Title: Spring Break
By: Nick Baron
Description: April Mannerly and her friends wanted a spring vacation they’d never forget. And Florida’s historic Isley Inn seemed the perfect place to soak up some rays and do some serious partying. Even cooler, the bed-and-breakfast was rumored to be haunted.
But it’s more than a rumor. The first night there, somebody dies, and April is forced to become party to a secret burial. But at the Isley, bodies don’t stay buried for long. Trapped by a storm, April and her friends face a terrifying nightmare as, one by one, they fall victim to the vengeful spirits of the damned. For the unlucky kids in room 3B, there will be a charge for doom service – their lives . . .
Doom service? Doom service?! Did the Cryptkeeper write that description? I . . . I haven’t even started this recap and I might be done with it already.
Actually, I remember liking this one a lot and being genuinely scared by it. It was truly a horror novel, with real ghosts/demons/evil spirits, and I know I read it multiple times. (Of course, I was 13 when it was published, so make of that what you will.) And just look at that sandcastle skull on the cover! It’s a total lie, but isn’t it cool? And there’s a character in it somewhere who’s a horror writer, how meta! And lots of scary death scenes!
I might be fooling myself here about how good this book was. It has terrible reviews on Goodreads. (Future Me: . . . yeah . . . I am truly and thoroughly disillusioned with this book. If you need me, I’ll be in the corner drinking and crying.)
We open with our heroine, April Mannerly, and her best friend, Lisa No-Last-Name, eating ice cream at the Nite Owl Club and talking about going on spring break. The best way to make introductions is probably with a Robot Roll Call, so:
April Mannerly: Our hero. Greek-American, seventeen years old, accepted to Julliard. The author wastes no time sexualizing her on page one, describing her creamy shoulders, long inviting neck (wtf? what exactly is her neck inviting you to do, Nick Baron?), and the endless expanse of her perfect legs. Goddammit, really? Anyway, she’s our good girl, our designated driver, and the one you just know is going to try to convince people to do the right thing when things go sideways.
Lisa No-Last Name: Cheerleader. Curly brown hair. Parents are a doctor and lawyer, respectively, although it’s anyone’s guess which is which. Has self-esteem issues that lead her to put up with the terrible way her boyfriend, Jimmy, treats her. Oh. Great.
Jimmy Bianco: He’s the worst. Just. Literally the worst. Although apparently he’s a hot football player, which is the worst kind of the literal worst. Seriously, he’s a garbage person.
Paulo Guitierrez: Brazilian. Good-looking, athletic, flirty, nice guy. (Or Nice Guy™?) Dating Naomi Parish.
Naomi Parish: Italian. Jock. Dark hair professionally streaked with blond, and has a face that initially looks sweet and innocent but has a knowing smile that apparently turns her into a lusty devil woman on the prowl or some such bullshit trope that we’ve all read a million fucking times.
Back in the Nite Owl Club, which I assume is some sort of diner, Lisa is gushing about spring break and trying to convince April to come along even though she can’t afford it. Lisa says she’ll pay, and April can make it up to her by being the designated driver since April doesn’t drink and all the others are going to spend the week seeing how close they can get to alcohol poisoning without actually killing themselves. Lisa shows April brochures for the haunted Isley Inn, and apparently she had April at “Hello.” Or in this case, “Hello, this inn is haunted and we’re all gonna die.”
The waitress comes by and overhears the ghost talk (and some description is given that leads me to believe I was wrong about this being a diner – now it sounds like a dance club/arcade that caters to teens), and gets very serious about the fact that people have died at the Isley. After she walks away, April has some internal dialog wondering if the waitress, Jenny, hears the voices of the children who died in the fire a hundred years ago when the Nite Owl Club used to be an orphanage. Um, okay? This feels like a continuation of someone’s story from a previous book; is this part of a series? *checks the Googles* Well, damn. Apparently this is book 11 in the Nightmare Club series, but even though numbers 1-10 clearly state they’re part of the series on their covers, this one doesn’t say it’s part of a series anywhere on it! Weird.
We pick back up with the kids already off the plane and renting a car in Florida. Now, here in the US, you can’t rent a car until you’re 25 years old, but these kids are driving a rental. The boys have fake IDs, but are they IDs that make them 25? Or maybe the age restriction on rental cars was lower in 1994? So many questions.
April hopes they’re going to go straight to the inn so that she can take a shower, but Jimmy drives them to the beach instead. Now, I don’t know if any of you folks ever watched MTV’s Spring Break, but that is basically what’s going down at this beach. All the cliches. They hang out for a while, Jimmy drools over every hot chick who walks by despite Lisa being right beside him, April thinks about what a fucking jack-off Jimmy is, then they finally leave and go to the inn.
The Isley Inn makes April think of the Ray Bradbury story, Usher II. It’s a creepy 40-room mansion with weird architecture, wrought iron gates, turrets, gargoyles, the whole nine yards. I want to visit this place ASAP, guys. (But hold up. This place has 40 rooms, but the back of the book describes it as a bed and breakfast. Isn’t that too big to be considered a bed and breakfast?) The doorways are very narrow, and would be a challenge for anyone who is overweight, or as Lisa derisively says, “horizontally impaired.” I don’t think Lisa is very smart, because wouldn’t that imply someone was thin? In her rush to be a fat-shaming bitch, Lisa got things exactly backwards. Good for her.
While checking in, April discovers there’s a historic tour of the Isley about to start. She decides she just has time to take a shower before the tour starts, then sees a music room and admires the piano but decides not to sit down to play because then she would definitely miss the tour. As she’s leaving the music room, she hears the piano play a few notes behind her. This spooks her and she runs away. Personally, I would check to see if it was a player piano. (Also, what is it with ghosts playing pianos all the damn time?)
April goes on the tour and finds out all about Stephen Isley, who basically ran the whole island of St. Germaine. The entire island was set up to cater to his needs, and the inn was a monument to everything his hated sister, Pamela, despised, and he pretty much just built the place to fuck with her. One of the gargoyles was designed to look like her, and the doorways were built tall and narrow because, you guessed it, she was short and fat. Stephen sounds like kind of a dick, although he’s made out to be a good guy – educating his servants at his own expense (um . . . ), and joining up to fight Nazis in WWII. The tour guide goes on to say that five people have died under mysterious circumstances at the Isley, all in room 3B, which is the room Lisa and Jimmy are staying in – the room they specifically requested for this very reason. Because we know that they’re in a horror novel, we know they’re being stupid, but to be honest I would probably request the haunted room, too. So I can’t be too hard on them.
On the tour, April notices a hot guy, and because she’s a progressive 90’s woman, she goes up and introduces herself at the end of the tour. When she tells him she’s April, he kisses her hand and says, “I know,” then walks away. She’s annoyed and thinks he’s an arrogant jerk, so I’m calling it right now – they’re totally hooking up before the book is over.
Back in April’s room, she and Lisa are getting ready for what the boys have dubbed “Hell Night,” because they’re dumb teenage boys. Hell Night involves going down to the mainland, hanging with the MTV partiers, and entering to win the chance to blow up a building. Drunk Spring Breakers and demolition? What could go wrong! Lisa tells April that earlier Jimmy scared her to death by hiding in the armoire then jumping out at her, and I think Jimmy is actually supposed to be twelve and in a Goosebumps book. Oh, except for the fact that April knows Lisa is a virgin and terrified of sex, and April is afraid that Jimmy is going to use the week alone and away from parents to push the issue, or get Lisa drunk and . . . yeah, April is straight-up afraid Jimmy is going to rape Lisa on this trip, one way or another. Like I said – literally the fucking worst.
The rest of the group barges into April’s room and Jimmy, who has already been drinking, tries to grab the car keys so he can drive. Nuh-uh, Jimbo. The others shoot him down and April drives them to the mainland with the crowds and crowds of drunken college kids, and it sounds like absolute hell to me, but then again I’m a textbook introvert with social anxiety, so I might be biased.
Jimmy isn’t eligible to enter to win the chance to blow up the building (this contest is called Demolition Man, and I’m sorry but Stallone is the only Demolition Man I recognize) because a college ID is required and he obviously doesn’t have one. He takes his displeasure out on the crowd around him, shoving and abusing a smaller boy who gets in his way. Jimmy is a fucking lovely human being, right? Meanwhile, Paulo gets his ass autographed on camera by some movie star chick, and at some point Jimmy also gets her to sign his pecs. Jimmy yells at anyone who will listen that the movie star chick is what you call a real babe, while he’s got his arm around Lisa. His girlfriend. Jimmy is a garbage person. Then, when April suggests they all go find a place to eat, Jimmy screams, “Let’s chow down and get some grindage!” So, Jimmy is Pauly Shore now? I mean, I know this was 1994, but Jesus Christ.
Every restaurant in the area has a 60-90 minute wait, which is like, pretty much to be expected? Jimmy finally slips a waitress a 50 at a hot dog and sub restaurant. Yes, you read that right. Whatever your issue with that sentence, you read it right. My personal issue is that there’s a sit-down restaurant that serves hot dogs. Are you sure this isn’t just a food truck? Why couldn’t you just find a food truck? Or go to McDonald’s? I don’t understand any of this as conflict. Anyway, they get seated at a tiny table next to the kitchen, with a table full of smokers behind them. Ahh, remember when you could smoke in restaurants? Jimmy tells April that if the smoke is bothering her, she can come sit on his lap, and instead of getting mad at her boyfriend, Lisa decides April is the one she should try to kill with a poison glare. Oh, honey. No.
Having had enough of the smokers, Jimmy grabs a can of soda off of a serving tray as a waitress goes by (because this is a sit-down hot dog restaurant whose going bribe rate is $50, and they serve you soda still in the can), shakes it up, and sprays it all over the smokers. And April. And some poor, random girl walking behind them. Jimmy is doing his best to endear himself to everyone, huh?
There’s a lot of shouting, and one of the smokers is a huge guy who stands up to threaten Jimmy, but April heads to the bathroom after the innocent bystander girl, who we know is British because she says “bloody” a lot. April quickly disavows British Girl of the notion that Jimmy is her boyfriend, and they introduce themselves. British Girl is named Laura Palmer, “Just like the corpse on that bloody TV show, Twin Peaks.” I guess Twin Peaks was still relevant in 1994? It ended in 1991, so I doubt everyone was snickering at her when they heard her name, but she sure acts like she can’t get away from it. I had no idea what the hell she was talking about the first time I read this, because I had never heard of Twin Peaks.
Naomi walks in while April is asking Laura if she’s British, and surprise! she’s not. Turns out she’s American, but was raised in London from the time she was a year old, so the accent set in. Which is cool, whatever, but then this exchange takes place:
“That’s stupid,” Naomi said. “I’d just say I was British. Get more boys that way. But that’s just my opinion.”
“I’d say you’re an ignorant little slut,” Laura said warmly. “But that’s just my opinion.”
Oh, Laura. What’s with the uncalled-for slut shaming?
Naomi is pissed, but April thinks it’s great and hilarious and I think she has a little crush on Laura. Hey, in my head, every character is bisexual until explicitly stated otherwise. Fight me.
The group goes to watch the non-Sylvester Stallone Demolition Man, then Jimmy tries to drive again (NOPE) but settles for giving April drunken directions to a party he’s sure is happening somewhere. Naturally they end up lost on some backwoods highway, because that’s what happens when the navigator is drunk. Did Chekov get drunk on the bridge of the Enterprise and tell Sulu to fly straight into Klingon territory? No, Jimmy, he did not. Take a lesson from Chekov, Jimmy.
April decides enough is enough, and signals her exit off the highway. She immediately realizes her mistake in letting the drunken idiots in the car know what she’s doing. Jimmy insists they stay on this road to find the non-existent party, and Naomi starts yelling at her and calling her “Little Miss Working Class.” Not very original as insults go, but it gets the point across. Naomi puts her foot on the steering wheel to nudge it away from the turn, then Jimmy grabs the wheel to prevent April from taking the exit, and steers her straight into a hitchhiker who had just stepped out from behind the exit sign.
Everyone freaks out, and April gets out of the car to check on the guy. Because she’s smart, she takes the car keys with her so that these assholes can’t take off without her. A car appears on the nearly-deserted road, and April tries to flag it down while her “friends” turn off the headlights and yell at her to get back in the car. The other car flies right past them without stopping, and Jimmy cracks that they probably just thought April was a hooker. Jesus Christ, Jimmy. I don’t even have words for how much I hate you.
The hitchhiker is dead, of course. They discover he has a gun and a knife on him, along with a duffel bag full of stolen wallets and cash. He’s also wearing a black fishnet shirt under his camouflage jacket, and I can’t help thinking those fashion choices don’t really seem to . . . mesh with each other. (Ha!) Oh, 1994, never change.
Jimmy and Naomi think they should bury the body and burn the car, and April is horrified at their attitude. Oh, April, you sweet innocent cinnamon roll. April wants to go to the police, but Jimmy tells her he’ll have Paulo hold her down, pour straight bourbon down her throat, then tell the cops she hit the guy on purpose because she thought it would be funny to see if he could fly. Fucking hell. Nobody backs her up, so she’s forced to go along with Jimmy’s plan. They use whatever they can find in the trunk to dig a hole and bury the body, then drive down the road a bit, set the car on fire, and walk to the next exit. They go to the cops and tell them that some psycho (never forget, crazy=dangerous!) flagged them down, forced them to dig their own graves, then Jimmy got the gun away from him and the psycho (never forget!) jumped in the car and took off. The cops believe this story, but this is Florida, home of the odd antics of Florida Man, so I guess it’s not that surprising.
They get back to the inn an hour before dawn and hold a confab in Paulo and Naomi’s room. At one point April notices Naomi seem freaked out by something in the mirror, but the moment passes. Well hello there, foreshadowing! April goes to sleep in her own room and wakes up in the afternoon. She realizes she’s still wearing the dirt-stained clothes from the night before, and decides to burn them in the old well on the property that is now dried up and used for burning. Well isn’t that convenient! She runs into Daniel on the way across the property, and if you’re asking just who the fuck Daniel is, you get a gold star for already being more on the ball than either the author or the editor of this book! Daniel is the boy from the day before – the hand-kisser. April magically knows his name, despite him never having told her, or us! This really annoys me, because it’s just so fucking lazy. How do you suddenly know this random boy’s name, April? Huh?
Anyway. Ugh. So, Daniel works maintenance at the Isley, and went on the tour to get close to April, but then got nervous when she actually spoke to him so he acted like an ass then ran away from her. Because he likes her. And April finds this charming. Goddammit, can I have my nostalgia glasses back, please? I don’t remember wanting to burn this book the last time I read it. Speaking of burning, Daniel asks about the bag of clothes, April tells him she wants to burn them, and he helps her, no questions asked. She starts crying when burning the clothes doesn’t rid her of the memories from the night before, and Daniel holds her while she tells him the bullshit cover story they told the cops. Then she gets even more depressed when she realizes that she can never tell him what really happened. Anyone taking bets on how long it takes her to tell him the real story?
They make a date for later that night, then April goes back inside and runs into Jimmy and Lisa in the lobby. Jimmy wants April to drive them around in the new rental car (god, I hope they sprung for the insurance on the last one), but she refuses. He threatens her, reminding her that they’re supposed to be acting like “business as usual” and she points out that they were accosted by a maniac (never. forget.) last night who wanted them to dig their own graves, and acting shaken up after an ordeal like that is business as usual. Fair enough.
After they leave, April hears some notes coming from the piano in the other room and longs to play it, but ends up having a conversation with an old man in the lobby instead. This is Leo Chinchester, and he warns April about the storm that’s coming, Hurricane Zelda. Now, wait. This is spring break, so it’s what, March? And we’re already on Zelda? So this is the 26th hurricane of the year? Listen, I’m writing this in September, and we’re only up to Hurricane Maria as of this writing. Does Nick Baron not understand how hurricanes are named? Anyway, Leo tells April that the Isley attracts shit to it like a magnet for bad luck, and somehow this leads to a discussion of Ray Bradbury’s story The Foghorn. Good God, I wish Nick Baron would stop name dropping better writers. All it makes me want to do is set this aside and read some Bradbury instead. Leo tells April that he saw her headed toward the music room and knows that that’s how the Isley is going to get to her, since this place is all manner of fucked up and gets to everyone somehow, whether they realize it or not.
April is supposed to meet Daniel for their date at seven, and she spends the day avoiding everyone by acting like a nerd and going to bookstores and the library. The book claims that the afternoon passes slowly for her, but I think Nick Baron forgot that he wrote earlier that April didn’t wake up til 2 in the afternoon. So, I figure it was after 3 by the time she’d finished burning the clothes, crying on Daniel, and talking to Leo, then it’s said that she arrives back at the Isley at “close to six” to get ready for her date. Mmkay. So, less than three hours to run around the island buying books and hanging at the library? I call bullshit. From the book’s description, you’d think we were talking about six or seven hours going by, not three or less.
April arrives back at the Isley to find the place in an uproar. All the Spring Breakers are there, frantically making phone calls and running around the lobby with their luggage. It’s already started to rain, and the storm is only going to get worse. Everyone is evacuating. Jimmy shows up and jerks April around about their travel arrangements before Lisa steps in and lets April know she took care of her ticket and she’s not stranded there like Jimmy was insinuating. Their flight is around lunchtime the next day. Jimmy and company wander off to find a party and presumably drink themselves into comas, and April and Daniel have a debate over whether they should keep their date since April is leaving tomorrow and she doesn’t want to get attached and then never see him again. Oh, good god. This relationship makes me want to puke, but I’ll wait for the worst of it before I explode. It’s coming though, folks, along with a personal story about Teen Me. Something to look forward to!
They go into the music room, and April admits she wants to play the piano just so very badly, sir. But she’s afraid the sound will bring in nosy people to listen. I think she’s overestimating panicked college kids’ appreciation for classical piano, but whatevs. So, Daniel locks the door so no one can come in. Um. Has no one taught April about stranger danger? Girl, you don’t even know this dude! He never even introduced himself to you! April remains miraculously unmolested and unmurdered, and sits down to play. The piano basically possesses her, making her play better than ever, and she’s a little freaked out by it. Not nearly as much as she should be, though. She’s tempted to play another piece but manages to resist, and she and Daniel go to dinner down the street at a classical music-themed cafe. Jesus. They talk about their families (April’s mom used to teach piano; Daniel’s family lives on the mainland), we find out Daniel is nineteen, then April name-drops the movie The Last of the Mohicans by describing a scene in it that’s basically two people looking at each other and just knowing, you know? And then she and Daniel take each other’s hands and know that it’s too late to stop this from happening. I want to explode right here about rushed relationships, but I’m holding it in until it gets even worse. Because it does.
They name-drop Frankenstein, because that’s what Daniel is currently reading, and this book is really giving Ready Player One a run for its money when it comes to the sheer number of pop culture references. I haven’t even included them all and it still feels like a ton. Daniel low key calls April his girlfriend (still not quite explody time . . .), and then asks her if she’s ever slept with anyone, but fear not! he only means literal sleep, not sex. See, April is a virgin, and she’s not ready to take that step, not even with Daniel. But they go back to the Isley and she spends the night in his bed, talking, and then “their words faded and the soft sounds of pleasure they made were swallowed up by the storm raging outside the window.” So . . . they totally fucked, right?
April dreams about the vagrant (that’s a hell of a word, really. there’s something so descriptive about it and how it immediately brings up a certain image. on a related note, if you can find it, go watch this movie called The Vagrant. It stars Bill Paxton, Michael Ironside, and Marshall Bell, and is totally wacky and weird, like one of the better episodes of Tales From the Crypt. So much stupid, ridiculous fun.) that they killed, and he’s got her trapped in this room with walls painted red, maybe painted with blood, and things creeping and skittering around her on the floor. There are no doors, but outside the window, other . . . things . . . can almost be seen. The vagrant informs April that this is the Chaos Motel, and he’s trapped there. He taunts her for a while, giving her next to no information, and this scene and others like it are really the only time this book does anything effectively, and probably why I remember it being so scary. April wakes up, then falls back asleep with Daniel beside her, oblivious to the fact that her other “friends” (and, as it turns out, everyone still at the Isley) are having their own dreams about the Chaos Motel.
The next morning, April and Daniel wake up together, and they’re both dramatically reluctant to part. Daniel says he’ll move to Cooper’s Hollow to be with April, then says he loves her even when she says that’s impossible (you know, because they don’t even fucking know each other!), then she gives in and admits she loves him, too, and he says that nothing will ever take her away from him. Oh, look at that boys and girls, it’s Explody Time!
So, April is so good at identifying Jimmy’s obviously abusive behavior, but it NEVER FUCKING OCCURS TO HER THAT IMMEDIATELY PROFESSING LOVE AFTER KNOWING HER FOR A FUCKING DAY IS ALSO A CLASSIC SIGN OF AN ABUSER! HE’S GOING TO UPROOT HIS LIFE AND MOVE UP THE EASTERN SEABOARD FOR A GIRL HE JUST FUCKING MET! AND THIS FUCKING SHIT IS PRESENTED AS GOOD AND ROMANTIC AND RIGHT, AND JUST FUCK YOU NICK BARON! FUCK YOU RIGHT SIDEWAYS WITH A CHAINSAW! Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, it’s story time: When I was but a wee little 15-year-old, I met a guy who was 19. We had sex the first night we met (hello, statutory rape!), and he decided we were now in a (extremely accelerated) relationship, and after a few days he started telling me he loved me, and not letting me get off the phone with him until I said it back. Then he started asking me what I would say if he asked me to marry him (he’d already “proposed” to my cousin after knowing her for a week, but that’s another story). He would tell me what to wear and fix my hair before we went out. He told one of my guy friends that he would kick his ass if he kept talking to me. He repeated (completely out of context) some things my mom said about my cousin back to her and drove a wedge between us. This was all over the course of 2-3 weeks. Yup, you read that right. 2-3 weeks. But the final straw for in-denial Teen Me came one night when I was sick at home and told him I didn’t want him coming to see me because I didn’t feel well and wasn’t up to having company. He kept insisting until I told him I would have my mom turn him away at the door if he came over anyway. I’ll give y’all three guesses what happened, but you’ll only need one. He came over, my mom didn’t let him in. He called me up when he got home and started yelling at me like, “You’re MY girlfriend, and I can see MY girlfriend whenever I want to!” As soon as the shock at realizing that guys like this actually exist outside of Lifetime movies passed, I dumped his ass faster than you can say “Bye, boy.” Guys who immediately insist they love you and push to accelerate the relationship are not romantic – they’re manipulative and abusive. Google “love bombing” and please take heed. These are not good people, they don’t love you, and books like this that push this notion that relationships like this are romantic and what everyone should aspire to is making young girls more susceptible to abusive relationships because of the fucking way they’re romanticized. So fuck you, Nick Baron and everyone else who writes teen (and adult) abusive relationships as romantic. Fuck you all to Hell.
April and her shitty friends leave the Isley, but have to turn back when they get to the bridge and realize a boat has crashed into it, wiping it out entirely. It’s the only way off the island, because of course it is. They get back to the inn and find out from Leo that the phone lines are down and they’re battening down the hatches preparing for the hurricane. There’s a storm shelter everyone will need to get in when things really start up, and April realizes that “everyone” is eighteen people including their group. And fuck me, there’s another Robot Roll Call moment here, halfway through this fucking book. I’ll hurry through it, because this recap is already 5000 words and I’m not even halfway through the book. There’s a couple in their 30s/40s, Tom and Cathy, and their twin 5-year-olds, Ben and Alexa; a group of college kids – two couples (one of them is named Bill and Julia), and three girls, one of whom is named Penny, and oh boy I get to go explody over her description, yay! She’s described as “a light-skinned black, or maybe Brazilian like Paulo.” A light-skinned black. A . . . BLACK. Nick Baron, black is a fucking adjective – you’re missing a noun there. All you had to do was add the word “woman.” That’s all you had to do to not be racist. But no, you decided to call someone “a black.” I’m . . . fuck. How did I not remember this book being so terrible?
Jimmy makes lecherous comments toward Penny, because of course he fucking does, which leads to some heated exchanges between Jimmy and, well, everyone, then Jimmy makes toward his suitcase and Lisa screams “NO!” at him. Gee, do y’all think he has the vagrant’s gun in there? I would be absolutely shocked to find out that’s the case! Jimmy threatens Daniel some, because why the fuck not, then Old Man Leo punches Jimmy in the gut and lays him out. Turns out Leo used to be a professional boxer, and then worked as a bouncer. You go, old man! The front door blows open, and who rushes in through the wind and rain but miss Laura Palmer and her equally stereotypically British friend, Angelique. Laura is thrilled to see Jimmy on the floor writhing in pain, then introduces herself and several of the college kids immediately chorus “The dead girl from Twin Peaks?” Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Everyone wonders what they’re going to do to pass the time, and Leo says there are some board games, but Angelique suggests a game she used to play in school – you tell everyone about the scariest thing that ever happened to you. So, not really a game, then, just story time? Sure, okay. Angelique starts off, telling about the time when she was thirteen and walking with her niece, Cynthia (this is the only time she’s referred to as her niece – every other time she’s mentioned, she’s Angelique’s cousin. Yay for continuity.), to go visit some of Cynthia’s friends. A man in a ski mask grabbed them both and took them to his van, where he had a bed, restraints, and various implements of torture. But he was only set up for one little girl so he made them play rock-paper-scissors to see which one he would keep. Angelique won, so he took Cynthia.
Tom tells his story next, and it never becomes relevant to anything that happens later in this terrible, terrible book, but it’s basically this: when Cathy was pregnant with the twins, the abusive husband in the apartment next to theirs shot his wife and then himself, and the bullets went through the wall where Cathy was sitting. If she hadn’t leaned forward to answer the phone at that exact moment, she would have been shot, too.
Naomi refuses to tell a story, but Paulo insists on staying and tells about his abusive father and how his mother killed him one night to stop the abuse. But Paulo never saw the body, so in a way, his father isn’t really dead for him. Here we also find out that Cathy is a mental health counselor, which makes her ableism (she calls the unknown killer a nutcase) later on even grosser. During Paulo’s story, the lights go out, so now our group is sitting around telling scary stories in the dark. Awesome. It is literally a dark and stormy night.
The group goads Jimmy into telling his story, but the story he tells is the Clive Barker story called The Body Politic. (This was one of two stories featured a couple of years later in the TV movie, Quicksilver Highway, along with Stephen King’s story, Chattery Teeth. The more you know.) Tom recognizes the story and calls Jimmy out on his bullshit, and Jimmy is pissed off and wants to know how the hell Tom knows that story! Um, it’s a fucking Clive Barker story, Jimmy, probably a lot of fucking people know that story. But of course Tom only knows it because he’s a horror writer, surprise! Only horror authors read horror stories! Fucking duh! Jimmy does what I wish I could do and storms off from the other characters (but not before the text refers to him as “Tom” just to make sure we all know the editor really earned their paycheck on this one – in a few more pages, Leo will be referred to as “Leon”.) Everyone takes a break from story hour to set up lanterns around the first floor, and Leo tells them that it might not be the best idea to let these walls know what scares you. And that makes sense, but later on it turns out that it doesn’t even matter, so this warning is pretty damn pointless.
Back at story hour, Lisa’s biggest fear is being alone. She name drops that Twilight Zone episode, Time Enough at Last, and Terminator 2, plus a couple other movies I can’t be bothered to name. So when did story hour turn into talking about what you’re afraid of instead of telling a story about something that happened to you? I guess Lisa’s scary story is watching that episode of the Twilight Zone, then? In an effort to make sure this book has as many dated references as possible, the dead girl from Twin Peaks‘s biggest fear is that the Troubles are going to follow her to America. But at least she has a story about seeing some kids she knew blown away by an IRA bomb at the tube station. April cops out as well, talking generally about being afraid things she’s done will come back to haunt her, but shuts up when Naomi starts giving her a death glare. Before Daniel can tell his story, Leo pops in and breaks things up to get help preparing for Hurricane Zelda. All I picture when I hear Zelda is this:
Meanwhile in Jimmy’s room, he’s creaming himself over the gun and thinking about the dream he had last night where the vagrant came to him in the Chaos Motel and basically offered him a reprieve if he could possess Jimmy’s body. There’s also some internal dialog about what a psycho (remember: never forget!) Jimmy’s older brother Anthony is, and then Jimmy thinks about how much he wanted to pull the gun on April, Daniel, and Leo downstairs, but having the gun would contradict the story they told the cops, and just hold up a minute. Their story was that the vagrant got distracted, Jimmy lunged for him, he dropped the gun, and took off in their car. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the kids to have the gun? Did the cops even ask what happened to the gun? Were they too busy dealing with Florida Man selling golden tickets to Heaven? (Sadly, this turned out to be a fake story.)
Jimmy spends some more time contemplating performing a mass shooting, while a voice in his head that is part Abusive Big Bro Anthony and part Vagrant goads him on. He’s interrupted by a knock at his door and opens it to find Penny (you know – the black) and her two, apparently nameless, friends. They want to have some “fun” with Jimmy, and Jimmy is a fucking idiot, doesn’t see the set up coming a mile away, and allows them to tie him up. Because Jimmy thinks he’s a sexy Kit-Kat bar that everyone wants to break themselves off a piece of.
Downstairs, Lisa is feeling bored and useless, and has some internal dialog about how she knows Jimmy is being horrible but she just loves him so desperately. Did I just throw up in my mouth a little? A couple of the college kids try to get Lisa upstairs so she can walk in on Jimmy with the other girls, but April pops out of nowhere and shames her for always being at his beck and call. The college couple try one or two more tacks to get Lisa up to the room, then finally flat out tell her he’s hooking up with three girls. Lisa and April burst into the room, Penny and her friends laugh at Jimmy and run out, and Lisa stuffs a pillowcase in Jimmy’s mouth and she and April leave him tied to the bed. Good for you, Lisa! Look at that backbone grow!
In April’s room, she and Lisa have a heart-to-heart about what a shitty friend Lisa’s been, and how guilty they feel about the hit-and-run (hit-and-stop-and-clandestinely-bury?), and April finds out Lisa had a similar dream about the Chaos Motel. At one point they hear something in the hall outside the door, but lol I’m sure it’s nothing.
Oops, it wasn’t nothing! Laura heard them, and now she’s wondering what to do with this information. She decides to do nothing, and the vagrant sees this from a mirror in the Chaos Motel and talks to himself/the reader about how Laura just sealed her own fate by choosing not to help him. Guys, I never finished watching Twin Peaks; was Laura Palmer killed by the vengeful spirit of a vehicular manslaughter victim?
Back to Jimmy, tied up and gagged on the bed. He wonders why Lisa didn’t take the gun from his suitcase before leaving the room since she’d acted like she knew he had it, then hears Abusive Big Bro Anthony’s voice in his head, taunting him about only dating dumb chicks to make himself feel superior. This plunges Jimmy into the memory of when he was six and Anthony was eighteen, and their parents left them alone for the weekend. Anthony handcuffed Jimmy to a light fixture in a closet and left him hanging there overnight, burning his arm on the bulb and ultimately breaking his wrist. (There’s mention of other chronic abuse, but not in specifics. I don’t know if the implication is more physical abuse, or sexual abuse as well, but either way this is fucking horrible and gives the reader some sympathy for Baby Jimmy. Teen Jimmy is still a shitbag, but he didn’t deserve that childhood abuse.) The parents came home and overheard Anthony coaching Jimmy on what to say before he would take him to the hospital, and they immediately kicked Anthony out and disowned him. Good. Now if we could just stop using words like crazy and psycho to describe this child-abusing piece of trash, I’d be even happier.
When Jimmy finishes reliving this awfulness, he opens his eyes and finds that he’s in the Chaos Motel now, with things skittering (I fucking love that word!) across the floor, and shadows of terrible things, including Anthony, dancing on the walls. The vagrant, who is also in shadow except for glowing red eyes, tells Jimmy he can try to keep Anthony away from him, but it’ll cost him. Jimmy agrees, and the vagrant locks him (his mind? his soul?) in a closet with Anthony and takes over his body to go stir some shit up in the Isley. See, scenes like this are when this book is at its best, and these scenes are much fewer and farther between than my memory led me to believe.
In Naomi and Paulo’s room, sexy times have just ended, and rather than bask in the afterglow, Naomi is pissed because Paulo thinks they should go back downstairs to weather the storm with the others instead of going for round two. Then he has the audacity to go into the bathroom. Apparently nobody gets to take a post-fuck piss unless Naomi OK’s it! She gets up and looks in the mirror and is reminded of the skittering (okay, we might be overusing this word now, Nick Baron) things she thought she saw reflected there the first night. She hears the vagrant start talking to her, and the reflection in the mirror changes to the Chaos Motel. She tries to get away through a blue door that appears, but when she goes through she falls into a cellar. This is just like what happened to her at Aunt Sarah’s house when she was a kid, which is the scary story she didn’t tell the others, proving that the inn knows your fears without needing them vocalized. The floor of the cellar is covered in a squirming mass of bugs – she reminds herself not to scream because the first time this happened she made that mistake and got a mouthful of bugs. Welp, I’m grossed out; are you grossed out? There’s a horrible whistling, keening sound, and the vagrant throws down a lit book of matches so that Naomi can see what’s coming for her. Cockroaches, rats, spiders, the floor is crawling with them, crawling on her, biting and clawing, but she thinks she can get through it since she survived this nightmare when she was a kid. But I guess the vagrant has Yog Soggoth on speed-dial, because the next thing Naomi sees is a horde of Lovecraftian monstrosities crawling toward her. There’s a thing with a mass of tentacles, a thing made of eyes and dripping acid, a spider thing with seven interlocking jaws . . . goddamn, if more of the book was like this, I’d totally still be on board with it! As soon as the first creature reaches Naomi, she pretty much breaks, and . . . yeah. I probably would have snapped even sooner, because that is just horrifying.
Paulo comes out of the bathroom and finds Naomi dead on the bed, blood everywhere, with a dark-coated figure crouched over her. When the figure turns around, Paulo just screams and screams. Like I said, book, do more of this. Shit.
Now we have to spend some time downstairs with April and Daniel, prepping food for the storm, and I’d rather not. I want more murder and mayhem and monsters fucking shit up, please. Daniel is acting weird toward April, oh gee, is the honeymoon over already? Cue teen angst that I can’t be fucking bothered with. Paulo comes stumbling in, his hair has turned white, and he’s screaming about seeing his father murder Naomi and then disappear into the mirror. Then he realizes that the kitchen is full of reflective surfaces, and starts having a seizure. Yeah, he dies, supposedly from swallowing his tongue. Which is actually physically impossible to do, but sure, let’s keep perpetuating that myth.
Everyone runs upstairs, but Laura Palmer is the only one with the stomach to go in and inspect Naomi’s body. Probably on account of being a television corpse. She deduces from the carnage that Naomi is indeed dead, then promptly passes out. Because it’s not a teen horror novel until a girl faints. Worried about Jimmy, the group runs to his room to find the bed empty and the words TWO DOWN written in blood on the wall. Lisa discovers that the gun is missing, and Discount Stephen King points out that Naomi wasn’t killed with a gun. Very astute observation there, Tom. Brilliant. They puzzle over what TWO DOWN means, April suggests Naomi and Paulo, but Discount Stephen King doesn’t think that makes sense because Paulo wasn’t killed; he swallowed his own tongue. Cue inarticulate noises of rage from me, your friendly neighborhood recapper. Cathy decides to go check on the kids, but Tom stays with the others. There’s some arguing about whether Jimmy is a victim or the killer, after they decide Paulo couldn’t have killed Naomi because he would have been covered in blood if he had. They determine that there are six people currently unaccounted for, and decide to search the inn, starting at the bottom and working their way up. This seems backwards to me, and to Leo as well, but I really don’t give a fuck anymore. At all. Do what you want, idiot characters I don’t care about. Somewhere in here Nick Baron also name-drops Friday the 13th by having Lisa ask if this is the part where they all split up like the idiot characters in those movies. Oh God, we have a smugly self-aware author here, guys. Look how he pokes fun at the genre he writes in. Yawn.
While everyone is arguing about how to search the inn and whether or not they even should search, Cathy comes in screaming that the kids are missing! Dun-dun-DUN! Tom and Cathy question Bill and Julia, the college kids who were babysitting the twins, and they say they were getting their asses kicked at Monopoly by the kids, and Alexa was teasing Ben about a girl he has a crush on. Um, these are still five-year-olds, right? They start searching the inn for the kids, Penny and her friends nope the fuck out of the inn after finding out about Naomi, more searching, then Cathy insists they check the elevator even though the electricity is out and the elevator requires a key to open. The elevator is on the top floor when Daniel looks into the shaft, and he thinks he hears laughter in the shaft (never a good sign when someone laughs at your shaft), then Jimmy’s voice taunts them by saying he left a present in the elevator, and the cage falls down and crashes at the bottom floor. When the group runs down to look, there’s an impaled teddy bear and SORRY, KIDS. SOMETIMES ALL YOU GET IS THE BEAR. BY THE WAY, FOUR DOWN written on the wall of the elevator. Is “sometimes all you get is the bear” an actual expression? I’ve never heard it and it sounds fucking stupid. Wordplay is not this killer’s strong suit. It comes off as ridiculous rather than threatening.
While Tom and Cathy freak out thinking their kids are two of the four, the kids show up behind them. Surprise! They were playing hide and seek and then thought they were in trouble. This is why I’m in favor of putting children on leashes. And in kennels. And neutering them. Is that too far? That might be too far. Carry on.
The storm is really picking up now, and Leo insists everyone needs to get down to the storm cellar. (Now, I’m a midwestern girl – no hurricanes here, just tornadoes and it makes sense to have storm shelters here. Are underground storm cellars used for hurricanes? Being underground during storms that cause massive flooding doesn’t sound like a good idea, but like I said, I don’t know about hurricanes.) April and Laura suddenly realize that Lisa and Angelique are missing and are probably the other two of the four.
Angelique is still upstairs, having not run down to check the crashed elevator with the others. She stayed where she was because her cousin Cynthia (see, she’s her cousin now, wtf) appeared to her, still a child, in a lacy white dress. Well. Nothing could go wrong here. Cynthia takes her by the hand and tells her she can help her find the little missing kids, then pulls her into one of the rooms, where the torturer in the ski mask waits for her. When she looks back at Cynthia, she’s mostly skinned, flesh hanging in charred strips off a rotting skeleton. She tells Angelique that scissors cut stone, stone crushes paper, and this time she wins. This is great, and one of the scenes that stuck with me all these years since I first read this. Damn, when this book does something right, it does it really right. The rest of the time . . . not so much.
Downstairs, Leo is refusing to let the girls go search for their friends, so April pretends to go along, then bolts. Laura tries to copy, but Leo and a couple of the college kids grab her and drag her down to the storm shelter. Daniel and April head out to search for Lisa, but hear the piano playing in the music room. Jimmy’s possessed body is sitting at the piano, drenched in blood, leaving pink smears on the keys as he plays. Um. This isn’t the first time blood smears have been described as pink, and unless you’re a Klingon, that’s very very wrong. How the hell does Nick Baron not know what color blood is? Is he an alien? Is he a Klingon?
Possessed Jimmy takes his hands off the piano keys, and the piano continues to play. Guys, this only reinforces my earlier belief that this is a player piano. It’s not spooky; it’s technology – very old technology. He tells them that Lisa is resting upstairs, then tries to tempt them with their wildest dreams – famous pianist for April, famous writer for Daniel. Jesus Christ, there are two writers in this story? How many author surrogates do we have to put up with? (Well . . . two, I guess.) Then the mask slips and April sees the Chaos Motel for a split second and realizes Jimmy is really the vagrant. He threatens to shoot her and Daniel, and Danny Boy is all like “lol fuckin do it then, chump” and walks out of the room with April. Because somehow he knows that the vagrant wants to make them suffer, not just straight up shoot them like some punk.
In the storm shelter, Laura is exasperated at being held there instead of being allowed to search for Angelique, but then two ghosts appear in a corner of the shelter and everyone shuts the hell up to listen to their little exposition-fest. These ghosts are Elizabeth and Karl. Elizabeth wants to move on, but Karl is too scared.
Eventually Elizabeth is all like fuck it, I’m going into the light, and promises Karl she’ll try to contact him after she gets wherever the light leads. Years go by, and Karl and his surroundings rot and decay, blood runs from the walls, creatures run across the floor, and thus is born the Chaos Motel – with vacancies. Then they see the vagrant enter, and of course he has to ruin the whole atmosphere by saying, “Honey, I’m home.” Then the whole scene disappears. Everyone tries to figure out if it was real or a mass hallucination, settling on real when they realize they’ve all dreamed about the Chaos Motel. Then Laura tells everyone in the shelter about April and her group running the vagrant down. Somehow then Tom and Cathy figure out that the gun Jimmy has must be the vagrant’s and that’s what’s anchoring him to this world. Additionally, the Chaos Motel is feeding off the vagrant’s energy and vice versa. And the ghost (which ghost? Karl? The vagrant?) showed them this because he’s conflicted – he both loves and hates what he’s become. This book is so much better when it doesn’t try to explain things. It’s agreed that they need to get the gun out of the inn, and Leo reluctantly lets Laura out of the storm shelter.
On the third floor, April and Daniel find a blood-soaked bed but no bodies, and now it’s confession time. Everything Daniel told April about his family is a lie. Shock. The real story is that he ran away when he was sixteen. He stole some money from his dad to pay for an abortion for a scared friend, people found out, and his dad kicked him out. Okay. Fair enough, but fucking hell, he’s confessing this and begging April to forgive him for lying to her like he was a serial killer or something. There’s not much here to ask forgiveness for, honestly. Especially considering April actually did kill someone, but I digress. They search the fourth floor and find Lisa dead in a room with a note pinned to her shirt that says, I’M RESTING IN PEACE. God, this killer wants to be Freddy Krueger, doesn’t he?
There’s not a mark on Lisa that they can tell, but when Daniel tries to move her at April’s request, they discover that her spine has been removed. Damn, you’re telling me she just started standing up for herself, and now she’s spineless again? Doesn’t that just figure. They start to leave, but then Lisa sits up despite not having a backbone (and, you know, being dead) and fires Jimmy’s gun at them. Cliffhanger chapter ending!
We switch back to Laura, who has been searching the ground floor and is preparing to go upstairs when a bomb explodes behind her and knocks her to the ground. When she gets up, the Isley is leveled and there’s smoke and bombs and soldiers coming her way. I guess a haunted inn on some Floridian island was too tempting a target for the IRA to pass up! Laura’s greatest fears have been realized – the Troubles followed her to America. She frantically looks around for shelter, and one of the gargoyles from the gates of the Isley detaches itself and flies toward her. This prompts her to suddenly realize none of this is real, and she tells the gargoyle this is all an illusion and it can’t hurt her. To which the gargoyle is all, LOL wanna bet, you bloody twit? and slices her face up with its talons.
This is pretty much the worst pain Laura can imagine (at least so far), and as the gargoyle comes in for another attack, she screams and covers her face . . . and nothing happens. She opens her eyes and sees one of the soldiers, who is really the vagrant, kill the gargoyle. He offers to get her out of here if she helps him. She tells him to drop dead, and he’s like, Duh lady, I’m already dead, that’s kinda the problem, you know? Then he offers to show her what the alternative to helping him is, and a bomb explodes right behind her. The flesh is burned off her body, and she can feel her bones charring and it’s pure agony. Once again, an effective scene in an otherwise trash book. Laura can’t take the pain, especially after the vagrant tells her he can hold her in this state forever, and she desperately agrees to help him, even though she hates herself for doing it. And listen, having all your flesh flash-fried off your body and feeling that pain forever? I can’t say I blame her too much.
Back upstairs with April and Daniel. Oh, yeah, did someone get shot or something? Do I care? A bullet grazed Daniel’s head, so there’s a lot of blood, but it’s not life-threatening. April grabs Lisa’s wrist, the next bullet shatters a mirror, then Lisa falls back onto the bed where maybe she’ll just stay fucking dead this time. I’m still wondering why she’s the only one whose death scene we didn’t actually get to see. And how does being afraid of being alone for all eternity translate into her getting her spine removed? I mean, make all the “spineless” jokes you want, but I think Nick Baron just couldn’t come up with an appropriate scene. Either that, or his word count was running over and he didn’t want to cut any of the totally healthy and not at all creepy and abusive romantic scenes with April and Daniel.
Daniel takes the gun, because the kid with the head injury and blood running into his eyes is the logical choice for gunslinger, and mentions the vagrant/Jimmy must be moving through the mirrors like Paulo said. They go out in the hall, and Laura is there like, Surprise you bloody twats! Hey, your girlfriend’s a murderer! Little Miss Vehicular Manslaughter 1994!
Which creates enough of a wedge between April and this boy she’s known for all of two days for the vagrant to transport April (physically, somehow) to the Chaos Motel, where he recaps everything Ghost Karl and Ghost Elizabeth showed the others down in the storm shelter. He says the motel has become like him – more dark and twisted over time, and April says she thinks it’s the other way around.
Meanwhile in the hallway, Daniel is having a “which way did she go?” moment on account of April disappearing right in front of his eyes.
Laura is distraught over helping the vagrant take April, but Daniel reassures her that it’s his fault as much as hers, because the strength they had as a couple made them untouchable, and his disgust at hearing what April did was enough to let the vagrant tear them apart. Again, they’ve known each other for maybe two fucking days. Whatever, let’s just get through this; we’re almost done.
Jimmy comes running out of a room across the hall, hits Daniel across the back with a chair like the backyard wrestling fan we all know he must be, then takes him down and leaps on his back like a flying squirrel, wrestles the gun away, and presses it against Daniel’s head, claiming the vagrant let him out of the closet (they’re gonna party with the Babadook later) and the only way he can stay out and away from Abusive Big Bro Anthony is if he does this. Daniel and Laura both try to talk him down and convince him to fight the vagrant alongside them, but Jimmy doesn’t think that’s possible. He is having a crisis of conscience, however, and now realizes that he doesn’t really want to kill anyone after all. He sees a shadow on the wall at the end of the hall, watches it for a moment, then sticks the gun under his chin and shoots himself in the head like the shadow showed him. This is treated like it was help from a friendly source showing him what to do, but anyone who tells you to kill yourself isn’t a friend, folks.
In the Chaos Motel, Jimmy’s suicide physically knocks the vagrant back, and April briefly sees the scene in the hall through a doorway that appears. The vagrant starts yelling about how Jimmy couldn’t possibly have been strong enough to do that on his own, and I’m disturbed that suicide is being presented as the right and strong thing to do. Not a great message to be sending here, Nick Baron.
April decides it’s time to bring out her inner Mufasa, and starts questioning the vagrant about who he had been in life, demanding he remember, and it’s basically this for half a page:
In the hallway, Laura grabs the gun from Jimmy’s corpse and realizes they have to get it out of the inn, but dead, partially skinned Angelique comes busting out of a mirror like a murderous Alice and tackles Laura before she can throw the gun out the window. The gun goes off, killing Laura, so Daniel tackles Angelique and they both fall out the window. What floor are they on? Oh, fuck it, I don’t care.
The vagrant starts screaming as the memories flood back to him, and he remembers that he wasn’t really such a bad guy in life – he was a thief, but he never hurt anyone. He only had the gun for protection from crazies (Remember. Who. You. oh, wait, that doesn’t apply here. Um. Shoot more mentally ill people before they can be weird at you?) he ran into while hitchhiking, and the only time he’d fired it was to scare off a mean dog. The lessons from The Lion King were well learned this day, because remembering who he was (Dennis Colbert: Gentleman Thief) defeats the hold the Chaos Motel has over him, and now Ghost Karl physically detaches himself from Vagrant Dennis to fuck shit up himself, cuz if you want something done right . . . Oh, except now here’s Ghost Laura, Lisa, Jimmy, Paulo, Naomi, and Angelique all present and accounted for to stand up to Karl and the Chaos Motel. Ghost smackdown! Oh, no, it’s just a verbal smackdown. Karl is a very whiny ghost. Not very threatening, and Laura actually scolds him like he’s a petulant child. Nice. He’s like, Elizabeth crossed over and left me, waah, waah, and Laura tells him no, you fucking idiot, she’s right here if you’d open your damn eyes and look. And he does, and she is, and she leads him into the light. It’s all rather anti-climatic, really. Lisa shoves April out of whatever hellscape the Chaos Motel exists in and back into the hallway, and April and Daniel make their way downstairs to the storm shelter.
The next morning, the storm has passed but something is blocking the hatch down to the shelter, so everyone has to wait until just before nightfall to be rescued. The Isley Inn has been completely leveled. Well. Good riddance, I guess? Daniel still plans to move to New York to be with April, and I still think it’s a terrible idea. As soon as things stop being perfect, he’s going to start taking it out on her for “making” him move to be with her, mark my words. But of course, no, this is fucking romantic or some such bullshit. Cue them riding into the sunset on horses whose tails have intertwined to form a heart.
Nostalgia Glasses Off:
This is the first thing I’ve recapped that I feel like my nostalgia glasses have been ripped off my face, stomped on til they shattered, then the shards driven into my eyes. Good God. It’s a shame, too, because the death scenes and scenes in the Chaos Motel are really effectively written, but they’re too few and far between, and the book takes forever to do anything interesting. And the rest of it is just so terrible. So very, very terrible. This may have broken me. Like Future Me (who is really Past Me now) said up there, if you need me, I’ll be in the corner, drinking and crying.