Title: Goosebumps #4 – Say Cheese And Die!, a.k.a. “Greg Banks Won’t Eat His Cereal”
Author: R.L. Stine
Cover Artist: Tim Jacobus
Tagline: One picture is worth a thousand screams.
Summary: Every Picture Tells A Story.
Greg thinks there is something wrong with the old camera he and his friends found. The photographs keep turning out wrong. Very wrong. Like the snapshot Greg took of his father’s new car that shows it totaled. And then Greg’s father is in a nasty wreck.
But Greg’s friends don’t believe him. Shari even makes Greg bring the camera to her birthday party and take her picture.
Only Shari’s not in the photograph when it develops.
Is Shari about to be taken out of the picture permanently?
Who is going to take the next fall for…
the evil camera?
It’s time again for another of my childhood faves, and it’s one of the first Goosebumps books I ever bought with my own money.
“Say Cheese And Die!” is one of the original ten, and it’s one of the most well remembered due to Tim Jacobus’ striking cover artwork. I used to own a t-shirt with that image when I was a kid. Apparently, R.L. Stine had to go back and include a sequence in this book based on the cover after it was finished.
One of the other reasons why this book is so well known is because the TV adaptation’s version of Greg Banks was played by a young Ryan Gosling… in the original episode. Greg was played by a different actor in the sequel adaption “Say Cheese And Die – Again!”
The plot is basically an homage, rip-off, whatever of a Twilight Zone episode, “A Most Unusual Camera,” about a couple of thieves who steal a camera that creates photos of the future.
For a book about photography, Stine’s all about imagery and how settings and background can create unease and tension despite appearing so ordinary. A hospital corridor or a table set for a birthday party are transformed into instruments of dread. It’s yet another example of the darkness pervasive in the opening run of the series.
Wing unfortunately, there aren’t any actual spiders in this book, but its antagonist is referred to as “Spidey” because he dresses all in black and sort of resembles a large, spindly spider. Thankfully he’s not really prominent until the end, but his presence hangs over Greg.
[Wing: Pretty sure that’s fortunately there aren’t any actual spiders in this book. Spidey the nickname doesn’t bother me; I’m a long-time Marvel fan, and Black Widow is one of my favourites as an adult. As are stories about evil cameras. I reread King’s “The Sun Dog” just the other day, and I’m excited to have another camera story here.]
Pitts Landing is the pits.
According to Greg Banks and his friends, that was the slogan for their town. Well, Pitts Landing’s not that much different from other small American towns with shady lawns and old, comfy houses. That’s the problem though. There’s nothing to DO in Pitts Landing. So here it is, a balmy fall afternoon, and Greg’s group are bored out of their minds.
Oh but I guess we should take a look at Greg and his motley crew:
- Greg Banks: Blond, muscular with big shoulders, a natural athlete and good looking. Is the sensible one of the group, which he’s not fond of because it often gets him teased.
- Doug “Bird” Walker: Almost everyone calls him Bird because he looked like one, with long, stork-like legs that took long, stork-like steps. Small, bird-like brown eyes and a bird-like nose. He didn’t like the name “Bird,” but he was used to it by now. The joker of the group.
- Michael Warner: Chubby, freckled redhead. Oh wait I’m sorry, Stine says Michael’s not exactly fat, but no one would ever call him skinny. J, just say “chubby,” Stine. Tries to be the joker of the group. Never works.
- Shari Walker: GIIIIIIIIIIIRL. Oh yeah, she also has crimped black hair and is currently wearing an oversized yellow sweatshirt over bright green leggings. Because it was the 90s, you see!
We got the skinny kid, the fat kid, the muscular kid, and GIRL.
So anyway, Greg, Bird, Michael and Shari are bored. What to do, what to do.
Bird suggests they go to Grover’s to see if the new comics came in, even though they don’t have any money. Shari reminds Bird the titular Grover would get up in their bidness and ask “Are you paying or staying?” Bird wants to see if the new X-Force came in, with Greg proposing Bird could join as “Bird Boy.” [Wing: An actual real life reference! After the few things Sweet Valley can reference, I am here for some reality. I mean, as real as a book about an evil camera can be.]
This book came out November 1992, so let’s check out what the actual X-Force issue of that month looked like.
Ugh, it’s a crossover issue.
And besides Greg the New Mutants had a guy named Bird-BRAIN for a while.
The resemblance is un-CANNY.
Get it Wing?
Cuz Uncanny X-Men.
“We should all join the X-Force,” Michael said. “If we were superheroes, maybe we’d have something to do.”
“No, we wouldn’t,” Shari quickly replied. “There’s no crime to fight in Pitts Landing.”
“We could fight crabgrass,” Bird suggested.
Shari also doesn’t think they can play baseball since there’s only four of them, but Bird’s up for seeing if they could get some other kids to join them at the playground. He needs the practice since he joined Little League (apparently it’s a fall league, he mentions). The first game’s the following Tuesday.
“Hey – we’ll come watch you,” Greg said.
“We’ll come watch you strike out,” Shari added. Her hobby was teasing Bird.
“What position are you playing?” Greg asked.
“Backstop,” Michael cracked.
No one laughed. Michael’s jokes always fell flat.
Hey at least he’s trying.
Greg bitterly adds the reason he’s not in the league is because his older brother Terry said he’d sign Greg up for it, but forgot. At the mention of Terry, Greg reveals his bro’s got an after school job at Dairy Freeze. Don’t expect any hand outs, guys. Terry’s such a straight arrow he’d give ’em free ice cream cones minus any actual ice cream.
Shari’s finally had enough of how boring it is, and how especially boring it is to stand around and talk about how bored you are.
“We could sit down and talk about how bored we are,” Bird suggested, twisting his mouth into the goofy half-smile he always wore when he was making a dumb joke.
Shari decides to go for a jog or something, and soon the three boys are doing a kind of “follow the leader” thing as they mimic Shari walking on the edge of the curb as if she were on a tight rope.
The four friends wander through the neighborhood, Shari briefly stopping to pet a cocker spaniel from a neighbor’s yard. They walk past the school and playground where some little kids are playing kickball on the baseball diamond. Their little trek finally came to an end when the quartet reached… the house.
Then, just beyond a small wooded area, they stopped and looked up a sloping lawn, the grass uncut for weeks, tall weeds poking out everywhere, the shrubs ragged and overgrown.
At the top of the lawn, nearly hidden in the shadows of enormous, old oak trees, sprawled a large, ramshackle house. The house, anyone could see, had once been grand. It was gray shingle, three stories tall, with a wraparound screened porch, a sloping red roof, and tall chimneys on either end. But the broken windows on the second floor, the cracked, weather-stained shingles, the bare spots on the roof, and the shutters hanging loosely beside the dust-smeared windows were evidence of the house’s neglect.
Everyone in Pitts Landing knew it as the Coffman House. Coffman was the name painted on the mailbox that titled on its broken pole over the front walk.
But the house had been deserted for years – ever since Greg and his friends could remember.
And people liked to tell weird stories about the house: ghost stories and wild tales about murders and ghastly things that happened there. Most likely, none of them were true.
That’s when Michael came upon a genius idea: LET’S ALL GO INSIDE THE ABANDONED CREEPY HOUSE. They wanted an adventure, right? So what’s more adventurous than-OH SHIT SOMETHING’S ATTACKING FROM THE LAWN!
Oh wait it’s just the dog from before. Nice to know Stine’s fondness for needlessly dramatic and pointless cliffhanger chapter endings was prominent at the very beginning.
Shari, Bird and Michael are all keen to explore the Coffman House. Greg, being stuck as the sensible one, tries to talk them out of it and is promptly called “chicken” by the boys.
“Are you chicken?” Bird asked.
“Chicken!” Michael joined in.
Bird began to cluck loudly, tucking his hands into his armpits and flapping his arms. With his beady eyes and beaky nose, he looked just like a chicken.
Despite the teasing’s aimed at him, Greg can’t help but laugh at Bird’s antics. It also brought an end to the discussion as the four friends entered the screened porch. A broken window by the front door allowed them a way to enter. Greg made another attempt at sensibility by reminding everyone about Spidey.
Who’s Spidey, everyone except Wing asked?
Spidey was a weird-looking man of fifty or sixty they’d all seen lurking about town. He dressed entirely in black and crept along on long, slender legs. He looked just like a black spider, so the kids all called him Spidey.
Maybe he was a homeless guy. No one really knew anything about him – where he’d come from, where he lived. But a lot of kids had seen him hanging around the Coffman house.
Well Shari’s not worried about Spidey and she’s already opened the door.
The inside of the Coffman House is… bare. I mean, it’s dusty and dark but rather empty. Greg wonders if a couple of empty cartons in the living room are being used as a furniture. Bird and Greg check out a dark stain on the carpet and wonder if it’s blood.
The kitchen’s just as empty except for two fat mice on the counter. The mice get into a staring contest with Shari and Michael, but are scared away by Shari’s voice. Shari thought they were cute while Michael’s grossed out and thought they were rats. [Wing: I pretty much adore Shari at this point.] After brief discussion on the differences between rats and mice, the kids explore the other rooms. The dining room’s got one nasty ass chandelier so dust-covered it looks like it’s MADE of dust.
The only excitement Shari seems to get from being in the Coffman House comes from the thrill of going places you’re not allowed to be in, despite the house is so boring. That’s when Greg notices Bird is missing. Michael mentions Bird went down to check out the basement, which is when Bird starts screaming for help! Something’s got him!
Shari and Michael are both scared stiff while Greg immediately charges down the steps to help Bird. Okay, point for Greg.
Because the basement has the best lighting in the house due to the afternoon sun streaming in through the windows, Greg can see Bird’s perfectly fine. GOTCHA!
None of Bird’s friends approve because they really thought he was in trouble. Shari asks Bird what’ll happen when he’s actually in trouble and reminds him of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Bird’s all “Puh-leeze.” It’s the 90s, Shari, what could possib-lie happen?
Greg still wants to leave, but his friends seem more intrigued by the shit they find in the basement. A stained mattress and blanket, along with some empty TV dinner boxes, indicate they’ve found Spidey’s living quarters. Bird wonders how Spidey heats up his Hungry Man dinners with no electricity.
“Maybe he eats them frozen,” Shari suggested. “You know. Like Popsicles.”
Shari’s attention turns toward a tall oak wardrobe at the other end of the basement. Shari, Bird and Michael busy themselves by checking out all the RAD clothing inside, like ratty fur coats and bell bottom pants and tie-dyed neckties and other shit. Apparently Coffman House was the designated Hippie Home of Pitts Landing.
“Hey guys -” Greg warned. “Don’t you think maybe those belong to somebody?”
Bird spun around, a fuzzy red boa wrapped around his neck and shoulders. “Yeah. These are Spidey’s dress-up clothes,” he cracked.
“Check out this baad hat,” Shari said, turning around to show off the bright purple, wide-brimmed hat she had pulled on.
“Neat,” Michael said, examining a long blue cape. “This stuff must be at least twenty-five years old. [Jude: BECAUSE IT WAS THE 90S, YOU SEE] It’s awesome. How could someone just leave it here?”
“Maybe they’re coming back for it,” Greg suggested.
Greg, honbun. Really?
As Greg’s friends continue to raid what is clearly Jo Anne Worley’s wardrobe
Greg goes back to exploring the rest of the basement. He spots a second set of stairs near the furnace leading to the backyard, then inspects the shelves containing a variety of rusty tools and old paint cans. Trying out the handle for the metal vise on the worktable, Greg’s surprised when it opens a small door in the wall. Pulling the compartment door open, Greg discovers a camera on the shelf.
Now, before we go further, here’s what the camera looks like as described by the book.
And here’s the direction the TV show went in.
Put succinctly by TV Tropes, that’s not a camera, that’s Darth Vader’s toaster.
[Wing: Why, why, why would the show go with that? Why? What sort of design choices were being made? How many drugs were those people on?]
Greg’s not sure why someone would hide a camera in such a strange place, but he’s eager to check it out. Conveniently, Greg’s something of a shutterbug and would like to be a professional photographer someday. He’s got an automatic camera at home, but the quality of the pictures it could take were amateur hour at best. Greg’s been trying to save his money to buy a better camera with more lenses.
Greg decides to see if the camera’s any good. Just in time because Michael’s looking hella stylish as he poses at the top of the basement stairs in two yellow feather boas and a white Stetson hat. Wing are we still in Pitts Landing cuz I feel like we’ve been transported to Milan!
Okay just to be clear I mean this in a good-natured teasing sort of way and I’m not actually seeking to mock these kids for wearing this stuff. In elementary school I was obsessed with Lip Smackers and even wore the glitter ones.
Greg tells Michael to stand still while he snaps his photo, even though he’s not sure if the camera has any film in it. After Michael strikes a “sophisticated” pose, Greg presses the button and the camera makes a flash. To Greg’s surprise, a piece of cardboard’s already sliding out of the bottom. Looks like this is an automated camera too. As the picture starts to develop in Greg’s hand, Michael calls out to take a look at it when the railing breaks! Michael screams as he plummets down over the side and hits the concrete floor, bouncing once before he starts shouting about his ankle.
The kids rush to their fallen friend, but before Shari can leave to get help, they hear the floorboards above them creak.
They’re not alone in the house!
Michael begs his friends not to leave him because it hurts too much to stand up. Shari and Bird pick Michael up by his arms when Greg directs them to the door by the furnace. The footsteps get louder while Greg hopes the other door isn’t locked or their screwed. Unfortunately the door won’t open as the kids pull on the handle, and the person upstairs hears them. It’s Spidey!
Greg tries to pull and then push on the doors, but they won’t open. The kids are trapped!
Or at least they were until Bird helped Greg push the doors open. Bird and Shari manage to drag Michael out while Greg goes ahead of them, the camera in his hands. The kids stop for Michael to try standing on his own, and while his ankle still hurts a little he’s able to (gingerly) run after the others. Before the kids escape from the area, they can see Spidey staring at them from the living room window.
Convening at Michael’s house, Bird thinks Michael could’ve died when he fell from the stairs. Oh and then he jokes about how Michael’s “padding” saved his life. Stine if you’re gonna do this shit why did you bother with the “He’s not skinny or fat” thing.
Thinking about how Spidey stared at them, Greg advises everyone to stay away from the Coffman House from now on. Michael points out Spidey doesn’t own the place, if anything THEY can call the cops on HIM. Greg reminds Michael how Spidey could be “crazy,” but Shari doesn’t think Spidey will do anything. He just wants to be left alone. [Wing: Thaaaanks, Greg. Thanks.]
In all the excitement, Michael remembers he didn’t get to see his picture. Greg didn’t even realize he held onto the camera when he left he was so anxious. Pulling out the photo, Greg and his friends are in for a big shock. The photo shows Michael as he was falling!
Michael and Shari can’t believe it, remembering Greg took the photo BEFORE Michael fell. Bird on the other hand thinks they’re remembering wrong. He’s certain Greg took the photo as Michael fell. Why else would it come out like that? Bird’s impressed by the action shot and compliments Greg’s theft of an awesome camera. Greg didn’t consider he HAD stolen the camera while Michael insists the photo was taken before he fell.
Mulling over such a weird turn of events, Greg notices his watch and decides to head home before he’s late for dinner. He promised his mom he’d help vacuum before they ate. To his surprise, Greg discovers a strange car in the driveway until he remembers this is the new car his dad bought. A navy-blue Taurus station wagon, still with the price sticker on the window. Man, dig that vinyl upholstery and new car smell.
Greg decides to take a picture of the new car as a reminder of what the car was like when it was completely new.
Heading upstairs with the photo in his hand, Greg tries to think of a place to stash the camera. He doesn’t want to answer any uncomfortable questions on how he got the camera. While his mom tells him to come downstairs, Greg puts the camera in the compartment of his headboard. Apparently, Greg found it after his parents bought the bedroom set a few years ago, and kept it a secret ever since. Hiding the camera and then checking his face in the mirror (where he wipes away a smudge from his earlier adventure), Greg almost goes downstairs when he stops to check out the photo.
He wishes he hadn’t.
The snapshot doesn’t show a brand new Taurus station wagon. It shows a Taurus station wagon that looks like it was in a demolition derby! Shattered windows, twisted metal, a caved in driver’s side door, the car’s a mess!
[Wing: Creeeeeeepy camera is creeeeeeeepy.]
Greg’s left shaken until his mom shouts everyone’s waiting for him so they can eat. Apparently there’s no need for vacuuming after all.
Back to reality, Greg looks at the snapshot one more time then checks out the car from the living room window. It looks perfectly normal. Yet thinking about the image of broken glass and bent metal, Greg gets nervous when his dad announces they’ll take the car for a spin after dinner.
There’s at least some levity at mealtime when Terry attempts to compliment his mom’s cooking.
“Mmmm. This is great chicken, Mom,” Greg’s brother Terry said, chewing as he talked.
“Thanks for the compliment,” Mrs. Banks said dryly, “but it’s veal – not chicken.”
Greg and his dad burst out laughing. Terry’s face grew bright red. “Well,” he said, still chewing, “it’s such excellent veal, it tastes as good as chicken!”
“I don’t know why I bother to cook,” Mrs. Banks sighed.
I don’t know why she’s bothering as well, when she should be out there getting VOTES FOR WOMEN!
Oh wait, wrong Mrs. Banks.
While Terry mentions a riot almost broke out at Dairy Freeze when they ran out of vanilla (not really but as someone who works with ice cream I know what a hassle that is), Greg tries to get out of the car ride. Unfortunately Greg can’t think of a really good reason to justify it. What, he’s gonna tell his family a camera he stole from an abandoned house took a snapshot of the car looking like it went through a few rounds with E. Honda?
Greg’s still not sure what to make of the photos the camera took, but he’s filled with a sense of genuine dread he can’t properly explain.
First Greg says he made plans to visit Michael, then he says he’s feeling tired and not very hungry.
“Can I have your chicken – I mean, veal?” Terry asked eagerly.
Greg’s ultimately unable to come up with a decent excuse and figures he’s psyching himself out over nothing. It’s just a dumb camera.
Mr. Banks is mighty impressed by how easy it is handling the Taurus.
“Hey, look – there’s a drink holder that pulls out from the dash!” Greg’s mother exclaimed. “That’s neat.”
“Awesome, Mom,” Terry said sarcastically.
“Well, we never had a drink holder before,” Mrs. Banks replied.
Terry don’t you know it’s the little things in life that make it worth living?
[Wing: Okay, the joy over a drink holder is delightful.]
Greg’s window still has the price sticker on it, so his attention’s kept on the windshield. He can make out the sun, just a red ball, setting in a charcoal sky. Terry feels his dad should put the pedal to the medal; Mrs. Banks asks her hubby to slow down a little. Sure, Greg’s dad insists he’s only testing it, but Greg can make out the speedometer’s up to 70. Mr. Banks is clearly getting into driving this bad boy and speeds past several cars. Greg’s still got the apprehension fr-HOLY SHIT WHERE’D THAT TRUCK COME FROM?!
If Greg hadn’t spoken up who knows what might’ve happened, but thankfully Mr. Banks swerves just before that truck collided with the Taurus. Mrs. Banks angrily scolds her husband, saying he might’ve gotten them killed thanks to his speeding. Well, Mr. Banks claims he got distracted trying to figure out which button turns on the headlights. [Wing: Dude, that is the kind of thing you figure out before you leave the lot!]
Greg asks if they can head home, and Mrs. Banks agrees with him even though Mr. Banks was hoping to drive to Santa Clara and stop for ice cream. Back home in his room, Greg inspects the two photos of Michael’s fall and the wrecked car. Taking the camera out of the compartment, Greg decides to try it out a third time to figure out what’s going on.
I’m going on a limb here and assuming the fact the car DIDN’T get hit by the truck has Greg lulled into a false sense of security.
Deciding a photo of the camera in his mirror won’t work (the reflected flash might spoil the photo), Greg figures he’ll take Terry’s picture. It’s not like Terry’s life could possibly be at risk or anything. Entering Terry’s room, Greg lies and says Shari loaned him the camera.
“So can I take your picture?” Greg asked.
“I’ll probably break your camera,” Terry joked.
Greg snaps a quick pic and heads back to his room, telling Terry he can see the photo after it’s developed. Again, the photo isn’t what Greg expected. Terry’s in it, sure, but he’s got an expression of fear on his face. And, for some reason, Greg can see Terry’s OUTSIDE in the picture. The house in the background looks like the one across the street from the playground. This leaves Greg more confused than before. The other two pictures at least gave a clearer idea of what might happen, but Greg can’t figure out why Terry looks scared or what could be causing that reaction.
The following Tuesday it was time for Bird’s Little League game. It was a warm afternoon and the air smelled of freshly mowed grass. As the teams warmed up and several families made their way to the bleachers, Greg sat with Shari…
And had the camera with him.
Shari’s pleased even as Greg explains he thinks the camera’s broken because of the photos.
“Maybe it’s not the photos. Maybe it’s the photographer,” Shari teased.
“Maybe I’ll take a photo of you getting a knuckle sandwich,” Greg threatened. He raised the camera to his eye and pointed it at her.
“Snap that, and I’ll take a picture of you eating the camera,” Shari threatened playfully.
Greg’s not sure why Shari wanted him to bring the camera. Shari wants to take a photo of Bird at bat to prove he looks like an ostrich. At the sound of his name, Bird comes running up to them in his uniform. The pants are too small and the shirt’s too big. The name on the hat says “PITTS LANDING DOLPHINS.” Disgusted, Greg asks how that’s an appropriate name for a baseball team. Bird can only shrug, explaining all the other caps were taken. The remaining choices were DOLPHINS or ZEPHYRS. No one knew what the fuck a zephyr is.
Bird then tries to swipe the camera from Greg, figuring the quartet should share it since they all risked their lives getting it in the first place. Y, yeah, Bird, that’s not exactly what happened but whatever.
Shari grabbed the camera out of Bird’s hand. “I told Greg to bring it so we could take your picture when you’re up.”
“As an example of good form?” Bird asked.
“As a bad example,” Shari said.
Bird figures these miscreants are mega jealousy of his natural athleticism when the coach calls him over. And yes, even the coach calls him “Bird.”
Shari and Greg briefly fight over who gets to take Bird’s picture when the flash goes off. Too bad Greg couldn’t capture Bird’s good side.
The photo showed Bird sprawled unconscious on his back on the ground, his mouth twisted open, his neck bent at a frightening angle, his eyes shut tight.
Bird thinks the camera’s out of focus or something [Wing: …what exactly do you think out of focus means, Bird?] when the coach screams at him to move his ass. Shari and Greg are both grossed out by the angle of Bird’s neck in the photo, even though he was standing right in front of them when the camera went off. Remembering what happened to Michael, Shari tries checking out the camera to see what the problem is.
Now’s the time when both realize this camera was constructed rather strangely. Aside from the slot where the photos come out, there are no other openings in the camera at ALL. Greg has no idea how much film’s left. There’s no indicator saying if the camera’s loaded.
The game begins for the Pitts Landing Dolphins and the other team, the Cardinals. A kid drops his soda can and starts crying. A station wagon drives by while the teenagers inside blast music. Yet while all this goes on, Shari and Greg are focused on the weirdness of the camera. The sides of the camera are smooth, with no hinges or screws that could be removed. The lens can’t be taken off, and there’s no brand name. Shari insists there HAS to be a way to open the camera and tries yanking on the sides. Nothing. Greg’s worried she might wreck it, but that doesn’t seem likely. For all intents and purposes, the camera doesn’t have any moving parts.
I honestly like how Stine goes in this direction to emphasize the unnaturalness of the camera. There’s no way to open it and yet somehow, the camera’s got cardboard and film inside to create photos. The corners and angles are all one single part, yet how could it be put together? What IS this thing? It’s like it’s not even an actual camera, it’s just mimicking one.
Oh and the next chapter ends with Bird pretending he got injured while Greg and Shari weren’t looking, just to mess with them. Pissed off because they were genuinely frightened he’d been hurt, Greg and Shari make their feelings known.
“I’ll hold him while you hit him,” Greg offered, holding Bird from behind.
“Hey, wait-” Bird protested, struggling to squirm out of Greg’s grasp.
“Good plan,” Shari said, grinning.
Bird breaks free and asks what the problem is, yo? Can’t anyone take a joke? He just wanted to show them how dumb it is to get worked up over a broken camera. That’s all it is. Broken. End of discussion.
Back in the bleachers, Greg and Shari are still annoyed by Bird’s prank. They really thought he might’ve been hurt.
The game’s not going too well and the Dolphins are losing 12-3. Shari figures it’s getting too hot out and she’d rather do her homework. Greg wants to stick around to show Bird his version of moral support.
“I just want to see the next inning,” Greg said, watching the batter swing and miss. “Bird is coming up next inning. I want to stay and boo him.”
“What are friends for?” Shari said sarcastically.
Jesus do these kids ever turn the snark OFF? I don’t if I should applaud or not.
Despite their booing, Greg and Shari watched Bird hit a single. His luck ran out when the next batter got a foul ball, and the ball after was, well…
A dozen people – players and spectators – cried out as the ball flew across the diamond, a sharp line drive, and slammed into the side of Bird’s head with another thunk.
Greg watched in horror as the ball bounced off Bird and dribbled away onto the infield grass. Bird’s eyes went wide with disbelief, confusion.
He stood frozen in place on the base path for a long moment.
Then both of his hands shot up above his head, and he uttered a shrill cry, long and loud, like the high-pitched whinny of a horse.
His eyes rolled up in his head. He sank to his knees. Uttered another cry, softer this time. Then collapsed, sprawling onto his back, his neck at an unnatural angle, his eyes closed.
He didn’t move.
Now THAT’S how you end a chapter, Stine.
Greg and Shari leap from the bleachers as a crowd forms around Bird, but then Greg’s joined by Terry.
Terry, looking just as scared as he did in the photo, positioned behind the same house.
He ran all the way from Dairy Freeze to tell Greg their dad’s been in an accident, and the Taurus was totaled.
Letting both catastrophes sink in, Bird’s head injury and their father’s near death experience, Greg looks back and forth from Bird and Terry when he notices a dark figure near the bleachers. Someone dressed all in black. Before Greg can say anything, Terry tells him they have to go.
By the time Greg reaches the hospital, everything’s like a blur of colors for him.
The hospital walls were pale green. The uniforms worn by the nurses scurrying through the brightly lit corridors were white. The floor tiles beneath Greg’s feet as he hurried with his brother towards their father’s room were dark brown with orange flecks.
All Greg could see were blurs of colors, indistinct shapes.
His sneakers thudded noisily against the hard tile floor. He could barely hear them over the pounding of his heart.
Totaled. The car had been totaled.
Just like in the snapshot.
Greg and Terry turned a corner. The walls in this corridor were pale yellow. Terry’s cheeks were rude. Two doctors passed by wearing lime-green surgical gowns.
Colors. Only colors.
Greg blinked, tried to see clearly. But it was all passing by too fast, all too unreal. Even the sharp hospital smell, that unique aroma of rubbing alcohol, stale food, and disinfectant, couldn’t make it real for him.
Then the two brothers entered their father’s room, and it all became real.
The colors faded. The images became sharp and clearer.
I’m really digging Greg’s disassociation. This is truly something you won’t find in later day Goosebumps books.
Mrs. Banks is already in the room, and her face is a mess from crying. Mr. Banks has a bandage on his head, an arm in a cast, and the other arm’s hooked up to an IV drip. His voice sounds foggy as he speaks to the boys. Mrs. Banks immediately assures the boys their dad will be okay. Well, Mr. Banks guesses he’s lucky he only got a broken bones.
“You’re very lucky,” Mrs. Banks agreed quickly.
What’s the lucky part? Greg wondered silently to himself. He couldn’t take his eyes off the tube stuck into his father’s arm.
[Wing: I love this point, that people can say you’re lucky as anything to survive something, but it doesn’t feel very fucking lucky. Lucky would have been, you know, not being injured in the first place or whatever.]
Thinking again of the snapshot showing the car’s destruction, Greg wonders if anyone would believe a camera did this. During that, Mrs. Banks explains her husband broke his arm and a few ribs with a slight concussion. The doctors don’t know if he has any internal injuries yet. Greg finally tries to tell his family about the photo, but he doesn’t get very far when Mrs. Banks insists that can wait until later.
After the family decides to let Dad sleep since the painkillers are making him groggy, Terry asks for more details on what happened. Mrs. Banks explains some idiot ran a red light and plowed into the driver’s side of the car. The other guy claims his brakes weren’t working for some reason.
So that’s four photos which have all come true. Michael, the car, Terry, and Bird. And yet Greg still isn’t sure if the camera’s predicting things that haven’t happened yet, or…
Is the camera deliberating MAKING these bad things happen?
That’s honestly more terrifying than it simply predicting the future. Taking photos of bad things happening because they were already going to happen, you can’t really hate the camera for doing that. If the camera makes these horrible things happen on purpose, that might imply it’s got agency and ISN’T solely a plot device.
A few days later, Greg’s on his way to Shari’s birthday party when the phone rings.
“Hi, Greg. Why aren’t you on your way to my party?” Shari had asked when he’d run to pick up the receiver.
“Because I’m on the phone with you,” Greg had replied dryly.
Things turn into an argument when Shari insists Greg bring the camera. Even though Greg hasn’t gone near the blasted thing since his dad’s accident, Shari wants it at her party. She thinks it’s funny, taking such odd pictures. Shari can’t believe Greg actually thinks it’s taking photos of the future.
Uh, well it wasn’t YOUR car that got destroyed and it’s not YOUR dad in the hospital, Shari.
Greg tries to make Shari understand he doesn’t want to bring the camera because of what’s been happening, and because of his nightmare the other night.
“It was about the camera. I was taking everyone’s picture. My whole family – Mom, Dad, and Terry. They were barbecuing. In the back yard. I held up the camera. I kept saying, ‘Say Cheese, Say Cheese,’ over and over. And when I looked through the viewfinder, thy were smiling back at me – but… they were skeletons. All of them. Their skin was gone, and – and…”
That’s how Stine tried to incorporate Jacobus’ cover into the book. [Wing: Not a terrible addition, really.]
Shari’s not moved and claims the camera belongs to her too, as well as Bird and Michael. She’s apparently fallen for Bird’s logic on how they “all” found the camera. Shari thinks it’ll be a nice goof since they don’t have anything else planned for the party. Mrs. Shari’s Mom doesn’t want the kids cooped up inside her house, messing everything up. Shari thinks of it like a game, saying they can see what strange things appear in the photos.
Greg, despite being the sensible one, complies. #BecauseGoosebumps.
And besides, who is he to argue with the birthday girl? Even though Greg knows he really, really, REALLY shouldn’t be doing this.
Bird and Michael are both at the party, the only boys besides Greg. That makes the party 3 boys, 9 girls. Michael’s even wearing the special Hawaiian shirt his grandma got him because he didn’t have anything else to wear. Because he’s the chubby boy so of course he’s got a Hawaiian shirt. Bird’s doing a-okay since the baseball game. He’s lucky he didn’t get a concussion.
“I’m feeling okay,” Bird said, slapping his friend a high five. “The only problem is, ever since that ball hit me,” Bird continued, frowning, “from time to time I start – pluuccck cluuuck cluuuuck! – clucking like a chicken!” He flapped his arms and started strutting across the back yard, clucking at the top of his voice.
“Hey, Bird – go lay an egg!” someone yelled, and everyone laughed.
Well fuck, guess I found the seeds that blossomed into “Chicken Chicken.” [Wing: Why. WHY.]
Bird screws around with Michael and Shari asks if Greg brought the damned camera. She dressed up for the occasion, braiding her hair and wearing a silky, oversized yellow top with black spandex leggings.
Ignoring Greg’s discomfort, Shari strikes a pose next to a tree in the backyard. Even as Greg points out the photo’ll be weird (putting it mildly) Shari thinks it’ll be fun. Over the sound of everyone laughing at Bird’s jokes about Michael’s shirt, Greg takes the photo.
When Michael learns Greg’s got the camera, he makes it clear he doesn’t want his picture taken again. He doesn’t care if it’s Shari’s party. Shari informs everyone she figured they could make a game out of the weird photos. Or they could play Spin The Bottle or Truth Or Dare.
Ugh, Truth Or Dare. That means lots of awkward shit like kissing or humiliating stunts. Greg’s not interested. Why didn’t Shari invite more boys? [Wing: … what does he think happens during Spin the Bottle then? Or is that he wants to be kissing the boys, which, cool.]
Shari’s photo takes Greg’s mind off Truth Or Dare, or, it SHOULD be Shari’s photo. Why isn’t Shari in it? Shari thinks Greg screwed up, and she knows she’s not a vampire so if Greg DID take the photo properly she should be in it. Greg points out everything else turned out okay. The tree Shari was standing next to is right there, perfectly visible in the photo. So’s everything else. Greg had the camera aimed EXACTLY at Shari.
The same thing happens when Greg takes a do-over photo. The tree, the background, but no Shari. Thoroughly disgusted, Shari’s up for playing Truth Or Dare. Fuck that camera.
Just as Greg figured, Truth Or Dare was embarrassing and like a half hour later Shari’s mom announced it was time for birthday cake. Heading back into Shari’s backyard, Greg says the birthday cake’s been set up and all the candles have been lit. Now it’s time for the birthday girl to blow out her candles.
So where’s Shari?
Going back into the woods near Shari’s house, the kids couldn’t find her. She wasn’t in the house. She wasn’t in the front yard. They checked the woods again. Shari’s gone.
Greg was the only kid still at Shari’s house when the police arrived, which made sense since he lived next door to Shari. He was in a state of numbness, going over how Shari had completely vanished. Greg watched as Mr. and Mrs. Walker were huddled together, watching the yard as more police arrived to search the area.
On the patio, the table was still set. The birthday candles had burned all the way down, the blue and red wax melting in hard puddles on the pink-and-white icing, the cake untouched.
An officer tells the Walkers there’s no sign of Shari, and Mr. Walker fears the worst asking if someone could’ve taken Shari away. That’s another thing. There’s no sign of ANYTHING to indicate what might’ve happened to Shari.
The policeman who spoke to the Walkers notices Greg and asks why he didn’t go home. Greg tries to tell the guy, Officer Riddick, how he’s good friends with Shari and lives next door. Riddick tells Greg there’s nothing he can really do, but Greg knows that’s not true. He knows Shari vanished because of the camera.
Riddick recognizes something’s bothering Greg and asks if there’s anything else he knows that could help locate Shari. Greg doesn’t know what to do, thinking will Riddick believe him? What if he doesn’t? And if he does believe Greg, how will that bring Shari back? Riddick firmly but gently asks Greg to tell him what’s bothering Greg so much. Looking at Shari’s parents, Greg starts talking about the camera.
Or, he tries to tell Riddick about the camera. He tries to explain how he took Shari’s picture twice, but she was invisible in both of them. And now she’s vanished for real. Greg babbles the camera either predicts the future or makes bad things happen. He even tries to give it to Riddick.
Sadly, I guess there’s no way Greg could’ve really explained this in a way someone would’ve believed him unless they were there beforehand. Riddick assumes Greg’s too jumbled up from Shari’s disappearance. He’s gonna have an officer bring Greg home and talk with Greg’s parents about what he’s gone through.
Feeling stupid for thinking someone would believe him, Greg assures Riddick he can go home by himself. Riddick tries to convince Greg to just put the camera away, promising they’ll find Shari. Hurrying past the Walkers, Greg wonders what he honestly expected Riddick would say in response to that story.
Back in his own home, Greg’s all alone. Terry’s at Dairy Freeze while their mom’s visiting Dad at the hospital. Wishing he had someone to talk to, Greg goes upstairs and discovers he had a guest while he was at the party. His room’s been ransacked! Someone searched through his desk, his closet, his drawers, everything!
It doesn’t take long for Greg to realize the only reason someone would tear through his room would be to find the camera. The same person who watched him at the baseball game. Spidey. Spidey not only knows who Greg is and what he’s done, he KNOWS WHERE GREG LIVES AND HE WAS IN GREG’S HOUSE.
After working hard to straighten up his room before his mom or Terry got home, Greg called Bird. He tells Bird to call Michael to meet at the baseball diamond. Bird says it’s almost dinnertime, but Greg tells Bird this is important. After convincing Bird to meet him for a few minutes, Greg wonders how upset his parents might be when they learn about Shari. Looking out his bedroom window, Greg sees how deserted Shari’s backyard now is. The police left and her parents are inside their house.
In he corner of the window, Greg could see the birthday cake, still sitting forlornly on the deserted table, the places all set, the decorations still standing.
A birthday party for ghosts.
Greg has to say out loud “Shari is alive” just to convince himself she’ll be found.
Bird and Michael refuse to go with Greg to bring the camera back to the Coffman House. Bird even agrees with Greg when Greg calls him “chicken,” while Michael proposes Greg just throw the camera away. Or he could leave it at the bleachers. Greg tries to make them understand it has to go back to where it was found, so Spidey knows it’s back. Otherwise, what’ll stop him from coming after Greg again? He was in Greg’s HOUSE, you guys.
Bird tries to take the camera from Greg and leave it at the bleachers, only he grabbed the side. As Greg tried to back away, Bird’s fingers slipped and FLASH! Now Greg’s had HIS picture taken!
Before the boys can see what grim fate awaits Greg, they’re joined by Joey Farris and Mickey Ward, two douchebag 9th graders who like to beat people up and steal kids’ bikes for joy rides. Some even thought they beat up a kid so bad the kid was crippled for life, but Greg thinks Joey and Mickey started that rumor themselves to sound tough. Charming.
Joey’s got blonde hair slicked straight up and has a diamondlike stud earring. Mickey’s got greasy black hair down to his shoulders, a round face full of painful looking zits, and was chomping a toothpick. Oh and they both have heavy metal shirts on.
Bravo Stine, you really know how to push the boundary when it comes to hooligans.
Bird and Michael quickly try to get the fuck out of there when predictably, Joey and Mickey prove they’re assholes by acting like the camera’s their’s. Greg wants the camera back, and at the very least Bird and Michael haven’t abandoned him just yet. Bird even tries to stop Mickey from taking Joey’s picture. Adding a dumb joke pisses off the two older kids while Greg’s scared they’ll find out the camera’s secret. God only knows what these two morons would do with it.
Finally, Greg stops thinking, leaps forward, and snatches the camera before Mickey ends up cursing Joey or something. With the camera back, Greg, Bird and Michael run away, only Joey and Mickey aren’t bothering to chase them. They just laugh and promise to see the boys later.
The boys still won’t go with Greg to return the camera, saying it’s too late and Bird and Michael have to get to their houses for dinner. They’ll return the camera tomorrow. Oh, did they say they’d go with Greg? Gee look at the time.
Left alone, Greg checks out the photo Bird accidentally took of him, and at least he’s not invisible.
But how did Shari get there?!
The picture clearly shows Greg and Shari, their expressions one of horror as a large shadow’s draped over them. Greg starts calling out Shari’s name, thinking she’s nearby, when Mrs. Banks answers. She just got home and she’s also upset about Shari’s disappearance. Greg gets chided for not leaving a note before he left the house; his mom didn’t need to worry about HIM disappearing too.
Two days passed. No Shari, and Greg still hadn’t returned the camera because Bird and Michael wouldn’t go with him. Greg should’ve at least been happy his dad was coming home from the hospital, but he kept thinking of Shari. The police found no evidence indicating what could’ve happened to her. They started to think she’d been kidnapped after all. Shari’s parents waited by the phone nonstop wondering if they’d receive calls or any new developments… or demands.
Greg gave up on telling anyone about the camera. The police didn’t believe him, so who would? He’d kept the camera in the headboard compartment since Shari vanished, alongside the photos. Taking out the two pictures he’d taken of Shari, Greg lamented everything that’d happened and, in a moment of unconscious anger realized he’d ripped the photos into pieces.
A couple of hours later, Shari called him.
Greg could hear Shari trying to assure her crying mom she’s okay over the phone. Shari explains she’s been back for two hours, but back from where? Even Shari doesn’t know. All she remembers is being in her backyard during the birthday party, then suddenly she was in front of her house and it was two days later. Greg mentions the photos he took before she disappeared, but Shari has to answer questions from the police.
Realizing Shari’d been back for two hours, probably right at the moment he destroyed the photos, Greg fears the camera really IS causing these horrible things on purpose. He had to talk to Shari and then return the camera to put an end to this.
Greg was able to meet Shari at the playground, relieved to see her in person after two days. Shari’s exhausted from talking to the police, but was unable to properly explain what’d happened to her. Her parents were super grateful to see her back, but without an answer as to where she went they might be thinking she’d run off or something to fuck with them. Parents in the ‘Bumps, whatcha gonna do.
Greg asks Shari to come with him to return the camera to the Coffman House, but before she can answer Spidey appears!
The black clad Spidey starts chasing after Greg and Shari, Greg realizing this is the snapshot Bird took coming true. Greg and Shari try to get back to their homes but fear Spidey’s too fast, when a car horn startles them. It’s Jerry Norman, Greg’s neighbor, and he starts threatening Spidey to get away from Greg and Shari!
Well at least SOME adults aren’t useless.
Jerry threatens to call the police as he keeps his car’s headlights aimed at Spidey. Spidey runs off into the darkness, so Jerry asks if the kids are okay, if Spidey did anything to them. Greg thanks Jerry and says they’re okay, they don’t need the police. Jerry asks if they need a ride home, but Greg assures him they’re fine. After Jerry leaves, Greg explains to Shari this’ll keep happening unless the camera’s brought back to the Coffman House. Shari eventually agrees to help bring the camera back tomorrow.
The next day’s hazy and overcast, threatening to rain as dark clouds formed overhead. Shari wants to put the camera back before it rains, but Greg advises they check to make sure Spidey’s not in the house first. The two inspect the basement windows figuring that’s where Spidey hangs out, but it’s empty. That’s not really enough to quell Shari’s growing fear as it sinks in she’d been GONE for two days because of a camera.
Spooked when the wind slams a door open, Shari wishes they’d never sneaked into the Coffman House. Greg quickly reminds her it’s too late for that. The camera in hand, Greg wants to put it back exactly where he found it instead of just leaving it somewhere in the house. Greg emphasizes how Spidey’s been in his room. He’s not gonna feel safe unless he knows the camera’s in a place Spidey expects to see it.
As rain falls and lightning crashes outside the house, Greg shows Shari the compartment in the basement where he found the camera. Turning the vise handle, the door opens in the wall and Greg finally puts the camera back in its rightful place. Problem solved. Isn’t that right Spidey?
Greg and Shari are horrified when they see Spidey standing at the top of the basement stairs, just as they were about to leave. Greg exclaims they put the camera back, but Spidey doesn’t answer them. Up close, the kids can see Spidey’s far older than they thought, but his voice sounds far younger. Spidey heads for the work table to see the camera’s truly back, but then he gets angry when he learns Greg took pictures with it. He confirms the camera’s not broken, it’s EVIL.
Ordering Greg and Shari to sit down, Spidey begins to tell his life story and how the camera was created. Oh, and his name’s not “Spidey.” It’s Fredericks. Dr. Fritz Fredericks.
Fritz used to be a scientist, and the camera was invented by his lab partner. The camera would’ve made the partner a fortune if Fritz hadn’t been so greedy and stolen it from him. His partner was surprised, but he got his revenge on Fritz. Fritz never realized his partner was capable of far greater evil than simple greed. He wasn’t just a scientist, he studied magic too. He cursed the camera so no one would ever profit off the futures it created.
“Do you know about how some primitive peoples fear the camera? They fear the camera because they believe that if it takes their picture, it will steal their soul.” He patted the camera. “Well, this camera really does steal souls.”
Staring up at the camera, Greg shuddered.
The camera had stolen Shari away.
Would it have stolen all of their souls?
Fritz talks about how he lost everything because of the camera, his job, his friends, his family. He asserts people died thanks to the camera, but no matter what he did the camera couldn’t be destroyed either. So he’s tried to keep the camera hidden for all these years.
Since Greg and Shari know too much about what it can, Fritz decides they have to die!
Even as Greg and Shari point out no one would believe them anyway, Fritz takes the camera out and tries to take their picture. He apologizes, but Fritz feels he doesn’t have a choice. The camera in one hand, Fritz grabs Greg with the other. Since Fritz as his hands full, Shari sees her opening (and thus validates Greg’s belief it was smarter to go with someone) and lunges at Fritz. Shari grabs the camera from him, terrifying Fritz as she holds it up in his direction. Fritz lets go of Greg, screaming at Shari not to press the button. He struggles with Shari, wrestling to get the camera away from her when it goes off in his face!
Fritz screams as Shari drops the camera, running up the stairs with Greg. Neither knows who’s in the picture, but a new question emerges when Fritz’s screaming suddenly stops. They don’t even hear Fritz running after them.
Back in the basement, Greg and Shari find Fritz sprawled on the concrete floor, his face a frozen mask of agonized terror. The new photo shows the exact same expression on Fritz’s face. He died of fright.
Well gee, we all thought Greg was a menace with the camera but at least HE didn’t kill anyone, SHARI. And on her first photo, too!
[Wing: That’s my budding serial killer.]
Shari’s terrified, exclaiming she hadn’t meant to USE the camera. She was trying to scare him to catch Fritz off guard so they could leave. Greg puts the camera back in the hiding place, then tells Shari they’re calling the cops.
A couple of days later while riding their bikes, the four friends look up at the Coffman House as Greg and Shari explain what happened. They called the cops from home and told them about Fritz’s death. Not that he was killed with a camera, of course. Greg and Shari told the police they were forced to take shelter in Coffman House when the storm began which is how they found Fritz’s body. Even though the police think Fritz died of heart failure, Greg and his friends know what really killed him.
As the quartet rides off, Joey and Mickey watch them leave. Greg and the others have no idea the two bullies followed Greg and watched him from the basement window. They saw where he hid the camera, and now it’s all their’s. Sneaking inside the basement, Joey takes Mickey’s picture.
They can’t wait to see how it turns out.
If Greg’s supposed to be the sensible one I’d hate to see what he does when he’s acting stupid.
Still, I love the atmosphere in this one and Stine giving just enough to imply the camera’s capable of thought. It was good to get back to one of my faves. That ending felt tacked on. It would’ve worked better if Stine hadn’t waited until the book was almost over to introduce Joey and Mickey. Their appearance felt as though Stine added them as an afterthought just for the twist ending. Still, at least he had them appear before the last page instead of being a couple of random kids who find the camera.
[Wing: I quite liked this one. Way to go, Stine. Creepy and fun enough to be worth your needlessly dramatic cliffhanger chapter endings and other assorted Stine-isms. Evil cameras for the fucking win.]
Couple of things to mention about what comes after.
About 40 books later this received a sequel, “Say Cheese And Die – Again!” and a HorrorLand entry, “Say Cheese And Die Screaming!” The sequel is, well, it’s honestly pretty terrible and uncomfortable to the point I don’t know if I’d feel okay recapping it. It’s one of the strongest indicators Stine DIDN’T write all the books, or he just didn’t give a shit. The book sees Greg getting a bad grade on a report he did about the camera, yet it’s a “What I Did During My Summer Vacation” type of thing even though this book explicitly took place in the fall. There’s also a LOT of fat shaming and Greg’s turned into a complete moron. I mean, like, he wasn’t exactly smart here but his willingness to find the camera to prove his report was true causes so much misery you’d think he’s more dangerous than the camera.
Strangely, despite how bad the sequel is, the HorrorLand follow-up’s one of my favorites of the relaunch alongside “Scream of the Haunted Mask.” It has a completely new cast, and instead of the plot being “Kid takes pictures, bad things happen,” the new main character only takes two photos before she tries to get rid of the camera. When it keeps reappearing around her, she has to figure out how to prevent its horrid futures from coming true. It’s more than Greg did. If the book wasn’t part of a 12-novel arc, I would’ve recapped it by itself by now.
Oh, we also find out why it was a good idea NOT to take a photo of the camera in the mirror.
The TV adaption omits Michael by combining his role with Bird and makes Greg more heroic instead of a bystander figure. Spidey’s not killed, instead he’s somehow TRAPPED in the camera until Joey and Mickey use it.
Fritz has been included in the Goosebumps HorrorTown online game, and he’s been made an uncle of Billy Deep from the “Deep Trouble” books.
Now, I’m not sure what the next Goosebumps recap will be, but with summer on the way I’m considering recapping three more summer-themed books before September.