Title: The Nightmare Room – Dead of Night, a.k.a. “A Boy Named Keith”
Author: R.L. Stine
Acknowledgement: SharkBud, thank you for finding this
Summary: One wild night… one crazy night of total freedom.
That’s all David and his friends had in mind.
They crept out into the quiet darkness while everyone else slept – and had the world to themselves.
A dream come true – until night turned to nightmare.
What terrors will you find in the Dead of Night?
[Wing: Is this Stine’s take on The Lost Boys?]
It’s time to take a look at the redheaded stepchild of R.L. Stine’s YA horror works, The Nightmare Room. Released at the start of the 21st Century following the (initial) end of Goosebumps and Fear Street, The Nightmare Room was Stine’s next attempt at a horror series for younger readers.
(Also that’s not R.L. Stine, that’s most definitely James Avery)
The Nightmare Room managed to receive a TV adaption right around the time publication started. It ran as a live action series on Kids WB during Saturday mornings. It boasted a roster of many 90s and 00s kid and teen actors such as Frankie Muniz, Cara DeLizia, Brenda Song, Amanda Bynes, Shia LaBeouf, the Sprouse twins, Kaley Cuoco, and even featured adult actors like Robert Englund, Beth Broderick, Tippi Hedrin, David Carradine, and Angus Scrimm.
The thing is, I definitely remember watching the TV show when it first aired. I have vivid memories of seeing at least one episode while my family was staying at a Best Western hotel. For the life of me I never read any of the books, unfortunately. At this point I only own four of them.
Sadly, both the book series and the TV didn’t last too long. The content was much darker than what you would’ve expected to find in Goosebumps, but Stine felt the series was too much like Goosebumps to find an audience so soon after that series had ended.
As for the TV show, well, it premiered in August 2001, a few weeks before 9/11 happened. For those who might remember how most stations became dominated by news coverage of that fateful day, this meant there were no new episodes for The Nightmare Room between August 31st and September 29th. That deep cut into viewership and ratings couldn’t have been good. The last episode aired on March 29th 2002 according to Wikipedia.
“Dead of Night” came to my attention when perusing the Goosebumps wiki. User SharkBud made a post reporting of a short story that had been on The Nightmare Room’s website. The books mention the story on the site as well. It seems the story was released in weekly segments and were also narrated by R.L. Stine. SharkBud transcribed the story onto a document, which is how this recap happened.
This features Stine’s liberal use of “crazy” but is indeed MUCH darker than even I expected for a story aimed at young adults.
David, Elly, and Fox don’t like to think about Keith anymore. Rather, the night they kidnapped Keith. Sure they meant well, wanting him to have fun. It makes David think about being back in the river, watching Keith float away forever.
David heard Keith laugh and laugh as the current took him away.
After that night, David hasn’t been able to look at Elly or Fox. Whenever they’re in school the three avoid each other as much as possible. They can’t even look at each other in the eye.
[Wing: Causing a death will do that to you, kids.]
It was the night after Fox’s 12th birthday party. David and Elly were over, playing video games on the new system Fox received as a gift. Too bad all anyone could think about was Keith in the hospital. Fox’s birthday was a total bummer without Keith. Elly had gone to visit Keith earlier in the day, and was shaken by all the wires and tubes plugged into his body. Fox asked Mrs. Keith’s mom about him, and she started crying when she said they’d all have to be brave for Keith. He might not leave the hospital.
It was David who thought they needed to rescue Keith. I mean, they knew Keith was in the hospital for a REASON so they weren’t gonna take him away forever. If Keith might be stuck there for the rest of his life, David figured they should treat him to a night of freedom. One last night of fun and frolic.
Because it could’ve been Keith’s last night out for real.
[Wing: This is actually a sweet idea, if terribly executed.]
There was no moon in the night sky as the three kids headed for the hospital. David was the one to sneak inside, having worn his pajamas underneath his clothes. If he snuck in, someone would think he was another patient wandering around the place.
Fox and Elly waited outside as David snuck in through a side door. He was surprised to enter a room filled with beds and sleeping people. David tried to be careful in the dark, but he banged his knee and stumbled forward onto a bed. The patient’s cold hand grabbed David’s, who tried to apologize and stood up when he realized he’d fallen onto a CORPSE.
HE WAS IN THE MORGUE.
AND THE CORPSE WOULDN’T LET GO!
David struggled to break free from the corpse’s icy grip when he heard a moan in the corner of the room. The morgue smelled putrid and foul, and finally David banged the corpse’s hand against the table to get loose. The dead body’s fingers cracked and broke against the metal table.
Stumbling out of the morgue, David did his best not to vomit as he got away from the stench of those dead bodies. Navigating through the hallways, David had to duck past some nurses before reaching an elevator. Keith’s room was on the third floor.
Turning a corner, David was spotted by an orderly carrying food trays. The orderly yelled at David to stop, forcing David to run. David finally found an elevator and frantically pressed the buttons as the orderly almost reached him. He finally dove into the elevator when David felt the orderly’s hands grab his shoulders. He was caught!
Except not quite because the elevator doors slammed on the orderly’s hands and he had to let go. Because even when it’s not Goosebumps or Fear Street it’s still Stine and this shit happens.
[Wing: Stine does love his needlessly dramatic cliffhanger chapter endings.]
Luckily David made it to the end of the third floor hallway with no one spotting him. He stood in front of the door to Keith’s room and went inside, calling Keith’s name. In the pale light coming from outside, David could see needles on a nearby table and bloody sheets on the floor. David was surprised to see Keith, fully dressed in regular clothes, sitting at the end of his bed. On the other side of the room David could make out a sleeping boy hooked up to tubes and a machine. The other boy’s breathing was strained and painful; it made David’s skin crawl.
Keith decided not to introduce David to his roommate. Up close, David could see the toll hospital life had taken on Keith. Keith was a tall boy who had an athletic, stocky build. His was now paler, and clearly lost a significant amount of weight. Keith’s breathing was rapid, his hair had grown down to his shoulders, and he was covered in red marks from freshly removed needles. The excess skin around his face made it look like David was wearing a mask. Keith grabbed David, and his touch was so light it was disconcerting as he quietly said he knew David would come.
And Keith knew EXACTLY what he wanted to do now.
As David and Keith left the room and discretely made their way down the hall, it finally occurred to David that Keith was WALKING. All this time being stuck in his room, Keith had been confined to a bed for ages. Avoiding two nurses, Keith guided David to a supply elevator.
Once outside, in the warm night air, Keith began to cheer and jump for joy. David was stunned for a moment when he saw how Keith’s clothes were basically hanging off his body. They were soon joined by Elly and Fox, and the four friends began laughing and hugging and high fiving.
Elly explained this was Keith’s night to have fun, to do whatever he wanted. So what do you want to do, Keith?
Keith answered by letting out a painful groan, before he dropped to his knees and fell on the ground bidding his friends goodbye. David got down and searched for a pulse on Keith’s arm.
There was none.
HOLY SHIT FRESH AIR LITERALLY KILLED HIM!
Or not, because as David, Elly and Fox began to panic, Keith smiled!
Elly and Fox couldn’t believe Keith would scare them like that as Keith said it was easy. Keith then jumped up and run off into the grassy lot near the hospital. David and the others watched as Keith did a cartwheel and somersault, laughing with glee at being free. Keith’s giddiness was infectious and soon his friends joined in on his shenanigans.
Keith thanked his friends and vowed he wasn’t going back to the hospital, which quickly put a damper on the mood. David explained they only freed Keith for the night. They knew WHY he had to be in the hospital and that it was necessary for him to go back. Keith’s joy turned to rage as he growled at David that HE can go back to the hospital. In fact, David SHOULD do that. HE should go to the hospital, because Keith’s not going back!
David, Elly and Fox were all quietly freaked by Keith’s response, realizing being stuck in the hospital took more out of Keith than they assumed.
Guys this… might actually be a real thing Stine’s referencing. Hospital delirium. When my mother was stuck at Montefiore last year when she was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, she started to get erratic and disoriented. Being stuck in a hospital for ages can have that affect on someone, since you’re inside the same room every day surrounded by noisy machines and lots of other shit. You can barely move around, you can’t leave, you can’t really do much of anything depending on how sick you are. It’s a lot.
The kids followed after Keith, who had climbed on top of a nearby school bus and started calling for them to join him. Soon the other three were on top of the parked bus, hollering at the top of their lungs. Soon they were dancing, having the time of their life.
That’s when Keith started breaking windows.
Atop the school bus, David, Elly and Fox watched and heard Keith throwing rocks at the bus windows. Keith hurled them so hard the easily broke through the glass. [Wing: Impressive.] David was at first worried Keith would wake up the neighborhood, but then he became frightened by Keith’s casual, wanton destruction. The three kids hurried off the bus as Keith kept breaking windows.
Keith then hurled rocks at the metal sides of the bus when David begged him to stop. David asked if Keith really did want to go back to the hospital, when Keith screamed David could go and hurled the next rock at David’s head!
David’s vision went red, then black, when he found himself on the grass with Elly and Fox trying to help him. Keith found this hilarious, telling David with a bump on his head that big he could end up in the hospital. David, Elly and Fox finally demanded to know why Keith was acting this way. Keith laughed and mimicked their worried pleas when he finally started screaming at them. He screamed about how they’d been having all the fun while he was trapped in the hospital. Well now it’s Keith’s turn to have fun and THEY can all go to the hospital.
Keith started running towards his house, exclaiming his parents are at his aunt’s place. He hasn’t seen his room in so long, and when his parents go to see him in the hospital tomorrow morning he certainly won’t be there. But David, Elly, and Fox WILL.
Realizing they done fucked up big time, David and the others struggled to figure out how to get Keith back to the hospital before he hurts himself.
Or someone else.
They followed Keith into his house as he went up to his bedroom. He hadn’t been in his room in so long. Elly tried to placate Keith by asking if he was happy to be home. Keith headed over to his desk and took out his notebook, something he used to write in every day.
Which he then tore to shreds!
Keith began to destroy his room, knocking over CDs and ripping up his posters when David tried to stop him. Well, David was going to when he saw Keith grab the silver letter opener from his desk. Keith let out a cry and ran towards David, aiming to stab him in the chest! David jumped out of the way as Keith began screaming “You go to the hospital!” in a sing-songy voice. Keith started stabbing his bed over and over, destroying the mattress and pillows when Fox jumped on top of him. The letter opener fell out of Keith’s hand and David grabbed it while Elly backed away, looked horrified.
Fox demanded to know why Keith was being so horrible when all they wanted was to have fun. That’s when Keith shouted “I’M NOT KEITH!”
David, Elly and Fox all figured Keith had finally lost it as he stated he WASN’T Keith.
“Month after month of being so frightened. Lying there thinking, ‘Why me? Why me?’ The anger builds up. It builds up like a volcano. And tonight… Tonight it all burst out.”
Again, the others pleaded for Keith to go back to the hospital and again Keith said THEY would be going to the hospital and NOT him.
But first he had a stop to make.
David, Elly and Fox followed after Keith to make sure he didn’t hurt himself or anyone else. He wouldn’t go back to the hospital and he couldn’t be allowed to run around on his own. Keith made his way through the woods and David could hear the sound of rushing water, realizing Keith was leading them to the rapids and Harmer Falls.
After once again exclaiming that his friends would be going back to the hospital and not him, Keith grabbed David and dragged him into the rapids! David and Keith were submerged under the rushing water as David struggled to get back up. As the rapids tossed David around, he could see Keith floating away. Keith didn’t fight back; he went with the current and laughed as he was pulled towards the falls.
Riding the rapid surf. Bouncing high, then dropping under. Not moving. Not thrashing or kicking. He didn’t struggle. He let the freezing, churning water carry him away.
He didn’t make a sound as he bounced towards the steep falls. Not a sound. And then, as he reached the edge, he tilted his head back—and laughed. Laughed! The hideous sound quickly cut off as he dropped… dropped to the sharp, deadly rocks below.
David struggled to hold onto a sharp rock, then made his way to another before reaching the shore. Elly and Fox managed to pull David out, and all three realized their friend was dead and his words were true. They would be going back to the hospital – to tell Keith’s parents he was dead thanks to them.
David, Elly and Fox reached the hospital was morning arrived. Nurses stared at David wondering why he was drenched when the kids made it to the third floor. Sure enough, the three kids found Keith’s mom and dad in his room.
Oh but David, Elly, Fox, you need to be quiet because Keith’s still asleep. Sorry guys, but he’s very weak and he can’t talk to anyone right now. I’m really sorry.
David could only gape in mute horror as he saw the boy who’d been sleeping in the other bed had been Keith all along. [Wing: I love this. Of course it wasn’t Keith who went with them. Manifestation of his anger and frustration? Skinchanger? Keith’s ghost from the future? Some actual kid who stole Keith’s clothing and the friends saw only what they wanted to see? Love it.]
Trying to figure out who, or what, David had seen go over the falls, the only sound David could hear was the whooshing of the machines hooked up to Keith.
You see what I mean about how dark this shit was? How many Goosebumps stories do you recall reading where a kid literally tried to kill themselves?
So who or what WAS the thing that David and the others believed was Keith? Was it a doppelganger? A projection of Keith’s sleeping subconscious?
Honestly I’m glad I recapped this story now, because with how everything’s gone on with my mom this past year I don’t know if I’d have the strength to do another hospital story.