Recap #25: 13 Tales of Horror Part Four
Title: 13 Tales of Horror edited by T Pines
Summary: Can you face your worst nightmare? These thirteen horror stories guarantee to chill you to the bone. Read about the mysterious Black Walker and discover his grim secret. Shiver in fevered anticipation as Mark enters the House of Horrors, perhaps for the last time… And uncover the truth of the murder who leaves a message on his victim’s computers before he leaps in for the kill. Each take draws you further into a web of horror exquisitely woven by thirteen master storytellers. Prepare to be terrified!
Tagline: No tagline.
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
I’ve never read this before, and we’ve never recapped a short story collection. I guess each story will be its own mini-recap, plus its own counter totals and final thoughts. I’m splitting these into a couple different posts, though, because in just the first three stories, I was already approaching 6000 words. No way do I want to subject you guys to 50k of snark in one post.
If the editor’s introduction is anything to go by, we are in for a world of pain.
We are, shall we say, thrilled to “death” that you’ve decided to join us on this trip into darkness. Ask any vampire, it’s so much easier to see once your eyes have become adjusted to the dark, and we have so much to show you….
This anthology is a compilation of the best horror writers of the young-adult thriller genre. With the overall success of horror novels and “thrillers,” it was just a matter of time before this book became a reality.
What we have here is true horror: everyday occurrences gone awry. The supernatural is frightening, what with ghosts, zombies, witches, and ghouls. But when you discover that your best friend has a nasty habit of doing away with the people he or she no longer likes – that is horror.
We read horror because we like to be frightened. It is a way to delve into other people’s fears and feelings, knowing all the while that if it gets too scary we can always close the book. But what happens when we can’t close the book? That is horror.
The authors who have contributed to this anthology have mastered the art of conveying horror through the written word. In Christopher Pike’s “Collect Call,” the going rate is a little too costly – it will make you think twice before accepting the charges. Patricia Windsor’s “A Little Taste of Death” is a compelling tale explaining why your parents told you never to take sweets from strangers. R. L. Stine spins a story of a self-defeated young man who decides to let his hypnotic gate help erase his problems… but it gets a little out of hand. Similarly, Ellen Emerson White tells of an average girl in a quiet New England town, neither of which are what they appear to be.
So sit back and relax. Don’t worry, that creaking noise you hear is only the house settling, and that soft fluttering noise is nothing more than the turning of the pages of this book. And those footsteps…
Everything is going to hurt, and nothing will be good. Deep breath, grab your alcohol, and let’s do this. This is, of course, the fourth and final part. First part can be found here. Second part can be found here. Third part can be found here.
Hacker by Sinclair Smith
Violet is having a bit of a breakdown during a night computer class at a community college. Her monitor is flashing ERROR at her over and over again. I have never managed to make something flash “error” at me. What have you done, Violet?
Violet is fascinated by the teacher, Mr Umberto. At least she says he’s too old for her (he’s been out of college for at least a year, and she’s in high school), but she also wishes that the high school guys were as sophisticated as Mr Umberto. No matter how much I remind myself this guy is most likely in his early twenties, I keep picturing an old guy. Mr Umberto is sophisticated because he tells them often about how much he loves flowers and indoor gardening, and because he wears a rose in the buttonhole of his jacket every day. Violet thinks this makes him seem romantic and sensitive. Wing things this makes him seem like a pompous hipster jackass.
Conveniently, Violet decides to listen to the radio on her Walkman just in time to hear a special bulletin, about the fourth victim missing and presumed dead. Apparently, they have a local serial killer who the newspapers have dubbed Hacker.
This one is going to hurt, isn’t it?
Of course, Violet has been following the case from the beginning, which boils down to a very little information: mysterious disappearances, few clues, a strange message found on the victim’s home computer. A message that the police allow to be shared, which I highly doubt would happen, but they read the latest one over the radio:
Roses are red / violets are blue / sugar is sweet / … toodleoooo!
Oh, god, it hurts so much. Everything hurts. This is terrible. Apparently this latest message was signed “Everybody’s favorite cut-up” which is also terrible. [Dove: I love the silly rhymes, but I hate “The Hacker”.]
Violet’s obsessing over the murders is interrupted by Mr Umberto, who tells her she’s not spending enough time practicing after class when she complains that she just doesn’t understand computers. That puts her on the defense, and she tells him computers are boring and she’s not interested in putting in more work, especially when she’s not getting graded anyway. What the hell kind of class is this anyway? [Dove: from the comment about it being a night class at community college and her still being in high school — and this being set in the 90s — it might be one of those classes where you take something to expand your skills, but you have no qualifications at the end — my mother used to take art classes at the local school at night. However, Sinclair Smith is an American author, so… *shrug* I have no idea if the same thing happened in the US.] She immediately apologizes, and tells him that she’s been procrastinating on coming in to practice, it’s a character flaw of hers. He’s been getting upset, but at this, he laughs, and she is pissed off at herself for losing her temper with him.
STUDENT-TEACHER FLIRTATIONS ARE NOT OKAY. GROSS GROSS GROSS.
Mr Umberto tells her not to think of it as a character flaw, but as a bad habit, because everyone has one of those. I’m pretty sure everyone has character flaws too, but okay. Then he tells her that his bad habit is that he’s a terrible practical joker, and once he gets started, he can’t stop. This makes them laugh and laugh together, and just cements Wing’s belief that he’s the killer.
Violet vows to start working harder on the computer class because she wants to impress him, and this just gets grosser and grosser. After class, she decides to stay and work on it, but first, goes to get a candy bar. Before she does, she is prompted to type her password into the computer, and when she does, she closes her eyes, types a few keys at random, and then leaves without looking at the computer. There is literally no way this makes any kind of sense to me. No point in her doing it, no point in her not looking before she gets up – it is all so goddamn convenient, it is sloppy writing, and it infuriates me.
It takes her fifteen minutes to get the candy bar, because she procrastinates reading the notes on the bulletin board and then checks her make up. When she finally goes back to her computer, there’s a message on her screen:
Roses by the handful / violets by the bunch /should I kill you after breakfast / … or wait til after lunch?
While still terrible, it is slightly less terrible. At least it doesn’t end in toodleooo. Fucking hell.
Violet thinks this is the kind of message the Hacker writes, and runs to the lobby. She decides that, by typing in some random password, she managed to tap into the Hacker’s computer and found a clue. She thinks. She typed a random password. And tapped into someone else’s computer. And found a clue.
No, never mind, I don’t care enough to keep showing my aghast thoughts.
Violet is getting ready to call the police when she sees Mr Umberto. She runs to him instead, and tells him her whole theory. He is suspicious, and asks if she’s playing a practical joke on him. She can’t believe he would think that anyone would joke about murder. Oh, Violet. So naïve. Mr Umberto at least briefly explains how unlikely it is that she could have accidentally broken into someone else’s computer, and blames her classmates, saying one of them must be playing a joke on her. I would put a counter here, but I’ve decided it is too much of a pain to have counters for each short story, especially when Dove isn’t doing it for her short story recaps. Mr Umberto calms her down, and then abruptly leaves.
Violet walks home alone, and keeps feeling like someone is watching her and she’s being followed. She decides that it’s because she’s been thinking about the Hacker case too much. You think obsessing over a serial killer might make you a little jumpy? Maybe? The house is dark when she gets home, and she’s frustrated because her dad keeps getting called away on last minute business trips. How convenient. She doesn’t let this worry her, until she finds the door open, even though she and her dad are careful to keep it locked. He’s told her many times not to enter the house if she ever finds the door unlocked, but she’s worried about him and ignores all of that.
Inside the house, she finds a home computer set up with a message for her. This one is just from her dad, confirming that he’s been called out of town, and the computer is a gift to keep her company.
When the phone rings, Violet assumes it’s her father checking in, but nope, it’s a stranger’s cold voice. The stranger tells her that she discovered him that night, now he’s discovered her, even though it wasn’t easy to find her, he has his secret ways. He has too many appointments to visit her immediately, but he’ll be seeing her soon.
As soon as the call is over, Violet, understandably, freaks. the fuck. out. AND THEN SHE DECIDES THE CALL IS A PRANK AND DOESN’T CALL THE POLICE. OH MY GOD, VIOLET, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?
The next morning, Violet is relieved it’s Saturday, and she doesn’t have anything pressing to do. She finds an oddly shaped package on the porch; it’s huge, at least 6 feet tall, and wrapped in tissue paper. I’m not sure I believe anyone could successfully wrap something that big in tissue paper. Tissue paper is thin, often nearly transparent, and easily torn. Whoever sent this (“whoever”) is a magical genius if he wrapped it in tissue paper. Anyway, it turns out to be a large, flowering cactus with brilliant red and orange blooms.
A CACTUS WAS WRAPPED IN TISSUE PAPER? THE HELL YOU SAY.
It’s a weird gift, but Violet is pleased. She can’t find a card, but brings it inside anyway. When her dad calls a little later, she asks him about it, but he doesn’t know anything, and she shrugs it off. Who cares, weird cactus left as a gift, no card, no name, no big.
(Her father says he’ll see her in a week or two. SHE’S IN HIGH SCHOOL. SHE’S NOT AN ADULT YET. YOU CAN’T JUST FUCK OFF TO WHEREVER AND LEAVE HER COMPLETELY ALONE OMG.)
Violet doesn’t call the cops, but she sure as hell tells Mr Umberto about the weird call at their next class. He agrees it was a joke, and since she’s not reacting, whoever it is will get tired. She decides he’s right, because nothing else happens for two weeks. But did your father come home?! No? Apparently not. [Dove: I may have been left alone when I was fourteen or so, but only for a few days at a time, maybe a week or so in the summer holidays. But not for months on end.]
She does start to enjoy herself on the computer (…dirty), even joins a computer bulletin board and chats with other members. Aww, the days before mailing lists.
Then she gets an email that seems to be from the same person who called:
I TOLD YOU I’D BE IN TOUCH. I’D LIKE TO BE FRIENDS. MOST OF MY FRIENDS DISAPPOINT ME, THOUGH, BY GOING TO THE POLICE. YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS THEN. YOU READ THE PAPERS. SO HERE IS A TEST TO SEE IF I CAN TRUST YOU. MY NEXT VICTIM IS GOING TO BE MR. BROWN. BUT DON’T GO TO THE POLICE, BECAUSE I’M ALWAYS WATCHING YOU.
Violet takes forever to call the police, because she’s particularly convinced herself it’s a joke and partially sure the police will assume it’s a joke because how many Mr Browns can there be in a town? Hundreds? (I don’t think Brown is actually a common last name around here, not like Smith or Martin, but whatever.) She does eventually call them, though, and they assure her these sort of things generally turn out to be pranks.
She spills her guts to Mr Umberto during her next class. If your father ever came home, you could tell him these things, but I guess that could never happen, not in a Point Horror, right? Good lord. Mr Umberto tells her that it’s always good to be on the safe side, and she probably did the right thing, if the police thinks she did.
Violet is distracted from the Hacker case because she’s sad that the class is ending and Mr Umberto will leave town soon, though he hasn’t told them where he’s going. She stays after class, hoping that he’ll say something to her, maybe tell her where he’s going (TEACHER-STUDENT FLIRTATIONS ARE NOT OKAY), but he just goes to his office.
Of course, that doesn’t stop her from hoping the message is from him when she gets an email notification. It’s another message from her stalker friend:
I KNOW YOU WENT TO THE POLICE. I SAW YOU MAKE THE CALL. TOO BAD.
DAISIES IN THE GARDEN
POSIES ON YOUR GRAVE
WHEN YOU’RE FALLING OUT THE WINDOW
… DON’T FORGET TO WAVE!
I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU…
The words “I’m right behind you” fill the entire screen, and Violet slowly backs away from the computer, too scared to turn around. The classroom door slammed shut behind her, and she heard the sound of someone running away. She stood in silence for a long time, then grabbed her things and ran to find Mr Umberto. He’s not in his office at first, though his computer is still turned on, but before she can look at it, he turns up. She thinks he looks strange, not like himself, but she’s going to tell him what happened anyway – right up until she sees that his computer, too, is filled with “I’m right behind you”. He tells her she’s found him out, and his office is covered in newspaper clippings about the Hacker. Because that’s certainly subtle, in his office in a building that is owned by someone else and can be searched at any time.
She asks him why, and he tells her she shouldn’t look so glum, he used to be a gloomy gus himself, and no one wanted him around. They were rude to him, but then he learned how to chase away the blues. The computer tells him what to do.
The computer. tells him. what to do.
Oh, good, another crazy = dangerous situation. I’m thrilled.
He goes off on a rant about how his system works, but I really don’t care. The only thing of real interest is that he puts the bodies in potted plants and sometimes rubber trees or potted palms. How proactive and convenient.
Of course, now all these pejorative uses of “crazy” and “insane” appear in the text, which is just thrilling. She runs all the way to the lobby, where other people are, and Mr Umberto chases her, and tells her that it’s all a joke. From the very first message on the computer, it’s all been a joke because she was rude to him. She decides he looks, and acts, like a bratty little boy. So much for the sophisticated older man, huh?
Violet is certain he’s not actually joking, though. She goes back to the computer room and decides she needs to break into his computer system. Because your few weeks of computer classes should make that super easy, right? She decides to try guessing his password, starting with “orchid” and then going through all the names of flowers and plants she knows.
Finally, she realizes she hasn’t tried the most common one, and tries “roses” and it works. Oh dear.
She finds a folder conveniently labeled “hacker” and reads through it, finding a message she hasn’t yet seen in the papers, this one to Mr Bart Brown. She sends Mr Brown a message, “makes a hard copy” of the file (which I assume means printed a copy), and then takes a real clue to the police. [Dove: You mean, she took a piece of paper with some printed words on it to the police? How utterly damning.]
Sure enough, the police caught Mr Umberto, the Hacker, hiding near Mr Brown’s home, thanks to Violet’s evidence. The police also learned that after Mr Umberto hid a body in the potted plants, he would send some to his next intended victims, including some under the flowering cactus in Violet’s living room. I am shocked. So shocked.
Not absolutely terrible; there are bones of a good story here, buried beneath terrible writing and no understanding of how computers work (or at least no ability to write them believably).
[Dove: Also, there was some daft nonsense about how people had received the emails/messages and found them so whimsical that they didn’t see the threat, and then they ended up dead. Which raises questions: Did they tell someone about it before they died or what? If they did, why didn’t the police release that the killer was sending whimsical notes and such notes from an anonymous source should be treated with caution. But they apparently did because Violet heard the last note on the news. So, people are stupid. They’re like, “Oh, there’s a killer running around who sends silly notes before he kills them, and I got a silly anonymous note, but whatevs!” — and please remember this was early 90s. The time of dial up, 28kbits being average speed, 56kbits being fast. This was before silly forwards were quite as prevalent as they are now. Basically, this is dumb.]
Deathflash by A. Bates
I’m already tired of this story and I haven’t even started. I think I’m hitting short story recapping fatigue. Anyway. Marissa goes through the rules: it can’t get you in the light, if you hold completely still, if you totally covered up even your head. She’s not sure the rules will work this time, though, and decides she has to find some way to get to it first.
Back on Thursday, she had to pick up her brother and take him to soccer practice and she was running late, so she took the back roads between their schools, through the old part of town, the crumbling buildings, the trash-strewn alleys, the boarded windows, the people who always looked pinched and cold. She runs over a cat and stops to check on them, but the huge black and white tom has been hit and is in terrible pain, yowling and bloody, but keeps trying to escape something. She decides to try to catch him and take him to a vet, but then it comes for the cat, very small, thin and gray, shadow and vague. The cat dies, it swallows a tiny flash of light, and Marissa is terrified. She puts the big tom into the trash after it disappears, and finds yet another cat, an orange cat, and takes the orange cat with her. She tells her brother about running over a cat, and he asks her whether she saw anything coming out of it, like a cloud or something, because his teacher told him that some scientists believe you can measure death with the right equipment. I’m thinking maybe you should be more worried about the budding serial killer brother you have going on there, Marissa, but okay.
After she drops him off at practice, she gets the orange cat settled at home and then tracks down an article that she remembers reading about something similar to what her brother said. She summarizes it for her (for us), and basically, every living thing puts out a current, like electricity or radiation, and the bigger the animal, the stronger the current, but it’s not just size, it is based on intelligence and power too, so people have the strongest current. There may be a flash at death when all that stored-up electricity is released.
She decides the thing that swallowed the cat’s current was the most horrible evil she could ever imagine, because that current is supposed to be released, not even murderers swallow the life out of their victims. I am not sure why this is supposed to be so much worse than just straight killing something. Death is death, and that current, that energy, is not being destroyed whether it is released or not, it is simply becoming something new. (Energy is neither created nor destroyed.) [Dove: Also, didn’t she run over the cat? Maybe — at this moment, with all current information available — it simply died of its injuries and she just caught sight of what happens in all deaths, rather than THE SHADOW IS EATING SOULS FOR THE EVULZ.]
That night, Marissa decides she was just imagining things, but all night, she is cold and scared and just not the same as she was before she saw it.
She doesn’t see it again for awhile, but when she does, it is much bigger. She avoided the alley where she first saw it, but this time, it walks across the road in front of her while she’s stopped at a red light, and it was big and filled with glowing, recognizable shapes. It sees that she’s watching it, and it likes to be seen, apparently. (Kinky.) It hisses “soon” at her and walks away. No one else seems to be able to see it.
Marissa tries to convince herself that she didn’t see it or anything inside it, no cat, no birds, no dogs, no snakes or raccoons, and certainly not a person with a human hand, twisted in a frantic plea.
At dinner that night, her brother, Robbie, tells them a story about his friend’s dad, who works the night shift at a plant. All the lights went out, a crane slipped in the dark, and knocked a whole pile of lumber onto the dad and another guy. The dad is going to be okay, but the other guy died, in a really gruesome way. Marissa and Robbie’s mother reads from a news article about it, that the man probably died of massive internal injuries and that the employees want to thank the anonymous passerby who stopped to give the man mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Of course Marissa decides it wasn’t a helpful anonymous person, but instead it, trying to eat the deathflash. Marissa also decides that it will be hunting her, wanting to stop her from telling anyone else. Not that she’s actually told anyone else in all this time.
Meanwhile, Robbie comes to her because his orange cat is getting fat and she cries when he picks her up. Sure enough, she’s pregnant. That’ll be awesome. Robbie thinks the orange cat also has nightmares and is crazy, and I want to punch this kid in the face. Marissa finally tells him about what she saw in the alley where she found the orange cat.
We finally catch up to where the story began, with Marissa hiding under the covers and terrified. She is determined to figure out how to stop it before it kills her and eats her life. Robbie conveniently brings the cat into the room just before it arrives, and Marissa gets them both under the covers with her. Finally, she tries to confront it with a flashlight, but it can kill all the lights around it.
Then, suddenly, there’s a beam of light and it tries to swallow it, but dies instead, burned by the light. Marissa figures out that it was a lifeflash from the birth of the kittens, and when it tried to eat the lifeflash, the life ate it instead. Marissa decides they have to keep all the kittens and name them light names like Sunshine and Sparkle and this ending is kind of ridiculous.
Not terrible, again, but better in theory than in practice. The ending is a little weird, but the creepiness is good. The writing is mostly weak, and the pacing is off, but the story itself could have been solid.
[Dove: I just couldn’t get into this. I just didn’t care. But, like Wing, I have fatigue on 13 Tales at the moment!]
The Boy Next Door by Ellen Emerson White
Dorothy works at an ice cream shop in New England, where winter is much too cold for ice cream. I am actually surprised the ice cream shops aren’t seasonal, and only open during the summer. I know a lot of the northern states do that. Anyway, Dorothy works by herself, because they don’t have enough business during the winter to justify paying more than one person. Dorothy muses about upselling and the theories behind pricing and calorie savings when ordering a sundae without butter-toasted nuts, and this is really boring. Of course, Dorothy also thinks this is boring.
Her best friend, Jill, comes in around 7:30. They bonded in kindergarten over being the only two kids who could read and how boring it was to look at the flashcards teaching the other kids “d-o-g” and “c-a-t”. Jill says their friendship is founded on ennui. Jill seems like a complete hipster, but I like her a lot, actually, and find their friendship the most entertaining thing about this story so far.
Especially when they bond over terrible ice cream; the new flavor is licorice, which would be absolutely disgusting, and so of course Jill wants to try it after Dorothy tells her it’s terrible. They also hate pumpkin and cinnamon crunch. I think cinnamon crunch has potential, but I agree with them completely about licorice and pumpkin. So, so gross. [Dove: Ben & Jerry’s have something called Cinnamon Buns, and it is pure delight. But you can only have a little of it, because it’s so sweet.]
Then they start talking about a funeral. The funeral. Jill is surprised that there were so many people. Apparently, an absolutely terrible teacher, Mrs Creighton, died, and even though she was horrible, the church was packed. Dorothy thinks this is because they live in a small town, where almost everyone knew everyone else, so when anything happens (birth, death, Little League), tons of people show up. They talk about how weird it is that even if no one liked you while you were alive, when you die, people line up to say nice things about you. This is actually a really good point. People are leery to speak ill of the dead, but turning them into saints does no one any good either. [Dove: Word. I’ve never said “word” before in that context. Thought I’d try it out. I’m far too English for it to work.]
They make plans to meet up later to watch Miss America, which is apparently a tradition for them. My friends and I did this too, sometimes, growing up; once night, we were on a school trip, and a bunch of us piled into one of the hotel rooms to watch and joke about it. The guys had an absolute blast with us that weekend. Jill is rooting for Rhode Island, Dorothy decides to go for the Pacific Northwest, maybe Oregon. Then Jill heads out, and Dorothy does homework.
Howard the store manager stops by later, mostly to put money into the safe, but also to grumble about how little money she’s taken in. It’s the middle of winter, you idiot. No one wants to eat ice cream in the middle of cold ass winter. (That’s a lie, it’s never too cold for ice cream, but I would not leave my house in the middle of winter to go get some. I just kept my freezer stocked when I lived in a state with real winter.)
Dorothy locks up around nine, and only has a few things left to do before she can leave. Ten minutes later, Matt Wilson knocks on the door. She’s known him since third grade, and even went on a date with him once. Even though she doesn’t want to let him in, she’s worried what people will think if it gets around school that she didn’t. She points out the stupidity of this, even thinking about how Jill would ask whether she really cared what people thought. You shouldn’t care, Dorothy. She tells him she really needs to close up, but Matt comes in anyway. He asks if they make her work alone, and she points out that business isn’t thriving. She asks, again, if he wants her to make him something really quickly before she finishes closing, even while she’s starting to have a bad feeling about him.
When he looks at her, his eyes are weird, too bright or too something, Dorothy thinks, and then he tells her he wants to see what it’s like. Well that’s not creepy or anything.
Dorothy has a really bad feeling now, and tells him that her manager will show up soon and she’s going to get into trouble if he’s still there. But Matt has been watching, and he knows that Howard already left. Dorothy is understandably incredibly creeped out that he’s been watching her. She has no weapon beyond the little metal ice cream scoop, and the wall phone is not only a good fifteen feet away, it is a rotary phone, not a push button, which is slower to use.
There’s a nicely creepy scene where Matt demands that she open the drawer, she tries to talk him into leaving, he breaks the glass donation jar and leaps across the counter. He’s pretty big, six feet tall, and at least eighty pounds heavier than she is. That’s pretty threatening. Without really heading into rape territory, which I appreciate.
Matt pulls out a handgun, and says he’s always wanted to know what it was like. His plan is to take the money afterward, so it looks like a robbery. He’s going to kill her. She’s been not taking this terribly seriously, because she can’t think about him as a threat, not when he tried and failed to cheat off her in science back in eighth grade, but as soon as he says he’s going to kill her, she knows it’s time to start taking him seriously.
But she still doesn’t act scared, and Matt gets pissed, because it’s not as fun if she’s not scared.
Matt tells her that it looks fun when they do it, when you see films of it, and he really wants to know what it’s like. When she asks, trying to distract him, if he shouldn’t work his way up, start by “throwing rocks at sea gulls,” he says he’s already killed a dog, but he didn’t feel anything good or bad, and he thinks it’s because he used a car and if he’d done the killing himself, he’d feel something. That’s why he’s going to kill her. Not really sure his logic holds; using a gun is pretty much the same as using a car to kill something, they are both murder weapons that can be used at a remove, so fail, Matt. Logic fail.
Dorothy asks why here, and he says it’s because she’s not special, she’s just there, he doesn’t give her any thought, and if she wasn’t there anymore, he doesn’t think he’ll even notice, and he doesn’t think anyone else will either, not after the first couple weeks. Well, that’s pretty ouch. I think, in some way, every single person wants to be remembered. It’s a part of being human. (It’s also impossible, for most people. A generation or two, and we’re nothing, we’re gone, no memories, no evidence of our passing.) [Dove: Well, that’s depressing. Accurate, but depressing.]
When nothing else works, Dorothy tells him that he’s thought of almost everything, except what it will really be like to kill someone: it is easy, but pointless, even if it’s personal. Then she tells him that she knows because she’s done it, and she’ll tell him the story, but only if he leaves, because then they both have something to hold over each other.
Dorothy says she killed Mrs Creighton. She killed her because she was a mean teacher, and Dorothy felt particularly abused by her, so she waited, patiently, to take her revenge, then made it look like an accident on the ice. She waited in the bushes near the dangerous curve, right after dusk, and then when the teacher was coming, too fast, like everyone else, around the curve, she pushed a baby carriage out into the road, and Mrs Creighton swerved off the road, just like Dorothy planned. She then retrieved the baby carriage, without looking over the guard rail just in case Mrs Creighton was still alive and might see her face, and then got rid of the evidence.
Unfortunately, though, Dorothy felt nothing after, and she really had it in for Mrs Creighton. Since Dorothy and Matt don’t really have any feelings for each other either way, he’ll just waste his first kill on her; he needs to choose someone he hates, if he really wants to feel things, if he wants it to be worth the risk.
Matt doesn’t buy this story, but she says she can prove it, because Mrs Creighton hit the carriage, so there will be paint and metal flecks from her car on it, and she’ll tell him where to find the carriage. She offers to go with him to the marsh where she tossed it, show him, and then, and she’s built up to this really well, she promises to tell him about the others. Because there’s been more than one accident in town over the past few years, and she’s good at covering her tracks.
He finally believes her, and she pulls out the last argument, her last attempt to save herself: She’ll tell him about all of them, and then maybe they can do one together.
Dorothy has successfully talked her way free of him, though he doesn’t leave until the shop phone starts to ring; it’s her parents, calling because she’s late, and she agrees to meet up with him the next day. After she gets off the phone and out to her car, she’s scared and shaken and not sure what to do.
Then she heads for Jill’s house. Jill asks if she’s okay, and Dorothy tries to tell her what happened, but in the end, the only thing she can get out is that they have to do it again, even though they agreed that Mrs Creighton would be the last one. Jill agrees to kill one more time, after school, and wants Dorothy to tell her the whole story about what happened – but not until the next commercial break. She’s still watching Miss America.
I really like this story. I think it has some nice, creepy, tense moments, and the slow pace of it actually works well. More, though, I love how it presents the mundanity of evil, how people can be so normal, so friendly, so safe, and yet really be absolute killers. It’s like the opposite of the crazy = dangerous trope we see in so many stories.
[Dove: Me too, I’d completely forgotten this one was in here. Whenever I see the title, I think of the story called “Bone Meal” in 13 More. This is the better one. I liked the friendship, the fakeout, and the reveal. Just everything about this was refreshing after a few silly/non-engaging stories for me. And, oh hell, I’ve just seen what’s next.]
Collect Call II: The Black Walker by Christopher Pike
Oh, god, almost done with this book, but of course, the last story loops us back to that terrible one at the beginning. I’m so excited. Aren’t you excited?
yes, I’m that excited.]
Let’s get this shit over with.
Caroline Spencer finally goes on her date with Bobby Walker about a month after Janice Adams died in that car accident. The date is the first time Caroline is really going out into the world after the accident, and she’s still not fully recovered; she has headaches, and her ribs still hurt if she moves wrong. She hasn’t even gone back to school yet, but she sure as shit will go to the movies with Bobby.
Bobby picks her up in his ’59 Chevy convertible, and is the absolute picture of a stereotypical bad boy in his blue jeans, dark t-shirt, and black leather jacket. He doesn’t come to the door to get her, just honks for her, which upsets her parents. Understandably, that’s pretty shitty treatment. Caroline doesn’t care, though. When he asks what she wants to do (isn’t this a movie date? Haven’t they already planned what they’re going to do?), Caroline says she’ll do whatever he wants to do. He smiles real slow: “his lips seemed to crawl off his beautiful teeth rather than simply move into an expression of pleasure. They crawled like something slimy in the night…”
Bobby tells her that he wants to see the dead come back to life, to see the living lay down with the dead; Caroline is confused but not freaked out by this. Oh, Caroline, just because he’s a hottie doesn’t make this okay. He then says there’s a horror movie called The Listeners that he wants to see. She agrees, but asks if it’s gory, which she doesn’t like because it scares her.
(The Listeners is about a lizard monster from the past who reincarnates in a twin’s body and tears people apart. I would much, much rather be watching that movie. Also, isn’t that the plot of one of Pike’s books, more or less? Subtle.)
Caroline has to buy her own drink and popcorn, and is absolutely freaked out during the movie, unable to really look at the screen. After, she tells him that, and he makes them stay to watch the next showing. He also makes her keep her eyes open for all the bloody parts. He says she needs to watch it because of the accident.
There was one part in particular in the movie that spooked her, a part she hadn’t fully registered the first time. Before the evil lizard monster from the past genetically changed the twin, the two twin girls hypnotized each other, and led one another back into the past, through their childhood, and then back into other lives, into the ancient past, when monsters walked the earth. As Caroline watched, she felt herself slipping back in time also, not so far as another age, but back to the night of the accident. The impact of the crash had knocked her unconscious, of that there was no doubt, yet suddenly she could see how the interior of the car had looked immediately after the crash. The shattered glass. The crumpled metal. The blood – everywhere, hers as well as Janice’s.
But I was thrown from the car.
Suddenly Caroline could even remember how Janice had climbed out of the car, and then climbed back in, and dragged her into the driver’s seat. Yet she knew none of those things had happened. Janice had never left the car. Only the smoke from her burning ashes had escaped.
I actually really love this part. I’m a fan of normal things suddenly carrying more weight than they should, watching a movie and seeing yourself, quite literally, in the story. Very creepy.
They have a bit of a fight when the movie ends, but then make up. It’s weird and boring. But then Caroline asks Bobby about the messages he left on her machine: “Hi, Carol, this is Bobby. Wanted to know if you loved the tape. If it did something for you. I’ll see you soon, if you’re still alive, that is.”
Caroline hates being called Carol and babe, so two blows there, but mostly she’s curious as to whether he left the message before or after he heard about the accident. He says before, and wants to know why she asked, but she blows it off. She does agree to go with him to the next place he wants to show her, even though he’s a cruel jackass and she’s recognized that more than once. Oh, Caroline, what are you doing?
He drives her out into the middle of nowhere (refusing to put up the top of the car even though she’s very cold and asks more than once), and then gets as hovel out of the trunk, along with a portable stereo. He tells her they have to visit Janice, and makes her walk ahead of him until they reach the tombstones; they’ve taken the back entrance into the cemetery.
Bobby talks about how long Janice burned in the car before the police and firemen arrived. He then plays her the Black Walker song, and she remembers pretty much everything about the night of the accident, including slapping Janice in the face and causing Janice to drive off the road.
There’s a lot of talking that could be interesting but is really pretty boring. Basically, Bobby and the Black Walker are reflections of each other, and Bobby records the voices of the dead; as he did so, he caught the Black Walker’s voice, his song. He plays the song for her again while he digs up Janice’s grave, where he plans to also bury Caroline.
Caroline starts to hear a faint, dry whisper, telling her to use the record button. She figures out there’s probably only one copy of the song, which Bobby calls his source of power, and she manages to get the stereo even though she’s tied to a tree, rewinds the tape, and then starts to record herself singing “Silent Night”. She doesn’t know all the verses, so she keeps singing the same one over and over. He doesn’t notice what she’s doing, and comes to get her, dragging her over to the grave. He’s about to throw her in when she tells him about the new song she recorded for him, and then it starts to play.
Caroline hits him over the head multiple times with the shovel, and buries him in Janice’s grave.
That was … certainly a story. It was better than the first Black Walker story, I guess, but the pacing was really off, and there was far too much talking and explaining things, far too little letting the story unfold. It probably could have all been one story, though I don’t actually hate that it’s split apart, one for each girl.
As for the book itself, while there were a few good stories, especially in the middle, mostly it was a disappointing collection. I know any story collection will have stronger stories and weaker stories, but overall this didn’t really work for me.
[Dove: I agree with you overall. There’s a reason I don’t re-read this collection. I prefer 13 More. Although there are two good stories that I love in there. My brain is still exploding that Stine wrote my favourite of the anthology.]
Wow. I’m glad you can’t actually die from dumb because that Sinclair Smith story would be lethal. Thank you for reading that so I don’t feel compelled to do it myself. I’m glad you’re finally free of this book. :o)
P.S. I’m still not entirely comfortable with how much I liked that Stine story. I feel like my world’s been turned upside down or something.
I am just pretending that the Stine story wasn’t my favorite in the book. He’s my nemesis. His story cannot have been my favorite.
“…and I want to punch this kid in the face.” Good work.