Navigating through the stalks, the kids stop to catch their breath when they realize they aren’t alone. The cornstalks are rustling around them, only there’s nothing else hiding among them. The stalks THEMSELVES are alive! [Wing: Deliciously creepy.]
Connor watches in horror as slender green hands and smooth, featureless heads emerge from the plant stalks and start trapping the kids. Their limbs are like rubber and tighten around Connor, Emily, and Kyle. Emily recognizes the creatures from one of the cards, calling them “Stelks.” Connor can barely breathe, wondering how they’re going to get out of this one.
YOU FINISH THE STORY.
Ugh! Mark can’t believe it! Just as the book was getting good!
Yeah here we go. Buckle up, Wing.
[Wing: Who to the what now?]
Mark’s sister Amy asks what his problem is since he’s been quietly reading for hours. He explains how he was really enjoying this book, but just as it gets to the exciting part it suddenly ends with “You finish the story.” What a cheat. Amy agrees with him and figures the author copped out because he ran out of ideas.
After recapping everything that happened so far, Mark’s surprised when he finds a flap in the back of the book. Wow! It’s the actual cards from the story, “Be Afraid!” He tells Amy they can play and asks her to find some dice. They’ve got nothing better to do while their cranky grandma watches them.
Almost immediately Mark and Amy get sucked into the game.
Where’s Jumanji when you need them?!
Yes Jumanji is nonbinary, get over it you TERFs!
[Wing: I’m all for Jumanji showing up, because they bring Dwayne Johnson with them, and I’m feeling it.]
Much like Connor, Emily and Kyle, Mark and Amy find themselves outside in the middle of the night. They have no idea where they are until they see a motherfucking dragon lumbering around, and Mark realizes they’re inside the card game. Amy begins to panic, having no idea what they can do and begging Mark to tell her he knows a way they can return home. Mark thinks they could possibly return if they get all the cards back in the box, like the way the dragon vanished when Connor did the same thing.
Except the cards are still in Mark and Amy’s house, and they aren’t around where the two landed.
Amy decides they need to start walking to find a phone, until Mark reminds her they’re in some medieval fantasy land. They ain’t gonna be finding no phones. Amy almost has another freak out when Mark tries to calm her down…
That’s when the net falls on top of them.
Mark and Amy seem to have activated a trap left by some hunter, but they have no idea how old it is and fear they might starve to death if they can’t get free. They soon hear footsteps approaching, and it appears to another Krel but this one has a weird, yellow-skinned creature that looks like a mutant dog for a companion. The Krel grabs the net and starts to drag Mark and Amy across the forest floor towards a small stone house. Letting go of the net, the Krel moves towards a smaller stone structure near the side of the house annnnnnd it’s an oven. Great he’s gonna cook them for dinner.
The Krel doesn’t even bother to remove the net as he pushes Mark and Amy towards the oven. They’re barely out of their trap when the Krel grabs the siblings by their shirts and starts shoving them towards the flames. The dog creature excitedly barks around them, and Mark quickly makes a grab for the creature!
Holding the Krel’s pet/companion hostage, Mark demands his sister be let free or he’ll throw the non-dog into the fire. Mark tells his sister to start running as he holds a firm grasp on his bargaining chip, threatening to bake the little bastard every time the Krel moves. Slowly stepping back, Mark finally throws the creature away and starts running after his sister…
Hiding among some very tall cornstalks.
As the stalks rustle, Mark only just remembers now about the Stelks from the book and fears they’re attacking. But it’s not! It’s, it’s…
Mark can’t believe this! Getting sucked into the game was one thing, but actually meeting fictional characters?!
Mark says he knows all about Connor’s group and how they got here, explaining what happened to him and his sister. The kids don’t see how they can get home until Amy finally offers a productive idea. Why not find another wizard who can send them home? The kids get so excited by this seemingly good idea they even begin to sing “We’re Off To See The Wizard.”
And that’s when the Krel army appeared.
Armed with spears and swords, a group of Krels corner the kids and force them up a tall hill towards the edge of a cliff. They’re gonna be pushed to their deaths! The Krels chant “No mercy” over and over again, while Amy starts to cry and says Mark was a good brother.
At the very last second, Mark remembers a crucial plot point. Connor put the Wizard card in his t-shirt pocket! Mark thinks they can be sent home if Connor tears it up, but then a gust of wind blows it away! Desperately, Mark lunges for the card and goes over the cliff, ripping it up, ripping it-!
YOU FINISH THE STORY.
[Wing: What the ever loving fuck.]
Ross cannot BELIEVE he wasted good money on such a lousy book! It’s quiet reading time in class and he just finished a book he got at a yard sale, and the ending was nothing but a cheat! Ross’s friend Brenda tells him to be quiet before their teacher gives him detention, and suggests simply bringing the book back to get a refund.
After school, Ross heads over to his neighbor’s house and inquires about a refund for such a crappy novel. Instead, Ross is offered the option of trading the book for something else. A box of cards called “Be Afraid.” It looks like fun.
That sure was nice of Mr. Wardiz.
Yeah, I have no idea what Stine wanted to accomplish with the direction the ending went in. I want to think he’s making fun of his own storytelling style but doing it twice felt like, I dunno.
My leading interpretation’s been the book and card game are a trap that sucks kids in, and the Wizard character passes it along to new victims with the length of the book depending on how long the new “Main” kids can survive. It’s entirely likely Connor and his group really were killed by the Stelks, Mark fell to his death, etc., only to be brought back JUST before they die when the new arrivals join the party. They probably only die for real when they’ve officially been written out of the story, like if they die after they’re no longer the main characters.
[Wing: I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but kudos to Stine for that ending. I love the hell out of a good recursive ending, each kid being sucked down by another level, and this was deliciously creepy toward the end, especially with the field of corn being alive.]
SEQUEL IDEA: “HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING” – A new kid gets the book and card set but does NOT fall for the trap. However, their younger sibling steals the cards and plays the game, bringing the creatures to life and getting sucked into the story. The main character and their friends have to figure out a proper way to enter the story to free the sibling and the surviving kids, while doing research and following the trail of missing kids the wizard’s left behind.
YOU FINISH THE STORY.
[Wing: Someone write this fic, please, because damn, that’s a good idea.]