Title: Goosebumps #1 – “Welcome to Dead House” a.k.a. “They’re Coming To Get You, Amanda!”
Author: R.L. Stine
Cover Artist: Tim Jacobus
Tagline: It will just kill you.
Summary: Look Alive!
Amanda and Josh think they old house they have just moved into is weird. Spooky. Possibly haunted. And the town of Dark Falls is pretty strange, too.
But their parents don’t believe them. You’ll get used to it, they say. Go out and make some new friends.
So Amanda and Josh do. But these new friends are not exactly what their parents had in mind.
Because they want to be friends…
This is one recap I definitely have the energy for, because this is where it all began. The very first Goosebumps book by R.L. Stine, commissioned back when Scholastic didn’t believe the series would sell enough. Boy were they wrong! [Wing: Stine did an excellent job of creating stories people love even now and reaching kids with horror, and I love that, no matter how strong our feud.]
As the beginning of the franchise, “Welcome to Dead House” gives us a look at how Stine originally established many of the tropes he’s run into the ground over the last three decades, but before he exaggerated the shit out of them. Our main character and narrator, Amanda Benson, is a girl dealing with her bratty brother Josh and her parents not believing them about the weird shit going on in their new home.
Amanda’s plight is probably the most believable out of the myriad ways Stine reused these character dynamics in later books. While Josh acts spoiled, it’s not to the degree he ruins his sister’s life because he can, and for once the parents do not try to encourage or ignore this behavior. The actions of Amanda’s parents stem from the stress of moving into a new house, giving them an understandable reason why they aren’t willing to believe some of the odd things Amanda’s seen. Amanda’s for all intents and purposes a grounded protagonist in a way that can make her pretty relatable to readers who’ve been stuck in stressful familial situations.
[Wing: Fucking hell, that’s gorgeous!]
Like I said in past recaps, before “One Day at Horrorland” many of the original books carried a sense of darkness and despair borderline alien to the entirety of the franchise, barring perhaps “Ghost Camp,” “Ghost Beach,” and “The Haunted School.” Stine’s mentioned if he ever gets a chance to rewrite this book he’d make it funnier, and I pray to God that never happens because trying to infuse his current humor into this story would be a sin against nature.
The story’s condensed to the town of Dark Falls and the Benson Family’s new house. Some reviewers have complained about the book’s pacing, which I’m willing to give Stine a break on since this IS the first book in the series. He does a good job at emphasizing the foreboding darkness of Amanda’s new home and crafts a really exceptional nightmare sequence that for once isn’t used as a bait-and-switch chapter ending.
Oh but don’t worry, there are a LOT of…
Cliff-hanger chapter endings. [Wing: Goddamnit.]
Amanda Benson’s first trip to her new house in the town of Dark Falls left much to be desired.
Josh and I hated our new house.
Sure, it was big. It looked like a mansion compared to our old house. It was a tall redbrick house with a sloping black roof and rows of windows framed by black shutters.
It’s so dark, I thought, studying it from the street. The whole house was covered in darkness, as if it were hiding in the shadows of the gnarled, old trees that bent over it.
It was the middle of July, but dead brown leaves blanketed the front yard. Our sneakers crunched over them as we trudged up the gravel driveway.
Tall weeds poked up everywhere through the dead leaves. Thick clumps of weeds had completely overgrown an old flower bed beside the front porch.
This house is creepy, I thought unhappily.
Josh must have been thinking he same thing. Looking up at the old house, we both groaned loudly.
There’s the very first page of Goosebumps. [Wing: Oh god, I don’t hate it. Here we go. I’m going to end up accidentally loving the bulk of Stine’s work, aren’t I? Much like recapping Sweet Valley Twins with Dove and Raven has sucked me in over the years.]
Amanda and Josh have been brought with their parents Jack and Penelope to inspect their new house alongside Mr. Dawes, a friendly young real estate agent from the area. The ‘rents try to be sympathetic, saying the kids are having a hard time adjusting to the idea of moving to a new town and living in a strange house. Josh agrees, the house certainly is strange, while Amanda can’t believe how cold it feels even though it’s summer.
Josh doesn’t want to stick around to inspect the house. He thinks it sucks and he doesn’t want to move in the first place. Amanda and their parents are used to this kind of behavior. Josh is slightly spoiled, [Wing: …slightly?] so whenever he makes up his mind about something he never budges. He’s even trying to get their parents back in the car. Amanda knows Josh isn’t getting his way this time, and this weird old house is gonna be their home whether either of them likes it. On her part, Amanda has no desire to make the situation worse by arguing.
See, normally the Bensons wouldn’t have money to move into such a big house, but they got this place for free! A few weeks prior, they received a notification in the mail that they’d inherited the house from Jack’s Great-Uncle Charles. Jack and Penelope were ecstatic and this gave Jack the excuse he needed to quit his dumb old office job and devote himself full time to writing.
Too bad no one remembers ever MEETING Great-Uncle Charles. [Wing: Sure, devoting yourself full time to your writing is tempting, but THESE ARE ALWAYS SECRET MURDER HOUSES. And yet people keep accepting them.]
Josh is still trying to drag Jack into the car so Amanda attempts to reason with her brother.
“Let go, Josh,” I said quietly, grabbing Josh by the shoulder. “We promised we’d give Dark Falls a chance – remember?”
“I already gave it a chance,” Josh whined, not letting go of Dad’s hand. “This house is old and ugly and I hate it.”
[Wing: Gotta admit, I love the name Dark Falls for a town, and would read the hell out of adventures there.]
Josh won’t even consider going inside the house to pick out his own room. Mr. Dawes tries to empathize with the kids, telling Amanda he’s only lived in Dark Falls for a few months. It felt odd at first, but now he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. He assures everyone despite the exterior, the interior’s pretty nice. AND the school’s only a couple of blocks away.
“A short walk to school. No more long bus rides every morning.”
“I liked the bus,” Josh insisted.
Amanda really doesn’t get what Josh’s deal is; this entire scenario’s hard enough for everyone and he’s making it worse by acting like a baby. Jack hasn’t even sold their old house yet. Can’t Josh cut everyone a break for once? Ugh, little brothers.
That’s when their dog Petey, a little white terrier, starts barking a storm inside the car. Amanda notes Petey’s usually well-behaved and can’t imagine why he’s suddenly acting up. Josh decides to let him out of the car, with Mr. Dawes suggesting it gives Petey a chance to get used to the area. Petey immediately runs out of the car and starts yipping around the front yard, before he turns to Mr. Dawes and begins growling. None of the Bensons have seen Petey act like this, but Dawes figures the dog smells something on him.
Josh decides to stay outside with Petey while the rest of the family inspects the house. Jack’s all fine, whatever, Josh can camp out in the front yard if he wants because it’s not worth the argument. Once inside the house, Amanda starts to get a little excited. It really is spacious and it’s a far cry from their current house which is a shoe box compared to this place. There’s all kinds of boxes and junk in the attic. Lots of potential to explore! Josh doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Before they leave, Amanda asks to check out her future bedroom one last time. Up on the second floor, it’s wide and spacious with big bay windows and now she’s got room to get her own computer! Because it was the 90s, you see!
And then Amanda sees the boy in the open doorway.
At first Amanda thought it was Josh, until she realized this boy’s blonde (Amanda and Josh both have brown hair). Startled, Amanda ran into the hallway but the mystery boy vanished. Downstairs, Amanda asks Mr. Dawes if the house is haunted. Unfortunately for the Bensons, this is one of the few houses in the neighborhood that DOESN’T have a ghostly reputation. Huh. So what did Amanda see? For that matter, where are Josh and Petey?!
Wing, that’s our very first cliffhanger chapter! [Wing: If only this was my first actual cliffhanger chapter ending from Stine. If only.]
Amanda and her parents can’t find Josh or Petey anywhere around the house. Amanda checks the huge backyard but her brother’s not there. The Bensons assume Josh is pulling some stupid prank to convince them not to move, like he ran away from home or something. Or maybe he met one of the neighbor kids or something. Ugh come on, Josh! Mr. Dawes tries to assure everyone they’ll find Josh and Petey if they simply drive around the neighborhood and look, since they couldn’t have gotten very far.
Amanda and her parents get inside Mr. Dawes’ car since he knows the area, Dawes stopping to put on a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat before getting behind the wheel. Claims it keeps the sun of out his eyes or something, which is good since the street’s the only part of the area that’s sunny. The strip of road between the blocks is like a blazing slash of light compared to the dark, leafy canopies of huge trees.
Maybe that’s why it’s called Dark Falls, I thought.
Amanda notices all the houses around them are old and surrounded by thick trees as well, only the rest are better maintained. Quiet, too. There doesn’t seem to be anyone outside. Dawes drives by the brick school building and Josh isn’t in the playground area. They get to Cemetery Drive and finally spot Josh among the tombstones. Only Josh is being chased by someone!
No wait, Josh is CHASING someone. Petey!
Relieved to find her brother, Amanda hops out of the car and Josh starts asking for help. He claims Petey ran off from the house and Josh followed after him into the cemetery. Josh has been trying to catch their dog but has no idea what set Petey off in the first place. Amanda thinks Petey was overwhelmed by the new sights, smells, sensations, and that’s why he ran away.
Petey retrieved, Mr. Dawes drives everyone to the small real estate agency and tells the parents they can come back next week after he’s finished finalizing all the paperwork. The Bensons are given his business card and contact info and learn his first name is “Compton.” The group briefly jokes about such an odd first name. Dawes insists he’s the only Compton in his family so where his parents got the name is a mystery.
“Maybe they didn’t know how to spell Charlie!”
Everyone laughs at the joke even though they know it’s bad.
On the drive back to their current house, Josh said nothing and wouldn’t acknowledge Amanda’s assurance he’ll like the house. For the next couple of weeks leading up to the move, Amanda found herself stranded in a sea of stress. While having to deal with the uncomfortable idea that soon, everything Amanda’s been familiar with her whole life will be gone, she also had to deal with her parents constantly snapping at each other and Josh sulking like a petulant brat. Hell, even Petey’s sulking!
Saying goodbye to her best friend Kathy was probably the hardest part. Her other friends were off at camp, but Amanda was always closest to Kathy even though they look so totally different. That night before the big move was sad and awkward. Amanda found herself for the first time in her life defending her current neighborhood even though she used to think it sucked. Who’s Kathy gonna get the answers from in math class now?
“School won’t be the same without you,” [Kathy] sighed, curling her legs under her on the chair. “Who’s going to slip me the answers in math?”
I laughed. “I always slipped you the wrong answers.”
The girls tried to look on the bright side, since Dark Falls is only four hours away. They can still visit each other for birthdays and stuff. And they can talk on the phone all the time and write letters, it won’t be so bad. Not really.
By the time Kathy had to leave, both girls struggled not to cry but Amanda wasn’t strong enough. The girls hugged and promised they’d see each other on their birthdays, no matter what. Amanda was left in the darkness until Petey joined her side.
Moving day was a nightmare thanks to the weather. It rained just enough to make the car trip seem like an eternity, and the morning started off with Amanda’s parents arguing about how crispy the bacon was cooked at breakfast. While Amanda’s parents worried about the movers getting to the house before them, Josh squirmed and fidgeted the whole ride when he wasn’t complaining about being hungry or having to go to the bathroom or SOMETHING.
“Let’s all try really hard not to get on each other’s nerves,” Mom suggested.
Dad laughed. “Good idea, dear.”
“Don’t make fun of me,” she snapped.
Oh and Petey had to start acting up, too. Amanda got to be right in the middle of it all.
Everyone was super peachy by the time they got to the new house, and Jack worried if the movers were lost. Once Petey’s out of the car he starts running around the yard, but Amanda stops before entering when she looks up at the second floor. The boy she saw that first day is staring down at her from her room!
Amanda tries to get her parents’ attention, saying there’s a stranger inside her room. The inside of the house is significantly hotter than outside, and the smell of the new paint job is almost suffocating. Penelope thinks Amanda’s joining in on Josh’s attempt to annoy everyone and refuses to listen, thinking she probably just saw a reflection of a tree branch or something. Amanda doesn’t swallow her mom’s rationalization and starts calling up the stairs, demanding to know who’s invaded their house.
Angry, Amanda runs upstairs to catch the intruder. Why won’t her mom believe her? She’ll show her. Looks like stubbornness runs in the Benson Family. By the time Amanda reached the second floor, she got a gnawing feeling in her stomach. What if this was a burglar? Or some local who snuck into the house on a dare? Suddenly she’s not feeling so angry, but Amanda persists. The sound of the rain outside is similar to footsteps pattering on the floor.
Amanda checks out the rooms and finds most of them empty before she goes near her bedroom. Was the boy still in her room all this time? She called out a couple of ti-SOMETHING’S GRABBED AMANDA FROM BEHIND!
No wait it’s only Josh.
Josh thinks it’s hilarious how he scared Amanda and can’t stop laughing. Amanda tries to shove him away and turns around in time to see her bedroom door slowly open. Josh isn’t laughing anymore.
I could hear someone moving inside the room.
I could hear whispering.
“Who – who’s there?” I managed to stammer in a high little voice I didn’t recognize.
The door, creaking loudly, opened a bit more, then started to close.
“Who’s there?” I demanded, a bit more forcefully.
Again, I could hear whispering, someone moving about.
Josh had backed up against the wall and was edging away, toward the stairs. He had an expression on his face I’d never seen before – sheer terror.
Josh is trying to motion to his sister to get away with him, but Amanda plunges forward and yanks the door open. [Wing: Because Amanda is a badass.]
While thunder crashes outside, Amanda sees the non-bay window on the opposite wall was left open and assumes the wind made the door move. But who left it open, the painters? Thankful f,or this seeming logical explanation, Amanda silently closes the window when Josh starts asking if she’s okay. Instead of answering, Amanda decides to get even. She tiptoes over to her rather big closet and lies down on the floor, with her feet sticking out of the doorway just enough to be visible. To set the mood, Amanda groans and can hear Josh entering before he cries out in shock.
Josh runs back down the hallway screaming for his parents when Amanda’s joined by Petey. Petey starts licking her face before she gets up and she can’t help but laugh. Maybe living here won’t be so bad after all.
That first night in her new room, Amanda’s pretty pleased with how she pranced down the stairs in the middle of Josh’s frantic recollection. Well hello mater, pater, dearest sibling, whatsoever is wrong? Their parents weren’t exactly thrilled since they had no idea where the movers were and forced the kids to make a truce. The movers finally arrived complaining about the weather and most of the day was spent figuring out how to position the furniture.
Apparently the only other highlight was Penelope putting up Amanda’s curtains in her bedroom.
Mom even managed to get the curtains hung in my room.
What a day!
No I can’t tell if she’s being serious or not.
Amanda’s having trouble sleeping. It’s the same bed from her old house, but she couldn’t get comfortable because everything felt wrong and out-of-place. Amanda squirmed for hours wondering if she’d ever be able to sleep in this room. At some point she started to feel itchy, like the bed was crawling with bugs, but that was stupid since the sheets were freshly cleaned.
Amanda sleeps for like a couple of hours before she wakes up again and realizes she’s not alone.
Despite the heat of the room, I felt cold all over. Looking down to the end of the bed, I saw that I had kicked off the sheet and light blanket. With a groan, I reached down for them, but then froze.
I heard whispers.
Someone was whispering across the room.
“Who – who’s there?” My voice was a whisper, too, tiny and frightened. I grabbed my covers and pulled them up to my chin.
I heard more whispers.
Amanda gets up and looks over to the other side of the room. In the gray light coming from the window, she realizes the curtains are moving. Oh it was only a breeze! Silly Amanda, she thinks as she gets up to…
The window’s closed.
Amanda checks and the window’s been shut pretty tightly, there’s no way a draft could’ve gotten in so how were the curtains moving? That’s what sleep deprivation can do to you. Kicking herself for getting worked up over nothing, Amanda goes back to sleep.
Wing we’ve now reached one of my favorite parts of this book because Amanda has one of the freakiest nightmares Stine’s ever created.
I dreamed that we were all dead. Mom, Dad, Josh, and me.
At first I saw us sitting around the dinner table in the new dining room. The room was very bright, so bright I couldn’t see our faces very well. They were just a bright, white blur.
But, then, slowly, slowly, everything came into focus, and I could see that beneath our hair, we had no faces. Our skin was gone, and only our gray-green skulls were left. Bits of flesh clung to my bony cheeks. There were only deep, black sockets where my eyes had been.
The four of us, all dead, sat eating in silence. Our dinner plates, I saw, were filled with small bones. A big platter in the center of the table was piled high with gray-green bones, human-looking bones.
And then, in this dream, our disgusting meal was interrupted by a loud knocking on the door, an insistent pounding that grew louder and louder. It was Kathy, my friend from back home. I could see her at our front door, pounding on it with both fists.
I wanted to go answer the door. I wanted to run from the dining room and pull open the door and greet Kathy. I wanted to talk to Kathy. I wanted to tell her what had happened to me, to explain that I was dead and that my face had fallen away.
I wanted to see Kathy so badly.
But I couldn’t get up from the table. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t get up.
The pounding on the door grew louder and louder, until it was deafening. But I just sat there with my gruesome family, picking up bones from my dinner plate and eating them.
Jesus FUCK, Stine, bravo.
[Wing: I don’t normally like dream sequences, but that’s pretty creepy and the artwork is amazing.]
Amanda wakes up from her horrid dream to the light of morning and a blue sky…
And to her curtains billowing in front of a still-closed window.
At breakfast, Jack offers to look at the window and figure out what’s causing the draft. Maybe a broken pane or something. Josh tries to tease Amanda before their parents tell him to cork it. Penelope’s as uncomfortable as Amanda; she couldn’t get much sleep either and thinks the house feels too damp. She doesn’t want to hear about Amanda thinking about the boy she saw and Penelope tells her to drop it. Strange boys, strange curtains, it’s just nerves.
That’s exactly what the mom in The Exorcist said, too.
The plan for the day is the ‘rental units are gonna do some unpacking, so the younglings can explore the neighborhood and get used to the place. Meet some kids, hang out, be a general nuisance and rack up some vagrancy charges. Y’know, like kids normally do.
“You two can explore the neighborhood. See what you can find out. See if there are any other kids your age around.”
“In other words, you want us to get lost!” I said.
Mom and Dad both laughed. “You’re very smart, Amanda.”
Josh whines about wanting to unpack his stuff on his own otherwise his parents will mess everything up. [Wing: He’s not wrong! I’d want to unpack my own stuff, too, to make sure it went where I wanted it to go.] Why can’t we ride our bikes? What about my basketball? Josh is all bitch, bitch, BITCH.
Jack points out the bike’s still buried alongside a bunch of other stuff including the basketball, but it turns into another argument between Josh and the parents. After some threatening, Josh consents to a “Short walk.”
Amanda volunteers to clean the dishes and spends the time thinking about Kathy and what sort of kids she’ll meet in Dark Falls. Leaving the kitchen Amanda can hear Josh whining again when she reaches the stairs, in time to meet the welcoming committee.
I started up the front stairs, and then stopped.
Above me on the landing stood a strange girl, about my age, with short black hair. She was smiling down at me, not a warm smile, not a friendly smile, but the coldest, most frightening smile I had ever seen.
[Wing: GODDAMN. That is creepy and beautiful.]
Apparently Amanda’s house is the hotspot for the local youths, my Goosies.
Anyway, Josh startles Amanda and when she turns around she sees the girl’s vanished. Amanda tries to get their dad’s attention but he doesn’t want to hear about another strange kid Amanda THINKS she saw. Jack tells Amanda to look again and sees… clothes. A pile of clothes on the second floor, probably just unpacked by her mom. See, that’s all it was. Clothes.
No, Amanda’s certain she saw a girl at the top of the stairs. Her unease isn’t helped when she returns to her room and sees the curtains moving again. The window IS open this time, but Amanda didn’t open it. And someone left a pair of clothes neatly spread out on top of her bed. Amanda calls downstairs and asks if her mom had been in her room, but she can’t hear Penelope’s answer. She CAN hear the whispering in her closet, but she pulls open the door and finds no one hiding inside. What is going on? Jack mentioned something about a possible mice problem, but mice don’t whisper!
Josh enters the room and scares Amanda without intending, asking if they can get out of here because the house is creeping him out. He had a bad night, too. Josh hesitates before Amanda presses him to tell her what happened last night. According to Josh, he had a bad dream about a couple of boys, but they were “mean” to him.
“What did they do?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” Josh said, avoiding my eyes. “I just remember they were scary.”
“And what happened?” I asked, turning to the mirror to brush my hair.
“I woke up,” he said. And then added impatiently, “Come on. Let’s go.”
“Did the boys say anything to you?” I asked.
“No. I don’t think so,” he answered thoughtfully. “They just laughed.”
“Well, giggled, sort of,” Josh said. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he snapped.
…Wing there is a lot to consider over what “being mean” could entail. None of what I’m imagining is good and it amazes how fucked up this book is but in an INTENTIONAL way, compared to the shit fest that was “Chicken Chicken.”
Thinking about the girl on the stairs, the boys Josh saw, and the boy Amanda saw twice, Amanda tries to convince herself that she and her brother are only imagining things. They’re just tense from the move. What else could it be?
Amanda and Josh go outside to find Petey as hyper as seems to be the new norm for him. The kids cringe thinking about all the dead leaves in the front yard and how Jack’ll probably expect them to rake it all up once the gardening tools are unpacked. The siblings head over to the school building to see if any kids are at the playground. The houses look as quiet and empty as they did during their first visit, and no cars are driving up or down the street. Amanda wonders if the town’s deserted when a kid pops up from a nearby corner. The boy tries to introduce himself when Petey acts up again and growls at the boy.
The siblings try to get Petey under control and apologize to the boy, who introduces himself as Ray Thurston. Ray finally relaxes once Petey loses interest in barking at him, but that’s when Amanda goes on alert. She feels like she’s seen Ray before and then recognizes his blonde hair. He was the boy she saw in her room!
Ray’s confused when Amanda says she saw him in her house, because Ray hasn’t been in her house in a long time.
Yeah, Ray says his family originally lived in Amanda’s house when they first moved to Dark Falls. They moved into a different house up the block at some point in the past. The conversation’s interrupted when Petey starts barking at Ray again, so Josh is forced to leash Petey for the first time ever. [Wing: Oh god, I almost went off on a huge rant about leashing your goddamn dogs when out in public, but decided I don’t have the energy. Leash your dogs in public. And done.]
The siblings and their new friend try to think of something to do. Ray says it’s not a good time to go to his house when Amanda asks if there are other kids.
“Where is everyone?” I asked, looking up and down the empty street. “It’s really dead around here, huh?”
[Ray] chuckled. “Yeah. I guess you could say that,” he said.
GEE YOU THINK THAT MIGHT BE RELEVANT IN A BOOK CALLED “WELCOME TO DEAD HOUSE?”
Ray suggests they check out the playground when the three see a large group of kids, about ten or twelve of them, heading down the street. The new kids are laughing, shoving each other around playfully. A couple in the group look like teenagers. The most noticeable of the group is a blonde girl in green spandex tights.
One of the boys in the group asks how Amanda, Josh and Ray are doing, which seems funny to the other kids. Ray introduces Amanda and Josh to everyone while Petey keeps barking and makes Amanda feel awkward. Josh struggles with their dog as Ray names a few kids: George Carpenter, Karen Somerset, Jerry Franklin and Bill Gregory, etc. Amanda’s asked how she likes Dark Falls so far, and her answer that it seems nice gets more chuckling.
While Josh is asked about Petey, Karen Somerset (described by Amanda as a tall, pretty blonde) goes up to Amanda and says she used to live in Amanda’s house?
Amanda’s not sure she heard Karen correctly when she notices for the first time the group of kids has surrounded her, Josh and Petey, and Ray. Josh and Ray don’t notice, but Amanda’s slowly getting scared. None of the kids are smiling or laughing anymore. They’re all just… staring at Amanda and the others. Amanda asks what’s going on when she sees two of the boys have baseball bats in their hands.
And now they’re moving in closer. Closer. Closer…
But then it’s Mr. Dawes to the rescue!
The young real estate agent appears around the corner and cheerfully asks the kids how everything’s going. It’s like a spell’s been broken because suddenly the kids aren’t surrounding Amanda and the boys anymore. It’s like nothing happened. Petey still doesn’t like Mr. Dawes, who acts faux offended and asks Petey what he did to deserve such snubbing.
George Carpenter says the kids are all gonna play softball at the playground. Dawes notices the sky’s getting a bit dark and hopes they don’t get rained out.
“Is that bat for softball or hardball?” Mr. Dawes asked George.
“George doesn’t know,” another kid replied quickly. “He’s never hit anything with it!”
Amanda’s left wondering how things went from being normal to surreal to normal again. Maybe she IS imagining stuff. But, what would’ve happened if Mr. Dawes hadn’t shown up like he did?
All the way to the playground, the kids pretty much ignored Amanda and Josh as they goofed around with each other. Amanda’s only thankful she hadn’t freaked out earlier. Josh needs to tie Petey’s leash to the fence before they play. Amanda and Ray play on the same team while Josh is on the other. Amanda gets a little nervous because she can be a total klutz while playing softball. She’s a good batter, but a mess on the field. Thankfully she’s positioned in the right field so she doesn’t have to worry as much.
See, in later books Stine would’ve made a big thing where Amanda humiliates herself in front of everyone yet nothing like that happens here.
Amanda has a lot of fun and seems really keen on befriending Karen Somerset. Karen’s got such a great smile, even with her braces, and is really eager to be friends with Amanda. It doesn’t look like it’ll rain after all when the darker clouds dissipate, but suddenly the game comes to an end. Jerry blows a whistle and reminds everyone it’s lunchtime, so they should be getting home. Amanda’s watch says it’s only like 11:30 in the afternoon. [Wing: I mean, people eat lunch then. I’d call lunchtime anywhere between 11 and 1, even though I don’t actually eat lunch until around 2 or later.]
As Karen starts to leave, she says she’d like to get together with Amanda at some point. And don’t worry Amanda, Karen knows where you live.
“Do you know where I live?”
I couldn’t hear her answer very well. She nodded, and I thought she said, “Yes. I know it. I used to live in your house.”
But that couldn’t have been what she said.
Wow Amanda your house really is popular!
A holding pattern was established over the next couple of weeks for Amanda and Josh. They’d meet up with Ray, Karen, and the other kids at the playground but they still hadn’t really become FRIEND friends with them. The siblings had fun, but it was difficult to get to know anyone in the group. The late-night whispering continued, but Amanda was growing used to it, and at one point she saw another girl in then disappeared in the house.
Petey was still upset about something and hadn’t calmed down at all, and that’s when he disappeared! [Wing: I’m going to be real damn angry if the dog dies, Stine.]
After two weeks had passed since moving day, Amanda and Josh were shocked when they discovered Petey had gotten out of his leash while they played with the neighbor kids. The siblings were forced to look for Petey by themselves since Ray and the others already left for home. It was easy to get disoriented since nearly all the streets in Dark Falls look the same. Josh insists he tied the leash to the fence really tight, so how did Petey get loose?
Amanda gets the idea maybe Petey ran
back to their house and is kicking herself for not considering the idea sooner. Don’t feel bad Amanda, since it turns out Petey isn’t there after all. Penelope’s angry the kids weren’t home sooner since lunchtime was two hours ago, but her anger dissipates when she learns Petey’s missing. However, she won’t let the kids search for Petey until they have lunch. Josh is frantically exclaiming they don’t have time, but Penelope won’t budge and Jack doesn’t have the time to look with them. Amanda had to drag Josh back into the house for them to wolf down a couple of sandwiches just to make their mom happy.
The kids are driven around the neighborhood searching up and down streets trying to find Petey, but nothing. The parents call the local police and try to assure the siblings Petey knows how to find his way home, but neither believed it. At dinnertime, Josh almost starts crying insisting he tied that leash good. Jack tries to be sympathetic and Penelope feels like they’re in a lousy mood to go to a party. Apparently the ‘rents were invited to a potluck thing a couple of blocks from their place, to get to know the other adults in town. Jack’s honestly exhausted from all the housework and dog searching they did today, but it pays to be neighborly right?
By bedtime Petey hadn’t shown up, and Amanda’s too tired to really care about the whispering she hears in the hallway. She enters her bedroom and finds a bunch of clothes strewn over her bed. Amanda’s immediate thought is Penelope must’ve brought the clothes but got sidetracked before she put them away.
A few hours pass and Amanda’s unable to sleep, thinking about Petey and the local kids when Josh enters her bedroom. Armed with a halogen flashlight, Josh is dressed and asks Amanda to come with him to find Petey. Amanda points out it’s past midnight, but Josh can’t sleep because it dawned on him. There was one place they didn’t think to look for Petey.
Josh reminds Amanda how anxious Petey got their first time in Dark Falls and how the dog ran to the cemetery. It’s like he was looking for something among all those graves. Even though the family drove by the cemetery during the day, no one actually got out and looked around on foot. Amanda can’t believe Josh is gonna search the local cemetery in the middle of the night, but Josh insists he’s not afraid.
Did something just move by Amanda’s window?
Yeah Amanda’s not gonna let Josh run around a graveyard by himself and she’s not sticking around in this house by herself, either. Amanda quickly gets dressed and joins her brother outside, thinking how ridiculous this is but also finding it exciting. But why would Petey be running around a cemetery late at night?
Night in Dark Falls is exactly what you think it is, and for the first time Amanda realizes there aren’t any streetlights. There’s no wind or breeze, either. It’s like Amanda and Josh are the only people in the entire world.
So who’s following them?
Amanda and Josh discover Ray was following them by the time they reach the school. Shining the flashlight on Ray, Josh asks what the hell he’s following them for. Ray jumps back, saying he didn’t know if it was Amanda and Josh and he’d just been out for a late night walk.
“Well, sometimes I have trouble sleeping,” Ray said softly.
“Don’t your parents mind you being out so late?” I asked.
In the glow from the flashlight, I could see a wicked smile cross his face. “They don’t know.”
Josh reminds Amanda they’re on a mission and heads for the cemetery without her. Ray can’t believe the two are going to the cemetery, and he almost sounds threatening when he says they’re NOT going there. Josh doesn’t hear Ray and calls after Amanda, so the two starts running after him. Ray pleads with Amanda and she demands to know why he’s acting so weird. Well, suddenly Ray’s tone changes and says anyone would be nuts to hang around a cemetery at this time of night so Amanda figures he’s just scared. She can’t let Josh go alone and Amanda follows after her brother, Ray be damned.
Ray runs after the siblings pleading with them not to go to the cemetery, but Josh isn’t stopping until he finds Petey. Once in the graveyard, Josh begins calling Petey’s name and Amanda gets annoyed at Ray’s whining about what a bad idea this is. Dude if you’re not gonna help just go home!
Josh doesn’t immediately find Petey, but he does locate something weird on the other side of the graveyard. Built in the ground were rows of seats, descending towards a stage built like a platform and a building like an amphitheater. The hell? Amanda and Josh ask Ray what this is, and apparently THIS is where the town has community meetings. Above at the start of the rows is a huge, gnarled tree bent at a weird angle. Its roots are practically coming out of the ground and the heavy, leafy branches shield the building from moonlight.
Ray again insists they have to leave when the three hear footsteps. Josh turns around and, it’s Petey! Their dog is near a couple of tombstones, and the siblings have never been so relieved. But then why is Petey trotting AWAY from them? Josh catches Petey before he gets too far, but then drops him. Ugh, he STINKS, Wing! Stinks like a dead rat!
Amanda notices Petey looks funny, too. He doesn’t seem happy to see them, and he’s not barking or acting up anymore. He’s just wandering around the graves. Petey doesn’t even respond when they call his name. Oh but the smell! It’s so bad Josh doesn’t even want to go near him, which is when they lose sight of Petey AGAIN.
Amanda’s given the flashlight while Josh holds the leash and starts calling after Petey again. She moves the light over the different graves trying to locate their dog, until Amanda spots something weird and stops in her tracks. Grabbing Josh, Amanda points the flashlight towards the stone so Josh can read the inscription.
KAREN SOMERSET: 1960-1972
Josh tells Amanda that’s probably the grandmother of the Karen they know or something, until Amanda points out the years. This Karen was like twelve years old when she died, and the Karen they know told Amanda she’s twelve. Josh is too impatient to think this is a big deal before Amanda looks at the grave next to Karen’s.
GEORGE CARPENTER: 1975-1988
Then she spots Jerry Franklin.
All the kids they’ve played with every day. All have tombstones with their names on them. And then she sees the last one at the end of the row.
RAY THURSTON: 1977-1988
Amanda feels like the world has vanished around her as she dimly hears Josh calling her name, when Ray appears behind Amanda. Ray, his eyes glowing like embers, saying how sorry he is.
I took a step back, my sneakers sinking into the soft ground. The air was heavy and still. No one made a sound. Nothing moved.
I’m surrounded by death, I thought.
What is Ray going to do to Amanda?
While Josh is still searching for Petey, Ray apologizes over and over again. He’s sorry… because Amanda and Josh weren’t supposed to know about this yet. Not for another few weeks. That’s why they had to get rid of Petey. Dogs can always tell, always recognize the living dead.
“You mean – Petey’s… dead?” I choked out the words.
Ray nodded. “They kill the dogs first.”
[Wing: GODDAMNIT STINE.]
Amanda backs up against a grave as Ray reveals he’s the watcher. It’s his job to keep an eye on Amanda and Josh and he was supposed to stop them from finding out too early. He was watching them from Amanda’s room that first day, all those weeks ago.
Amanda can’t stop herself from staring into Ray’s eyes as he says the town needs fresh blood or they won’t survive.
“The town – it can’t survive without fresh blood. None of us can. You’ll understand soon, Amanda. You’ll understand why we had to invite you to the house, to the… Dead House.”
Amanda’s paralyzed with fear as she sees Ray float off the ground towards her, not sure where Josh is as she thinks she’s going to die. Before Ray can get close enough to Amanda, Josh shines the flashlight on Ray’s face (although when he got it back from Amanda I have no idea). Ray starts screaming at Josh to turn off that light, trying to shield it from his face. But it’s too late for him.
Ray moved his arms to shield himself from the light. But I could see what was happening to him. The light had already done its damage.
Ray’s skin seemed to be melting. His whole face sagged, then fell, dropping off his skull.
I stared into the circle of white light, unable to look away, as Ray’s skin folded and drooped and melted away. As the bones underneath was revealed, his eyeballs rolled out of their sockets and fell silently to the ground.
Josh, frozen in horror, somehow held the bright light steady, and we both stared at the grinning skull, its dark craters staring back at us.
“Oh!” I shrieked as Ray took a step toward me.
But then I realized Ray wasn’t walking. He was falling.
I jumped aside as he crumpled to the ground. And gasped as his skull hit the top of the marble gravestone, and cracked open with a sickening splat!
…okay now I don’t care how Josh got the flashlight back.
Amanda and Josh are running out of the cemetery back to their house, fearing for their parents’ lives. Even if Jack and Penelope don’t believe them, Amanda’s determined to drag her parents out of the house and away from Dark Falls through any means necessary.
There were no streetlights, no lights on in the windows of the houses we passed, no car headlights.
Such a dark world we had entered.
And now it was time to get out.
Jack and Penelope still aren’t home by the time the kids reach the house, and the mantel clock says it’s almost 2 AM. Amanda remembers their parents were going to that party, they should’ve been home by now. There’s no note left on the kitchen counter and no number to call. Josh wonders if they should try the police when someone asks why the kids are in a hurry. Amanda and Josh turn around to see Karen Somerset in the living room!
Then the lights go off as Jerry Franklin, George Carpenter, the girl Amanda saw that one day, all the kids materializing inside the dark room around them.
“What do you want?” I screamed in a voice I didn’t recognize. “What are you going to do?”
“We used to live in your house,” Karen said softly.
“Huh?” I cried.
“We used to live in your house,” George said.
“And now, guess what?” Jerry added. “Now we’re dead in your house!”
The others started to laugh, crackling, dry laughs, as they all closed in on Josh and me.
As the dead children close in on Amanda and Josh, planning to kill them, Amanda sadly states Karen was so nice. Karen bitterly responds she was nice when she was alive, but now she’s dead. They all used to be nice, before their families moved to Dark Falls. Now they’re just dead.
Karen explains the house they’re in is called the Dead House, where all of Dark Falls’ new families live at first. Every year, the town gets a living family to move in so they can feed on their blood. There was never a Great-Uncle Charles, the town just needed an excuse to get the Bensons here. Now it’s their turn to die!
Someone begins to knock loudly on the front door, and in a blink of the eye the kids vanish. Amanda runs over to the door thinking it’s one of her parents, but it’s Mr. Dawes! Dawes is both horrified and relieved, exclaiming “Oh thank God!” which I think is the only time the phrase has ever been used in a Goosebumps book before. Amanda’s on the verge of crying from relief as Dawes tells them they need to get out of Dark Falls.
Amanda and Josh run to Dawes’ car and he drives down the dark streets, rapidly exclaiming how he, Jack and Penelope were attacked at the party. The other adults surrounded the three, but they somehow broke through and escaped. They have to get out of the town soon. He has no idea what’s going on, but there’s something wrong with the whole town.
Before I go any further, the pacing becomes a problem because SOMEHOW the barest hint of dawn is approaching on the sky despite that it should be only 2-2:30 AM.
Dawes drives the kids to the cemetery claiming Jack and Penelope are hiding in the old amphitheater. He’s sure no one will find them there. But Josh gets sidetracked when he sees Petey again, not knowing what Ray told Amanda.
Not knowing Petey’s dead.
Amanda runs after Josh to stop him from chasing Petey, shouting they have to find their parents. Josh trips up ahead and falls over, the flashlight hitting the ground. Amanda hurries over to Josh and asks if he’s okay…
And then they see one of the tombstones up ahead.
COMPTON DAWES: 1950-1988
…well who could’ve seen that coming.
Amanda and Josh don’t know what to do, remembering how Dawes said he was the only “Compton” in his family. They’re all alone, surrounded by the dead. Dawes. Karen. Ray. Petey. Dead. That’s when Dawes appears behind them and sadly reveals how the town of Dark Falls died.
“This was a normal town once. And we were normal people. Most of us worked in the plastics factory on the outskirts of town. Then there was an accident. Something escaped from the factory. A yellow gas. It floated over the town. So fast we didn’t see it… didn’t realize. And then, it was too late, and Dark Falls wasn’t a normal town anymore. We were all dead, Amanda. Dead and buried. But we couldn’t rest. We couldn’t sleep. Dark Falls was a town of living dead.”
[Wing: And that, y’all, is one reason we need strict government oversight. When you can trust your government. Which we can’t. So we’re all fucked around here, basically.]
Dawes leans over Amanda, his sour breath in his face, saying it’s time to go and join her parents. She struggles to get his hands off but he quietly assures her that dying doesn’t hurt. Josh screams at Dawes to get off his sister and tries the flashlight on him, but it broke when he fell so the light sputters out. Dawes briefly smiles in victory before he glares at Amanda and tells her to move. Horrified, she can see up close Dawes isn’t so handsome as the skin hangs loose under his eyes. Dawes tells them to move.
Josh ain’t going ANYWHERE!
Josh glanced down at the worthless flashlight. Then he pulled his arm back and heaved the flashlight at Mr. Dawes’s head.
The flashlight hit its target with a sickening crack. It hit Mr. Dawes in the center of his forehead, splitting a large hole in the skin.
Mr. Dawes uttered a low cry. His eyes widened in surprise. Dazed, he reached a hand up to the hole where a few inches of gray skull poked through.
God DAMN, Josh!
Amanda and Josh are running through the tombstones as Dawes staggers around, trying to keep the hole in his skull from getting bigger. However, Dawes needs to stay in the shadows because the morning sunlight is breaking through.
SERIOUSLY HOW LONG HAVE YOU GUYS BEEN HERE YOU LEFT LIKE TWENTY MINUTES AGO.
Seeing Dawes isn’t following them, Amanda and Josh realize he must be retreating to get to Jack and Penelope. Suddenly, in the distance Amanda sees a line of people hurrying down the cemetery row. Some appear to be floating over the graves. They’re like puppets being pulled by strings. The townspeople of Dark Falls keep to the shadows as they navigate towards the amphitheater. Amanda can recognize Karen and the other kids, but no Ray.
Because we killed Ray.
We killed someone who was already dead.
Amanda and Josh have to carefully follow behind the townspeople, and peer from behind the huge leaning tree. There are no empty seats in the rows, and Dawes is seen talking with an older looking man. Down below, the kids can make out their parents tied up on stage and looking absolutely miserable. Amanda has to stop Josh from going forward out of fear they’ll be noticed, but the kids have to do something or their parents are gonna die!
Josh turns to Amanda asking what she thinks they should do when it hits Amanda. The tree! They have to push the tree over! It’s the only thing blocking the morning sunlight from the amphitheater. Once it goes down, the light’ll burn everyone away. The way the tree’s positioned, all it takes is one good push and BLAM!
Amanda and Josh back up, then run forward with all their strength and throw themselves against the tree. Amanda yells at Josh to keep pushing, even though the tree won’t budge and they hear voices from below. They’ve been spotted! They strain as hard as possible but the tree won’t move…!
That’s when Amanda hears a crack.
Amanda and Josh jump away as the tree gives way, the great trunk falling forward and crashing to the ground. All at once, sunlight floods the amphitheater and the people of Dark Falls start to scream in agony.
The people in the amphitheater, the living dead caught in the golden light, began scrambling over one another, screeching, pulling, climbing, pushing, trying to claw their way to shade.
But it was too late.
Their skin began to drop off their bones and, as I stared open-mouthed, they crumbled to powder and dissolved to the ground, their clothes disintegrating along with them.
The painful cries continued to ring out as the bodies fell apart, the skin melted away, the dry bones collapsed. I saw Karen Somerset staggering across the floor. I saw her hair fall to the ground in a heap, revealing the dark skull underneath. She cast a glance up at me, a longing look, a look of regret. And then her eyeballs rolled out of their sockets, and she opened her toothless mouth, and she cried, “Thank you, Amanda! Thank you!” and collapsed.
After the last of the townspeople is destroyed by the light, Amanda and Josh hurry down to free their parents and get out of there.
A few days later, the Bensons have everything packed up and ready to move back to their old house (which they were never able to sell). However, just as the family’s about to drive away, Amanda yells at her dad to stop and runs out of the car. For some unknown reason, Amanda feels compelled to take one last look at the Dead House…
Which is when a station wagon enters the driveway, and a family with two boys about Josh’s age exit the car. They see Amanda and ask who she is, what she’s doing here at their new house. Amanda’s response?
“I… uh… used to live in your house,” I found myself answering.
Amanda runs back to the car and gets inside, trying not to look back as her family drove away.
There’s no way that was Mr. Dawes on the front porch.
But we know it is, Wing. Why? Because for the first time ever…
Pacing problems aside, this was a decent way to start the franchise and it’s slowly become one of my favorites in recent years.
[Wing: That is the most adorable undead dog I’ve ever seen.]
A few of the problems were obviously how much time had passed during the final chapters, and the dates on the graves didn’t make sense. Karen supposedly died in 1972 and was one of the new victims to move to Dark Falls, yet Dawes’s stone said he died in 1980 but was clearly one of the original people who lived in the town before the accident.
Apparently the re-released versions updated the years on the tombstones. Personally if it did so to make sense of the timeline I’m for it. If it was meant to make the book closer to the modern day, that sort of takes a bit of the sting out of Amanda learning everyone’s dead. I mean, you say the book is now in the 2010s, that doesn’t make the idea Karen and the others being dead since the 70s and 80s any less frightening.
The explanation of the gas killing everyone feels like it was a last-minute addition, but the visual of the entire town dying sort of makes up for it. Who was called in to take care of that? Imagine the mass funerals and all the out-of-town family members being called to make arrangements. Did that include infants, too? Were there a bunch of blood-sucking undead babies that got destroyed in the sun?
The part with Dawes’s tombstone felt too convenient, but the segment where Amanda sees the names of all the kids makes a horrific sort of sense if you consider THAT WAS THE CHILDREN’S SECTION OF THE GRAVEYARD. [Wing: But if they all died at the same time as their families, wouldn’t they be buried with their families?]
The book has a tone very similar to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which was later adapted into the films The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and I Am Legend 2007, as well as The Simpsons Halloween short “The Homega Man.” The people of Dark Falls are clearly a type of vampire from their allergy to bright lights and need for blood, but the way they can materialize out of thin air also makes them reminiscent of ghosts. They’re like ghouls.
The creepiest thing about this book is probably the ways in which Amanda and Josh are gaslit by Karen and the other children, and the scariest is the ambiguity over whatever it was those boys did to Josh. Stine does it in a way it doesn’t leave me cringing from secondhand embarrassment, which I appreciate. Though the sequence where Dawes corners Amanda in the graveyard and won’t take his hands off her is, whoa the predatory subtext.
One thing that stood out was the very clear idea the townspeople planned to feed on Jack and Penelope first, while Ray explicitly stating he was supposed to keep the kids from learning about the graves for a few weeks. They seemingly were slated to die later on, but since they found out the secret Amanda and Josh were gonna die alongside their parents. If that hadn’t happened then imagine it, Amanda and Josh would’ve been living with their dead parents for WEEKS before it was their turn. Had Jack and Penelope been turned, there’s a good chance they would’ve fed on Amanda and Josh too! Being preyed upon by your own parents…
The TV show adapted this into a two-part episode, and it actually made a few improvements to the plot (like giving Mrs. Benson a first name).
- We actually got to meet the adults of Dark Falls before the ending, such as Karen’s mom and dad and the town mayor.
- The source of the draft in Amanda’s room came from a hole in the closet wall, which is also how everyone kept getting into the house since they didn’t have the budget to feature the dead folks materializing out of thin air. In one scene, Amanda wakes up to find a teenage girl begging Amanda and her family to get away while they can
- The show did a good job utilizing make-up so Karen, Ray, and the others would look appropriately creepy and pale
- The Bensons learn about the accident at the plastics factory much earlier via an old newspaper article, but the significance of the event isn’t revealed until later. Jack and Penelope are outraged Dawes never told them about it, and confront him saying there’s a chance the chemical leak could’ve poisoned the area… [Wing: I like this change A LOT. It adds even more tension and some nice foreshadowing. If done well, I guess, and I don’t know if it was, but the idea of the change is great.]
- The amphitheater is removed and the climax involves some of the townspeople chasing the Bensons up to the attic, where Amanda and Josh remove the boards on the windows to let the sunlight in.
- The twist at the end is NOT that Dawes somehow survived while everyone else was destroyed. There were still people left in the town since there’s no way everyone would’ve fit into the house’s attic. Amanda’s family hightails it out of there as soon as possible while Dawes pathetically begs them to stay, screaming “Dark Falls needs you! I’M HUNGRY!” The twist ending is now the family finding Petey as they drive out of town, only to realize how bad he smells as the color on his body fades away…
The episode adaption made the townspeople more actively malevolent and removed the bitterness from Karen and the others. [Wing: That’s a shame. Karen’s bitterness is a great detail.] They seem positively gleeful as they corner the Bensons and joke about how they’re gonna become part of the neighborhood, though the sinister delivery makes it as scary as intended. Mr. Dawes, however, is made into a comedic character and instead of a young, handsome blond guy he’s nervous, portly, and middle-aged.
There’s an added subplot about Penelope Benson hanging up a tacky dried flower wreath she refuses to throw away, claiming it’s a good luck charm. Throughout the episode several people notice the wreath and become slightly uncomfortable. At first it’s implied the wreath is bad luck, and it’s somehow stirred up the undead in town after they were dormant for so long. That’s a lie; the wreath actually WAS protecting the Bensons and they had to be tricked into destroying it so Karen and the others could finally kill them. That answers why the Bensons weren’t killed the moment they moved into the house.
The way Karen’s mother taunts Amanda and her family after they destroy the wreath is absolutely chilling.
“You thought that wreath would keep you safe? Well… you were right.”
The hats the kids wear in these episodes were ridiculous though.
Josh even comments on it as they’re leaving when he says “Now I know why everyone around here wore hats!” Which, for some reason, is fucking hilarious to me.
This was going to have a sequel as part of the Goosebumps Gold line that would’ve followed Goosebumps Series 2000, but apparently a bunch of shit went down between Stine and Scholastic so the line was cancelled before any entries were completed. It was going to be called “Happy Holidays from Dead House.”
Jacobus completed this cover and the one for “The Haunted Mask Lives!” but there’s no information on what the plot was about, or if it was going to directly follow-up from the ending with Mr. Dawes. My educated guess is, since the book takes place during winter it might’ve been a 30 Days of Night scenario years before Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith completed the original comic book. I’m really pissed because you guys know how much I love Christmas horror stories, and there’s not enough info to do a post like the one I did for “The Raven Woman.”
I, um, had an idea for a sequel too.
SEQUEL IDEA – WELCOME TO DEAD HOUSE GENERAL: The remaining people of Dark Falls have gone from inviting families to live in the town to feed on them, to renovating the town’s only hospital and using it to keep people locked up. That way they can have a steady supply of blood without adding to the town’s population of undead ghouls. The main character is a girl who learns her best friend’s family got into a car accident while out of town on vacation, and they’re recuperating in Dark Falls. I would’ve gone on to mention what happened to the family who moved in at the end of the first book and whether or not the Bensons did anything to rescue them from Mr. Dawes.