Title: The Seance (the cover up there is from the omnibus 3-in-1 collection, as it seems it’s near-impossible to find The Seance by itself anywhere)
Author: Jo Gibson (aka Joanne Fluke)
Published: I’ve got conflicting reports here. Google Books says March 1996; the collection I have has the copyright date for The Seance as 2014. 1996 feels right, but why would a Halloween book be published in March . . . ?
Description: There’s nothing like a killer party on Halloween – especially when it’s in a secluded lodge in the woods. But when Jennifer Larkin’s friends insist on holding a seance – in spite of the warnings of a local psychic – it’s anything but a game. For the spirits are vengeful. The partiers are prisoners. And no one gets out of here alive . . .
Well, I’ve got nothing. I’ve never read this one before. I’m hoping it’s going to be as ridiculous as Slay Bells but less boring than My Bloody Valentine. Since those two followed the same template, I’m going to assume this one does as well, and make some predictions based on that template. First, our protagonist will be in love with someone who “doesn’t know she exists,” but then end up with her friend’s brother. Second, there will be terrible threatening poems sent to people before they’re murdered. Third, the main girl will be painfully clueless and naive about boys, and all wide-eyed ignorance about, well, everything really. Fourth, the killer will have some completely convoluted plan that may or may not end with trying to kill the main girl to keep some other dead girl company. Fifth, the motive will probably end up being some variation of “he’s crazy, and crazy people don’t make sense lol amirite?” Which, to be fair, ends up being the driving force of most of these books.
Once again, I’m going to recap this as I read it, one chapter at a time, so I have no better idea of what’s about to happen than you do. I’m sure I’ll make some embarrassing assumptions that will be proven wrong, but I’m willing to take that bullet for y’all.
Note from Future Me: Trigger warning for rape. I won’t recap it graphically, but it’s unavoidably there. I had no idea this was where the story was going to go, since Jo has never had any sexual content in previous books I’ve recapped. This shit caught me by surprise, y’all.
Our prologue opens with our protagonist, Kelly Bridges, thinking about how girls in love aren’t supposed to be so miserable. She’s about to go meet her boyfriend, Tommy Jackson, because he just got back into town from his summer construction job. We get some description of her, which includes a slim figure that she maintains through strict dieting. Ugh. Food is awesome, just enjoy it without worrying so much, damn.
Kelly is all depressed and convinced her life is a total mess for reasons she won’t tell us, even though she and Tommy will be going to the same college – they’ve already been accepted – and he just finished paying off her engagement ring.
Engagement . . . ? These are high-schoolers, right?
Yup, they sure are. Tommy has asked Kelly’s mom if he can give her the ring on Halloween, which is also her eighteenth birthday, and the wedding is already planned for June. Uh. I know I’m supposed to be snarky here, but I have no words. This just seems like a terrible idea all around.
Kelly is convinced now that her dreams have turned to ashes, she won’t be going to college or getting married, and Tommy will forget he ever loved a girl named Kelly Bridges. So, what I’m getting from her melodramatic ramblings is she’s either dying or pregnant. Although I don’t see how being pregnant keeps her from marrying Tommy, so . . . dying, then? Fuck, did I stumble onto a cancer book? Lurlene McDaniel, is that you?
Kelly heads out in her car, all prepared to tell Tommy . . . whatever it is she’s going to tell him, crying the whole time. Then she wonders if she should wait to see a doctor before she tells Tommy. Wait, what? She hasn’t seen a doctor? What . . . what is happening right now? She just plugged her symptoms into Web MD, didn’t she? God, Kelly. Go to the fucking doctor before rending your clothes and screaming that your life is over, Jesus.
She drives and thinks about how stressed she is and how nothing matters anymore, and you couldn’t pay me to care at this point. I’m on page four. This doesn’t bode well, does it?
She’s at the top of a hill, with a train crossing the tracks at the bottom of the hill, and she hits the brakes, but nothing happens. Oh. She stomps on them – nothing. Pulls the emergency brake – nothing. Then she twists the wheel to the right, but instead of slowing her down, the car keeps going half-in and half-out of the ditch. What the hell? See, I would have twisted the wheel to the left and seen if I could pull a U-turn, heading away from the railroad tracks, but that’s just me.
Kelly can’t stop the car, and flies out onto the tracks at the same time as the train, which hits her car and “crush[es] the life from her body, plunging her into the endless darkness.”
Oh. Well. That escalated quickly. Guess Kelly isn’t our protagonist after all. *shrugs*
Okay, okay, now we meet what I assume is our actual protagonist, Jennifer (Jen to her friends) Larkin. She’s getting ready to make an entrance to class in her new outfit – soft blue skirt, matching “jacket-type vest,” and a navy blue silk blouse with a wide collar. Okay, this book was definitely written in 1996. I will never doubt Google again. Anyway, she’s dressed to impress because she wants the boy she’s in love with to notice and compliment her outfit. The boy? None other than grieving fiance Tommy Jackson. Oh, boy, there’s no way I’m going to hate this, is there?
She sits behind Tommy and his fraternal twin, Tim ( . . . Tommy and Timmy? I hate their parents.), whom she’s friends and lab partners with, and Tim, at least, says she looks nice. She reflects that it’s too bad she’s not in love with him, because she’d actually have a chance with him. Great, cool, I was promised a seance and Halloween stuff, right?
Jen’s friend Susie (a plump gossip) shows up, then a kid named Ronnie who is a stage-lighting geek and whose family runs a bakery, then a girl named Cheryl who’s been an extra in an episode of General Hospital . . . oh. This is a drama class, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure our old friend Jo never specified what class Jen was walking into, but everyone walking into class has something to do with the stage. Cool. There are about a million characters being thrown at us right now, and I have no idea who’s important and who’s not. Brian Garvey, special effects and sound mixing guy? Melanie Carpenter, actress and model? Dale Prescott, who carries a briefcase into class? Wait, a briefcase? For a high-schooler? He might be my favorite so far.
Jen sighs dreamily over Tommy’s eyes while she thinks about the differences between the twins. It doesn’t seem important enough to go into, just imagine the Sweet Valley descriptions if the Wakefield twins were fraternal. And boys. And oh! We’ve already hit one of my predictions! Jen tells us that “Tommy didn’t even seem to know that she existed.” Score!
Alexa Sussman (Lexie if you’re nasty), Jen’s BFF, shows up and teases her about drooling over Tommy. We discover it’s been six weeks since Kelly’s funeral, and Jen seems surprised he still looks sad. Fucking hell. Lexie pushes Jen hard to ask him out, and then tells her she’s really lacking in the chutzpah department. Jen has no idea what chutzpah is, and I find that hard to believe. Apparently Lexie is Jewish, and spent the summer with her Yiddish great-grandparents, so she learned all sorts of Yiddish words. Because it’s not like chutzpah is a word literally everyone has probably heard at some point or another. Anyway, after throwing some synonyms Jen’s way, Lexie finally describes it as “Chutzpah is a guy who murders his parents and then tries to collect welfare because he’s an orphan.” I admit, this made me laugh. But then Jo Gibson ruins it by having Jen go on for an entire paragraph about how good Lexie is with words, and her dad owns a newspaper, and her mom is an editor, and she’s going to go to Smith for a journalism degree. Okay, okay, the horse is dead, leave the poor thing alone already.
The teacher, Miss Voelker, comes into class with their student teacher, Mr. Peterson aka Pete. He’s the star of some late-night commercials for a used-car lot, which I guess makes him the coolest thing around here since sliced bread, or flavored condoms, or something else that’s really cool. Anyway, they have bad news – their fall play is cancelled due to their theater not being built yet, and so is trick-or-treating for the little kids. Something about it being too dangerous what with cars not paying attention and whatnot. No mention of runaway trains, though.
Everyone is horrified, but have no fear. Jen comes up with the idea of writing skits for the kids, and also making it part of their class grade. But wherever will they perform these skits, since there is no stage space to be found anywhere? Again, have no fear! Dale, who carries a briefcase and is a senator’s son, volunteers his uncle’s ski lodge up at Saddle Peak, which is closed for the season and therefore available. Let me just go ahead and quote this for you:
Miss Voelker was clearly impressed. “But Dale . . . it’s huge!”
Step away from the underage boy, Miss Voelker.
Dale runs off to call his uncle and set shit up, and everyone in class seems to have a parent who can donate food stuff, so . . . cool. The class starts making plans to set the lodge up as a haunted house for the kids, and Dale comes back and informs everyone that they have permission to use the lodge for two weeks, and the uncle will let them hold it every year – it’ll be a new Halloween tradition! Okay, but it’ll never be bigger than prom.
Chapter two opens with Jennifer more terrified than she’s ever been in her life, convinced she’s going to die. Then Tim puts a hand on her shoulder and offers to hang the decorative cobwebs for her, and Jen is able to climb down from the third rung of the ladder she was on. See, her “shameful” secret is that she’s severely afraid of heights, and she’s convinced her friends would call her a coward if they knew. Those . . . don’t sound like very good friends, Jennifer. Look, unlike Jen’s friends, I try not to mock people’s phobias, but she’s so overly melodramatic about the whole thing that I can’t stop laughing at her. Also, she acts like nobody’s ever heard the term “acrophobia” before, then tells us that there’s a treatment called aversion therapy. Um, no. Aversion therapy isn’t used for most phobias. I can’t even imagine how that would work. An electric shock every time she’s standing at sea level? I think she means exposure/immersion therapy, which is useful for treating phobias. Score one more for good ol’ Jo.
God, this recap is going to take forever if I keep going off on these tangents, isn’t it? I haven’t recapped a Jo Gibson book since February, though, so give me a minute to get back on her wavelength, you know?
Anyway, it’s Thursday after school, and all the (melo)drama kids are at the lodge, getting it ready for Halloween night in two weeks. Oh. I thought they’d be running their haunted house for two weeks. Did Dale just mean they could use the lodge for two weeks to set it up for a one-night-only event? Okay. Here’s the problem – Jo Gibson thinks she’s being clear, when really there are many interpretations to the statements she’s making.
Jen holds the ladder while Tim climbs it to hang the cobwebs, and she’s so terrified he’s going to fall that she gives him a big old hug when he climbs back down. He’s surprised, but pleased, and I’m calling it now – they hook up by the end of the book. Unless he’s the killer. She doesn’t know how he can stand heights, and he reminds her that he and Tommy spend summers working for their cousin’s roofing company. Earlier Kelly told us that Tommy was working a summer construction job, and I don’t think of roofing and construction as exactly the same thing, but I’m just gonna roll with this.
They’re having trouble thinking of an idea for their skit, and some suggestions presented are: escaped lunatic; crazy actress (whut even); and psychotic serial killer. So, am I going to be setting this book on fire when I’m done with this recap? The Boyfriend and I just bought the loveliest fire pit a couple weeks ago . . .
Jen asks what Tommy’s doing for his skit, and Tim doesn’t know, but it involves Cheryl coming over to practice screaming. Apparently she’s really loud. Are we sure they’re not doing something else . . . ?
Jennifer wants to know if they’re dating, and Tim informs her it’s probably going to be a while before Tommy’s ready to date again, as he’s still, you know, mourning his dead fiance. He’s having nightmares, calling Kelly’s name in his sleep, and Tim is worried about him. Apparently Tommy’s been torturing himself because he thinks Kelly killed herself and wonders if it was because of something he did. Oh. Well, that’s pretty awful. Did the cops not check the car and find the cut brakes, then? Or was the car too smashed up to tell?
Tim suggests they do a seance and contact “Kelly” to set Tommy’s mind at ease. I guess it’s all supposed to be fake, because they’re talking about doing it as their haunted house skit. You know, for the kids? That . . . seems both massively insensitive and inappropriate for little kids. What the hell is this idea even? And the teachers sign off on it? Holy shit, what is going on here?
This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea has spread throughout the friend group by the next day, and Lexie tells Jen she’s being a total schnook for letting Tim talk her into it. Should we take a shot every time Lexie throws a Yiddish word at us? At least Jen knows what this one means. Anyway, it only takes a minute for Lexie to begin to understand that the seance is going to be fake. I, on the other hand, don’t understand this at all. It feels like a cruel joke, pretending to contact their dead friend, who may or may not (as far as they know) have killed herself. Despite it being fake, Jennifer keeps talking about it being authentic. Whut. I mean, authentic as in they won’t be using any cheap special effects tricks? Jen is just going to pretend she’s channeling Kelly, then? Okay. I see no way whatsoever that could go horribly wrong.
Oh. Killer POV now. Cool. So, we’ve got male pronouns for the killer yet again, because apparently women don’t kill in Jo Gibson’s universe. So, in Slay Bells the mystery murderer called himself Santa; in My Bloody Valentine he was Cat. No “clever” name for him here yet. He’s agreed to take place in the seance because it would look weird if he was the only one who didn’t, even though he thinks it’s in terrible taste and was certain Miss Voelker would veto the idea. So, I now have more in common with the killer than any other character. Awesome. He thinks about Kelly’s death, and how her car exploded on impact, so that explains why no one realized her brakes were cut. People knew she’d been depressed, so they’d looked for a suicide note, but of course they didn’t find one. And anyway, they should have known that Kelly wasn’t “the type of girl” to kill herself. Oh really, and what type is that, exactly? I know exactly what the fuck they’re insinuating, but just once I’d like one of these authors to have the balls (the chutzpah, if you will) to come out and fucking say it. Come on, tell me what a horrible, pathetic, evil loser I am for feeling so hopeless and in pain that I just want it all to stop. I fucking dare you. And until you can say that shit to my fucking face, stop demonizing your young readers who may be feeling that way. Kthanxbai. (For the record, I’m not suicidal now, but I certainly was as a teenager, and being told how awful I was for feeling that way absolutely didn’t help things.)
Anyway, our Mystery Man is sitting on the bleachers after the football team has finished practice, thinking about how maybe as soon as their first class reunion, the bleachers will be full of people cheering for him and wanting his autograph. He craves their adoration, and that was the reason he’d had to kill Kelly – because whether she realized it or not, she was holding him back.
Is the killer Tommy? At this point, we don’t even know what anyone else’s relationship was to Kelly, and from things the killer is saying, it doesn’t seem like it could be Tim. How was she holding you back, Mr. Killer?
Jen and Tim go to the occult bookstore, the Cosmic Eye, and Jen expects it to be dark and creepy and uninviting, but it’s just . . . a normal bookstore. She also expects the owner, Zada Tilitch, to be Morticia Addams, but she’s actually a lady who would probably fit in well on Gilmore Girls. Zada reads Jen’s expression and asks if she expected someone with bats in her hair, and Jen admits yes, something like that, and goes on to say she looks so . . . normal. Because that’s a polite way to interact with someone, and also WHY WOULDN’T SHE be normal, Jen? Good lord.
Tim explains why they’re doing a seance; Zada says if they do it right, their seance could turn out successful instead of just a skit (still don’t understand why we keep referring to it as a skit when they’re going to be doing it for real) and they might actually contact Kelly. They’re going to hold a “dress rehearsal” on Friday, and Zada says she’ll be there to oversee, because if Kelly’s spirit is vengeful, she could end up killing everyone.
I guess we’re jumping forward two weeks now, and okay. The less time I have to spend with Jen, the better. She really annoys me. Anyway, it’s now Friday, dress rehearsal day, and everyone is going up to the lodge. Jen is riding with Tim, Tommy, and Lexie, and they’re riding in the “recreational vehicle” that the twins bought for the purpose of hauling shit out to the lodge. I don’t know if Jo Gibson had an endorsement deal from Jeep, but I’m just gonna quote you this here commercial-sounding dialogue:
“It’s great!” Jennifer smiled back. “It’s got all the special features of a truck, but it rides like a car.”
“That’s why we bought it. Tommy wanted a truck, and I wanted a car, so we got the Jeep instead [. . .]”
Does Jo write car ads in her spare time? Also, why did they refer to the Jeep as an RV? You didn’t buy a fucking Winnebago, you bought an SUV. Fucking hell.
They go on to have some banter/flirting about how it means the twins will have to go on double dates since they share the Jeep, and Tim wants to know if Jen would be okay with that, and she’s not sure if he means specifically her, or if he’s polling her to find out what girls think, and I really don’t care about their love lives. I’m laying money on Jen forgetting all about being in love with Tommy and ending up with Tim by the end of this shitshow, so I really don’t need this “is he flirting with me or just being friendly, I guess I’ll just wonder about it rather than ask him” bullshit that Jo has written in all of these holiday thrillers. He’s flirting, Jen. He’s hot for you. Figure it the fuck out.
They find out the weather report upped the chance of storms to 60%, meaning, of course, that they’re going to end up stranded at this lodge at some point; then when they’re five miles away from the lodge, they start spotting the signs the art department made for the haunted house. Because apparently the entire fucking school contributed to this thing that only the drama class gets to be directly involved in. Sure, whatever. Anyway, the signs sound cool. There’s a bat, a jack-o-lantern, a ghost, a witch hat, a black cat, and a skeleton. These signs are there for the kids coming up on the bus tomorrow to spot on their way to The Haunted Lodge, sure, but what about all the random motorists who are going to see them and want to stop by as well? Since there’s no times listed on the signs, random people are just going to show up while the drama group are, like, taking showers and trying to eat dinner and shit, right?
Oh, there’s also a hearse parked outside the lodge, which apparently triggers Lexie somewhat since she just attended her aunt’s funeral last month. No word on anyone else who was friends with the 17-year-old girl who may or may not have committed suicide being upset by it, though.
Jen wonders if the seance is such a good idea after all, Tim tells her if she really doesn’t want to do it, they still have time to work something else out, which Jen knows is a lie. Then she gets kinda gooey about the fact that grade-chaser Tim is willing to sacrifice a good grade on this project just to make her more comfortable. Yup, they’re totally banging by the end of the book.
So, this lodge is a lot bigger than I was imagining. (“But Dale . . . it’s HUGE!”) There are twenty rooms on the second floor, where the girls will be spending the night, and ditto for the guys on the third floor. Somehow Tim and Jen know their rooms are right above/below each other, and if they need each other they can throw something at the ceiling/knock on the floor. I ought to find this banter annoying, but it’s actually kind of cute? Oh god, what’s happening to me?!
It’s also starting to rain, and Jen wonders if Zada will show up after all. After she’s unpacked, Tim knocks on the door so they can go down and help set shit up. Apparently it’s really cold downstairs – barely 50 degrees – and the fireplace and furnace will take a while to heat things up. Jennifer only has a sweatshirt, and Tim tells her that won’t be enough to keep her warm. Um, where does this story take place? 50 degrees is absolutely sweatshirt temperature, wtf. Wusses. Anyway, Tim offers her his letter jacket, and it seems this is a big deal, because Foothill High has adopted traditions from the 1950s and 60s (. . . because that’s when the author went to high school and therefore these are the only traditions she knows . . . ?), and wearing someone’s letter jacket means you’re dating exclusively. And, ohmigod, what will Tommy think when he sees her wearing Tim’s jacket?!
Why are we spending so much time on these kids’ love lives? I was promised spooky shit, right?
Anyway, Tim is rational enough that I like him: he tells her she can just tell people she borrowed his jacket to keep warm. You know, the usual reason for wearing a jacket?
Lexie sees her and starts to grin, but Jen shakes her head. Then Tommy asks about it, saying it’s a nice jacket and does it belong to anyone he knows? And Jen doesn’t want to be a dick, and also she feels special wearing the jacket, so she just says it’s Tim’s and she thinks it’s nice, too.
I didn’t think I would spend this much time talking about a fucking letter jacket, but here we are, folks. Here we fucking are.
Lexie accosts Jen when they’re alone and points out that she must like Tim better than Tommy since she was more concerned with not being a dick to Tim than with giving Tommy the wrong impression, and she’s kinda got a point. She says Jen obviously likes Tim better, and Jen protests that she’s in love with Tommy! Uh, are you though? We’ve barely seen you even talk to him; meanwhile you and Tim have a nice rapport and seem to genuinely like each other and have things in common. Any bets on how long it takes Jen to figure this shit out?
After dinner, everyone heads off to prepare for dress rehearsal, Jen tries to give Tim his jacket back but he tells her to keep it since she liked it and it looked good on her. She wants to ask him about his intentions, but doesn’t. Because Jo Gibson’s main girls can’t ever fathom being direct when it comes to guys.
Oh, goody, more Killer POV. We’re not getting some ridiculous code name for this killer, and it’s kinda bumming me out. He’s looking at the rehearsal schedule and is pissed that the seance is last so he’ll have to worry about it all evening instead of just getting it over with. He doesn’t believe they’ll actually talk to her spirit, but he’s afraid something might get revealed anyway, even though he killed Kelly before she’d told anyone their terrible secret. If the secret is that you were dressing up to go watch Rocky Horror, I’m going to go light up the fire pit right now. (Looking at you, Janice Harrell.)
Killer flashes back to a similarly rainy night, when he’d had to drive her car because she was high and loopy on allergy pills. He drove out to “the cabin on Gull Lake, because it was the closest place to get warm and he knew the family wasn’t coming out this weekend.” I’m not sure if that means the cabin belongs to his family or not. Kelly tells him he’s really sweet for bailing her out, and he thinks she must be bombed if she thinks he’s sweet. Cool. Then the blanket slips down to her waist, and I guess she’s naked or something? Because her clothes were soaked, I assume.
Oh. Welp, this isn’t going to be good. He “can’t resist” her because she’s so beautiful, and a guy would have to be made of stone to resist a beautiful, half-naked girl like Kelly. Even though it quickly becomes evident that she wasn’t inviting him to do anything, he justifies it to himself by saying that if she didn’t want anything to happen, she wouldn’t have asked him to drive her home. No, dude. Gross.
Listen, the best thing I can say about this is that at least the author doesn’t frame it in any victim-blaming way. Kelly clearly doesn’t want to do anything with this guy, and he very clearly rapes her, no ambiguity about it. Yes, we’re seeing it through his memories, and yes he’s justifying it to himself, but it’s clearly framed that he’s in the wrong and is a rapist. So at least that part of it doesn’t make me want to rage. I just wish the story hadn’t gone here. It’s such a left turn from Jo’s other, nearly sexually-puritanical, holiday thrillers.
Oh, as one final insult, apparently he’d told Kelly everything would work out for the best, and now that she’s dead, it totally has! Jesus. When I find out who this guy is, Imma jump into this book and beat him to death with my bare hands, cool?
Miss Voelker calls the lodge to tell them that they’re having a really bad storm in Foothill and check how things are going out there. Apparently the storm is heading their way, then Lexie’s brother, who works for the highway patrol, calls to tell them there are rock slides on either side of the lodge, effectively blocking them in and cutting them off. Because we gotta strand these kids out here with a killer somehow, right? Oh, then the phone goes dead. Because it has to, doesn’t it?
Melanie’s worried about the power going out, but there’s a heavy-duty backup generator, so that’s all good. Brian points out that even if they’re stranded there on Halloween, they’ve got food and decorations and entertainment, so they’ll still have a great Halloween party.
They’re going to have the seance by firelight in the lobby, and everyone is instructed to meet up in fifteen minutes – the girls in their white dresses, and the boys in their dark clothes. Sure, okay. Because the spirits are particular about wardrobe? Anyway, they’re all about to head off to get ready when Zada starts pounding on the front door. Turns out her car got stuck between two rock slides and she had to climb over one and hike five miles to the lodge. That doesn’t sound safe at all. Jen introduces her, and she hands them lilac-scented candles to use in the seance, since lilacs were Kelly’s favorite flower. She says that Kelly used to come into the bookstore and they were friends, leading Jen to be all, why the fuck didn’t you mention that before? and Zada to be like, oh, I didn’t think it was important. Nope, nothing hinky going on here!
Tommy asks if she saw Kelly the night she died, and she says no, but she came in that afternoon and seemed disturbed about something. I’m pretty sure in this context if you saw Kelly at all that day and someone asks if you saw her, you would say yes instead of going weirdly pedantic over “that night” and “that afternoon” but okay. Whatever. I’m still pissed about Surprise!Rape being sprung on us, so I’m not in the most forgiving mood toward this book at the moment.
Lexie takes Zada upstairs to show her her room, and Tim points out that Zada might not have known Kelly at all – she could have known about her favorite flowers because it was mentioned in the article about Kelly’s funeral. Jennifer still feels something bad, maybe even something dreadful!!!11!!! is going to happen tonight.
And now we’re treated to another Killer POV flashback, because this book really wants to be a firestarter in my fire pit tonight. Kelly is convinced she’s pregnant, and Killer is trying to calm her down, convince her to see a doctor, then talk about alternatives if the test is positive.
Okay, okay, I was wrong. She wasn’t dying; she was (maybe) pregnant with her rapist’s baby. Now I feel bad for mocking her melodramatic inner monologue. Are you happy, book?
Killer is lying to Kelly and telling her he’ll go along with whatever she decides, but she’s not sure she can go through with an abortion. This . . . this is reading like they had consensual sex, rather than Kelly being raped. Why is she alone with this creep and talking to him about this? I know everyone reacts differently after being assaulted, but this is very uncomfortable.
Oh, fucking hell. I spoke too soon about being uncomfortable. This gets so much worse. So, he’s trying to go along with Kelly and show her how hard her life will be if she keeps the baby, and he literally says he’ll marry her if that’s what she wants. I . . . isn’t she already engaged to Tommy? Is this Tommy, and that’s the whole reason they got engaged? But . . . that doesn’t make sense. She was afraid of losing Tommy if her secret came out. None of this makes any sense.
Anyway, Killer is leading Kelly to believe that her life is over if she keeps the baby – she’ll be too busy taking care of the baby to go to school; her friends will move on with their lives and she won’t see them any more; finding a job will be hard because of daycare expenses; and on and on. Also something about his parents paying for everything but not being happy about having to support them until his (college) graduation. He’s still framing this like the two of them would be getting married, and I’m so perplexed by this. First, what about Tommy. Second, Kelly, honey, why are you treating your rapist like a boy you cheated with instead of the person who attacked you? Jo Gibson needs to just not. Seriously, don’t. Don’t send this message that you should play nice with your rapist because it’s “his baby, too.” Just no. FUCK.
This book got much heavier than I expected. I expected to be mocking a Halloween version of Slay Bells, not seeing red over a rape plotline. Why are you doing this, Jo?
Anyway, Killer tried to talk Kelly into not having the baby, he thought she was coming around, but then she said she wanted to talk it over with someone she trusts. He asks how she can be sure this won’t get out, and she concedes that maybe he’s right. She needs more time to think, but Killer is panicking because people knowing he’s a father (rather than a rapist? fuck you) will ruin his life or somefuckingthing, I don’t really give a shit about your reputation, asshole. So, he cut Kelly’s brake line, mourned her and the unborn baby’s deaths, but was also relieved. Now he thinks Kelly talked to Zada Tilitch, and that she will reveal Kelly’s secret at the seance. I guess he didn’t get or believe the memo about Zada probably lying about knowing her. So, RIP, Zada?
While Rapey McRaperton is thinking about killing Zada, she’s getting out of the shower and thinking about scamming these kids. Turns out they were right – she never met Kelly and got whatever info she has about her from the newspaper. She’s planning to make a big do at the seance to impress the kids, because all of their parents are big muckety mucks in town and she thinks this will drum up business for her or something. Because the kids are sure to tell their parents how awesome the psychic at their Halloween dress rehearsal was? Do I have that right?
She turns the lights off in the stairwell because she wants to make a big entrance, but then someone comes up behind her and pushes her down the stairs. Somehow nobody hears her scream (despite her being able to hear Tim and Jen talking in the kitchen) because of the storm. Sure, sure, that’s how sound works.
After like an hour or something, people finally begin to wonder where Zada is; they go to the stairs and find her dead. Because everyone’s neck snaps whenever they get pushed down stairs, making it the most reliable way ever to murder someone.
They can’t call an ambulance or the police because the phones are out and there’s no cell reception. Wait, I thought this book was written in 1996? Cell phones weren’t really a thing then. Was this book updated for the 2014 release of this 3-in-1 edition? Anyway, Tim points out to Jen that they can’t leave Zada at the foot of the stairs, and sends her to get the other menfolk to help move her. But be sure to keep the girls in the lobby! Oh, wonderful, we have another case of “don’t let the little wimmin gaze upon the horror of a corpse”! There’s the Jo Gibson we know and . . . tolerate.
Jennifer somehow wildly starts picturing how Zada must have fallen, and randomly comes to the conclusion that someone pushed her. Hey, is Jen actually psychic? But then she describes something I can’t make heads or tails of – “Someone had come up behind Zada while she was on the stairs. And Zada hadn’t wanted that person to spoil her grand entrance. She’d decided to let that person pass her and she’d moved to the side, where the steps were narrower.” I’m looking at my stairs right now, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what this is supposed to mean. Unless this is a spiral staircase; I guess those steps are narrower on the inside of the spiral? But this has never been described as a spiral staircase, so this is a description fail on Jo’s part no matter how you look at it.
Pete wants the kids to go on with the seance, meaning he’s probably not our killer; Jen mentions that Zada was murdered and Tim tells her she’s wrong; Tim hands Jen the book Zada was carrying down to her. This book was supposedly a talisman of protection, but Jen thinks how it sure didn’t protect Zada! And here’s good old Jo and her superfluous exclamation points again!
Also, this seance is still being called a skit. I don’t know why I find that so annoying, but I do. Oh, boy, I do.
Everyone takes their places for the seance, and Melanie and Cheryl aren’t really down for it, but they’re girls and therefore not our killer, so their opinions don’t matter. I’m more interested in which guy really, really doesn’t want to do the seance but has to pretend he does. Dale (the senator’s son – super concerned with his reputation and future?) makes a joke that could go either way, and Pete seems very gung-ho about Tim and Jen getting a chance to perform their “skit”, but I’m not discounting him yet. Wait, he’s a student teacher, which means he’s still in college, right? In the Kelly flashback scenes, she’s very concerned with her rapist being able to attend college, so maybe that excludes Pete from the suspect list since he’s already in college.
They all take their places for the seance, and Jen instructs them to hold hands and not let go. Cheryl is very excited about holding Tommy’s hand, and Jen reflects that she’s not even jealous. It’s totally because she L-U-V loves Tim. She has everyone stare into the flames and say something about/to Kelly, and here we find out that Cheryl apparently moved to town less than six weeks ago, because she never even met Kelly. Okay.
Dale admired Kelly and says she had a real impact on everyone’s lives; Brian says she’s the only one who ever laughed at his jokes; Ronnie misses her smile and would have flunked junior year if she hadn’t kept returning his notebook he always forgot in homeroom; Tommy feels helpless and will never stop loving her; and Tim wants to contact her so that Tommy can talk to her and feel better. Pete is overseeing and not taking part, so no word on his thoughts about Kelly. I’m also not recapping the girls’ thoughts because none of them are the killer. So, which guy sounds like a killer here? My money is on Dale for now. I reserve the right to change my vote at any point.
Jen begins chanting some seriously made-up sounding bullshit, and after a few minutes of that, the table begins to shake and rise, then rotates around until the candles are in front of Tommy. Jen thinks that Brian (Mr. Special Effects) must have rigged something up even though she hadn’t asked him to, so she rolls with it, claiming Kelly wants Tommy to ask the first question. He asks if she’s all right; the table leg raps once against the floor. They figure out the code is one rap for yes, two for no. Then the table spins the candles in front of Tim, who asks if she can tell them what happened the night she died. There’s one rap, then a disembodied voice says, “I will tell one of you, but not now. They are calling me and I must go.”
Then the table raises up even higher and spins around so fast that the candle flames look like a solid ring of fire. Then the table lowers, and the candles go out one by one.
Pete thinks it’s all part of the “skit” (seriously think that’s entirely the wrong word to use here, but I’ve had a couple drinks at this point, so fuck it.) and starts applauding. Cool. Jen tells him she thinks it was real, and he congratulates her on staying in character. Um, okay. Despite thinking everything was real two fucking seconds ago, Jen and Tim head off to thank Brian for the amazing special effects. Continuity? What’s that? Brian denies having set up any effects and thinks that someone more talented than him must have done it. Tim is confused, and Jen “begins” to wonder if it really was Kelly, despite telling Pete she thought it was actually real less than a minute ago. Make up your fucking mind, Jennifer.
Okay, so here’s the thing. It’s never anything actually supernatural in these books, so here’s my guess: Tommy suspects someone killed Kelly, and set this seance bullshit up with Tim (because the seance was Tim’s idea, remember, and he talked Jen into doing it) to draw out the killer and make him confess. Because that’s a super original idea that about a solid third of these teen thrillers employ.
We get more Killer POV, but I’m done giving this asshole rapist/murderer more word count than absolutely necessary. He thinks Jen set up the special effects; doesn’t believe in spirits; but thinks he still has to be careful because someone might let something slip if Kelly had talked to them before she died.
Melanie decides to go take a shower and go to bed, and after she goes upstairs, Ronnie grabs his guitar and suggests an acoustic Beatles sing-along. I hate him. They’re on the chorus of “Here Comes the Sun” when Melanie comes running back into the lobby in a panic because she has proof Kelly is here!
When she got out of the shower, Melanie found a pin that was Kelly’s favorite on her pillow, along with a note on Saddlepeak Lodge stationary that says “My death wasn’t an accident. It was murder. You were my friend. I’ll tell you about it very soon.” It apparently looks like Kelly’s handwriting.
Cheryl laughs and asks if it’s all a part of the skit, and my buzz is wearing off, so fuck all these kids and their insistence on using this word they clearly don’t know the meaning of. Tommy says he thinks it was Kelly who put it there, because Kelly was buried with that pin; he was there when her mom put it in the casket with her.
When people start heading off to bed, Pete again congratulates Jen and Tim on continuing the seance charade or whatever, and refuses to believe they’re not doing it. He’s just so pleased they’re not breaking character. Good lord, dude. Then Tim and Jen wonder who could be doing these things, but I’m pretty sure it is actually Tim, so I’m not all that concerned with any of this ghost bullshit. It’s never fucking ghosts.
Melanie can’t sleep, afraid that Kelly will come back from the dead and tell her who killed her, making Melanie herself a target. I mean, she’s not entirely wrong. She gets dressed and goes downstairs, where she grabs a fireplace poker and falls asleep on a couch in the lobby. Melanie is nowhere near as awesome as Tess from Funhouse, who does the same exact thing, though. Melanie is cannon fodder.
Cue the killer thinking he of course has to kill Melanie because she lived next door to Kelly, so she obviously knew Kelly’s secret and planned to reveal it here in the most dramatic way possible, because she’s an actress. He remembers that Melanie works at a jewelry store and could easily have picked up a pin just like Kelly’s. He goes outside to do . . . something that involves a shovel and will make Melanie’s death look accidental, then gets down by the lobby window and “made the sound that would bring Melanie outside in the rain.” I hope it’s not the sound of a head repeatedly slamming into a laptop keyboard, because that’s the only sound I’m making right now.
Oh, it’s not. It’s the sound of a crying puppy. Damn, you’re using puppies against us? That’s cold. So Melanie goes outside in the rain, looking for the poor lost “puppy”, and starts crawling around under the wood pile. Then a log hits her in the head, and a bunch more topple, burying her. Yeah, she’s dead. Bye, Melanie, we knew . . . almost nothing about you.
The next morning, Jen is in her room trying to talk herself into telling Tim she likes him. She’s now realized that she only wanted to date Tommy because he’s hot and popular. Mm-hmm, okay then. Tim knocks on her door, she bites the bullet, he likes her too, they kiss for probably close to an eternity, let’s move on.
Out in the hallway, Susie is frantically running around and asking them questions like “Did you have any luck?” and “How far did you get?” This is hilarious because they were just making out, you see. Anyway, they have no idea what she’s talking about, but she races off before they can ask, and they have to find out from Tommy that Melanie’s missing.
After some searching, Tim and Jen find her buried in the wood pile, and of course Tim moves to block her view and tells her to go get the men and keep the girls in the lodge. Why is this a thing? This is exactly what Jo did in Slay Bells – make sure the wimmin don’t lay their delicate lady-eyes upon a corpse! Does Jo Gibson not think women can handle seeing dead people? Does she think there are no female doctors; coroners; EMTs; morticians; or whatever other occupations see corpses on the regular? I’m so put out by this, oh my god.
After Corpse Melanie is taken care of, the kids sit around and try to figure out what she was doing outside; then Pete goes to try to call her parents, but the lodge phone is still out, and we’re told his cell phone still isn’t working. So, is this 1996 or 2014? The cell phone stuff seems pretty tossed in there as an afterthought. If this were 2014, I’d think some mention of trying to call out using wifi calling would be made.
All the guys except Pete decide to take the Jeep down the road and see if they can make it to the grocery store three miles away. Susie protests that they don’t think the girls are strong enough to help them try to move the rocks from the rock slide, and Ronnie “jokes” that the girls are better cooks and can have a hot meal waiting for them when they get back. Huh. I thought we were told Brian was the one who told jokes nobody laughed at. Ronnie? Fuck off.
Jennifer learns a new Yiddish word: meshuga, which is what Lexie says the guys are if they thinks they’re going to move all those rocks by themselves. It basically means crazy, so now we’re being ableist in two languages! Yay! Yay?
The girls and Pete wait around for hours, finally just as they’re all about to go out looking for the guys, they return. So, no luck clearing away the rock slide with your toxic masculinity and good old-fashioned moxie, then? The good news is they heard a bulldozer a few miles off, though.
The bad news is, Tommy misses watching football. Lexie reveals she likes football, but whatever team she roots for always loses; Tommy tells her she needs to spend the next eight weekends with him, rooting for the team he wants to lose. Jen realizes Lexie likes Tommy, which makes Cheryl jealous.
Sorry, when are we getting back to the seances and murder? I literally could not care less about these kids’ love lives.
Cheryl suggests another dress rehearsal so she can get loud and scream-y with Tommy again, and Pete concurs. After all, if the bus of kids is behind the bulldozer, they could be giving a performance tonight! I . . . very much doubt that. If Slay Bells is the template for this, you’ll be trapped at least another few days before anyone remembers you’re here.
They decide to do the seance first, because Susie is scared and wants to do it in the daylight. Nothing happens. It’s so uneventful that it happens off page. The book is called The Seance, but we don’t get to see this seance happen. Fuck sake.
Ronnie receives a note, along with Kelly’s lilac-printed scarf. The note says, “Ronnie – Talk to me at the seance tonight and I’ll tell you everything.”
Infuriatingly, everyone again thinks that Tim and Jen wrote the note as part of their “skit” and Ronnie and Pete are delighted by it. They suggest another seance that night, and Susie is scared something will happen to Ronnie. Susie needs to take the fuck over this group right now, because she’s the only one talking sense.
Killer POV – he remembers Kelly looking so fresh and innocent when she told him about the baby that he almost couldn’t believe it. You know, because only dirty skanks get pregnant from rape, I guess. He hallucinates/dreams seeing Kelly’s face as she died, even though he wasn’t there; wonders about the veracity of Kelly haunting them; then decides he has to kill Ronnie because he got that note and might know something he could let slip to the others. Honestly, this reasoning makes zero sense to me, but sure, I guess?
Ronnie goes to the dining room to set up the props for his skit, thinking about how much he likes Susie, even if she is “plump,” because he likes a woman with curves and thinks most girls at school are too skinny. Whatever, Ronnie. His skit involves using a dummy as a hanged man, and there are some kinks to work out with the trigger rope that drops the dummy down. Ronnie has to take the dummy back up the stairs (now it’s being called a circular staircase, guys) to hook it back up over the massive chandelier, but he can’t quite reach over the stair railing to hook it up. He somehow secures his leg to the railing with his belt, then leans out over the railing. As he’s leaning out, someone loosens the belt, and Ronnie falls, striking his head on the marble floor. Marble, huh? Good luck getting those bloodstains up.
Everyone sits in the lobby; Tommy and Lexie hold hands; Cheryl comes in and is none too happy about it, but Brian distracts her before she can jump at Lexie like a flying squirrel and rip her face off. Susie finds a hat she likes; Dale tells her to keep it. Lexie tells Jen that Tommy asked her to the Thanksgiving dance (. . . really? That’s a thing? And yet in My Bloody Valentine, Jo wanted us to believe their high school didn’t have a Valentine’s dance?), and Jen tells Lexie that Tim asked her, so they can double date.
Pete sends Tim and Jen to look for Ronnie, and they find him dead in the dining room. Jen already knows the score, because she asks if Tim wants her to go get the other guys. She says she’ll come back with them, but Tim instructs her to stay with the girls because Susie is going to take it really hard. Before she heads out, they debate over whether it was an accident. People keep getting notes from the dead girl, then dying almost immediately, but whatevs. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Oh, good. Now the whole group gets to debate “accident or not.” Pete says accident. Dale says the note proves it wasn’t an accident. Tommy thinks if it really were Kelly, she would have written him a note first, because they loved each other so so much. Cheryl says maybe Kelly didn’t love him all that much after all, and then she and Lexie scream at each other about Tommy for a hot minute (“You threw yourself at him!” “No, you threw yourself at him!”), until Brian breaks it up. I guess Tommy just sat there saying nothing while these chicks practically came to blows over him, then? Classy.
Then they go on with rehearsals as scheduled. Oi vey.
Susie finds a note from Kelly wrapped around a tube of lipstick that was Kelly’s favorite shade, and the note says, “Susie. My killer is among us. Be patient and I will tell you who it is.” Susie is freaked, but still believes Jen and Tim wrote it. I . . . what is wrong with these people? I mean, I’m being serious here. What the FUCK is wrong with these people?
Jen convinces Susie to put on a brave face; that it’s all coincidence and she can prove it by not getting killed or something, I don’t even know or care anymore. Hey, Susie? Have you just tried, like, not getting killed?
Killer POV – he has no idea who’s writing the notes, and no matter how many people he kills, the notes don’t stop! Whatever is a psychopath to do? He likes Susie, but her fatal flaw is that she’s a gossip, and it’s just possible Kelly talked to her about her rape-baby when she was buying a fucking turkey club from her at her parents’ deli.
Meanwhile, Susie’s getting ready for her skit and puzzling over why Kelly’s ghost would be killing people. Zada was killed because maybe Kelly didn’t want to be contacted beyond the grave; Melanie requested Kelly’s old school locker, which was right next to Tommy’s, so maybe Kelly was jealous Melanie got to see him so much; Ronnie took over Kelly’s spot on the student council when she died; and Susie herself bought Kelly’s prized antique doll collection when she died!
Remember what I said earlier about Susie being the only one talking any sense? Yeah, forget I said that.
Susie and Dale’s skit (which Dale wrote the script for) stars her as a “psychotic” teacher murdering her students because they’re bad at school or something. Dale plays a student who was on to her and faked being a bad student, then pretended she killed him so that he could “haunt” her and prove he was, in fact, a good student. Dale tells her that her life for his is the only way to atone for her mistake (hmm, sounds a lot like what our killer told himself about Kelly, doesn’t it?), leading Susie to pull a gun out of a desk drawer. Only she can’t find it at first, and when she does pick it up, she wonders if it’s heavier than it ought to be. Susie. Pay fucking attention.
But she doesn’t give herself time to think about it. She lifts the gun to her temple and pulls the trigger, and of fucking course it was a real, loaded gun, and she just shot herself in the head for reals. And Idiot Pete doesn’t realize it was real, and is thrilled and applauding and grinning. Until he finally realizes it wasn’t fake, and she is in fact dead.
So, we’re totally gonna stop with the rehearsals and the skits and the planning performances for the kiddos now, right?
Turns out it was Dale’s uncle’s gun, and Dale had no idea Uncle kept it loaded in the drawer, and blames himself for Susie’s death. Uh-huh, or he blames himself because he’s our killer . . . ? Just saying, politician’s son? I automatically don’t trust him.
More debate over whether the notes have anything to do with the deaths, and Jen argues that it’s not Kelly’s spirit killing people, but people are getting nervous and therefore careless when they get the notes. Sigh. Then Cheryl tells her and Tim to stop writing the notes then, Jen argues that it’s not them, no one believes her, lather rinse repeat.
Brian tells everyone they can’t stop the seances because you can’t just send an angry spirit away after summoning it. Unless he’s pulling some serious reverse psychology, I don’t think the killer is Brian. Doesn’t the killer want the seances to stop? Brian says they have to find Kelly’s killer to appease her spirit, and Lexie suddenly exclaims that they’ve turned their seance skit into a murder-mystery party! Did I use that Stitch GIF too soon? Because I’m back to beating my head into the wall.
It’s agreed that they will hold another seance, with Brian, Tommy, and Lexie gung-ho for it; Cheryl just agreeing with whatever Tommy wants; Tim and Jen willing to go along with the crowd; and Dale “amused” and casting his vote with the majority, with the condition that Pete take part instead of just overseeing.
Oh, apparently this seance is so anticlimactic that we don’t even see it on page. Cool.
Everyone has been paired with a “buddy” so that no one is going off and getting murdered alone, which is great for everyone except, presumably, the person paired up with the murderer. Cheryl is paired with Tommy, whom she’s determined to seduce, but he’s having no part of it. She decides to go to the spa so she has an excuse to parade around in front of him in her tiny bikini. I’m sure that strategy will totally work out for her.
She’s in her room gathering up her portable CD player and some “mellow, romantic albums.” I want concrete examples here. Michael Bolton? Kenny G? Guns N’ Roses? (Hey, “Anything Goes” is romantic as fuck. Fight me.) She then rifles through the medicine cabinet and discovers Kelly’s class ring with a note rolled through it. Because of course she fucking does, even though she never even met Kelly. This note is more of the same – Kelly was murdered; she’ll tell who it was tonight. This is the most boring haunting ever. How about throwing us some winning lottery numbers or something, Kelly?
Whatever. Cheryl thinks this shit is great, because now Tommy will definitely stay by her side since she’s got a target painted on her back now. Cheryl even insists that Tommy stay in the room adjoining hers, even though boys aren’t allowed on the girls’ floor. Because God forbid any consensual sex occur in this book.
Tommy goes to change, leaving Cheryl locked in the spa, where she pours bath oil into the Jacuzzi for that extra bubbly water. I just read another book where someone poured bubble bath into a hot tub. It did not end well for them. Anyway, you’re not really supposed to do that, as it can clog the filter and ruin the inner workings of the tub, but Cheryl doesn’t seem the type to give a fuck about that.
Cheryl plugs in the CD player, because one of the batteries is missing and she doesn’t want to go back upstairs to get another one, then takes out her contacts so that she can’t see two feet in front of her fucking face. She starts playing “Tommy’s favorite CD,” and again, I want specifics. Metallica? Celine Dion? The soundtrack to Tommy? Inquiring minds want to know!
Someone comes in the room, and Cheryl assumes it’s Tommy because it’s not like it could be the killer or anything. She giggles and simpers, and again, can’t see a foot in front of her, so she calls the killer “Tommy” the whole time. I don’t know if this is meant to make us think Tommy is actually the killer or not. Surprise, surprise, he throws the CD player into the hot tub and electrocutes Cheryl to death. Cheryl, who couldn’t possibly tell anyone about the rape baby because she DIDN’T FUCKING KNOW KELLY. Fuck! What is your logic here, Killer?!
Jennifer and Lexie, the delicate little females of the species, sit in the lobby while the big strong menfolk take care of Cheryl’s corpse. Have I mentioned how disgusted I am by this trope? Because I still am. Tommy mentions thinking Cheryl would be safe locked in the spa, and we find out that there’s a master key for every door in the lodge, because fucking duh. Apparently everyone knows about this key because Dale pointed it out when they arrived. He goes to check if it’s still there, and it is, which only proves that either the killer put it back, or Dale is the killer. My money’s on Dale.
Pete insists no one is going off alone at all, so they all get their sleeping bags to sleep together in the lobby. While in his room, Pete finds a note from Kelly, sealed with her gold teddy bear shaped seal with her initials on it. The note rehashes the details of everyone’s deaths so far, and warns Pete that someone will try to kill him before she reveals the killer’s name. Well, Jesus Christ, Ghost Kelly, why don’t you just shout it out before anyone else dies, then? Ghosts these days – selfish and lazy.
Pete. Fucking. Winks at Kelly and says he guesses they’ll have to have another seance. Jen, like me, can’t believe he’s being so fucking obtuse, and protests another seance. Because we for some reason have to have this conversation a thousand fucking times in this book. Fuck me.
While everyone else sleeps, Pete thinks about how he had just been about to suggest Tim and Jen send him a Ghost Kelly note when he received it. Then he thinks it’s a perfect way to calm everyone down, because once nothing happens to him after receiving the note, they’ll all see the deaths were accidents. Hey, Pete? That logic didn’t turn out too well for Susie, or anyone else, but sure, Pete. You do you, buddy.
Pete goes out to the hearse so he can drink some brandy straight from the bottle. Then he falls asleep with the engine and heater running. Well, there’s absolutely no way this can go sideways, is there?
Killer POV as he follows Pete outside, past his sleeping potential murder victims. See, Pete has to die because he wants to have another seance in the morning and Kelly’s secret might be revealed then. BITCH, WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK KNOWS ABOUT YOUR RAPE BABY??? If you don’t know who it is, why not be expedient about the whole thing and kill everyone at once? You’re just going to kill them all anyway; why not save time? FUCK.
Then Killer blames Kelly for making him kill everyone and internally whines that she’s causing him trouble even after her death. Nope, you did this to yourself, dickbrain. No sympathy from me!
Killer finds some rags and blocks the tailpipe of the hearse after expressing shock that Pete is drinking and sleeping on the job when he’s supposed to be responsible for all these teenagers. Okay. Because the rapist/murderer has room to talk here. He waits until Pete dies, then pulls the rags out and moves some trash cans to block the tailpipe in order to make it look like he backed up to them and his death was yet another accident. Trashcans are curved, though. Would a curved object really efficiently block a tailpipe?
Jennifer wakes up to Tim stroking her hair, and initially thinks it’s her mom, then her dad, then finally realizes who it is. I, on the other hand, will instantly and unknowingly punch anyone who touches me while I’m still asleep. Oh, well, I guess this is another Jo Gibson thing, because the same thing happened in Slay Bells.
Tim saw Pete outside in the hearse and thinks it’s a good thing he’s awake. Jen breathes a sigh of relief . . . until they check on him and realize he’s dead. Tim, naturally, sends her to get the other guys and keep Lexie inside. Cue internal screaming.
They all gather in the lobby and try to logic this thing out. Jen points out that if someone is killing them after they get notes, the killer must be one of them! Gasp! Shock! Tommy thinks someone could be hiding in the lodge and knocking them off one by one to avoid being discovered. Lexie jokes about Michael Myers being holed up in the basement, and everyone thinks it’s hilarious except for Dale, who thinks it could be a legitimate theory. Or he’s deflecting because he’s the killer. One or the other.
Then they all ask about who wrote the notes, and everyone denies it. Look, one of you fuckers did it; if ever there was a time to come clean, it’s fucking now, okay? Jennifer suggests that maybe Pete did it. Okay, sure, blame the dead guy. Why not.
Killer POV time. He knows someone is lying about writing the notes, because Pete came to student-teach at Foothill High a month after Kelly died, so he couldn’t have known her secret. THEN WHY THE FUCK DID YOU KILL HIM THEN ARGGHHHHH
. . .
. . .
. . .
I’m okay now. Moving on.
Apparently tonight is Halloween, despite me thinking they arrived at the lodge the day before Halloween. Either I wasn’t paying close enough attention, Jo Gibson is terrible at expressing ideas clearly, or Jo got confused about what day they went up to the lodge. At any rate, these characters apparently don’t consider one in the afternoon to be Halloween yet, because they make it a point to say that tonight is Halloween.
The group all lie down to take a nap (okay . . .), and Jen thinks gooey thoughts about Tim, remembering when she was twelve and asked her mom how you know you’re in love, and being confused by her mom telling her that friendship is the basis of true love, because “friends were one thing and boyfriends were another.” Jennifer. Fucking hell. You should be friends with the person you love. Why do you love them if you don’t actually like them? Good God. Well, at least now Jen understands what Mom was telling her, so . . . good for her?
Because neither Jen nor Tim can sleep, they decide to stand guard. They notice Brian has his sleeping bag up over his head and pull it down so he can breathe, but he’s not there! Shock! Gasp! Instead of thinking he’s the killer, the two of them think he’s the killer’s next target. I personally don’t think he’s the killer at this point, but in this situation, I would be very suspicious. These kids have zero survival instinct.
They search everywhere, then spot him in the manager’s office. He’s reading a note, and somehow Tim and Jen are able to sneak in close enough to read the note without him realizing they’re there. I’d call shenanigans, except I don’t really give enough of a fuck. It’s a Ghost Kelly note, stating that she’ll name the killer at midnight. Then Brian slides it in an envelope and writes his own name on it.
Brian claims he’s trying to smoke out the killer. You know, because that worked so well for Pete. And Susie. Despite seeing him write this note, Tim is shocked when Brian reveals that he wrote all the notes. These characters oh my god. So, Brian was trying to enhance the seance. Oh, yeah, he set up the trick with the spinning table and candles, too. Cool. Turns out he was just guessing that someone killed Kelly and never intended to actually flush out a killer, but here we are, folks. Here we fucking are.
His plan is some convoluted bullshit about finding the note and trapping the killer when he comes after him. CONSTANT VIGILANCE! They talk about careful planning, and Jen’s job is to watch, Tim’s job is to follow whoever leaves the group to go kill Brian. If Brian needs help, he’ll just flip the microphone on in the manager’s office and call for help over the loudspeaker.
Then Lexie pulls Jen aside to talk while everyone else is “sleeping,” Jen tells Lexie all about the plan, and the killer overhears the whole thing. Because these characters are all idiots. The girls start brainstorming weapons for Tim, but Brian “wakes up” and “discovers the note” just then. You know, because this plan was so very carefully planned that no one even thought to arm Brian’s bodyguard beforehand.
And now the text lets us know that Dale is the killer, because really who the fuck else could it be at this point. He tells us that his father would admire his cleverness if it weren’t for all the killing; Senator Dalton Prescott’s one failing as a politician is that he’s law-abiding; and he’d be shocked if he knew his son didn’t mind crawling over dead bodies on his road to success. Cool story. He thinks that killing everyone is his only solution, and that he’ll be hailed as a hero who tried to save his friends’ lives and it’ll be just the boost his political career needs. Uh. He’s still in high school, right? Fucking hell.
Anyway, Brian “finds” the note, and everyone but Tommy pretends to be surprised since he’s literally the only one not in the loop right now. Brian goes up to the manager’s office to “compare handwriting” on the notes. Tommy goes outside for more firewood, and because of this carefully crafted plan, Tim follows him. Then Dale gets up to go to the kitchen to make a sandwich, and the girls don’t know what to do since they never in their carefully planned plan ever thought about what to do if more than one person left the room. Jen practically screams that she’ll go make his sandwich, but Dale “believes in women’s lib and can make [his] own sandwich.”
Outside, Tim is shocked to see Tommy grab a log and heft it like a club, then head inside toward the manager’s office. Tim briefly wonders if his brother has gone insane and decided to kill everyone who received a note from Kelly since she didn’t send him a note, and honestly this is all bullshit padding since Tim doesn’t believe Tommy killed Kelly and we know he didn’t. Tim tackles Tommy as he’s heading into the manager’s office, but before they can resolve this, there’s a lightning strike and the generator goes out.
Meanwhile, Jen and Lexie have discovered Dale isn’t in the kitchen, so they grab knives and go up to the mezzanine, where the manager’s office is, and incidentally where they spot Dale. Hmm, go figure. Then the generator goes out for them, too, like in a movie where you have to see an explosion from every possible angle over and over. The girls sneak around Dale and into the manager’s office, and then we get Dale POV with him crowing about how everyone fell for it, then he locks them all in the office. With the bolt on the outside of the door. Whut. Why is there a bolt on the outside of the . . . you know what? I’ve got 15 pages left of this mess. I’m gonna power through and stop asking questions I will never get answers to.
In the office, Tommy is shocked Tim suspected him, as he was only coming up here to help protect Brian. You know, because he’s the only motherfucker in the house who wasn’t let in on this plan and didn’t know it was a sting operation. Fortunately the twins can never stay mad at each other for long or whatever, so it’s all good. Then they realize the killer must be Dale and the girls are downstairs with him, but then the girls tumble into the room yelling that the killer is Dale. Okay, so this bit takes place a minute before the Dale POV bit on the previous page? Ugh, keep your chronology straight.
Oh, we’re back with Dale now. Yay. He goes to the walk-in cooler to get the corpses and arrange them in natural positions throughout the lodge. Susie gets placed in the kitchen, in front of a box of doughnuts. Because she was “plump,” you see. He makes some fat-shaming comments, then moves on placing corpses – Pete in the library, Cheryl in the elevator (because it’s her last chance to move up in the world AHAHAHAHA FUNNY JOKE choke on a dick, Dale), Ronnie and Melanie together on the couch (no, Dale, Ronnie liked Susie), and Zada at the seance table. Dale briefly worries the living group will find a way to escape, but there are bars on the windows in the office, so he feels confident enough in himself to scream that they can’t escape and he’s smarter than any of them. Oh, okay. So that’s ThE cRaZy kicking in, isn’t it? Well, fuck.
In the office, the boys decide to go hunt down Dale while the girls sit around thinking good thoughts or something, but then they realize they’re all locked in. How they missed the noise a bolt makes when it slams into place outside your door, I’ll never know. Oh, especially since, as we’re told now, it’s a bolt encased in a steel sleeve. How the fuck do you not hear – no. I said I wasn’t going to keep asking questions that will never be answered, didn’t I? Sigh. Okay.
Dale is wherever the fuck the furnace is, overriding the safeties so that the lodge will fill with gas and he can wait a carefully calculated amount of time for the gas to reach the proper concentration for him to shoot a bullet into the kitchen with his uncle’s high-powered rifle. I actually have to give Jo props here, because most books/movies would have you believe you can blow a house to kingdom come at any gas concentration level. Those of us who watch Mythbusters know otherwise. (And, I guess like, actual scientists, too.) Anyway, he’s determined that twenty minutes after turning on the gas is the sweet spot, but then he starts second-guessing himself and sits down to double-check his calculations. Dale. There’s a time for checking your work, and that time was literally any time before you trapped your friends and turned on the gas, what the fuck.
So, Dale is planning on blowing the house up and making it look like all these corpses were living people just doing their things when the place went up. I get that forensics in 1996 weren’t what they are today, but do you think the coroner is going to miss an ENTIRE FUCKING BULLET IN SUSIE’S HEAD? Or the fact that Zada’s neck is broken; Ronnie’s head was cracked open; Melanie is crushed, probably with splinters all over; Pete’s tissues are full of carbon monoxide; and Cheryl . . . well, actually I don’t know how to tell when someone’s been electrocuted, but I’m sure there are tell-tale signs. Maybe some of the injuries can be explained away/destroyed in an explosion, and I imagine lots of fire, but certainly not a fucking bullet in the brain. Goddammit, Dale. Is this to prove to us how CrAzY Dale is, or does Jo think her audience is this stupid? Asking for a friend.
In the office, Tim points out that the bars are attached to the window frame, but it looks like there’s termite damage. Ah, I finally understand. The termites are the real heroes of this story.
They start working at the frame with their knives, but Jen stops them just short of pushing the frame out of the . . . frame? No, that’s not right. Anyway, it’ll make too much noise and alert Dale to what they’re doing. They need to figure out how to get down from the window first, as it’s a twenty-foot drop to the ground. There are lace curtains that they can knot to strengthen them, Lexie points out. Then Brian has the fucking audacity to ask her if she knows how to tie knots. He . . . asks . . . if . . . she . . . knows . . . how . . . to . . . tie . . . KNOTS. Knots, guys. Those things we’ve all been tying since we were, like, five. Those things that tie them-fucking-selves in electronics cords if you leave them lying around for longer than 0.02 seconds. Does she know how to fucking tie fucking knots. I give up.
Turns out she does know how to fucking tie fucking knots, because she was in Girl Scouts and earned a badge for it. Good to know, Lexie.
This plan seems a little more thought out than the fake note plan – they’ll drop the rope; pull the window frame; Tommy will go down first (dirty), then Lexie so he can catch her (the rope is about ten feet too short); she’ll run to the Jeep and get it started so the others can jump in; then Brian, Tim, and Jen will come down the rope and they’ll get the fuck outta there. And I guess, what? Pray the rock slide that trapped them all has magically disappeared?
To keep Dale from hearing all of this, Brian cobbles together some audio of Kelly from a school play (that’s how he got her voice for the seance) totaling about a minute play time, then puts it on a loop so it’ll be a while before Dale realizes it’s a recording. Well, it’ll be about a minute, guys. I don’t think you’ll all be out of the window and into the Jeep in a minute, but I guess this is what we’re going with, huh?
They carry out the Plan perfectly until it’s Tim’s turn to go out the window. See, he remembers all about Jen’s fear of heights, even though she thought she was hiding it super well, and he’s not going out that window without her. Meanwhile, this recording of Kelly yelling about having a secret and being caused pain and needing to talk to you is being played full volume through the loudspeakers all through the lodge. Fun times!
Dale is freaking out, but quickly realizes “Kelly” is repeating herself, and heads up to the manager’s office to turn the tape off.
Tim manages to talk Jen out onto the ledge and gets her to climb down the rope and drop into his arms. How romantic. Then they get in the Jeep and drive off as the tape of Kelly screams “NOW I’M GOING TO TAKE MY REVENGE! YOU MURDERED ME, DALE!”
That . . . that wasn’t on the previous loops of the tape we heard.
Inside, Dale is losing it and absolutely needs to shut that tape off ASAP, guys. He can’t find the switch to turn off the tape player in the dark, but fortunately he remembers there’s a fancy gold cigar lighter around here someplace. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember that he’s in a building full of gas fumes, and as soon as he flicks the lighter, the place explodes around him. Oh, Dale. When do we present your family with your Darwin Award?
Oh, fuck me, there’s an epilogue? Jo Gibson really hates me, doesn’t she.
The Jeep Gang have been sitting all night by the rock slide that blocks them in, hoping that the bulldozers they can hear will reach them soon. Lexie lets loose with some more Yiddish, which Tommy asks about, then says that the only Yiddish word he knows is tuchus, but he doesn’t know what it means. Lexie gets super scandalized, then starts laughing so hard she cries, then refuses to tell them what it means. For real? Are we in kindergarten? Tuchus means the ass, and I find it hard to believe that it’s that funny and/or scandalous. I’m also finding it hard to believe no one else in the car knew that, but fine. Whatever. Let’s just Other and exoticize the fuck out of Jewish people, I guess.
Anyway, the kids all agree to cover up Dale’s killing spree because it might jeopardize his dad’s career, and instead decide to tell people that the others died when the lodge accidentally exploded, and they were the only ones to miraculously make it out alive. So, ignoring the very obvious evidence of being killed in ways other than an explosion wasn’t to showcase Dale’s iNsAnItY? It was legit Jo thinking her audience is too stupid to realize a bullet in the brain would tip off the coroner that Susie’s death was due to being FUCKING SHOT? Okay, cool, just checking. Also, way to disrespect your friends’ lives by covering up their murders. A+, 10/10, would friend again.
Then Brian informs us that the last bit Kelly screamed wasn’t part of his recording, and even though Kelly used almost all those words in the play he cobbled his audio together from, she never said Dale’s name in the play!
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Oh, thank God it’s over. Thank all the gods, Gods, and Goddesses. Holy shit, I didn’t think I was gonna make it.
Okay, so, I absolutely hate that we were blindsided by Surprise!Rape. And then it seemed like the fact that it was rape was thrown out the fucking window when Kelly was talking to Dale about the pregnancy. Terrible. Hate it. It would have played better if Kelly had just consensually cheated on Tommy with Dale. It would have got us to the same place without this weird “play nice with your rapist after he impregnates you” bullshit, although then I guess Jo thinks we would think less of Kelly. Plus, no one has consensual sex in her books. Only rape for Jo’s characters, so they can be victims rather than sluts, amirite? Ugh, I hate everything about this.
It’s too bad, too, because I was having fun with the ridiculousness here until we were hit with rape and rape baby, and then rape that wasn’t treated like rape at any point after the event. What the fuck, Jo. What the fuck.