Recap #164: Nightmare Hall #13: Monster by Diane Hoh/Barbara Steiner

Nightmare Hall - Monster by Diane Hoh
Nightmare Hall – Monster by Diane Hoh

Title: Nightmare Hall #13: Monster

Summary: Rumors are flying around Salem U. Stories about a monster roaming the campus. Tales of students viciously attacked in the dead of night. Abby McDonald thinks it’s all nonsense. A fraternity prank. A drama major giving an unusual “performance”. She has too much on her mind to worry about a monster. But she should be worried. Because the truth about the monster is even more horrible than she could have imagined….

Tagline: None

Notes: I will refer to the bad guy as…wait for it…the monster!

Initial Thoughts

Diane Hoh is missing in action again this round, but thankfully, so is Nola Thacker! This time our ghostwriter is none other than Barbara Steiner, who released a few Point horror books (The Phantom, The Mummy, Spring Break) back in the day, but was actually quite prolific in teen YA horror fiction, with a bunch of titles written for the publisher Avon Flare (The Dreamstalker, The Photographer, The Photographer II: Dark Room, Night Cries, Deathline, The Coffin, and the Dark Chronicles trilogy, The Dance, The Gallery and The Calling). I’ve read them all, except for The Coffin and The Calling, and have always found her to be a rather “meh” writer. I remember “meh” being my overall reaction when I read this for the first time in my teens, although I can’t remember much else about it. She can’t be worse than Thacker, though, can she?

[Wing: I liked most of The Phantom, which may be the only book of hers I’ve read, but she did not pull off the ending, so I don’t have high hopes. Especially because with a title and a summary like that, I want this to be a werewolf book. It’s probably not a werewolf book. I’m already primed to be disappointed.]


Prologue has a couple attacked by the monster whilst canoodling at Varsity Pond. There had been jokes about a monster on campus, but students had dismissed it as a prank by the Sigma Chi fraternity. Now, it appears as if it is not a joke at all. [Wing: See? Opening scene to a werewolf story. Why must you break my heart, books? Why?]

Abby McDonald is walking to the library with her boyfriend David Waters, and another couple, Gina Putnam and Jerry Todd. Abby has taken on a heavy study load and is working part-time on top of that. She’s very serious and studious, and can’t believe David has been putting up with her for four years since she never wants to hang out socially. David offers to wait for her until the library closes, but she has to go to Griswold Hall afterward, to work on an extra credit science assignment.

After finishing at the library, she stands up with her books, and they slide out of her arms. She is helped by a cute guy who introduced himself as Martin Beecher. Feeling bad for flirting with another guy, she makes her way to Griswold Hall, where the janitor lets her in. To her surprise, another student is there. It’s Stan Hurley, who all the other students think is weird. Because of his tight blond curly hair, Jerry once dubbed him the human Brillo pad. It seems there’s no love lost between Abby and Stan.

Abby is working on her experiment when she drops both a beaker and a test tube. The resulting mess really stinks, the fumes stinging her nostrils. Is this what was used to stink up the dance in The Night Walker? I suspect I already know what Abby’s stinky assignment creates, unfortunately. She wipes up, goes to the bathroom where people scrub down if they’re exposed to the elements, and flushes the mess. [Wing: No for werewolf, go for Jekyll and Hyde? Or the Hulk, depending on your preferred references.] She is then surprised by David, who convinces her to come with him, Jerry and Gina to Vinnie’s.

The next morning, Abby regrets the late night. She notices that her roommate, Carrie Milholland, hasn’t slept in her bed again. She was a replacement roommate who arrived in January and seems to spend all her time with her boyfriend. [Wing: So … ideal roommate then, always gone.] Gina is waiting for Abby outside The Quad, and they go to the dining hall together. Jerry and David reveal the information about the monster attack. Gina and Abby provide the fraternity prank explanation. They get Sissy King to join their table, as she is a major gossip. Abby gets annoyed at what she thinks is flirtatious behaviour between Sissy and David. Sissy seems to know about a sociology paper David was working on, that Abby had no idea about.

Sissy says she thinks it’s a drama student, preparing for a role in the drama department’s next play, a creepy thriller. I hope it’s creepier than this. Sissy then draws all their attention to Stan Hurley, who has just entered the dining hall and sits at a table behind them. They take the opportunity to tease him. Sigh. I don’t really like any of these kids. Stan is staring at Abby. Abby leaves, and Stan gets up to follow. She runs away, noticing that Stan is still staring after her.

Next, we meet Lenny Latham, who is on his last initiation ritual, spending the night at Peabody Gym, rumoured to be haunted, and now burnt down (in The Scream Team). He is the monster’s next victim.

The next day, at the Quad café, Abby, Gina, David, Jerry and Sissy find that news about Lenny’s attack has traveled fast. He’s scratched up, and has concussion, but is otherwise okay. Sissy is flirting with David, still. We then get a recap of what the previous chapter just told us.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 point

They see Stan Hurley approaching, and more nasty comments are made about him. We learn Abby has caught him staring at her a couple more times. What, since yesterday? How many classes do they share other than chemistry? [Wing: This feels like another way the Nightmare Hall series really should have been a high school boarding school series, because having so many classes together feels true for high school but not for university.] Abby also spots Martin Beecher. The group agree to meet that night at nine near the Tower, where the telescopes are, to see if they can find the monster. Sounds like a real smart idea, guys. [Wing: No lie, I’d probably do the same thing. It’s likely I wouldn’t actually survive a horror movie. I just want to know things! And see a werewolf.] Abby will meet them after going to the chem lab, and also has to clear up the cafeteria as part of her job. Sissy promises to look after David until then, which prompts Abby to think how she’d like to tear Sissy to bits and feed her to the monster herself. If this book is going where it’s highly obviously headed, I’m assuming Abby will get her wish.

After finishing at the cafeteria, Abby makes her way to the lab. She still thinks the monster thing is a fraternity prank, because Lenny is a world-class nerd and Sigma Chi must only be pledging him so they can have a fall guy for their pranks. Abby, you’re a world-class snob. At the lab, Stan is there, where he makes an offer of friendship since they’re both there all the time. She turns him down. She gives up on her extra credit assignment. We still don’t have any details about what the f*** it is she’s actually doing, though.

She gives up on the project and leaves Griswold Hall. She heads to meet her friends. She takes a shortcut behind the pond and thinks she’s being followed. It’s only Martin Beecher, who then walks with her so she won’t be alone. She ends up inviting him along on their expedition to find the monster. But she reminds him that she’s dating David, and mentions how pretty and vivacious Sissy is. Martin says he can’t take his eyes off Abby.

Abby reaches her friends and introduces Martin. Only David acts as if he’s unwelcome. Jerry reveals no monster sightings. Sissy pairs up with Martin. David takes Abby aside. He’s obviously jealous of Martin and says that he loves Abby and would do anything not to lose her. Abby wonders why this doesn’t make her feel wonderful, especially as she was jealous herself of Sissy and David’s flirting. Instead, she feels a bit smothered and trapped, and even an inkling of fear.

Next, it is Jerry who is attacked, dragged into the woods and thrown around a bit. He is saved by the dawning of the light.

The next morning, Abby is woken up by her roommate crying. She is shocked to see that Carrie has a bruise on her face. Carrie says she did something awful.

Red Herrings: 1 point

Abby tries to comfort her, worrying that maybe Carrie had been hit by her boyfriend, or even raped. She says Carrie should report it, but Carrie refuses to do so, asking to be left alone. So Abby is about to head out when she receives a phone call from David to say that Jerry has been hurt. She goes to the room that Jerry and David share at Devereaux Hall. Gina is there as well. When then get a recap of the attack that was already told to us in the previous chapter.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 2 points

Jerry is insistent he was attacked by a monster, although his friends still seem to have their doubts. He doesn’t want to report it, because he knows the police won’t believe them if even his friends appear not to. As he slowly gets his energy back, he agrees to accompany them to the Quad café, and starts talking about his theories about how the monster came about. He mentions how the monster in Forbidden Planet was created by the id, acting out a person’s deep-buried violent impulses.

Later, Abby is at her job at the cafeteria, making subs. She discusses the monster with co-worker Jessica Vogt, who isn’t very believing, but says strange things have been happening at Nightingale Hall. This would suggest this book is occurring at the same time as The Silent Scream, but I’m almost certain Jess Vogt never worked in the cafeteria in that book. Abby sees Stan Hurley. Then she sees Lenny Latham and goes to talk to him about the monster.

This chapter just makes me like Abby less and less. She thinks of Lenny as a “nothing” person. When Stan makes a snide comment about Abby’s taste in men after seeing her with Lenny, Lenny apologises. So Abby tells him it’s not his fault, and to get a backbone! She also finds the opportunity to call Stan a nerd. Stan is no great shakes, but Abby is snobby and mean herself. At least feeling bad for snapping at Lenny, she invites him to go monster hunting with her and her friends. They need evidence the monster actually exists so that the authorities will actually believe them. [Wing: She keeps inviting people to go monster hunting with her as if that’s (a) a completely normal thing to do and (b) an excellent way to apologise for being a little shit. It is neither, Abby. Try harder.]

Abby goes to her room, where she sees Carrie, along with a resident advisor, and two police officers. She thinks about how Carrie never sleeps in her own bed. She has a bruise. She said she did something awful. Whoever the monster is would probably have a bruise, because Jerry kicked it hard when he was attacked. The thing is, how do they know the monster is part human? Who’s to say it’s not an X Files type creature? There’s no evidence to the contrary.

Saturday night, the gang (Abby, David, Jerry, Gina, Martin, Sissy, Lenny) gathers by Peabody Gym to look for monster evidence. They split into small groups. Abby goes with David. Abby manages to find some hair/fur stuck in a thorny bush. [Wing: STOP TEASING ME WITH A WEREWOLF, NIGHTMARE HALL.]  David takes this opportunity to berate Abby for the fact they never spend any time alone together. Holding her tightly, he accuses her of trying to avoid him. She asks him to let her go, but he says not until she promises they do something, just the two of them.

I beat you because I love you: 1 point

Abby thinks she’s seeing a bit of a monster in the guy she’s been dating for four years. You think, Abby? They rejoin the group, and the group moves from Peabody Gym to around about the place Jerry was attacked. David says he’ll take the hair/fur to be tested. They split up again. Abby goes with David again. Somehow they get separated. Trying to find him again, Abby slips and falls, hurting her ankle. She searches for her friends, calling their names. She worries about running into the monster. If this book is headed where I think it is so obviously headed, I don’t think she has to worry about that.

She is surprised by Martin. She throws herself into his arms, crying hysterically. She tells him she was so scared. Martin asks her where David was. Of course, David arrives in time to see the cozy situation. They go and find the others. Jerry reveals he found some more monster hair. The group go to Vinnie’s. They order the “Monster Pizza”. Jerry and Lenny bond over horror movies. Abby says they have to consider that if the monster is a person, what could be causing them to turn into the beast. Suggestions are magic potions and anger.

Bruce Banner in Avengers: That's my secret, Cap. I'm always angry.
Bruce Banner in Avengers: That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.

[Wing: That right there is the moment I bonded hard with Mark Ruffalo’s version of Bruce Banner/The Hulk.]

God, this is so obvious.

The group immediately offers up Stan Hurley as a suspect, since he’s always in the chemistry lab, and his experiment smells awful. Everybody willfully ignores the fact Abby is always in the lab, too.

Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1 point

Sissy says Stan makes her gag, even without having to smell his potion. Abby debates telling the group Stan had sort of asked her out. No, Abby, he offered to be friends. Stop being so stuck-up. Although he’s admittedly creepy with the staring, he seems nicer than you or any of your friends. After Vinnie’s, Sissy invites them to her place, since her roommates are away, but only Abby and Gina end up staying. Looking for something to rub on her ankle, Abby opens a drawer, where she sees Sissy’s drama supplies. She thinks again about the theory that the monster is the creation of a drama student.

Red Herrings: 2 points

Putting the stuff away, Abby then discovers a folded note. She opens it and reads it. It is a note from David to Sissy, asking for them to meet on Tuesday night at Varsity Pond. Abby feels sick and very angry and plans to catch the two of them out. She is a mess both Monday and Tuesday nights. She’s at the chem lab on Tuesday night, where Stan isn’t even speaking to her anymore. When she gives up on her assignment (whatever it is), she notices Stan has left. [Wing: Wait, how many times is she going to give up on a project in the chem lab?] She heads off to Varsity Pond, where she does indeed see David and Sissy, wrapped up in one another and kissing. It is then that she smells the garlicky mustiness of the furry body.

“She swung around, fell to the ground as it roared and stomped. Dimly, through the haze she had dropped into, she heard Sissy scream. David yell. She heard the scuffle, the fighting, the scrambling to try to escape. When she came to, she realised she had fainted.”

Huh? If you fainted, Abby, you wouldn’t have been aware of anything at all. This is Steiner’s ambiguous way of trying to make it not seem as if Abby transformed into the monster and attacked Sissy and David after getting upset at seeing them together. Abby searches the scene, finds some monster hair, but no bodies. It isn’t until she’s at the chem building that she finds Sissy and David, with a crowd gathered. The two of them are scratched up. Sissy concocts a story about their confrontation of the monster, which conveniently leaves out the fact she was with David at the time.

Abby, you make a piss-poor monster. Why can’t you rip your horrible friends to shreds instead of just scratching them up a bit?

Stan Hurley arrives at the scene and offers to walk Abby to the Quad. She imagines that he had probably been following her, saw David and Sissy kissing too. She even thinks that Stan got angry on her behalf, turned into the monster, and attacked Sissy and David for her. Good grief. However, she agrees to let Stan walk her back to her dorm. Okay. Whatever. Abby is now back at her dorm, safe. For now.

Next chapter is from David’s point of view. The monster had mostly sidestepped him and gone for Sissy. David feels bad about cheating on Abby with Sissy, as he still loves Abby. He leaves Sissy to the crowd hanging on her every word and goes to sit on a bench near the pond. And the monster attacks! This time, it sounds as if Abby really does a number on him, ripping at him until he has blood in his mouth and falls into unconsciousness. He thinks he’s going to die before he can apologise to Abby.

Abby wakes up after having a nightmare about David jumping off a rock or something. This gives her a feeling that something bad has happened to David. Just as she gets to the door, Jerry and Gina are there, telling her that David has been hurt. Abby is a mess as they go to the hospital and learn that David is still in surgery. Officer Mooney and Officer Rodgers arrive to speak to the kids. Their first thought is that David was attacked by an animal, even though Sissy had told them it was a monster. [Wing: Officer Mooney would make a very Rowling werewolf.]

The kids tell the officers about the monster attacks, and how it was suspected it was a fraternity prank. The officers ask why they were never called, and Jerry asks them would they have ever believed it, which the officers acknowledge. A nice tip of the hat to the usual trope of parents/cops not believing teenagers. They finally get the news that David can see visitors, but he’s only been calling Abby’s name. When she goes in, she thinks he looks like a mummy, wrapped up in bandages. His arm is broken, now in a plaster cast and supported by a sling.

David apologises, which Abby accepts. She feels bad about how David’s previously perfect looks are now forever blemished. Exhausted, she leaves him to his pain medication and gets Gina and Jerry to drop her home. When she enters her apartment, she smells the same mustiness associated with the monster and gets scared. Get a clue, Abby! She then sees monster hair on Carrie’s bed, and once again suspects that her roommate is the monster.

Abby calls the police, gets them to meet her at Gina’s dorm (?), and then takes them back to her dorm to explain about Carrie. The officers already know Carrie, commenting that she has some problems, but they don’t think anything sinister of the hair on the bed. The officers don’t dismiss her out of hand, saying they’ll arrest somebody if they’re dressing up as a monster and attacking people, but tell Abby to stop jumping to supernatural conclusions. Actually a believable, logical police response! Officer Mooney says he’ll take the hair to the lab to get tested (I guess David’s not up to the task anymore). Gina offers to stay the night in Abby’s dorm, knowing she wouldn’t want to be alone.

The next day, she visits David in hospital. She leaves to go to chemistry, where Stan asks how David is doing. Abby is rude to him, asking if he even really cares. Well, Abby, he asked, didn’t he? Abby, you are making it so, so, so hard for me to like you, monster or not. After chem, she works at her job. Martin walks her to the library. At the library, she sees Carrie with her boyfriend, Quinton Brooks. He looks angry, and it seems as if they’re arguing. Carrie takes off. Abby decides to follow.

Carrie winds up collapsing on a bench at Varsity Pond and crying. Abby witnesses Quinton arrive. He and Carrie argue, and she hears the sound of Carrie being slapped by Quinton, twice. Then she hears a punch. Abby goes to help Carrie, understanding that Quinton has been beating up on Carrie all this time. When she confronts Quinton, he punches Abby in the stomach. Abby smells the mustiness and hears the growls, and realises that the monster must be right behind them.

Um, no, Abby.

Quinton punches her again, this time in the chin. She hears a roar as she hits the ground, and blacks out. When she wakes up, Martin is there. He’s holding her, begging her to wake up. For some reason, they end up kissing. He tells her that Quinton is hurt badly, or at least it looked that way before the ambulance took him away. Carrie is frightened but was unharmed by the monster. Officer Mooney comes to speak to Abby. She reveals Quinton was hitting Carrie and hit her too. Mooney confirms Carrie reported Quinton and had been staying in a safehouse. The police think it must be a student dressed up as a monster. But didn’t think it was an animal? [Wing: So is Carrie hiding the truth about the monster or did she really not see anything?] There’s lots of boring waffle about how Martin came to find Abby in the first place. Abby then sees Stan at the edge of the crowd, an eerie smile on his face.

The next day, Abby is at the lab, working on that assignment. Then she goes to visit David, taking him some takeaway food. She drops the drink when she sees his face. David is very upset. However, he enjoys the food. She tells David that she thinks Stan is behind everything. After leaving the hospital, a plan starts to form in her mind as to how she can expose Stan. After class, she declines Martin’s offer to study together. The conversation gets to David and how she went to see him. Martin reminds her that David wasn’t too thoughtful about her before all this happened, but Abby tells him to mind his own business. Angry, Martin takes off.

That night, Abby heads to Griswold Hall in her plan to catch Stan, who she thinks is the monster. She goes there about 9pm. She sees Stan and follows him. He goes to Varsity Pond and appears to be searching for something. She keeps following Stan around, and I’m bored. Because it’s raining and she didn’t bring a poncho (it’s bright yellow and not conducive to stealth), she gets wet and catches a cold, keeping in her dorm for three days. Yawn.

By Thursday, she remembers that her chemistry assignment is due the next day. So she forces herself up and heads to the lab (after a long, laborious description of her paranoia while walking there), and is relieved to find it empty. She gets to work on her assignment, whatever it is, and is fully occupied until a voice behind her says, “I thought you might be back tonight. Where have you been? I’ve missed you.”

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point

Come on, we all know it’s Stan. Abby asks him what he’s doing there, which is an utterly ludicrous question since the whole book has been spent establishing that he’s always there. They have a terse exchange and get to work on their respective projects. Abby does something or other and recreates the smell from that first time when she spilt everything. The fumes make her dizzy. She sees hair start to sprout from the back of her hands. Her fingernails grow longer, turning into claws. [Wing: So is she a goddamn werewolf or not, Steiner?! A chemical-induced werewolf? Fuck, I’m going with it. Werewolf. Finally. Thank you.]

Abby is the monster! Are we surprised? Are we? She can feel her face distorting. She begs Stan for help, trying to keep control of her urge to lash out and destroy. Stan asks her what ingredients she was using, and she tells them the details are in her notebook. She’s changing, and Stan manages to shut her inside a closet. She starts destroying everything inside as she beats against the door to free herself. She finally gets loose and starts charging at Stan. He throws a glass vial at her, and she is surrounded by foul chemical fumes. She has slammed him up against the wall when she finally succumbs to darkness.

Afterwards, Abby cries, horrified at what she has done. It turns out she has created some sort of chemical breakthrough, which we’re conveniently spared the details of. Stan had suspected her for some time and was working on an antidote all this time. Whatever Abby cooked up, the fumes caused her to change, but the reaction was delayed at first. Over time, it became easier and easier to change at will, especially if she was angry. Abby destroys the pages in her notebook that led to this creation. Stan once again offers her his friendship, as she’ll need it. She accepts, saying he could be the best friend she ever had. After spending the whole book being a snot to him? Not sure about that. Abby calls the police to report herself as the monster.

Final Thoughts

Well, my initial response was right. Meh. This was a thing. Barbara Steiner definitely has a better handle on pacing, plotting and characterisation than Nola Thacker. But then again, what YA author doesn’t? This was harmed by the fact that I didn’t like Abby much at all, and most of the supporting characters weren’t much better. Even worse, it was obvious from about chapter 2 who the monster actually was, so it was a bit of a hard slog, even in a book this short, to make it through to the end to have myself proven right. Other than some nice atmosphere and a couple of smart nods to tropes, this was pretty flat and uninteresting. It’s certainly much better than anything that Thacker could come up with, but once again, I can’t help but wonder what Diane Hoh might have been able to do with the material. Or what that fake Nightmare Hall summary might be!

[Wing: It was a little easier for me, because I flung myself gung-ho into the werewolf theory which predisposes me to like a story better than I otherwise would. In conclusion: werewolf. Though now I’m confused at that opening scene. Didn’t the monster attacks start before Abby turned herself into a monster? Were the early ones really just a fraternity prank? Are there are other werewolves running around? I NEED TO KNOW, STEINER.]

Final Counts

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point

Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1 point

Red Herrings: 2 points

I beat you because I love you: 1 point

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 2 points

Note: The counts could be higher, but I suspect I was too bored to include every single one.