Title: Wait Till Helen Comes
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Published: Nov. 1987
Description: Beware of Helen . . .
Heather is such a whiny little brat. Always getting Michael and me into trouble. But since our mother married her father, we’re stuck with her . . . our “poor stepsister” who lost her real mother in a mysterious fire.
But now something terrible has happened. Heather has found a new friend, out in the graveyard behind our home – a girl named Helen who died with her family in a mysterious fire over a hundred years ago. Now her ghost returns to lure children into the pond . . . to drown! I don’t want to believe in ghosts, but I’ve followed Heather into the graveyard and watched her talk to Helen. And I’m terrified. Not for myself, but for Heather . . .
This is one of my favorite books from childhood. I remember reading it when I was about eight years old and loving it. I think I owned it but lost it over the years, so when I was a young teen I decided I wanted it back, but none of the local bookstores had it in stock. I had the Walden Books in the mall special order it for me, because Amazon wasn’t a thing yet. I remember being slightly embarrassed as a teenager ordering what is essentially a children’s book, but I was so happy when it came in, and upon rereading it, it was as good as I’d remembered from when I was eight. On this reread . . . guys, it’s still good!
There’s a movie version that came out in late 2016/early 2017 starring Callum Keith Rennie (whom I adore) and Maria Bello as the parents, and I’m considering watching and recapping it as well. However, most of the reviews were lukewarm at best, and I guess it premiered on the Lifetime channel (with the title Little Girl’s Secret, which makes it sound like a whole other type of movie altogether), so I don’t have high hopes for it. It might make for a snarkier recap, though. If I can find it as a rental I have more than 24 hours with, it may end up as a companion piece to this.
Finally, I just need to talk about this cover for a second. I love it! Helen looks creepy as hell; if she or Heather have any peripheral vision at all, then they already know Molly is spying on them, and can we talk about Heather’s fabulous mullet? I. Love. It. This is the perfect 1980s cover, guys! (But also, it’s summertime, so why is everyone wearing sweatshirts . . . ?) Boyfriend saw the cover and called it the most eighties thing he’s ever seen (not wrong), and then when I told him what it’s about, he was like, Damn, that’s pretty heavy for a kids’ book. (Again, not wrong.)
We open with our protagonist, Molly . . . well, I don’t think we ever find out her last name. Later we find out that her stepsister’s last name is Hill, but I don’t know if Molly and her brother changed their last names to their stepfather’s. Hmm. We’re off to a great start here, aren’t we?
Okay. We start with twelve-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother, Michael, finding out that their mom, Jean, and stepdad, Dave, bought a church out in the country. It’s got a carriage house that Dave can use as a pottery studio, and Mom can use the choir loft of the church as a painting studio. There’s an addition built onto the church proper for living quarters, and it all sounds like somewhere I would love to live. The kids disagree with me. They currently all live in Baltimore and have plans for creative writing classes (Molly) and Science Club (Michael) over the summer.
Seven-year-old stepsister Heather walks in while Molly and Michael are protesting moving, and she’s apparently delighted to see them fighting because she’s literally Satan. At least that’s Molly’s take on it. Dave comes home seconds later, and Heather immediately tattles that “they were fighting” and jumps into his arms for a hug.
Michael and Molly go downstairs to finish their homework and talk, and we find out that Molly thinks Heather acts more like a two-year-old than a seven-year-old, she tattles and lies all the time to get them in trouble, and Dave and even Mom are always believing her and taking her side. Then we find out that Heather’s birth mom died in a fire when Heather was three, and Dave refuses to take her to a therapist because he thinks all they do is “mess up your head.” Ummm, not winning any points with me here, Dave. Your kid watched her mom die in a fire; it’s probably one of her very first memories. She needs to talk to someone about it for fuck sake.
Molly mentions the movie The Bad Seed, and wonders if maybe Heather burned her mother up on purpose. Michael tells her she’s “crazy” (get used to this, there’s a lot of the kids calling each other crazy. We didn’t know much better in the 80s.), and that a three-year-old couldn’t commit murder. Molly claims she was just kidding to avoid embarrassment, but she secretly thinks that Heather makes her super uncomfortable. Molly’s spent the last six months trying to be a good sister to her, but Heather wants none of it – calling the books Molly tries to read to her “boring” and “stupid,” screaming when she tries to brush her hair, tearing up the paper dolls Molly makes her, and cutting all the hair off of the Barbie dolls Molly lets her play with. So, is Heather related to the little boy from The Babadook?
Fast forward from March to the first day of summer vacation, the day of the Big Move. Molly is in her mom’s van with Mom and Michael, following along behind Dave and Heather in the U-Haul truck. Molly describes the area to us, but there’s a map (which may or may not be 100% in line with what’s described to us as the book goes on; then again I’m not great at interpreting maps) included in the front of the book, so I give that to you now:
Molly wants to know where the other houses are, and is less than happy when Mom tells her that the nearest neighbor is about a mile off. Their post office address may be in Holwell, but as you can see from the map, Holwell is a good five miles away. Y’all be out in the country now, kids! Michael is upset because he thought they would be down the street from a library. To be fair, Mom clearly misled them a bit. She says they can ride their bikes to town since it’s only “a couple” miles away. Um, five miles is more in the “a few” to “several” range, and I’m not sure I was so hot on riding my bike ten miles round trip when I was that age. On the other hand, I really want to live in this converted church out in the country, so maybe stop complaining, kids, okay?
The adults start unpacking the trucks (with Michael running around to make sure no one damages his bug collections and science-y stuff), and Mom and Dave insist Molly take Heather for a walk to keep her out of the way. Molly tries to take Heather’s hand, and Heather yanks away like Molly tried to jam it in a wood chipper or something. They follow a trail through the woods and end up coming out along the creek, where Molly goes wading and Heather sulks. Eventually they get stopped by a No Trespassing sign hung on a barbed wire fence strung across the creek, keeping cows in the pasture. Based on the illustration of that map up there, I can’t quite figure out where this is, since the creek appears to be bordered by woods all around, but it must be in that little bend close to the pasture, even though it looks like woods.
Heather mocks Molly for being startled by the cows, although Molly is really a total scaredy cat about pretty much everything, so maybe Heather isn’t totally wrong here. They turn back, and follow the creek the whole way back up to the church, instead of getting back on the trail they took down. This leads them to the small, overgrown graveyard behind (beside?) the church, and Heather again mocks Molly for being scared. Is this a pattern I’m sensing? Molly lies and says she doesn’t think they should cut through the graveyard because it’s probably private property and they could get in trouble. Am I oversimplifying things when I think that if you own the church, the graveyard probably belongs to . . . well, I guess it wouldn’t belong to you, would it? But it’s on your property, so . . . Okay, I’m a little confused about the ownership of graveyards, guys! At any rate, I don’t think you’d be in any trouble for being in it. That’s kind of what it’s meant for, yeah?
Heather slips through the fence and into the graveyard (for those wondering about the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery: a graveyard is smaller and usually in a churchyard. You’re welcome!), and Molly’s like nope, fuck that, not happening, and runs through the woods and into the house, where she freaks out about the graveyard and starts crying about having a bunch of dead people buried in the backyard. Look, I love this book, but Molly is annoying as fuck, yo. She’s a huge scaredy cat and always crying over nothing. I probably didn’t notice when I was eight, because I was a huge crybaby back then, too.
Dave thinks the graveyard is great and makes dumb Dad Jokes™ about it, claiming nobody told Molly about it because they didn’t think it was worth mentioning. Well, that’s bullshit. You’ve been this girl’s stepdad for going on a year at this point, and you didn’t think a graveyard on the property was worth mentioning to her? Is Dave an idiot, or just completely oblivious to his stepdaughter’s overall personality? Now I really wonder if the Callum Keith Rennie movie version of Dave is as punchable as the book version of Dave. I’m not diggin’ Dave, y’all.
Speaking of Dave, he finally realizes that Heather isn’t with Molly and she informs him that she’s probably still “dancing around the graveyard.” Okay, sometimes Molly’s snark is A+. She storms off to her room (which is really her and Heather’s shared room, even though the map up there makes it look like there are four bedrooms), and then Heather comes in whining that Molly ran away from her. Molly prepares herself for a lecture that either never comes or we’re just not privy to, then looks out the window and wonders how she’s going to sleep with the graveyard so close. Melodramatic much, Molly? When I was a young teen, I lived down the street from a tiny little cemetery, and I used to ride my bike there and hang out, looking at the graves. (When I got a little older, I smoked weed there a time or two with my cousin, which turned out to be a very bad idea, but that’s a story for another time.) Point is, I know I was one of those weird kids who hung out in cemeteries, but suck it up, Molly. Seriously.
After dinner, Mom suggests going for a walk as a family, and Michael suggests they explore the graveyard. Molly is less than thrilled, and Heather spends some time telling everyone that Molly is a scaredy cat. Jesus, Heather, we get it, okay? Calm down. Heather runs ahead and jumps up on a gravestone, spreading her arms and calling to Dave that she’s an angel. Dave tells her the gravestones are way too old to be playing on, and Heather pouts. Molly cuddles up close to her mom, and Dave teases her about expecting to see a ghost. Look, I totally tease and give all kinds of shit to the people I love, but when something genuinely upsets them, I knock it the fuck off. So, knock it the fuck off, Dave. God.
Michael finds the graves of a family named Berry, and calls it the Berry Patch. This apparently passes for humor in this family, because oh how they laugh! Except for Molly, because she’s still a bit uneasy walking through a graveyard, especially while the sun is setting. Michael begins naming off all the diseases that could have killed the little kids, then points out that the 21-year-old probably died in the Civil War. Pretty good reasoning and logic for a ten-year-old.
It’s getting dark so they decide to walk back home, and Dave calls out to Heather (who has run off exploring around an old oak tree) that she’s got all day tomorrow to explore; none of these folks is going anywhere. And again, how Mom and Dave laugh. Molly spots Heather giving them a look of hatred and thinks it’s because she hates seeing her dad giving the new woman in his life any attention, but I think it’s because of his terrible jokes. There are only so many Dad Jokes™ a kid can take.
Back at the church, Michael starts pointing out the stars and constellations that weren’t visible in the city (yet another reason I desperately want to live in the country), and Dave offers to show him some astronomy books he owns. While they’re looking at star charts at the kitchen table, Heather keeps trying to interrupt and force Dave to pay attention to her instead of Michael, then insists she wants Dave to tuck her in but she doesn’t want to sleep in the room she shares with Molly because Molly is just ever so mean to her. Heather yells that she doesn’t want this family; she wants her own mother back, and Dave tries to placate her by offering to tuck her in and tell her a little princess story. Because what else can you do when your obviously still-grieving child talks about their dead mom? As he carries Heather off to bed, she sticks her tongue out at Molly over his shoulder. Ahh, family.
Molly accuses her mom of always making excuses for Heather’s behavior and calls Heather spoiled rotten, and Mom asks Molly to be more understanding because Heather is obviously such an unhappy little girl, and honestly I can see both sides of this. Yes, Heather is acting out because she’s absolutely miserable, even more miserable than we know at this point, but that doesn’t mean she gets a pass for trying so hard to make everyone around her miserable too. But she’s a seven-year-old in severe emotional distress, without the emotional maturity or any coping mechanisms to deal with any of it, and her dumbass dad doesn’t think she needs any counseling of any sort. Fuck Dave. I wish an actor I didn’t like played him in the movie.
Molly and Michael, also being children without a lot of emotional maturity, don’t understand this and continue to argue that Heather just hates them and won’t be happy until she splits up Mom and Dave. I doubt that I saw the complexity of this when I read it as a child, but reading as an adult both breaks my heart and frustrates me – I want Molly to understand that Heather is in severe emotional pain and being hateful and mean is the only way she knows how to cope with it, but I also understand that Molly herself is a child who doesn’t yet have the capacity to deal with these emotional nuances. Hahn is wonderful at capturing the ways children react to emotional situations they’re not yet fully equipped to understand.
Molly hangs out in Michael’s room for a while before bed, and they talk a little about the graveyard and whether Molly believes in ghosts. When she goes into her room, Heather is apparently having a nightmare, tossing and turning and mumbling “Mommy, Mommy,” in her sleep. God, this poor little girl. Molly grabs her Walkman to tune Heather out, and falls asleep listening to a tape of Julie Harris (star of The Haunting, to throw some more ghost story media at you) reading Emily Dickinson poems. This is a thing that actually exists, proving either Hahn did her research, or worked something she owned herself into something her character owns. Either way, nice attention to detail.
In the morning, Molly finds out that Mr. Simmons, the graveyard caretaker, is out in the graveyard mowing and weeding around the graves. Michael is already out there helping him and chatting, and after breakfast Heather runs off to join them. Molly reluctantly follows, and Heather announces to Mr. Simmons that Molly is afraid to come in the graveyard. Heather, chill. Some people don’t like graveyards, and that’s perfectly okay, damn. Mr. Simmons tells them (after some prompting by Michael) that the church was built in 1825, and the last person buried in the graveyard was his first-grade teacher in 1950. He confirms Michael’s theory that lots of the kids died from different diseases, and Heather asks him if lots of people also died in fires. Once she runs off, Michael and Molly explain to Mr. Simmons that Heather’s mom died in a fire, and that Heather herself almost died, too. She was unconscious when rescue crews found her. They don’t mention that her dumbass dad refuses to get her therapy, though.
Heather comes back, insisting that Mr. Simmons needs to tend to the grave under the oak tree – a grave he didn’t even know was there, because the tombstone has fallen down flat. Uh, dude, how long have you been the caretaker here? You really never noticed this grave before? Really?
They set the gravestone upright, and there are initials and dates engraved on it – no name. “H.E.H. March 7, 1879 – August 8, 1886. May she rest in peace.”
Something tells me she is not resting in peace.
Mr. Simmons thinks it’s odd that a seven-year-old child was buried all alone – where is the rest of her family? Then Heather points out that those are her initials, because her name is Heather Elizabeth Hill, and it’s her age, too. Mm-hmm. Okay, not creepy at all, nothing to see here, please move along. Mr. Simmons tells Heather she shouldn’t play here because there could be venomous snakes and poison ivy, and Heather tells him he’s not the boss of her and she’ll play wherever she wants to! Mr. Simmons remarks that she’s an “uppity little creature,” and this gives me pause. I’ve literally never heard the word “uppity” used in any context other than a racially-charged one, reserved for use by white people who think people of color are forgetting their “place,” so it’s really odd to see it used here.
After lunch, Molly and Heather are sent to their room to unpack. We learn that Molly is neat and Heather is a total slob. I mean, she’s seven; what do you expect? Under the bed is a perfectly reasonable place to store all her toys. Molly lies down to read Watership Down, and Heather interrupts to ask if Molly thinks the initials on the grave stand for Heather Elizabeth Hill. Then she asks Molly if she would be afraid if the initials were M.A.C. and Molly tells her that those are her initials. Except she’s really telling us, since Heather obviously knows and that’s why she’s asking, but now I’m curious what Molly’s full name is, since I really don’t think we ever get a last name for her. Heather tells Molly that she knows Molly would be afraid; Molly’s afraid right now and they’re not even her initials! Molly’s like, yeah whatever, can you let me get back to my reading now? Heather tells her it’s a stupid story, rabbits are stupid, and she doesn’t care what happens to them. Heather. Come on.
Then she stares creepily out the window at the graveyard. As you do.
As the summer goes on, Mom and Dave become occupied with their respective pursuits (painting, and preparing crockery for a craft show in August), leaving the kids to their own devices. Because drug dealers, speeding cars, and child molesters only exist in the city, so three children wandering around by themselves in the country is perfectly safe. Anyway, Molly and Michael are ostensibly supposed to be keeping an eye on Heather, but Michael takes off every day with a butterfly net and a kill jar (can’t appreciate nature unless you kill it, I suppose), and Molly usually ends up finding a secluded place to read or write. She tries to keep an eye on Heather, but she’s always slipping off without Molly noticing. Just like a cat Molly used to have, although she never proposes putting a bell around Heather’s neck.
One day as Molly is wading in the creek, she realizes she’s right by the graveyard, and hears Heather’s voice. Molly sneaks up to where she can see Heather sitting by the grave under the oak tree. She’s put a peanut butter jar full of flowers on it, and is sitting in front of the tombstone, talking. Molly thinks she can sense someone replying under the rustling of the leaves in the wind. Then Heather calls the invisible someone “Helen” and promises that she’ll wait for her and she’ll do anything she wants if Helen will just be her friend. This is really pretty sad. Can we get this kid into some programs at the YMCA or something? She needs some friends who are, you know, alive.
Molly calls through the fence, asking Heather what she’s doing and who she’s talking to, and Heather goes ballistic, screaming at Molly to go away. Because that’s a normal reaction and nothing at all to worry about, right? Even though Molly didn’t actually hear or see anything, she sensed something in the graveyard with Heather and insists that Heather tell her what’s going on. This goes about as well as you’d expect. Heather tells Molly not to spy on her, that she doesn’t like to be spied on. I wonder if we wouldn’t like Heather when she’s angry, either?
Heather taunts Molly, telling her that if she wants her, she’ll have to come into the graveyard to get her, so Molly’s like fine, get bitten by a snake, see if I care, and fucks off home to the sound of Heather laughing behind her.
Molly tries to tell Mom that she thinks the graveyard is haunted, and this, again, goes about as well as you would expect. All throughout this book, Molly is pretty dumb about this. Instead of trying to convince the adults that the graveyard is haunted, she ought to just tell them that Heather’s obsessed with going there even after Mr. Simmons told her to stay away because of poison ivy and snakes and whatnot. Like, tell the adults that Heather thinks she’s talking to a ghost, instead of insisting that there really is something there. Anyway. Then Molly tries to ask Michael if he believes in ghosts, and breaks down and tells him what she saw in the graveyard, and he laughs at her. You know, because he’s a scientist. Heather sneaks up on them and tells him it’s not funny, and here it’s Michael who finally suggests putting a bell around Heather’s neck. Heather tells them that Helen doesn’t like either one of them, and they’d better watch out because when Helen comes she’ll make them sorry for everything they ever did to Heather.
Molly’s like, um, see how creepy she is? And Michael just laughs at her and calls her a dope for letting Heather scare her. Real helpful, Michael. Way to go.
That night, Heather has what Molly tells us is “her first bad dream.” Um, pretty sure you described her having bad dreams the first night y’all moved in there, Molly, but okay. Heather starts screaming about the fire and begging her mom to put it out and screaming “save me, save me!” God, this poor little kid. Molly can’t wake her up, but then Heather jumps out of bed and runs down the hall and into Dave’s arms. He puts her back in bed and asks Molly if anything happened today that upset her, because she hasn’t had these dreams in so long. Molly tells him about her being in the graveyard and talking to a girl she thinks is there, and if only Molly would leave it at that. Dave at first just claims Heather has an active imagination, but then demands to know if Molly and Michael have been asking her questions about the fire, because he wonders if something stirred up those memories. Apparently nobody is supposed to talk to her about it, because the best way to deal with childhood trauma is to push it down and pretend it never happened, right?
Molly can’t help herself, and bursts out that there’s something in the graveyard; something bad under the oak tree. Oh, Molly. Couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? Now the adults will never take you seriously! Just let them think Heather has an unhealthy fixation on an imaginary friend, okay? Adults in these books never believe in ghosts!
Dave blames Molly for scaring Heather, even though Molly corrects him that it was Heather who told her about the ghost, and Michael chimes in that Molly didn’t scare Heather; Heather scared Molly! Again, not terribly helpful, Michael. Dave doesn’t give a fuck what the real story is, and tells them that he thinks Heather visiting the graveyard is a way of coming to terms with her mother’s death and is probably good for her. Hey, Dave? You know what else would be a good way for her to come to terms with it? By letting her talk about it with people, including a therapist! What a concept, amirite?
The next morning at breakfast, Molly asks Heather if she’s going to the graveyard again, and Heather threatens to tell her dad that Molly is still talking about ghosts and trying to scare her. Then she tells Molly not to follow or spy on her because Helen doesn’t like people who bother Heather. Well damn.
After she’s done washing the breakfast dishes, Molly goes out to read for a while, but ends up creeping over to the graveyard instead. Girl just can’t help herself. Mastering her fear, she enters the graveyard and heads over to Helen’s grave. Heather is nowhere in sight, but Molly gets a super creepy feeling of sadness and despair at the grave. Wanting to have company, she takes off walking along the creek to try to find Michael. I won’t refer back to the map again, but somehow she finds a path on the other side of the creek that leads through the woods and then back out to the creek again. Which means I’m having trouble picturing how the pasture fence is blocking off the creek, because the fence isn’t pictured on the map. Ugh, I’m referring to the map again, aren’t I?
She follows the creek to a large pond, and discovers the ruins of an old stone house beside it. The house is falling down, and looks like it was the victim of a fire. Molly thinks she sees Michael in the house, then realizes it’s actually Heather. She decides to spy on her. As one generally does in these situations. Molly can’t see Helen, but in front of Heather there’s this weird heat shimmer-like phenomenon. Heather talks to it, calling it Helen, and Molly is spooked the fuck out. She thinks that if her mom and Dave could see this, even they would believe that there was really something there, something bad, and that Heather wasn’t simply addressing an imaginary friend. Hmm. Maybe. On the other hand, never underestimate the ability of parents in these books to turn a blind eye to all things paranormal.
Molly runs away into the woods, where Heather finds her a short time later and accuses her of following her and spying on her. Which, fair. Not the following, maybe, but definitely the spying. Molly tries to convince Heather that this is a bad place and Helen isn’t her friend, but Heather just yells at her that this is Helen’s house, and she invited Heather here, and Molly better stay away. Then Molly spots a locket around Heather’s neck, and Heather tells her Helen gave it to her and Molly can’t look at it. After Heather runs off, Molly looks back at the house and thinks she sees a face in one of the windows, hidden behind some honeysuckle and ivy. I love these corner-of-the-eye type hauntings. You’re never quite sure if you really saw something or not. Ghost, or your eyes playing tricks on you? Who knows!
Back home for lunch, Molly finally plays it smart, and instead of rambling on about ghosts, just tells her mom that Heather found an unsafe house to play in by a pond that’s god-knows-how deep, and that she or Dave should tell Heather to stay away from it. Mom agrees that it doesn’t sound safe and that they’ll tell Heather not to go there, but then lays into Molly about keeping an eye on Heather and won’t cut her any slack when she tells her about Heather sneaking off away from her whenever she tries to look after her. I have some thoughts here. Sure, older siblings should look after their younger ones, but it’s not fair for parents to expect a 12-year-old to essentially be a free babysitter all summer long. Nor is it reasonable to expect the older siblings to basically parent the littlest one. If Heather is refusing to obey Molly or respect her authority, the parents need to have a talk with her instead of taking it out on Molly. Molly is a kid, too; she should be allowed to do kid stuff during her summer, instead of being held responsible for the well-being of a younger sibling that the parents can’t be bothered to look after themselves. This really bugs me, guys.
Michael comes sauntering up to the house sometime before dinner (and oddly enough doesn’t get any flack for never looking after Heather, hmm . . .) and Molly tells him all about the house and what happened with Heather earlier. I don’t know why she keeps bothering, honestly. Michael is not helpful, and just mocks her for buying into Heather’s fantasy. But he wants to see the house, and makes plans to go check it out the next morning.
At dinner, Dave asks Heather about the house, and Heather deflects, telling him he knows how Molly is; she thinks everything is dangerous. Dave laughs at this and agrees. Again, Dave fucking laughs at this. He laughs. At Molly trying to keep his seven-year-old daughter safe. Goddammit, Dave, not even CKR playing you in the movie is redeeming you to me. Mom tells Heather that maybe one day they’ll all go check out the house, but in the meantime Heather should play a little closer to home. At least one parent cares about the safety of the children, shit.
The next morning, Michael insists on going to look at the house, even though it looks like it’s going to rain. Molly’s wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and I can’t wrap my mind around this ensemble in the summertime rain. Isn’t that going to be unbearably hot and humid? Is it not hot in the summertime in Maryland? So many questions.
They beat the rain to the house, but then it starts pouring shortly after they arrive. Michael finds a room still protected by a bit of roof, and tells us that it was a two- or three-story house, with stone walls two feet thick and a fireplace in every room. I guess the upper stories are gutted, with only the walls still standing, and a bit of roof way on up there. No floors/ceilings on the upper stories, in other words. Took me forever to figure out that’s what was going on here. (The fireplaces, of course, would be on the exterior walls.) Anyway, Michael points out that there are no ghosts here, but judging from the graffiti and beer bottles it looks like teenagers from town hang out here. Damn teenagers, ruining everything! Molly thinks he’s wrong, because she’s getting a spooky feeling from the place, and claims she’s leaving as soon as it stops raining. Then she goes to the window and spots Heather standing at the edge of the pond, clutching the locket around her neck in a death grip. Well, this can’t be good.
Michael yells at Heather to get away from the pond, then vaults through a window to go get her. It takes both him and Molly to drag Heather away from the water and into the house, because she’s fighting them both the whole way. She tells them she’ll go wherever she wants to, despite being told to stay away from the house, then stops fighting and starts crying. She won’t run away from them now, because Helen’s gone now anyway – Michael and Molly always make her go away, and they’ll be sorry. Molly is suitably spooked, but Michael scoffs, asking why Helen doesn’t just get him right now if she’s so hyped for it, but Heather tells him the time’s not right yet. I don’t think it’s ever stated, but I wonder if she has to wait until the anniversary of her death in August? Just a thought.
A large stone falls from the wall above them and crashes down inches away from Michael. Heather screams that it’s Helen because Helen doesn’t want them there, she only wants Heather. Ghost or no, they decide that this is maybe not the best place to take shelter in a storm, and head back to the church. They finally get a good look at Heather’s locket, and it has her (and Helen’s) initials on it. Michael accuses her of having it all along rather than finding it at the pond like she told the parents, and Heather tells him the initials stand for Helen Elizabeth Harper, her friend and their enemy. Okay then. Also, is Elizabeth the only name Hahn could think of that starts with an E? Because isn’t that Heather’s middle name as well? Why couldn’t it be Elaine? Or Estelle? Or Esther?
Over hot chocolate (to “warm them up”, um, it is still summer, right?), Michael and Molly debate whether Heather has an imaginary friend or a ghost. Michael decides they should ride their bikes to the library in town to do some research, thinking he can shut Molly up about ghosts when he proves to her that nobody named Helen Elizabeth Harper ever lived in that house. Oh, Michael.
They ride to town, and Molly is glad that the rain cooled things off, because the ride would be hell if it were still as hot as it had been. Uh, maybe don’t wear jeans and long sleeves then? What the fuck, Molly. Once at the library, they ask the librarian about the burned-out house. She shows them a newspaper clipping and an old photo of a couple and a young girl, and tells them that’s Mr. and Mrs. Miller and their daughter Helen. Michael’s all, see, Miller not Harper, told ya so. But Molly’s like, hold up a minute, Helen? Then the librarian shows them the back of the photo, which refers to the house as Harper House. Turns out Mrs. Miller used to be Mrs. Harper before her husband, Helen’s dad, died and she remarried. The house was in the Harper family, and people still refer to it as Harper House.
The Millers didn’t live there long before the house caught on fire and burned down. I’m having a little trouble understanding how it burned since it’s been described as being made of stone? Did I miss something? I digress. The adults’ bodies were never found, leading people to believe they’re still buried in the wreckage, but Helen apparently escaped the house and, confused, ran into the pond and drowned. Now the ghost stories claim that she haunts the graveyard and the pond, and people think her ghost is responsible for the children who have drowned in the pond. Spooky. And sad.
On the way home, Molly is convinced there’s really a ghost, and Michael is convinced Heather managed to overhear talk and make it all up somehow, because ghosts don’t exist. Oh, Michael. Are you sure your name isn’t really Thomas? Because you be doubting.
Biking home, they spot a street called Harper House Road and detour down it, where they run into none other than Mr. Simmons. Michael mocks Molly’s belief in ghosts to him, finds out that he didn’t tell Heather anything about Helen or the house, then Mr. Simmons tells them that ghosts or no, they should stay away from Harper House because it’s about to fall down and at least three kids have drowned in the pond, which is murky and full of weeds and no place to go swimming. The most recent child to drown there was three years ago – a girl much like Heather, a lonely girl with no friends. Then he offers to bring a fishing rod by and teach Michael to fish next time he comes by to mow the graveyard, completely oblivious to the many more reasons he just gave Molly to worry about Heather. “Yup, a ghost keeps trying to make forever friends with lonely little kids like your little sister; welp, lemme teach y’all to bait a hook now!” Stay classy, Mr. Simmons.
When they get back to the house, Mom and Dave are waiting to yell at them about where they’ve been since they were supposed to be watching Heather. Apparently neither parent had any idea where any of the kids were until Dave found Heather by the ruins of Harper House, claiming Molly took her there and ran away. Molly is suitably shocked, and points out that Heather was in the carriage house with Dave when they left for town. Not bothered about things like parental responsibility, Dave proceeds to scream at Molly and Michael about how horrible they are to Heather, all while Heather herself is standing behind him grinning snarkily at them. He accuses Mom of always taking their side when she briefly tries to defend her children, despite them feeling like she always takes his side. Then he storms off with Heather, yelling that he’s going to take her to dinner in town because she needs to get away from them for a while. You’re why we can’t have nice things, Dave.
Michael and Molly eat dinner by themselves while Mom goes for a walk to cry by herself. After a while, the kids go to look for her, all the while pointing out to each other how bad things have gotten since moving to the middle of nowhere – back in Baltimore they got along with Dave okay and Heather wasn’t quite this terrible. Then Molly suggests maybe they should try to be nicer to Heather. Michael scoffs that it’s pointless; Molly should try it and see how far it gets her.
They find Mom and walk back home with her, and she mentions that Heather is so unhappy that maybe it would have been better for everyone if she had kept living with her grandma. Is this the first time it’s been mentioned that she lived with her grandmother? I think it might be. Huh. Anyway, then Mom tells the kids that she’s been fighting with Dave about Heather and he’s told her that she wasn’t trying and just didn’t love Heather enough. Well, first off, fuck you, Dave. Second, um, is this really the conversation you should be relating back to your ten- and twelve-year-old? Don’t use your kids as your therapist, lady.
Dave and Heather come home, and Dave puts her to bed after barely saying a word to anyone else. Molly thinks she sees a bluish glimmer out in the graveyard, but Michael laughs it off, insisting it was a firefly. Molly asks him how he thinks Heather knows so much about Harper House, and he admits that maybe it’s some sort of ESP. Because that’s far more reasonable than ghosts somehow? Keep reaching, Michael.
Molly goes to bed and overhears Mom and Dave fighting – Mom is finally really standing up for her kids, telling Dave that they’re not the ones trying to come between them. Dave of course won’t hear a word against Heather. Molly notices that Heather is awake, listening to the fighting and smiling. She starts yelling at Heather, who tells her that she wishes Michael and Molly and their mom were dead, then stands on her bed and screams “Wait till Helen comes!” So she knows the name of the book she’s in, awesome! She falls back on the bed, crying hysterically, and naturally everyone in the house heard her screaming and comes rushing in. Dave, predictably, thinks Molly is torturing Heather or something, and rocks her back to sleep, or so he thinks.
Once the parents have left the room and Molly is almost asleep herself, Heather gets out of bed, climbs out the window, and heads off to the graveyard. Molly follows her, and we get what I assume is the scene from the cover of the book. Molly comes across Heather standing in front of Helen’s grave, holding out a jar of wildflowers to a glowing blue light that slowly shapes itself into a little girl in a white dress, with long dark hair and dark hollow eyes. Molly thinks she looks cold and cruel, but Heather tells her how beautiful she is. Literally, she says, “How beautiful you are,” and then goes on to tell Helen “They have been cruel to me again.” This kid doesn’t talk like any seven-year-old I’ve ever known, guys. I think Hahn has some trouble writing dialogue for young kids, and it kinda takes me out of the story because no child talks like this.
Anyway. Heather asks Helen to “make them sorry” (back to sounding like an actual kid), to which Helen replies “soon.” Then Heather wants to know if they’ll be together for eternity then, and Helen assures her they will be, but disappears when Heather asks if her dad can come with them. Heather freaks out, begging Helen not to leave her. Molly runs back to the house so Heather won’t know she followed her, and when Heather comes back in through the window, she looks at the (she thinks) sleeping Molly and whispers that Molly will be sorry for all the things she’s done to her when Helen comes.
Unable to sleep after that (and who can blame her?), Molly lies awake in bed until the crack of dawn, when she gets up and wakes Michael up to tell him about Heather’s little jaunt to the graveyard the previous night. You know, because Michael has been so sympathetic to her this whole time. He’s pissed at being woken up at five thirty in the goddamn morning (okay, I’m with him there) and accuses Molly of being crazy (fuck off, kid) and dreaming the whole thing. He insists that Heather couldn’t have climbed back in the window and takes Molly outside to prove it to her. The window is indeed too high up for a seven-year-old to have climbed back in, but there’s an overturned wooden box under the window. Checkmate, Michael! Eat it, you know-it-all little brat! (Sorry guys, the “rational brother mansplaining things to his irrational, emotional sister” trope is really wearing on my nerves today. Still love the book overall, though.)
Of course Heather chooses that moment to look out the window and start screaming at them about spying on her and threatening them with Helen’s wrath. Then Dave walks into the bedroom and Heather promptly bursts into tears and accuses them of terrorizing her. Naturally he won’t listen to their explanation, calls Michael a little monster (look, buddy, that’s your friendly neighborhood recapper’s job, mmkay?), and then Mom shows up and demands they get their asses inside and what are they doing outside in their pajamas at six in the morning. Hold on, it’s six now? It wasn’t quite five thirty when they went outside; did pointing out a box under the window take half an hour? Did Michael spend that half hour lecturing Molly on all his scientific explanations of why ghosts aren’t real? Did those thirty minutes fall into the same black hole that somehow makes walking from my front door to my car take ten minutes? That might rival Helen for spookiness in this book!
Once inside, instead of being calm and telling Mom the bare bones of what happened (you know, leaving out the ghost part, MOLLY), Molly starts screaming “It’s Helen! It’s Helen!” and crying hysterically. Sigh. Oh, Molly. Michael helpfully explains that Molly thinks Heather has called up a ghost to scare her with – because of course he’s not afraid of no ghost. Mom sighs that if she knew the graveyard would upset Molly so much they never would have moved there. I’m so frustrated right now, you have no idea. Mom, either recognize how disturbed Heather obviously is; or Molly, stop talking about ghosts and try to convey how worried you are about how disturbed Heather obviously is! Ghosts don’t need to come into this when talking to the adults! For fuck sake.
Mom tells Molly that Dave has said that she has a great fear of death and it’s manifesting itself in her belief in ghosts. You know, for someone who’s so anti-psychiatrists, Dave sure does use their lingo like a champ! That, or he watches a lot of Dr. Phil. Which actually might account for both of those apparently conflicting stances. Huh. Carry on.
Molly tells Mom to ask Heather, who has helpfully just walked into the room and proceeds to deny any knowledge of Helen and starts crying because Molly is “scaring her.” Mom and Dave, being fabulous parents, decide to take Heather with them into town on an art supply run to get her away from Michael and Molly, rather than stick around and attempt to resolve anything. Um, is it still six in the morning? What art supply stores are open this early? And they’re not planning on being back until around three, so that’s some heavy-duty shopping right there, guys.
Heather sticks her tongue out at Molly on her way out the door, because of course she does. Molly tags along with Michael to the swamp for some salamander and turtle hunting (well, hopefully not actual hunting), and because Molly is apparently a glutton for punishment, she asks Michael again if he really thinks she imagined seeing Helen. She then wonders aloud if Helen is luring children into the pond so that she won’t be alone, and if Heather is in danger. I mean, this book is intended for, like, 8-11 year olds, so I guess we’ve gotta lay it on kinda thick. Michael tells Molly she’s going to drive him as crazy as she and Heather already are, making Molly cry. Then he storms off back to the church rather than deal with the fallout of his own actions. Give him ten years and he’s probably going to be posting on some incel forum or something, fuck.
When they approach the house, Molly immediately senses something wrong and begs Michael not to go inside. I’m sure you can predict his response. But then, steps away from the back door, they hear something crashing inside. So, I believe you owe your big sister an apology, Michael. They run away from the house, to the edge of the woods, and Molly turns around just in time to see a pale figure emerge from the house. It’s Helen! Michael immediately believes her! Oh, wait, no he fucking doesn’t. He says she must have seen heat shimmers, and what’s inside their house obviously isn’t a ghost; it’s probably a motorcycle gang. A. Motorcycle. Gang. Was . . . was this a big fear in the mid-80s? I mean, most bikers are cool. My dad’s a biker, and he’s all about charity rides against heroin and child abuse, so . . . maybe chill out about bikers, MICHAEL.
The kids hide in the woods, and Michael continues to deny it could be a ghost, because “this is the twentieth century and I don’t believe in ghosts!” Not sure what one thing has to do with the other, but okay. Then Molly asks him about poltergeists, and he shoots that idea down because “poltergeists don’t manifest themselves the way you claim Helen does.” So, wait. He believes in poltergeists but not ghosts? He believes in the thing that you can’t see, but not the thing you can? Hmm. Okay then. Also, because we mentioned poltergeists:
Michael decides it’s a better idea to go around and wait for the parents by the road instead of hiding in the woods, so that they can prevent Mom and Dave from going in the house in case the ransackers (aka the motorcycle gang *eyeroll*) are still in the house. Molly points out that she saw Helen leave the house, but . . . Michael don’t give a fuck. Apparently it’s already almost three o’clock, leading me to believe there are several time-related black holes in the immediate vicinity. These kids spent nine hours collecting salamanders? Unlikely.
About half an hour later, Mom and Dave screech the van to a halt just in time to avoid hitting the kids and Michael tells them someone broke into the house. He wisely leaves out the part about a motorcycle gang, and Molly leaves out the part about a ghost. For now. Dave says if there’s anyone still in the house, he’ll drive on to town and call the police, but when they investigate, the house is empty. He tells Michael that this better not be his idea of a joke, and you know what? Dave can just get fucked. I may forget about trying to find the movie. There are like a million other things I can see Callum Keith Rennie in. Hrumph. Anyway, I don’t even think Michael has a sense of humor, so calm your tits, Dave.
The house is freezing, and Heather tells Molly “I told you so,” but the parents are really good at not paying attention when Heather says or does something fucked up. The house seems fine until they reach Michael’s room and discover all his shit is destroyed. He starts crying over all his stuff being wrecked, proving he has emotions after all, and making me finally feel bad for him. In Molly and Heather’s room, only Molly’s side is torn up, and the adults assume the ransackers heard her and Michael and got scared off before finishing the job. Sure, cuz that’s how it would go down. Somehow Dave doesn’t notice Heather sitting on her bed, smiling at the destruction. Molly sees the words “I have come. H.E.H.” scrawled across the wall in old-timey handwriting as Heather comes up to her like, told ya so, but by the time Molly points it out to the adults, the writing has faded into innocent scuff marks on the wall. Oh, and as a bonus, she gets yelled at for blaming Heather for the destruction when Heather was “just trying to comfort” her. Ugh. Go fuck a cactus, Dave.
The rest of the house is fine, including Dave’s pottery studio, but when they get to Mom’s studio, all her paintings are slashed and destroyed. Molly thinks she sees Helen’s initials in paint on the wall, but it fades away before she can even think of pointing it out to anyone. Not that they would believe her, but still. Apparently they were counting on the money they would get from selling the paintings to pay for things like the mortgage, and heating for the winter. Hmm. Even if they hadn’t been destroyed, was the sale of the paintings really a guaranteed income? I mean, I wouldn’t count on the sale of my short stories or photography to pay the bills. (I think I’ve made about a $150 total lifetime profit on those particular creative pursuits.) It’s the curse of creative types and freelancers.
While Dave is comforting Mom, Heather tries to draw his attention back to her, unsuccessfully. She accuses him of loving Mom more than he loves her, but he doesn’t hear her. Ugh, that’s actually pretty heartbreaking, especially considering everything Heather’s been through. Michael, with the empathy typical of ten-year-old boys, taunts Heather about Dave ignoring her. Goddammit, Michael. Don’t be a little shit, you little shit! This bullying prompts Heather to hiss at him about how next time Helen will do worse to them, and then Michael grabs her and starts shaking her and calling her a little creep. Um, don’t shake the baby, Michael. Heather tells him she hates them all, then starts screaming for her dad, who turns around just in time to see Michael doing his best Outkast impression and shaking Heather like a Polaroid picture. Awesome. Dave grabs the collar of Michael’s shirt and hauls him away from Heather. While Dave is totally on my shit list, I can’t say he’s totally wrong here. There’s no excuse for physically attacking your little sister, Michael. Dave takes Heather into the house with him while he calls the police, leaving Michael and Molly outside to stew in their resentment of him, Heather, and for Molly, Helen especially.
As the police pull up to the house, Heather runs outside and toward the graveyard. A cop comes walking around the house with the parents, assuring them that locals don’t do things like this and it must have been kids passing through from Baltimore or Adelphia, doing drugs and looking for fun. Uh-huh. Wait, Adelphia? Is that actually a place, or is it an abbreviation of Philadelphia? (Google isn’t helping me out much. It’s an unincorporated township in New Jersey, a restaurant, a plant, and a communications company. Take your pick.) Then Michael insists on telling the cop that Molly saw a ghost when he takes their statements. Michael. What the fuck are you doing? Just . . . don’t. Molly is humiliated, Mom is chagrined, but the cop is . . . not that bothered by it? He tells them that it wouldn’t be the first time someone’s seen a ghost around the graveyard, and there are plenty of people who won’t drive past at night. He personally doesn’t believe in ghosts, but then again maybe only certain people can see them, so who’s to say? Okay then, not all the adults in this book are total garbage. He leaves after assuring them yet again that no one from Holwell would do anything like this. Well . . . yes and no, bro.
Molly finally accuses Michael of trying to make her look stupid, but he doesn’t have anything to say for himself. Heather comes out of the graveyard smiling, and Molly is scared that Heather can summon up something as horrible as Helen and then smile about it.
For the next few hours, Mom helps Molly try to put her room back together and Dave helps Michael, while Heather watches TV because, as Mom says, the tension seems to increase when she’s around. When they’ve cleared out the mess, Heather comes into the room and wants to know if Molly’s going to tell who did it. Molly’s like, who would believe me, and Heather tells her that she believes it though, doesn’t she? She goes on to say that she and Helen are exactly alike, and Helen is her true sister, forever. Even though Molly isn’t wild about Heather, she warns her that no, Helen is evil and Heather needs to stay away from her. This goes about as well as expected, with Heather screaming that Helen is the only friend she’s ever had and Molly better not take her away, and if she tries then Heather will call her to come again and do something even worse to Molly. Seriously, can we get Heather involved in like, 4-H or Girl Scouts or something? She needs friends who aren’t tortured earthbound souls.
Later that night, Molly decides she needs to protect Heather from Helen, no matter how much trouble Heather causes. I mean, yeah, you should definitely keep your little sister from suiciding, even if she is a pain in the ass. Very noble of you, Molly.
The next morning, Molly wakes up to the sound of Mr. Simmons mowing and no Heather in sight. She’s determined not to let Heather out of her sight, so she rushes up and finds her staring out the windows of the church loft while Mom and Dave work on getting the studio back in order. Last time I’ll refer to the map, I swear, but we’re told that Molly runs out of the house and across the driveway to get to the church, but on the map they are definitely connected and the driveway does not run between them. I’m so confused right now, y’all.
Anyway, the parents try to get Heather to go out and play with Molly, but Heather whines that Molly’s too mean and refuses to go outside with her. Molly goes outside and asks Mr. Simmons if he’s seen Michael, but no joy. Apparently Michael went off to explore nature super early in the morning. Mr. Simmons refers to him as “quite the young naturalist,” and I nearly choked on my Dr. Pepper. Isn’t “naturalist” another name for nudist? (Oh. No. That’s “naturist.” Whoops. 🤣 ) Mr. Simmons mentions the break-in and Molly ends up telling him all about Helen and her being after Heather. Surprisingly, he doesn’t laugh at her, and tells her that his own sister was terrified of the graveyard. He reveals that his sister was convinced that Helen Harper led their own cousin, Rose, to her death in the pond when they were young. Wow. He’s reluctant to give credence to the ghost story, but advises Molly to keep Heather away from Harper House.
Molly whispers “Leave her alone” to Helen’s grave, then runs out of the graveyard after experiencing some existential dread about death. To be fair, this is some pretty heavy stuff for a twelve-year-old.
Molly takes a walk along the creek, then goes back home to discover a note informing her that Mom and Dave have gone to Baltimore to re-up Mom’s art supplies, and Heather has promised to stay in the house while they’re gone. Nope. Heather is not in the house, or anywhere to be found. Can someone smack these parents for me? How the fuck do they expect Molly to be responsible and look after Heather when they’re the ones constantly letting her out of their sight to roam around wherever the fuck she wants to?! You need to actually hand the kid off to the person you expect to watch her! Fuck, I hate this.
Anyway, Michael comes running into the house to show Molly the praying mantis he found. She’s not impressed. I kind of am, on the other hand. He couldn’t care less that Heather’s run off, but Molly’s worried and goes looking for her. Graveyard? Nope. Well, fuck, only one other place she could be. Harper House, here we come!
It’s going to storm, and Molly wants to find Heather before the skies open up. As she sneaks through the underbrush around the house, Molly wonders why she doesn’t just leave Heather to Helen since she doesn’t even like Heather, let alone love her. Uh, because you don’t allow a little girl to drown just because you don’t like her? Because that’s basically murder? Something like that, maybe? Fucking hell, Molly.
Molly finally spots Heather through one of the windows, then sees Helen standing opposite her, looking less transparent than she did before, in the graveyard. They’re having a conversation about why Heather’s dad can’t come with them, and then Helen takes Heather’s hand and Heather comments on how cold it is. Helen tells her she’s so cold because she’s alone and nobody loves her, and tries to make Heather promise to never leave her and always love her best. Heather starts crying because she can’t love Helen more than she loves her dad! Then Helen tells her that Dave betrayed Heather just as her own mother betrayed her – by finding someone they loved more than they loved their own daughters. Man, I was already an adult when my dad got remarried, but this shit really plays on kids’ fears about stepparents, huh? And we’re not even to the crux of it yet, guys.
Heather insists that her daddy really loves her best, then balks when Helen tells her to give her back her locket then. In an attempt to convince Heather, Helen tells her that Dave will never understand her the way she does, and if he knew what Helen knows, he wouldn’t love her anymore. Um, anyone else think Helen’s sounding a bit like a pedophile trying to groom Heather? Heather’s afraid to go in the water, but Helen tells her if she doesn’t come now, she’ll leave forever and Heather will only have Michael and Molly, and they hate her as much as she hates them. Hmm. Pedo or abusive partner for sure. Helen goes on to say that she knows all about her and she still loves her. Huh, yeah. I have an ex who tried to lay the whole “I’m the only one who will ever love you” line on me, too. Wrong, asshole! Run, Heather!
Helen starts leading Heather out of the house, painting a beautiful word picture of mermaids waiting to greet them, and how they’ll ride enchanted seahorses and live as princesses in a glass tower. This is such tragically beautiful imagery, and it gets to Molly, too. She starts crying and calling out for them to wait for her, then comes to her senses as thunder crashes. She starts running after them, but this time to save Heather rather than join her.
It starts beating down rain as Helen leads Heather into the pond, making it impossible for Molly to see them clearly. Heather is barely visible when she reaches the edge of the water and kicks her shoes off, rushing in to try to grab her. Molly is almost to her when her feet get tangled in roots and she falls face first into the water. When she comes back up, Heather is nowhere in sight. She swims to the last place she saw her and starts diving, hoping to grab onto an arm or leg or anything, but keeps coming up empty. Finally she grabs something that she thinks is weeds at first, then realizes is Heather’s hair. She hauls her to the surface and swims toward shore, but Heather’s not breathing.
All around her are Helen’s wails, demanding Molly give Heather back, that she’s wearing her locket and she belongs to Helen. Molly manages to yank the necklace off Heather’s neck and throw it as far as she can, shouting to Helen to take the locket but she can’t have Heather. Without Helen impeding her, Molly is able to drag Heather to shore and perform some rudimentary CPR on her to get her breathing again.
When she wakes up, Heather is devastated to learn that she’s alive and Helen is gone. She keeps screaming for Helen while Molly tries to drag her to the house to get out of the rain (I mean, they’re already soaked from the pond, so good luck with that whole drying off thing), and crying that she just wants to be with her friend, her only friend. Molly yells at her that Helen’s not her friend; she tried to kill her! Heather explains no, she just wanted to take her with her, and Helen doesn’t hate her like Molly does, to which Molly yells back that she doesn’t hate her, she wouldn’t have saved her life if she hated her!
Guys, we’ve got about twenty-five pages left, and right here is about where I start to turn into a blubbering mess. Heather keeps crying that if Molly really knew her, she would hate her – everyone would, even her daddy. But Helen knows everything and still loves her, she understands because they’re exactly alike. It’s probably not too hard to figure out what she’s talking about, but the actual reveal is a ways off. I’m already sobbing like an infant though.
Helen chooses that moment to call for Heather, because Helen may have died before movies were a thing, but she has a great sense of dramatic timing. Heather breaks away from Molly and runs back to the pond, reaching the edge and starting to wade in again before Molly catches up to her and tackles her. Heather reaches for her locket and only now realizes it’s not there. Molly tells her that she gave it back to Helen; Helen can’t take her if she’s not wearing it, can she? I guess Helen’s having trouble even finding Heather without it, because Molly spots her standing by a tree and crying as she leads a defeated Heather back toward the house, crying about Molly taking away her only friend. Oh, honey. I’m so sad for you, sweetheart. (Seriously – Girl Scouts. YMCA. Summer reading program. Something where she can meet some living friends.)
Molly leads Heather to the room in the house that she found with Michael – the room with a little bit of roof overhead. She desperately thinks that maybe she can find some matches or something to start a fire and warm them up, and I obviously don’t understand Maryland summers. It can’t be cold, can it? There’s no risk of hypothermia; you’re just wet, right? Anyway, before Molly can take a look around, she hears a cracking sound and the floor beneath them gives out, plunging them into a room below.
They land in some sort of cellar with a dirt floor, miraculously unharmed, but unable to climb out. Heather insists that Helen put them there because she hates Heather now because of Molly taking her away. She wants to know why Molly didn’t just let her go with Helen, because it sounded so beautiful there, nothing hateful or ugly, and then she freaks the fuck out and yells at Molly to get away from her when Molly tries to comfort her. Molly finally starts realizing how unhappy Heather is, and how she’s been hiding her misery behind her nasty behavior. Score one for Molly! She insists that they need to huddle together because people can die of this kind of cold. Seriously, is there something someone needs to tell me about summers in Maryland? Or did they somehow teleport to Antarctica when they fell through the floor?
Heather says that she wishes she would die so she could be with Helen, and Molly wants to know why, since Helen told her that Dave wouldn’t be there. She tells Heather that she might hate her and Michael and even their mother, but she loves her dad, right? Heather tells her that Helen was right, though – her dad wouldn’t love her if he knew how bad she was. Molly of course wants to know what Heather could possibly have done that could be that bad, but Heather refuses to talk about it because only Helen understands.
And now we’re coming to it, folks. Both Molly’s understanding, and my blubbering. Molly finally starts putting it together that it might have something to do with the fire – both Heather and Helen’s mothers died in fires, right? Heather freaks out and begs Molly not to talk about the fire, and Molly suddenly realizes –
“You started the fire.” I sucked in my breath, realizing that I must have suspected it all along. “And so did she – that’s it, isn’t it?”
“No, no, Molly, don’t say it, don’t say it!” Heather put a cold hand over my mouth to silence me. But it was too late. We clung to each other in the dark.
“I didn’t mean to,” Heather sobbed. “I was only little; I didn’t know about the stove! I thought I could hide; I thought the fire would go away, but it got bigger and bigger, and Mommy was looking for me, calling me, and I didn’t answer because I thought she was going to spank me. Then I didn’t hear her anymore and there was smoke everywhere. A fireman came and he picked me up and carried me away, but Mommy wasn’t anywhere. She wasn’t anywhere, and it was all my fault, Molly!”
Heather clung to me, weeping. “Don’t tell Daddy, Molly; please don’t tell Daddy. Don’t tell him it was me who made Mommy die. He’ll hate me; he’ll hate me!”
Good God, y’all. I need a moment. I. Am. Wrecked. Imagine carrying that burden around and having no one to talk to; being convinced that your mom’s death was your fault and your dad would hate you if he knew. And again, having no one to talk to about it, because your idiot father won’t take you to a damn therapist. Goddammit Dave.
Molly cradles Heather, trying to convince her it wasn’t her fault, that she was only three years old, and that her father would never hate her. Heather cries herself to sleep while Molly wishes she had been kinder and more understanding toward her instead of resenting her. You know, like I’ve been saying. Although, admittedly, Heather was working pretty damn hard at pushing everyone away.
The storm passes and their clothes start to dry out. Heather wakes up some time later and wants to know why no one’s found them yet, convinced that Dave doesn’t love her anymore and that Molly’s mom has essentially taken her place in his heart. Molly points out that she and Michael have those same fears and feelings, but that maybe they can learn to be a family together, and she’ll be Heather’s sister if Heather will be hers. They shake on it, and Heather extracts the promise that Molly never tell Dave that Heather started the fire. Molly promises, but says that she thinks Heather should tell him, and Heather starts freaking out again, backing up and shaking her head, convinced he won’t love her anymore. God, this hits me so hard, guys. Father and daughter shit makes my eyeholes leak like you wouldn’t believe. (Even in terrible movies. The scene in Hope Floats where Baby Mae Whitman’s dad is leaving Sandra Bullock and she runs after him crying and begging him to take her with him wrecks me. I sob like the world is ending.)
When Molly follows Heather into the corner she’s backed into, she trips over a human skull. Uhh, that escalated quickly, right? There are two skeletons in the corner that have somehow evaded notice up til now, and Heather gasps that it’s Helen’s mother and stepfather. They let this sink in for a minute until Molly asks if Helen started the fire, and we get her story as told by Heather. It seems Helen was arguing with her stepfather and accidentally knocked over an oil lamp, setting fire to the tablecloth and curtains. Before she knew what was happening, the fire had spread, cutting her off from the room. She heard her mother calling her, then the floor caved in and she ran outside and into the pond, where she’s been alone ever since. This doesn’t hit me as hard as Heather’s story, but it’s still sad as hell.
Molly wants to know what happened to the other children that Helen led into the pond; why is she alone instead of with them? Heather tells her that they wouldn’t stay; they always faded away after a while, Helen doesn’t know where but thinks maybe they went to be with their parents. They didn’t love her enough to stay, and neither did Heather, and now she’s all alone again, Heather explains while sobbing.
It’s been hours now that they’ve been trapped in this house, and Molly wonders why no one has found them yet. While Molly’s wondering this, the air gets colder and Helen appears peering down into the cellar from the hole above them. She’s wearing the locket again, and calling for her mother. Heather whispers to Molly that she doesn’t want to go with Helen anymore, and Molly promises to protect her, but Helen isn’t here for them. She’s solely focused on her mom, crying and begging forgiveness from her and her stepfather. The ghost of Helen’s mom materializes in the cellar and takes Helen into her arms, stroking her hair and rocking her, and then they disappear together.
The room gets warmer, and Heather realizes that Helen’s mom forgave her, and she’s not alone anymore. She asks Molly if she thinks Heather’s mom has forgiven her, and Molly answers that she’s sure she did long ago. Then Heather wants to know if Molly thinks Dave will forgive her, and Molly reassures her that he will. Then they sit back to wait, because really what else can they do?
Heather falls asleep again, and I guess it’s nighttime now, because Molly can see some stars through the holes in the roof far above her. Fucking hell, how long have they been trapped in this house? Molly’s starting to doze off when she hears Michael yelling for her; she calls back and it turns out the whole family is outside looking for them. Dave manages to lower himself through the hole, boost the girls up, and then pull himself out, so this cellar can’t be that far below ground. Was there really no way for Molly to get them out of there? Huh. Weird. Anyway, Michael gets a science boner for the skeletons he sees as he shines the flashlight down through the hole, and Heather assures Dave that those are Helen’s parent and they won’t hurt him. She also tells him that she almost drowned in the pond but Molly saved her, which is nice of her. Sisters 4-Evah!
Weirdo Michael wants to take the skeletons home for “scientific study,” but Mom vetoes that idea right quick. Dave is going to call the sheriff and make sure they get a proper burial. While we’re at it, maybe look into getting Michael some human friends before he becomes the subject of a Last Podcast on the Left episode, mmkay? Heather and Molly explain to Dave about Helen, that these are her parents, and that they need to be buried together so please make sure the sheriff knows that. He asks them if they’ve formed some sort of alliance, and Molly says that they sure have.
When they go to bed that night, Heather apologizes for having Helen wreck their stuff, and Molly forgives her. Heather fearfully decides to tell her dad about the fire in the morning, then tells Molly she’s glad she’s her sister.
In the morning, Dave calls the police and explains about the bones, then Heather asks to go for a walk together. After they leave, Mom comments to Molly about how much happier Heather seems since getting back from Harper House, and how she even hugged her before bed last night. Molly starts asking Mom questions wanting to know if she would still love her if she did something horrible, and do parents love their kids no matter what? Oh, Molly. They’re supposed to, honey. Unfortunately there are some terrible parents out there, but a parent’s love should be unconditional. Mom is of course confused by this vehement line of questioning, but assures Molly that yes, she loves her no matter what she’s done. Then Molly asks her what about Dave, confusing her even more. Molly clarifies that she means would he still love Heather no matter what, then finally tells Mom about Heather starting the fire.
Mom’s reaction is pretty similar to mine – that poor little girl, no wonder she’s so closed off after keeping something like that bottled up for so long. Molly explains that that’s why she and Dave went for a walk – so Heather could talk to him about it. Molly wants to know if she did the right thing, advising Heather to tell him, and Mom assures her she did. Then she says that she never suspected, and the “ghost” must have been a projection of Heather’s guilt. Um, sure. Let’s go with that. Molly wisely doesn’t try to correct her.
When Heather and Dave get back, Heather hugs Molly and tells her that Dave knows it was an accident and he still loves her. God, most adults forget what a real fear this is for children, but Hahn captures it perfectly.
Helen’s parents are buried alongside her, with a small funeral and attention from the local press. I have no idea who would pay for this. The historical society, maybe? Heather points to a marble angel on a grave and says it would be nice if Dave could carve one for Helen’s grave. I thought Dave made pottery or something, but okay. I guess carving marble is the same thing or whatever. (According to Wikipedia, in the movie version Dave is a writer, so good fucking luck with that marble carving, buddy.)
By September, Helen has her full name, not just her initials, on the gravestone, a marble angel standing over it, and is flanked by her parents’ gravestones. Then one day in October, as Molly is reading to Heather not too far from Helen’s grave, they spot something dangling from the angel’s outstretched hand. It’s Helen’s locket, and inside is a photo of Helen and a note which reads “With love from Helen. Do not forget me.”
Michael walks by and sees the locket, asking Heather where she got it since he thought she lost it over the summer. She says she did, but Helen gave it back to her. Then she asks Molly if she thinks it’s okay to wear it again. Molly nods, and Michael rolls his eyes because he thought they were done with all that “ghost stuff.” Molly says she thinks they are now, as Heather fastens the locket around her neck. The book ends with Michael shouting after them that he still doesn’t believe in ghosts. Because Michael is an annoying little shit. Stay true to yourself, Mikey.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Oh my God. Have I mentioned this book wrecks me? More than a ghost story, I think it’s first and foremost a story about family. When I was a kid, the ghost stuff is what stuck in my mind and attracted me to the story; as an adult, the story is the most effective when it’s dealing with the family element and those childhood fears (and who am I kidding, adult fears as well) of being unlovable, or doing something so bad that you lose the love of your parents. This book hits me on so many levels, and the good cry I get out toward the end feels justified and weirdly cleansing. I love this book so much.
Still pissed that no one mentions getting Heather any therapy, though. What the fuck, guys.