Title: The Baby-Sitter III by R. L. Stine
Summary: The third in R L Stine’s terrifying BABY-SITTER trilogy
Jenny is desperate to forget Mr Hagen – the maniac who terrorized baby-sitters, including her.
Even when she goes to stay with her cousin Debra for the summer, she is still plagued by the same nightmares. Because Debra is a baby-sitter too, and now she’s getting terrifying phone calls, just like the ones Jenny used to get…
“Hi Babes. I’m back. Company’s coming…”
But Mr Hagen’s dead now, isn’t he…?
Tagline: He still wants her… alive or dead.
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.
Initial Thoughts: I’ve never read it before, but based on book one and book two, I am in for a miserable ride. Thank fuck you all are strapped in next to me, and we’re speeding too fast down this twisty road, at night, in the rain, for you to be able to leap free.
… That metaphor might have gotten away from me, but you won’t.
(Oh dear god, this feud is breaking my brain. Damn you, Stine. Damn you!)
[Dove: My initial thoughts? Wing is going to explode and you guys will see the resulting mushroom cloud, no matter where you are in the universe.
Also: Who the buggery puts a bassinet right behind the front door?]
[Wing: Surely that’s supposed to be the door into the baby’s room?]
We open with a Mr Larson making fat jokes to Jenny Jeffers, our so-called hero, about the two most important rules at The Doughnut Hole: don’t touch and don’t eat, otherwise employees will get too fat to fit behind the counter. So this is off to a great start.
Even though it sounds more like Jenny is about to start this job, it seems she’s only interviewing for it, because Mr Larson asks if she wants it or not. Jenny is unimpressed with both Mr Larson (described as pale and doughy, just like his doughnuts – which sound like terrible doughnuts, based on that description) and the The Doughnut Hole, which is decorated in neon yellow and red, and sounds like it would give me a migraine in about thirty seconds. Jenny also thinks it will be boring to work in the shop all summer, which I suppose if you compare it to your last few jobs – JENNY, WHAT THE HELL, YOU SHOULD BE ALL ABOUT BORING WORK.
(The pay is four dollars an hour, which just shows you how long ago this book was published, because minimum wage is so much higher than that now, surely, in 2016, workers wouldn’t be on poverty wages in the USA – oh, wait. It’s not much higher than that in most places, and servers can get paid even less than that because they are expected to make it up with tips. The USA has such a shitty system for so many, many things. Political rant over.)
Jenny takes the job, and tells Mr Larson she can start on Monday because school is out. Mr Larson tells her to arrive at 6:30 a.m. sharp because they do a big breakfast business. My parents used to own a donut shop, and let me tell you, a 6:30 a.m. start is late.
Jenny again compares Mr Larson to a donut (his hand is warm and squishy, like a jelly donut), and then sees him stuff an entire chocolate cruller into his mouth, which makes her laugh because that’s why he’s becoming like a donut himself. So more fat jokes (because all fatties eat all the time, AMIRITE) and also, fucking hypocrite. [Dove: Also, fat people are evil. Hot people can be evil, but they’re kind of ugly with their hotness — they usually have cold eyes. Only good people are beautiful. Because FAT = UGLY.]
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 1 (Because it’s ok, when you do it.)
In a bit of inner reflection from Jenny, we learn it has been nearly two years since she learned to hate baby-sitting. I think this means two years from book one, not book two, but it’s not entirely clear, considering she’s been nearly killed twice in the recent past. Jenny’s psychiatrist, Dr Schindler, says she’s doing really well, but she’s not so sure. She keeps obsessing about Mr Hagen, who tried to kill her and killed other baby-sitters, as well as Donny, his son. Nothing about Mrs Hagen, though. She stills dreams about Mr Hagen, and she wants to know why she can’t let it go and forget about it. This actually comes across as pretty realistic; after going through a trauma, a lot of people just want to forget about it and can’t, and are then frustrated with themselves for not moving past it, even though there is no timeline on healing.
On the plus side, book one was filled with ~crazy = dangerous, and the recap of book one in book two was filled with that as well, but so far, none of that has appeared in book three. I don’t expect this to last.
Her thoughts are interrupted by Claire and Rick, her two best friends. So, we have continuity from book two (though I don’t think they had yet been elevated to best friend status), but there’s still no word on what the hell happened to Laura from book one.
Anyway, apparently they have been calling out to her for awhile, but she was so lost in thought she didn’t notice. They’re not up to much, just hanging out; they arrived too late for a movie, so they’ve just been wandering around.
Rick: big, good-looking teddy bear of a guy, laughing dark eyes, curly black hair he never brushes, wears faded jeans ripped at the knees and a red and black t-shirt with METAL MANIACS across the chest. This is so adorably 90s I just want to hug him. He likes to joke around a lot, which I don’t remember from book two. Tell me you’re not trying to slot him into the horrible Chuck role. [Dove: Why not? Have him be the love interest in this book, and the red herring in book 4. Let’s keep to the pattern, people.]
Claire: tall and thin, a couple inches taller than Rick even, straight brown hair back in a ponytail and serious brown eyes, not really pretty “but would be some day” (isn’t that a backhanded compliment), wears an enormous yellow t-shirt over black leggings. Oh dear god, that outfit is still in fashion today. Claire is always series and caring and rarely makes jokes.
Claire and Rick are now officially dating, so you know.
Jenny tells them about her interview at The Doughnut Hole, and we learn she really needs the job because her mother was laid off and they need the money. Jesus, Stine, can Jenny and her mother not catch a break? Every single book, they are stressed hardcore about money. I hate that a teenager has to worry about helping to support her family, even though I know it happens all the time. Jenny still isn’t happy about the new job, but does admit she’s glad she’ll be free at night to see Cal.
Oh, god, the hottie who smells like cinnamon is back.
Apparently, he’s been trying to get a job, but hasn’t had much luck. I feel your pain, Cal, even though I don’t particularly like you and don’t really want to sympathise with you. Rick takes off to get a snack and Jenny and Claire start window shopping. Jenny mourns her new job some more (which I get, but still, suck it up already, Jenny), when she sees him.
A man in a yellow windbreaker, with a red face and close-cropped brown hair and those terrible steel-gray eyes. Mr Hagen. Dead Mr Hagen is walking toward her carrying a baby. As she stares at him, horrified, he meets her eyes, his expression “blank as death” and in a “quick, simple motion, he grabbed the baby’s head with one hand, twisted it, and pulled it off.”
I don’t actually hate that as a cliff hanger, so no points. Maybe I’m feeling generous. That won’t last long, I’m sure.
Jenny doesn’t realize she’s screaming until Claire grabs her, asking what’s wrong. As Jenny stares at the man, she sees that he has the baby’s head in one hand, the torso cradled under his other arm, and – oh. Surprise! It’s not Mr Hagen after all. And of course the baby is a doll. The man is returning it to the toy store because it’s head keeps coming off.
Jenny tries to explain herself to Claire and Rick, but it is quite awkward. They don’t make it awkward, they are actually being good friends, gentle and tender, and they offer to take her home. Jenny actually lets them drive her car home and help her, all the way wondering when she’ll stop seeing Mr Hagen, stop thinking about him, stop obsessing. Oh, Jenny, I am super sympathetic toward you right now. What in the world is happening to me?
Unsurprisingly, Jenny has a hard time sleeping after and has another nightmare. She thinks she looks terrible, exhausted, rough, and blotchy, and she is completely glum about everything, including her inability to forget about Mr Hagen.
Her mother comes bustling into the middle of this gloom and doom with good news: Jenny is now going to spend her summer with her cousin Debra, and she’s already talked about it with Dr Schindler, who thinks it is a good idea. (Wait, isn’t Jenny 18? Not sure her mother should have access to her doctor’s opinion of her treatment, but okay, whatever, clearly overthinking the privacy law applications of this.)
Jenny is not pleased that her mother is deciding her life behind her back, and I agree with her. (Yes, I know, first Stine had the best short story in that collection, and now I am agreeing with JENNY. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME? [Dove: I feel your pain, remember The Mall? Loved a Cusick protagonist. WTF?]) Her mother says they all just want what’s best for Jenny, and points out that she’s not sleeping, she’s having nightmares, and she’s hallucinating Mr Hagen.
(Apparently, we are now two days after the time at the mall, which doesn’t seem right, but whatever.)
They argue awhile, but finally the tension breaks, and they hug it out. Jenny admits that while she likes Debra, she thinks Debra is just a little too perfect: perfect figure, face, and hair, and she’s very competitive. Which, her mom points out, is exactly like Jenny.
Though I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Jenny be competitive, have we? [Dove: At least two times. On both occasions, some person tried to kill her, and she totally had to win against them. Way competitive.] [Wing: … yeah, okay.]
Jenny doesn’t remember Cal until now, which is pretty far into the discussion. Her mom says that Cal has been worried about her, too (so, what, were you talking to her boyfriend about her?!), and maybe he can come visit upstate, too.
Jenny finally, reluctantly, agrees to go, but she’s worried about how Cal will react. She never knows what to expect from him, and though they’ve been dating (“going together”) for several months, he’s still a mystery to her, quiet, and he has a dark, angry side that he tries to hide.
I’m definitely getting a violent bad boy vibe here.
I beat you because I love you: 1 (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)
[Dove: I suppose an argument could be made that most PH protagonists — especially the ones in sequels — are under a lot of stress and make bad decisions because they don’t have the luxury of calming down and thinking clearly about romance because they’re too busy not being killed and such like, but honestly, could someone please just date someone who doesn’t have a dark and/or intense side that sometimes frightens our lead? Just once.]
[Wing: Well, I mean, they could just not date until they’re no longer trying to avoid being killed, but whatever.]
Jenny leaves to go tell Cal in person, and it is apparently nighttime. But the writing just made it seem like it was morning, and she was obsessing over how bad she felt while getting ready for the day? I am so confused. That’s more like it, Stine. Be confusing.
In the car, she thinks she sees a man hiding in the shadows of the garage, and realises that it’s probably a good idea for her to get out of town awhile.
Cal’s block is strangely dark, the streetlights all out, and “the houses were black shadows against the red-gray sky.” Nice. She parks across the street (… why?), sees a light on in Cal’s room upstairs, and starts to cross the street, but hears footsteps behind her, footsteps that speed up when she does, footsteps of someone chasing her.
Oh, Stine, back to form I see. You literally just did a little fake scare with the shadows of the garage.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss Dove and Wing the hell off.)
Jenny takes off running, and a breathless voice calls out for her to stop. She’s being chased by a small terrier dog and an overweight, middle-aged man who is trying to give her back her bag, which she dropped when she got out of the car. Oh, Stine, this is all so stupid. Especially because Jenny thinks she’s turning into “a total nut case” the way she’s reacting to the world. You were doing so well, Stine. Though, since she’s hearing things and seeing things, and not blaming violence on mental illness, I’m going to let this one slide.
Cal answers the door, and says his parents have gone to bed early, so they’re not around. We haven’t yet actually seen his parents, have we? And in a paragraph or two, he says that they don’t care what he does. So: Cal’s parents, already dead somewhere, yes/yes?
When Cal suggests that he come upstate with her and look for a job there, Jenny says she really needs a total change, and they can catch up when she comes back in September. She thinks she’s really hurt Cal by saying this, and for once, I wouldn’t blame him. That sounds like a pretty shitty blowoff, though I don’t disagree that she needs a break and a change.
Finally, she pushes for Cal to respond, and he snaps, bitter and angry. Jenny thinks he’s acting tough and hard so she won’t see how hurt he is, but then she thinks, again, that she doesn’t know Cal very well, she doesn’t know him at all, so maybe he’s not acting, maybe he just is tough and hard. Oh, Jenny. You make bad dating choices.
Then the chapter cuts to cousin Debra, who is on the phone, whispering. She’s making a prank call (a secret admirer call) to Terry, and she thinks about how cute he is, tells him, in a sexy whisper, that she’s been watching him from afar. Because stalking is sexy, right?
I beat you because I love you: 2 (+1)
There’s some back and forth, Debra is creepy as shit, Terry does tell her she has a sexy voice and agrees that he’d like to take her out sometime, because Terry is an idiot, and then after Debra hangs up on him, she sees a shadowy figure looming in the doorway and she angrily demands to know “What are you doing here?”
Oh, Stine, we were doing so well.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
The shadowy figure turns out to be Don, who is big, powerfully built, and who works out all the time because he’s on the wrestling team. That’s what attracted Debra to him last fall; she’d never dated a real jock before. Don stalks toward her, his expression menacing, and Debra feels real fear, but hides it, and accuses him of spying on her. Which, while a valid point, is also hypocritical as hell.
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 2 (+1)
I beat you because I love you: 3 (+1)
When he picks up a stuffed animal off her dresser, Debra keeps thinking about how his hands are so big he could crush the small stuffed animal. Which is supposed to be menacing, but it’s just a small stuffed dog, how is that actually threatening here?
Debra demands that he leave, they have nothing to talk about because they broke up. She doesn’t want to go out with him anymore, she doesn’t want to talk to him, and she doesn’t want him creeping around her house, haunting her all the time. That is an interesting choice of words.
Don calls her cold, and then threatens to tell Terry who his secret admirer is, and to tell Mark, apparently her new boyfriend, that she likes to call Terry at night and whisper to him. Debra starts screaming at him, furious that he would keep coming around, listening to her private conversations, and threatening her. Which, I agree, is super shitty, but Debra is also not coming off very well here.
She throws the stuffed dog at Don (though a few lines before, Don still has it in his hands, so great continuity there) –
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 (Because why stick to what was said last chapter? Or even last sentence. Make it up as you. If your lead character says it, it MAKES IT SO!)
— and Don crosses to her, picks her up, and kisses her desperately. She screams for him to let her go, because he’s hurting her, but he won’t.
I beat you because I love you: 13 (+10)
Next chapter, Debra is rescued by Jenny, who was unpacking, heard voices, and came to see what was going on. Well, that was convenient, but not necessarily convenient enough to be worth a point. Jenny and Don introduce themselves, and Don is now acting all awkward and embarrassed, as he should. After he leaves, Jenny asks if she’s okay, and Debra says he’s a big animal, but ultimately harmless. Apparently, the last boyfriend Jenny knew she had was David, but he was at least three boyfriends ago. Jenny is impressed by this, but she’s had at least two boyfriends in the past two books, so.
Debra tells her that she’ll like Mark, and he’s a great guy. As they’re starting to talk about him, Debra’s mother, Julia, shows up and starts asking Jenny if she’s okay, if she needs any help unpacking, etc. Apparently, she always talks a mile a minute, and never asks one question when she can ask three. That’s a pretty good description, Stine.
It’s been more than a year since Jenny saw Julia and Debra, but of all those questions, none of them have yet asked how she’s doing after the whole nearly killed thing, which happened two years ago. (Throwaway detail, it looks like Debra’s dad is Carl, but no idea if he will actually show up in this book.)
Julia keeps going on and on about how the girls will be best friends, just like sisters, over the summer, and eventually she does point out that she knows how jumpy and stressed Jenny has been (when she jumps, startled by the breeze fluttering the curtains in front of an open window).
So after all of this buildup about Jenny needing a change and being so stressed, etc., it makes absolutely no sense for anyone to think it is a good idea for Debra to invite Jenny on her baby-sitting job. No sense at all.
[Dove: OBEY THE PLOT.]
Jenny and Debra walk to the baby-sitting job at Mrs Wagner’s house, and along the way, they talk about Julia and how Debra mostly gets along with her, but has been lying to her mother about how many days a week she baby-sits. She tells her three nights, but she actually only works two, and then on the third night, she goes out with Mark. Apparently Julia doesn’t approve of Mark, because she thinks he has a flawed character. (He got in trouble at school last year, some sort of cheating thing. Debra blows this off.)
The Wagner house is a long, ramshackle house, red brick with tall, shuttered windows, a lawn that looks like it hasn’t been mowed in weeks, and a hedge growing wild over the sidewalk. How come no one ever baby-sits in a normal suburban home in this series? Debra says that Mrs Wagner and her husband recently divorced, and she hasn’t had much time to take care of the yard.
Mrs Wagner is stressed because Debra is late, and she’s trying to find her assignment for class. She was a thin, nervous woman, birdlike, with a short mop of curly black hair. She warns them not to get married too early, which she did, and it meant she didn’t get to finish college, and now she has to do it two days a week. While a good point, that seems a little weird to say to someone you’ve just met (Jenny, at least, she knows Debra).
Debra and Jenny go upstairs to check on Peter, who is a baby, and he’s already asleep. Debra says he’s a good sleeper, and hardly ever wakes up while she’s there, which does make for an easy job, as Jenny points out.
Throughout this chapter, Jenny is, understandably, incredibly nervous. She keeps telling herself that she’s not the baby-sitter, so nothing can go wrong, but that’s not really true, is it? You weren’t being targeted last book because you were the baby-sitter so much as you were baby-sitting while also being targeted, so your logic is flawed.
The house is cluttered with objects on all the surfaces – tabletops, bookshelves, window ledges – small vases, porcelain figures, tiny picture frames, china eggs, painted thimbles, and on and on and on. Mrs Wagner is apparently a collector. While they’re talking about this, Debra leaps up, startling Jenny, and says she almost forgot the signal. If she leaves the porch light on, Mark knows it is safe to come inside. That’s not a great signal, actually. The porch light should be on anyway, so if someone knocks, she can see who it is without turning on the light and giving away that she’s by the door.
Jenny finally says something to Debra about being so jumpy and nervous because they’re baby-sitting, and Debra actually apologises, but says that she forgot about it. Your cousin comes to stay with you because she’s too stressed to stay at home, and she was nearly killed two years ago, and you just forgot? So weird.
Debra asks about it, and Jenny gives her a recap, including telling her about the whole “Are you all alone, Babes? Company’s coming” phone call thing. I can’t see that information being used against Jenny or anything. This is a pretty long recap, even though it makes sense for them to talk about it. Just maybe not in detail on the page.
This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 (Recap! Recap! Recap! Something happened last chapter. Tell us about it! Tell it again. Then tell it one more time. Because otherwise we’ll forget. (Named because if you watch WWE, you only need to watch 20 minutes a week, the recaps will take care of the rest.))
Debra does give her some good advice, and says that she can’t feel guilty, she has to keep remembering that he was a killer, and she just did what she had to do to save her own life.
In the middle of this conversation, they start hearing things, scraping sounds, a creaking floorboard, footsteps, a cough, and they both freak out that someone is in the house. Well, yes, someone is. You know, the guy you just turned the porch light on for so he would know to come inside? Right?
Except no, Debra swears he would never come in through the back. They have to go into the kitchen to use the phone, because Mrs Wagner had to cut back after her husband left. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have to pay for multiple phones on the same line, just if she had multiple lines to the house, so that doesn’t make much sense. [Dove: Maybe Mr Wagner got the other phones in the divorce settlement. “Nah, I don’t want the kid, but I would like the cordless phone.”]
In the kitchen, a large, brightly dressed woman is standing at the sink, and telling them that she’s back. She appears to be somewhere between fifty and sixty, and is short and very fat. Her face is covered in heavy makeup, and she wears sparkly rings on all her fingers. She keeps saying that she’s come back, and she hasn’t been drinking.
Turns out, she used to be the housekeeper, but she was fired, even though she never drank during the day, and she never drank when she took care of Peter, but things disappeared, including the husband, and so poor Maggie had to disappear too. She goes on and on about how things disappeared, but she didn’t disappear them, and then she warns the girls to stay away from the house because it isn’t safe, things disappear. Both girls are a little shaken by her, because she was so drunk (and, Debra says, crazy. Fuck you, Debra).
[Dove: Make that a double fuck you. Drunk people act like that. Have you ever been around super-drunk people? They are stupid. They repeat themselves. They babble. They don’t make sense. And they are scary. This is not “crazy”, this is drunk. Drunk is horrible. One night, two drunk sixteen year olds followed my neighbour home. They threatened her. They chased her. They scared her. And then they kicked down my front door to get to her (having been so blind drunk, they kicked in my door instead of hers because they couldn’t concentrate enough to remember which door the single woman they were trying to scare went through). It took them two days to fully sober to the point where the police could question them. They claimed to have no recollection of choosing to do anything aggressive, they were simply celebrating their GCSE results and were frankly shocked to wake up in a police cell. If you believe their motivation entirely how terrifying is alcohol? Let’s put the blame for “scary” behaviour where it belongs in this scene: the drink.]
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
Debra and Jenny talk themselves calm again, only to be scared again by a heavy pounding on the front door. Jesus Christ, Stine, not every single chapter needs to end with a cliffhanger or a jump scare.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)
This time it is Mark. He’s annoyed because he’s been standing outside for ten minutes, but then he acts all surprised to see Jenny. Jenny thinks he’s good looking, with wavy red-brown hair and sideburns, a slender face, and a dark suntan that makes his green eyes sparkle like emeralds. There’s some flirting, Debra to Mark, Mark to Debra, and Mark to Jenny, of course, which is gross and frustrating, but completely expected from Stine. Mark is a lifeguard, which he enjoys, but says it’s often boring, just sitting around. [Dove: A natural redhead that tans well?]
Jenny says she wishes she had a job, and briefly talks about having one lined up before she ended up coming to visit Debra. Mark says that his dad should be able to get her work; his dad’s best friend owns a riding stable, and he’s always looking for helpers for the summer. Wranglers to help put the little kids on their horses, show them how to use the stirrups, etc.
Their friendly talk is interrupted when headlights spill in through the window, and they are terrified Mrs Wagner came home early; they start scrambling to get Mark out of there before she sees him, and Jenny asks, quite rightfully, whether his car will be totally obvious if she has come home. Ends up not being her, though, just a car turning around in the driveway, and Jenny teases them a little about their panic.
Debra and Mark start making out, and Jenny feels like a third wheel. Well, they’re making her a third wheel, which sucks. She wanders off, and the chapter switches to focus on Debra for a few lines, because convenient, and just as Debra is about to start kissing Mark again, Jenny screams and calls for help because the baby isn’t breathing.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)
Debra races upstairs, and finds Jenny bent over the crib. The baby is still and silent, but when Debra picks him up, he opens his eyes.
Oh good grief. Debra cuddles him a moment, then puts him back to bed, and he immediately starts sleeping again. This is the most sleep-perfect baby in the entire world. What is Mrs Wagner feeding him? Chloroform?
Debra starts to turn on Jenny, but sees that Jenny is really freaked out, shaking and terrified, and instead she apologizes for making Jenny come with her. Jenny apologizes too, and it’s all very nice, actually. They could be friends, except I don’t see things going that way at all.
Just as they get downstairs, more headlights appear, and this time it is Mrs Wagner, so Mark flees out through the kitchen (even though Debra said earlier that he would not use the back door, so … weird), and Mrs Wagner comes in a moment later, asking how things went. Debra tells her there were no problems, so apparently they just decided not to tell her about her creepy ex-housekeeper still having a key and breaking in. Smart plan, girls. Really. I see no way this will backfire.
The chapter picks up next with Jenny working at the riding stable, because god forbid we have a chapter break without a cliff hanger.
Anyway, Jenny is helping a little kid, Brad, get settled on a mare, and she’s pretty good at it. Apparently, she’s already been working there for three days, because that’s certainly not an appropriate time for a chapter break or anything, Stine.
[Dove: Also, Jenny’s advice to Brad on how to ride?
“Just remember, Brad,” Jenny instructed, leading the horse over to the others in Brad’s day camp group, “pull back hard on the reins, and your horse will stop. But as soon as she stops, stop tugging. Or else the horse will think you want to back up. Got it?” [emphasis: Dove’s]
No. Just no. When I did your job (and I did, for years), we were told to remind the kids that these horses have a chunk of metal in their mouth, and it’s for guidance. Not for yanking on like you’re trying to win a tug of war.]
Anyway, the mare’s name is Pockets, which is adorable. I love horses. Anyway, Jenny gets the twelve day camp kids and their counselor onto their horses, and then heads off to do some work in the stables. Here we meet Gary Killeen, who is a real wrangler from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He wears a black Stetson hat and a red bandanna; Jenny likes the way he looks, though admits he isn’t exactly handsome: he has thick, golden eyebrows that looked like big caterpillars (… ewwww), steely gray eyes that are narrow and close together, and a great smile, with two front teeth jutted at odd angles. He’s been really friendly with Jenny from day one, and I think we’ve found Jenny’s book three flirtation.
Gary is a complete cowboy stereotype, unsurprisingly (this is Stine after all), calling Jenny a good-looking filly. Oy, Gary. Oy. They start getting horses ready for the afternoon group of campers, and eventually Jenny ends up alone in the barn, relaxing in the peace and quiet. Eventually, she finds herself thinking about Cal, and how he promised to write but she hasn’t heard from him even though she’s been up there more than a week. She thinks maybe she could call him that night.
That makes her think about Debra, and her telephone pranks. She called Terry again, while Jenny listened in on an extension; this time, Terry tried to convince his secret admirer to go out with him. Jenny thinks it’s a cruel joke, but did spend the rest of the night giggling about it with Debra. Debra admitted that she has a real crush on Terry, and says that Mark had better never find out, because he has a terrible jealous streak.
Jenny admits to herself that she’s envious of Debra, because everything comes so easily to her and she’s such a secure person. While she’s thinking about Debra, a solitary rider comes into view, approaching slowly from the path through the woods, his horse plodding, head down. Jenny didn’t help him get ready, so she assumes Gary helped. It’s rare for the stable to have solitary riders, especially in the morning. She recognizes the horse as James, and thinks that all the horses at the stable have weird names. James is a pretty weird name for a horse.
[Dove: at this point, it is revealed that Stine knows nothing of horses, because the rider has “his feet pushing the stirrups out over the flanks of the black horse“. The flanks are the butt. How on earth would that even work? Does he mean the shoulders?
[Wing: I was picturing it as the rider was lying forward pushing his feet back, but actually, that doesn’t really match the rest of the description or make any sense for what is happening, so.]
On the note of horse names, we had a horse named Dobbin at our stable, and when someone took him to a Pony Club event, the horse was announced as “Lord Spot” because the Pony Club snobs decided “Dobbin” was too common a name.]
The man riding the horse is a big man, very broad, wearing a red flannel shirt and gray slacks; his face is very red, too, and he stares at Jenny with cold, steely-gray eyes. Oh dear, I can see where this is going.
Once again, Jenny thinks she’s looking at Mr Hagen. Once again, she starts to scream. Once again, we have a cliff hanger for a chapter break. I wouldn’t mind this one so much, except that Stine keeps doing it over and over again.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5 (+1)
We skip to the next night, and back to Debra’s point of view. She’s talking to Mark while she paces back and forth across her room. She says that she thinks Jenny is okay today, but she hasn’t been home from the stable yet. Mark asks what happened to her yesterday, and we get a recap of her freaking out and then a brief recap of the whole story with the Hagens.
This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 11 (+10)
Jenny comes home and interrupts their gossip; Debra asks Mark if he’ll come by the usual time, because she’s baby-sitting, but he says, after a pause, that he has to go somewhere with his dad. Right, I’m sure I believe that.
Debra asks Jenny how her day went, and Jenny says it was fine, kind of boring, because no one wants to ride horses in the rain. She spent the day feeding horses, cleaning up the stables, and talking to Gary. They chat a little, and then Debra says she wants to call Terry before she leaves for her job, and admits that she gets turned on by her prank calls. Jenny teases her, says that means she’s really sick. Debra tells Jenny she should make the call, because it will be funny and really shake Terry up. Jenny gives in and makes the call, but Terry says he knows it’s Debra because Don told him, and he hangs up. When Jenny relays this information to Debra, she’s angry, and calls Don a disgusting creep.
Pretty sure Don is not the creep in this situation, Debra.
Debra leaves for her job, and Mrs Wagner is all nervous because of a test, talking too much. There’s nothing of real interest here, but Mrs Wagner does say that Peter has been fussy because he’s teething and if he cries and she can’t calm him down, she can rub rum on his gums. Yes, let’s get the baby drunk, that sounds like an amazing idea.
[Dove:Why is Stine using remedies from the 1800s on this kid? I’m pretty sure that freezers and teething rings were invented by the early 1990s.]
Debra is left alone in the house, and is really uncomfortable. The room feels smaller and more cluttered than usual, the air is stuffy, and the house is quiet, claustrophobic. It will be the first night she’s spent alone in the house, without Mark coming to visit, and she is a little freaked out by it. When she gets back downstairs, she finds the kitchen door wide open, which is weird because Mrs Wagner always kept it closed. HELLO! Remember the ex-housekeeper with the key? The one you failed to mention to Mrs Wagner? Good grief, people, keep up.
She worries that someone came in through the kitchen door, but there is no one in the kitchen or that she can see in the backyard. Debra convinces herself that she’s really just upset about Don ruining her secret admirer game with Terry. She tries to call Mark to cheer herself up, but there’s no answer at his house. She really wants to talk to someone, though, and wavers between calling Terry or Jenny. Before she can, the phone rings, and it’s a low, whispered voice who calls himself Mr Hagen and uses that typical “company’s coming” phrase.
Next chapter, Mark and Jenny are parked in his car under an old abandoned railroad trestle near the woods the next night after her baby-sitting job. She’s told him about the call, but hasn’t told Jenny, because she doesn’t want her to freak out.
Mark wants to know who would play such a dumb joke, and Debra points out that Jenny probably wouldn’t call it a joke, she’d say it was actually Mr Hagen, back from the grave. Mark asks why Mr Hagen would call Debra and not Jenny, and Debra scornfully says that it’s not Mr Hagen, duh, it’s someone playing a mean joke on Debra.
Mark asks if maybe it was someone who thought they were talking to Jenny and not to Debra, but Debra shoots that down, too, because there’s no reason for Jenny to be baby-sitting at Mrs Wagner’s, so it must have been meant for Debra.
Mark tries to logic things out: if Debra is right, then it has to be someone who both knows Debra and knows what happened to Jenny back in Harrison. Debra points out that Mark knows the story and he could have made the scary call; he’s uncertain as to whether she’s joking about that or not, but she says she is. She then asks if he told anyone else the story. He blushes and says that yes, he did tell a couple guys when they were hanging out, and he thought it was a weird story, so he told them: Jon Hart, Davey Marcus, and Terry.
Well, that’s convenient.
Debra decides it must have been Terry, but she can’t let on to Mark that she thinks that, because then he’d want to know why, and he can’t know about the phone calls she made to Terry because he’ll just get jealous. See, Debra, this whole thing is a mess. A terrible, terrible mess.
Later, Debra goes to confront Terry at work. (He works at an ice cream shop.) Terry is short and thin and has curly blond hair that sticks out on all sides of his uniform cap.
Terry tells her that he can’t give her any vanilla, because he just filled the machine and it needs time to freeze. So, basically he’s offering her free ice cream, and she’s come to shout at him. He also tells her it’s weird to see her in person when normally he just hears her whispering on the phone. Debra is embarrassed by this, as she should be, but tells him it was just a joke. He says he knew it was her the whole time, and he’s always known she was hot for his bod. Debra tells him to shut up, and that she’s not there to talk about her phone calls, she’s there to talk about his. He’s confused by this, and she flat out asks if he called her two nights ago at Mrs Wagner’s house.
He’s embarrassed, but admits that he did call her.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 25 (+20)
Of course that’s a “cliff hanger” chapter break, and of course we learn in the very first sentences of the next chapter that he tried to call but he was too late, she had already left, and Mrs Wagner answered instead. Debra tells him she got a very scary call that night, and she thought it was him. Terry finds this funny, and after a bit of banter, admits that he enjoyed her calls. Debra starts thinking about whether she and Terry will ever be a couple, and then, for some reason, decides to set him up with Jenny.
Debra, you make strange decisions.
Of course, Terry is immediately interested in this idea, because everyone here is an idiot. Debra doesn’t want Mark to find out about the calls, so she’s going to put him and Terry in the same place. She’s interested in dating Terry herself, so she’s going to set him up with Jenny. Terry likes Debra, but is fine with dating her cousin instead.
You are all idiots.
Friday night, they go see a silly Chevy Chase movie at the mall. Terry giggles like a hyena the entire time, which makes Jenny give Debra lots of incredulous looks, but after the movie, Jenny and Terry walk together, arm in arm, giggling, and Debra is jealous. Mark has a cold and is in a sullen mood; Terry, in contrast, is absolutely jolly, and super excited to be with Jenny.
[Dove: Is Chevy Chase the only guy PH writers are allowed to mention? If they ever mention an actor, it’s him.]
Debra tells herself to stop thinking about Terry, to stop being envious of Jenny. Do you two do anything but be envious of each other? I am glad that at least so far, they’re kind to each other, despite their envy, and don’t attack each other. I don’t believe that will last, though.
After the movie, they go a small coffee shop, called Page’s, that has bookshelves crammed with books on every wall. It sounds absolutely delightful.
They chat for awhile, all friendly; Jenny tells the story about interviewing at the donut shop and apparently has them in stitches, they laugh and joke, and then, of course, Terry starts teasing Debra about the whispered phone calls, because, again, everyone involved in this is an idiot.
Debra quickly covers it by saying that she only called him because of she was trying to set him up with Jenny. Terry backs this up, though not very convincingly, but Mark seems to accept it. Debra finally admits she should not have made the calls, it was a bad idea, but she likes Terry a lot more than she thought she did.
Eventually, the boys drop Jenny and Debra off at Debra’s house. Jenny says she really likes Terry (don’t you have a boyfriend, Jenny? What happened to Cal, huh?), and thanks Debra for everything. Before Debra can reply, she sees something in the bushes; at first they think it’s a baby, and Jenny, understandably, freaks the fuck out, but then Debra gets close enough, and finds out it is just a doll. This is a relief, for a moment, but then they realise there is a note with it that says: Hi, Babes. I’m back. See you real soon. Mr Hagan.
So that’s creepy.
They make hot chocolate and take it up to Debra’s room, and now Debra keeps examining the doll, and Jenny is, yet again, having a freak out. Debra tries to talk her down, but Jenny bites at her lip until it’s bleeding and is absolutely certain that Mr Hagen is back. Finally, Debra gets through to her that it’s just a cruel joke, and Jenny wants to know who would do that to her.
Debra says she’s not sure it was for Jenny, she thinks it might be aimed at her. She finally tells Jenny about the phone call, and Jenny takes this as proof that Mr Hagen is back, even though Debra points out that it has to be a terrible joke because people don’t come back from the dead. “Don’t they?” Jenny asks, more a challenge than a question. “Don’t they, Debra?”
Okay, Jenny, getting kind of creepy up in here.
[Dove: On the note of creepy, if you take out “Mr Hagen” and replace with any boy’s name, this scene becomes Jenny acting jealous that the hot guy has asked out her cousin instead of her. She seems less concerned with the who and how, and more upset/offended that it might not be about her. Creepy.]
Debra also admits that she told Mark the whole story about what happened to Jenny back in Harrison. Jenny says that’s fine, even when Debra tells her that Mark told other people, too, including Terry. Jenny is still convinced that it is Mr Hagen, back from the dead, she just doesn’t understand why he called Debra.
Debra keeps trying to figure out who did it, and then has an idea. She asks Jenny if anyone followed her up to Debra’s, if she told anyone the address, and Jenny says she told Cal, her boyfriend back home, but doesn’t believe that Cal would do anything like that. You mean, Cal, whom you say have don’t actually know, and who you pissed off by leaving for the summer, and who was supposed to write you but hasn’t, and who you apparently forgot about long enough to go on a date with Terry?
Debra makes Jenny call Cal, but she gets his mother instead, who says that he ran away last week after they had one of their fights (this one about the car). So Cal is missing, and weird things are happening, and Jenny believes people can come back from the dead.
I need some alcohol to get through the rest of this.
We cut to Jenny, at work at the stable. She feels heavy and drained and tired, She gets a horse ready, and then takes it to the waiting person, who she thinks is Cal. He drags her up onto the horse and takes off for a ride, but then he turns into a skeleton, and Mr Hagen’s voice says he’s going to take her to the grave with him.
Cut to the next Monday night, and Debra is waiting for Mark to show up at Mrs Wagner’s house. She keeps hearing things and jumping at them, and says that she’s getting as nervous as Jenny. She also thinks sympathetically about the nightmares Jenny’s been having ever since that Friday night, dreams where Cal and Mr Hagen are all mixed together, which would be terrible. Debra decides she needs to check in on Jenny. She hears more noises that sound like they are someone walking around upstairs, and goes up to check on the baby. Peter is sleeping poorly, all fussy though he is asleep, and she’s worried that he is having nightmares, too.
When it’s nearly nine p.m., Debra calls Mark, looking for him, and he’s furious at her, because he knows about her little whispered phone calls to Terry. They fight a little, and then he hangs up on her. Debra is pissed that he’s a jealous idiot, but once again, Debra, you were the one making the stupid phone calls and then taking Terry and Mark on a double date together.
Debra is trying to decide if she wants to get Mark back, and how much groveling she’ll have to do, and abstractly thinking about who told him about Terry, when she gets a call from “Mr Hagen” again, telling her he’s come a long way to get her, and threatening her a lot. She freaks out, and then high-pitched animal howling begins after she hangs up. She freaks out some more, and realizes it is inside the house.
Oh, wait. It’s the baby crying. Now, babies do sound like distressed animals when they scream, and I like that she’s so freaked out she’s imagining terrible things when she hears normal things, but still, this scene. I want to say it is overly dramatic, but I don’t think it actually is, it’s just that Stine has been so overly dramatic for so long that he’s wasted any impact we might have gotten from this scene.
Anyway, Debra logics that she’s never heard Peter cry before, no wonder she didn’t recognize it. She runs upstairs, and he stops crying as soon as she picks him up. She cuddles him and talks to him for a bit, then puts him back to bed. As she heads downstairs, she realises that he called her by name, so whoever it is clearly isn’t coming for Jenny, but is coming for Debra.
Then she hears “the scrape of heavy footsteps in the back hall.”
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 55 (+30)
Debra calls out, asking if it is Mark, but immediately disregards that, because he wouldn’t have come in through the back door, without knocking or ringing the bell. She keeps wondering if it is Mr Hagen, and calling out different people’s names, because that always helps.
Unsurprisingly, Maggie is back in the kitchen, this time wearing a bright fuchsia housedress over black leggings. She’s drunk again, and rummaging through the pantry. She asks Debra who she is, and when Debra says she’s the baby-sitter, Maggie says that she’s the baby-sitter, and she’s angry at Debra. She says again that she has a key and she’s the baby-sitter. Debra gets her out the door, but Maggie says she’ll come back again to get what’s hers.
Thank god, this time, Debra tells Mrs Wagner about the visit. Mrs Wagner confirms that she had to fire Maggie because she was a thief and a drunk, and she couldn’t trust her with the baby. Now if that’s true, why the hell didn’t she change the locks earlier, or at the very least, ask for her key back?
That night, Debra is lying in bed, thinking about Mark. She’s mad because he wasn’t there when she needed him, he let her down, but then she realises that she let him down too, and maybe she needs to apologise for the calls to Terry.
Then she immediately starts to wonder if maybe she shouldn’t call him, maybe she should wait for him to call her, and then she starts thinking about how cute Terry is, and whether the calls were a joke or whether she actually likes him. Which I thought she’d already figured out.
Jenny starts screaming from the room next door, and Debra races over to check on her. She’s had a nightmare again; this time, she and Cal were driving somewhere at night, and his skin started dropping off, and then his face was Mr Hagen’s. Debra’s parents burst in while she’s taking about the dream, and Jenny apologises for scaring them.
Once they go back to bed, Debra tells Jenny that she had another call that night, and Jenny is still convinced that it’s really Mr Hagen, back from the dead. This is getting really old, the same arguments over and over again. Especially about whether or not a man can come back from the dead.
Skip to Jenny at the stable again, dealing with two day camps of kids excited to get on their horses. Jenny is having a hard time concentrating, because she keeps thinking about Cal, wondering if he plans to follow her upstate. There’s a storm rolling in, and heavy, dark clouds cover the sun, casting the stable in an eerie, yellow-gray light. Gee, I wonder if things are about to all come to head.
Jenny is so distracted that she sends one of the kids off without tightening one of his stirrups. Luckily, Gary catches this before the kid is hurt, but he does shout at Jenny, and she is super embarrassed. [Dove: Again, dumb. If a kid is so clueless as to not be able to sort their own stirrups, the kid should be on a lead rein. The littles — who don’t have the dexterity to sort their own stirrup leathers (or do a double twist if they’ve got little legs) — and the absolute noobs will be on the lead rein and everything will be taken care of for them to make them comfortable. Anyone good enough to be off lead rein should definitely know how to do their own stirrup leathers.] [Wing: That is 100% inaccurate for horse ranches in the USA. Riding western is very different than English style in the first place, and plenty of new riders don’t have the first idea how to do their stirrups but aren’t on lead rein. Especially for a ranch that takes summer camp kids, they’re not really there to learn how to ride appropriately, they’re there to have a fun trail ride experience.] Gary leads them off onto a trail ride, and Jenny watches the storm for a bit, hoping none of the riders get rained on. I’m not convinced that they would take kids out when the weather looks like that; experienced riders, sure, but not little kids. [Dove: We used to go out in all weathers, but, as above, the littles would be on the lead rein and perfectly safe. However, most kids that aren’t hearty I-LOVE-HORSES-IT’S-ALL-ABOUT-HORSES-NON-STOP-HORSES-FOR-ME have a tendency not to show up when it’s raining. Also: England. Rain is our default setting. If we didn’t ride in the rain, we’d ride like three days a year.] [Wing: But again, it’s not that this is rain. It’s that this is a big, loud thunderstorm with a ton of lightning. Simply being outside under a tree is a danger, much less riding with metal pieces that will attract the lightning. If it was just rain, that’s fine, but this is a storm.]
Jenny decides to take Thunderclap for a ride. He’s a big, nervous stallion, and there is a storm coming through. Clearly this is the greatest idea ever. Especially because she decides to gallop as the trail narrows and the wind picks up. Oh, Jenny, you are an idiot. [Dove: Stallions. No. Un-gelded horses have a tendency to be flighty and unsuitable for the likes of a riding school. There’s just no financial reason to have one. Why have a brutally expensive horse that nobody can ride when you can have a bombproof hack, suitable for all, for a lot less money?] [Wing: Well, again, this isn’t a riding school, it’s a ranch. However, I still don’t think Jenny, as the new wrangler, would have permission to randomly take out a stallion that is probably kept around because he’s a prize breeder at any random time, much less in the middle of a storm with lots of thunder and lightning.]
Eventually, she hears someone coming behind her, riding fast. She thinks it’s Mr Hagen, riding to get her, and makes Thunderclap race even faster, into the darkness and the storm.
Meanwhile, Debra is baby-sitting again, and she’s watching the storm and hoping the baby doesn’t wake up. She’s nervous, so she calls home. Her mother answers the phone, and has all sorts of questions about whether the baby is okay, if the roads are flooded, how the storm is going. Debra says she’s called to talk to Jenny, but Jenny isn’t home yet. That’s weird, because she wouldn’t still be at the stable in the storm. Her mom suggests that she went out with friends, like maybe that Gary guy, but Debra is freaked out because Jenny would call and let them know, not just disappear.
Debra hangs up, and starts to hear and see things, shadows moving, shutters banging, things like that. She’s all freaked out, and calls Mark’s house, because she misses him, but only gets his mother, who says he’s gone out, but she doesn’t know where. After she hangs up, the power goes off for a few seconds, and Debra is terrified that the power will go out permanently, and she doesn’t think she could handle being in the creepy house if that happened.
Then, the phone rings.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 155 (+100)
And it’s a wrong number.
She hangs up, freaks out some more, and the phone rings yet again. This time, it’s Mrs Wagner, calling to check on Peter and to let her know that she’ll be out a little later. She’s going out for coffee with her instructor (bam chika wow wow), and if she’s not home by eleven, Debra needs to feed Peter. That is a lot later than usual, how convenient.
Around eleven, Debra heats up the formula and gets ready to feed Peter, but finds the front door opened just a crack. This, understandably, terrorizes her. She logics it out, that maybe Mrs Wagner went out the door and didn’t close it in her rush. Still, she rushes upstairs, and finds…
… an empty crib.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1155 (+1000)
I wouldn’t have given any points for that had Stine not already wasted all those previous, unnecessary, cliff hangers.
Debra frantically searches the crib for Peter, and then sees a fresh footprint on the carpet. She’s dizzy and sick, but makes her way downstairs to the call the police; except she finds a boy standing in the front entryway. She recognizes him instantly from Jenny’s description: Cal.
Debra demands to know what he’s done with the baby. Cal says he didn’t meant to scare her, but Debra again wants to know where the baby is. Cal says he hasn’t seen a baby, he was ringing the doorbell, but when no one came to the door, he came inside, because maybe she didn’t hear him due to the storm. (Still creepy, Cal.) He asks if Jenny is there, and Debra keeps freaking out, because someone took the baby, and no, Jenny is not there.
Debra tries to call 911, but the phone goes dead. Again, convenient. Immediately, Debra says that someone took the baby and cut the phone wires, but Cal says they may be out because of the storm. Cal offers to run next door, to call the police from there, and Debra goes with him, unable to be alone in the house. She decides it must have been the “crazy lady” and I think you mean the drunk, angry lady, Debra.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1001 (+1000)
They try one house, no one is home, and by the time they get someone to answer at the second house, Debra has convinced herself that Mr Hagen has come back from the dead and stolen the baby, which is exactly what she tells the 911 operator: a dead man stole the baby.
Oh. My. God. Debra.
Later, Mrs Wagner has come home, and the police are at the house. Debra is scared and sad, and a little bitter when she realises that yes, this is a nightmare come true, but it’s not her nightmare, it’s Jenny’s. Cal has remained with Debra, which is pretty damn nice of him, considering. Debra is worried about the baby, but also about Jenny, who still hasn’t come home.
[Dove: Deb also notes that “Jenny’s nightmare that has come true“, except that no. Jenny’s nightmare is that Zombie!Hagen rises from the grave and carries her off somewhere to kill her. This is probably Mrs Wagner’s nightmare come true — someone has taken her baby, despite the fact she ensured that her child was looked after while she was in school.]
[Wing: Good point!]
While all sorts of conversations are happening, questions and accusations, the phone rings. The police have Debra answer the phone, because why not, and it’s that voice again, Mr Hagen. He says that he got rid of Jenny and he has the baby, and now she has to believe that he’s really back.
The call ends, Debra freaks out, everyone freaks out, then Debra says she hear the baby crying, so Peter is still alive, but also that she knows where he’s taken the baby.
Apparently, Debra also heard a horse whinny in the background, and that’s where the baby has been taken. Once they arrive, the police go to look for the baby, and tell Debra and Mrs Wagner to stay in the car, but that doesn’t last long at all, and soon she’s running after Mrs Wagner, and apparently Cal is also with them. This is a mess.
A horse comes at them, that creepy voice says he’s alive, back from the dead, and Debra begs Jenny to hand over the baby.
I’m shocked. Are you shocked?
Debra tries to talk Jenny down, begs the police not to shoot her, but then there is the crack of a gunshot, and Jenny falls off the horse, still holding Peter. A cop grabs Peter, Debra is freaking out that they shot her cousin, but nope, it was just a crack of lightning, and the lightning made the horse rear up and Jenny fell. Cal holds Debra while she cries, wishing she had realized sooner what was happening, if only she could have helped Jenny better.
They both look to the sky, and the pale half moon that peeks through the clouds. The rain stopped. The story ended.
I am going to drown myself in alcohol rather than deal with book four, good grief.
This is a terrible, terrible book. It was clear from the first scene from someone else’s point of view that Jenny was going to end up being the muffin man in this story, because otherwise we would have stuck with her like in the last two books. The pacing is off and weird, and Debra was pretty unsympathetic as a character, though fairly great with Jenny, I have to say.
The first half was surprisingly not terrible, but then it went downhill. Oh, Stine. You give, and then you destroy everything you touch.
[Dove: And as a side note: you know fuck all about horses, Stine.]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 2
I beat you because I love you: 13
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1001
This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 11