Title: Trick or Treat
Author: Richie Tankersley Cusick
Published: Oct. 1989
Tagline: Trick or treat, trick or treat, candy is dandy, but murder is sweet
Description: Dressed to kill. Martha knew there was something evil about the house she was moving into. It was so cold . . . and creepy. And it wasn’t just the house that was giving her a weird feeling. Martha was sure someone was following her . . . watching her every move.
Then the practical jokes began – the scarecrow with a carving knife in its head, the fire. And the phone calls: “Trick or treat, Martha . . . you’re dead.”
It was October, but these were no Halloween tricks. Someone would be coming home this year with more than just a bag of treats. And Martha was the prize.
Trick or treat.
Wow, October 1989? I was eight years old when this book was published. I don’t remember the first time I read it, but it had to have been when I was around 11 or 12. My copy is old and stained all to hell with soda that leaked out of take-out cups. I used to take shit care of my stuff when I was around that age.
So, let’s start with that description real quick. Are they really saying that a fire is a practical joke? A fire?! Yeah, that’s not a joke, wtf. Also, the abuse of dashes and ellipses you can clearly see in the description carries on throughout the book. Or at least throughout the first three chapters, which is as far as I’ve read as I type these words. Based on Dove and Wing’s recap at The Devil’s Elbow, I’m aware that this trend does in fact carry on the entirety of the book. Yay.
So, this is one of those books that I know I enjoyed as a teen. I remember it really well, even though it’s somehow inextricably linked in my head to Bebe Faas Rice’s The Listeners and Music from the Dead. I think there’s a similarity in stories, but it’s mostly the covers. Those three covers look very similar.
Anyway, since this is RTC, I’m already second-guessing my memory of liking this book. Remember the hell we went through with The Lifeguard? I’m gun shy on all Richie Tankersley Cusick novels now. But I swear I liked this one, guys. I swear I did . . . .
We start off with Martha Stevenson and her dad driving to their new house to meet up with the rest of their new family, stepmom Sally and stepbrother Conor. Dad is thrilled about the new, presumably spooky house; Martha less so. We find out Conor is a year older than Martha when Dad points out she always wanted an older brother and she protests that he’s only a year older. Okay, is it weird to have always wanted an older brother? That’s a very specific want.
Anyway, Conor isn’t the brother Martha wants. He’s too introspective and aloof, and Martha actually calls him “otherworldly” at one point. She has no desire to get to know him better. I, on the other hand, aspired to be just like Conor when I was a youngster. Particularly the part where Martha describes him as “he kind of leans back and takes everything in – like he knows some secret about life and he’s just watching everyone else make fools of themselves.”
Actually, I think I still aspire to be like Conor.
They get to the house, and it’s super spooky, guys. Dad is thrilled, Martha is . . . less so. Wait, I already said that, didn’t I? Martha is less-than-thrilled about pretty much everything throughout the book, so I feel like I’ll be repeating this a lot. She tries to be somewhat polite to Dad and Sally’s faces, but her internal monologue is all doom and gloom and whining.
Conor takes Martha up to her bedroom (bow-chicka-wow-wow?) and informs her there’s only one bathroom. Now, I find this hard to believe given how big this house is, but okay. Martha’s room is all the way at the back of the house, and she immediately feels a coldness and announces that something terrible happened in that room. Is it you, Martha? Are you the terrible thing that happened in this room? Conor probably wonders the same thing, then informs her that all old houses have drafts.
At dinner, Martha finds out from Sally that there’s a cemetery on the property. Martha and I both promptly lose our collective shit over this information, albeit for very different reasons. I want to move here immediately and go exploring; Martha wants to run away crying back to Chicago. Then Conor says that he better show Martha around school, because she looks about twelve and they might try to send her to the elementary school. Dad and Sally laugh, and, guys? I need to stick up for Martha a little. I know, I know, she’s a whiny pill. I get it. But . . . a part of me identifies heavily with her. I understand her humiliation when her family teases her; I get the feeling of being overly sensitive to people laughing at me. I know other recappers (Teen Creeps released their episode of this book while I was writing this recap) hate Martha, and yes, she’s annoying, but I just don’t hate her like everyone else seems to.
Conor takes her on a tour of the house, and it’s so big that Martha thinks she’ll have trouble finding her way around. Still only one bathroom though? Oh, okay. She goes into her room, and it’s still cold as balls. Then she sees that the closet door is closed when she’s sure she left it open. She decides to sleep with the lamp on, because closet monsters are notoriously afraid of 60-watt bulbs. Sometime later she wakes up to the lamp off and the phone ringing . . . somewhere. Down the hall, maybe? I’m reminded just how bad RTC is at description again. Martha stumbles down the hall to wherever the fuck the phone is, and whoever’s on the other end tells her to look outside, and “trick or treat.” Listen, bitch, first of all, it’s not even Halloween yet. Second, you do not use that phrase unless you want me to throw candy at you. How dare.
Oh, yeah, then Martha looks out her bedroom window and sees a body hanging from the tree, with a slashed up face and a carving knife through its head. Except it’s really just the scarecrow that had been on their porch when they arrived earlier, as Conor points out after Martha freaks the fuck out screaming like a damn banshee. She tells him about the phone call and Conor agrees with me – the caller is an idiot to say “trick or treat” when it’s not even Halloween yet! Then Martha gets mad that he’s making fun of her. Uh, nope, he’s making fun of the person who called you, Martha. Pay attention.
Martha whines about the house, Conor calls her a spoiled brat and says that the terrible thing that happened in her room is her (stop reading my mind, Conor!), then Martha throws her purse at his head. Because women be hysterical and shit.
Martha wakes up to a stormy morning; thinks some bitchy thoughts about Sally’s cooking; then goes to find Conor out in the woods gathering logs for the woodbox out back. He assures her he knows she doesn’t imagine things, even if her dad thinks she does, then tries to commiserate about Sally’s terrible cooking. I’m mystified by this trope. Most basic cooking isn’t that difficult, but so many of these books would have us believe that frying bacon and scrambling eggs takes a fucking culinary degree. It’s like all those terrible late night infomercials where people can’t figure out how to put their shirts on or something equally stupid. “Do you fail at humaning on a daily basis?”
The moving van shows up; Martha tries and fails to make her room feel like her room; then Dad sends Conor to town for picture hooks and Martha tags along. See, she hates Conor (because . . . reasons, I guess?), but she hates the house more. Again, for . . . reasons. Conor and the house are both awesome, so I really don’t know what her major malfunction is.
They find the hardware store, and a boy gets all flustered at Martha because from the back she looks like someone else. This is Blake Chambers, and Martha gets even more flustered back at him, to the point where I wonder if she’s ever spoken to another human being before. She manages to convey the information that she just moved to town, and finds out that her house is the old Bedford place, and everyone knows about it. Hey, isn’t the name of the town also Bedford? Then Blake says his uncle owns the store they’re in, and the girl helping find the picture hooks is his cousin, Wynn. I don’t know if it’s just because of the name, but I’ve always pictured her as looking like Winnie from The Wonder Years.
Blake says he’ll see Martha at school, Martha says she hopes so, then mentally berates herself for sounding desperate. I have a theory that this book would be 50% better if we got rid of Martha’s inner dialogue. She’d still be annoying, but so much of her whining is internal that it could only help things. Where the fuck was RTC’s editor during all of this?
Martha goes for a walk after dinner, in the mist around the house, and thinks she sees something moving in the woods. I mean, it’s the woods, Martha. It’s probably like a deer or a raccoon or something. Oh, then she hears crying. So, not a deer? Then the crying turns to breathing, and I’m just not at all sure how you hear breathing from that far away. Then it all stops and Martha runs away, because the crying, breathing deer had her too paralyzed with fear to move before.
The next day Dad and Sally are gone off to honeymoon during Dad’s writing assignment in Hawaii. Business and pleasure, nice. Martha is not happy at being left alone in the terrible house with terrible Conor, but I’m not sure anything makes Martha happy, so I’m not too concerned.
At school, her adviser is Greg Chambers, and despite his resemblance to Blake, and the fact that they have the same last name, it takes Martha a minute to figure out who he reminds her of. Then she blurts out “Blake Chambers!” while Greg is talking. Greg is Blake’s cousin, and in his mid- to late twenties, which makes the amount of time he spends hanging out with his teenage cousins and their friends just a little . . . questionable.
We’re told rather than shown that Martha is an amazing writer, because our girl Richie always has to have herself a writer character. Martha is whiny because no one asks her to sit with them at lunch and it never occurs to her to just sit down somewhere and introduce herself or anything.
Speaking of introductions, Wynn Chambers comes up to Martha at her locker and officially introduces herself, leading to Martha asking how many more Chambers cousins are lurking around here. But . . . you already knew she was Blake’s cousin, Martha. This isn’t new information, what the hell. Then Wynn informs her that everyone is lusting after Conor, but only the female everyones, because we all know The Gays™ don’t exist in Point Horror. Martha groans internally because she’s been treated like a plague victim while Conor is the new hotness. But Wynn told Martha she’d been trying to get her attention in writing class to say hello, and Martha was oblivious. I wonder how many other students tried to be friendly, only for Martha to stare right past them while internally complaining that the entire student body wasn’t honoring her with the second half of a “best friends” necklace.
Just imagine – this is me hating Martha less than everyone else.
They run into Blake; talk about their writing assignment for Greg’s class; Wynn thinks writing a ghost story shouldn’t be any problem “especially” for Martha. Martha thinks Wynn is referring to her dad being a writer, but nope, Wynn didn’t even know about that. It’s because there was a murder in her house, and everyone knows the house is evil. Unless several murders took place there or it’s the Amityville house, I’m not sure why people would jump to calling the house evil, but okay Wynn. I like you, so I’m giving you a temporary pass on the melodrama.
Martha is convinced people are laughing at them for living in the house, and Conor tries to reason with her, but Martha was born unreasonable. And with a massive persecution complex. Those are super great traits for a Point Horror protagonist.
Amid whining about the house and murder to Conor, Martha also informs him that Greg, Wynn, and Blake are all cousins and look so much alike. So, they’re cousins? Identical cousins? And you’ll find – they laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike? You can lose your mind when cousins are two (three?) of a kind!
Ahem. Where was I? Martha was whining about something? Oh, yeah. She runs up to her room, whines, looks out the window and sees Conor heading off into the woods, whines, follows him out and calls for him, then whines when he jump scares her. He tells her he wants to show her something (bow-chicka-wo – oh, forget it) and leads her to the cemetery, even though he’s never been there before. They find a mausoleum with the name Bedford on it, and Martha exclaims over how important they must be since it’s the biggest marker in the place. Again, isn’t Bedford the name of the fucking town? I’m assuming these are its founders, but why the fuck isn’t Martha making this connection?
We’re told the mausoleum is twenty feet high and twenty across, and I wonder if RTC has any idea how big that is. Because that seems unusually large, but whatever. Martha wants to know how he found this place, and I’m curious how nobody found it sooner since it’s the size of a fucking house; Conor mutters that “it was so strong” but then shakes himself and claims “it’s gone now.” What’s gone now, Conor? Is it my patience? I’m betting it’s my patience.
Back at the house, Martha whines some more, accusing Conor of being in on a conspiracy with her dad to fuck with her about the house. LOL whut. Then she throws her jacket at Conor and storms off to her room when he catches it rather than catching a zipper to the eye or whatever Martha had hoped to accomplish by throwing fabric at another human.
Martha shuts herself in her room and wonders what really happened in the house and if it’s haunted, and eventually falls asleep amid myriad ellipses and dashes. She wakes up to see something in her closet closing the door, then Conor comes into her room because he smells smoke. He gets her outside, confused that the kitchen door (where the smoke is coming from) is closed, then goes back in (stupid! that’s fire, Conor!) and somehow puts the fire out. A dish towel on a burner had caught fire, and Martha wastes no time yelling at Conor for being so careless. Conor has so far been presented as pretty much the polar opposite of careless, but okay Martha. Then she screams at him that something was in her closet, because that’ll show him!
At school, Blake invites her to eat with him, and she again mentally berates herself for being friendly. Fuck, Martha, showing interest isn’t “desperate.” She’s so nervous that she barely takes any food, leading Blake to look at her head to toe and declare she doesn’t need to diet with her body. Oh, fuck off, Blake. Conor shows up to tease/torment Martha in front of Blake, then Martha asks Blake about her house. She mentions she was going to ask Wynn, and Blake tells her not to.
Long story short, the year before, the last Bedfords in town (the family were indeed the founders) were living in the house with their daughter, Elizabeth, who was Wynn’s age and also her best friend. She had a boyfriend named Dennis, whom Blake hated. Elizabeth dumped him, and he started following her, making threatening phone calls, left a dead rat on the porch, and set a fire. All of this led up to him killing her in her room one night – the room that belongs to Martha now! Dun-dun-DUN?
For some reason, nobody told an adult (unless Greg counts as an adult? not really sure about that) because they didn’t think anyone would do anything about it? That it would be seen as “teenage soap opera” and that if Greg told anyone, he could lose his job? I . . . I’m having trouble following this logic. Like, he set a fire. He left a dead rat for her. I know stalking laws in the 1980s were basically nonexistent, but still . . . come on! Greg works for the school; that makes him a mandated reporter! In no way would he lose his job for stepping in to help a stalking victim! What the fuck is happening right now?
I realize I’ve probably gone past “long story short” at this point. Sigh. Oh, well. Anyway, Elizabeth left the Halloween dance with Dennis, and wasn’t seen alive again. Wynn found her dead in her room (Martha’s room), and Dennis’s car was found the next day in the flooded river with the knife he’d used to kill Elizabeth in it. His body, however, was never found.
At home, Martha inner monologues about how terrible her life is or something, then goes to tell Conor about Elizabeth’s murder only to find out he already knows because he cut class to go to the newspaper office and look it up. Martha’s sails thoroughly deflated, she still says she bets he doesn’t have the real scoop the way she does! He doesn’t take the bait, and she acts like she’s doing him a favor by telling him the whole story, even though he didn’t ask. He said he figured she’d tell him when she was ready. On the one hand; cool. On the other, I personally tend to believe I shouldn’t bother people with things they express no interest in, and generally don’t volunteer information unless it’s asked of me. Which is a whole source of contention between my mother and me. (Her: You never tell me what’s going on in your life! Me: You never ask or seem interested in any way!)
But I digress. Back to Conor and Martha. She tells him all the gory details; he wonders why everyone is so sure Dennis is the killer; Martha promptly freaks the fuck out about how jealous and crazy he was like she was there or something and not hearing things third-hand from a biased source. God, I’m having flashbacks to Music from the Dead. Are RTC and Bebe Faas Rice the same person? Conor denies starting the fire and thinks the house has soaked up the bad memories from the murder, then offers to trade rooms with Martha, who is shocked that other people display traits like empathy and generosity.
Martha gets another phone call, this time the caller refers to her as Elizabeth and tells her she’s dead, and trick or treat. So, is the caller threatening her, or telling her a fact? Like, yes, Elizabeth is dead! Very good, Mystery Caller! *pats on head*
Conor tells her it was just a prank call (they use the term “crank call” in this book, which is fine, whatever, I just prefer “prank”), but Martha is convinced it’s the first sign of the Apocalypse or somedamnthing. At this point, she’s seriously overreacting. Unfortunately, she will be vindicated later on. Ugh, sorry, Conor.
Blake calls and invites Martha out for pizza at some real dive with Greg and Wynn. Martha tells Conor she’s going out and is pissed off that he doesn’t have more to say than “Have fun.” What reaction were you looking for exactly, Martha? “No, don’t go; stay here and let’s indulge in some Point Horror pseudo-incest”?
Greg greets Martha by calling her his “newest and prettiest” student. Is . . . is that really appropriate? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no. No, it is not.
Apparently hanging out at a shitty pizza place with three cousins she just met is the highlight of Martha’s life, and she doesn’t remember ever having so much fun! Based on what I’ve seen of her personality, this tracks. The
boys guys tease Wynn about Conor; Martha corrects them to “stepbrother” every time they refer to him as her brother; everyone is incredulous that Martha barely knows anything about Conor despite living with him; and we find out from the guys that Conor is apparently a genius and great at basketball. He didn’t strike me as the athletic type, but sure.
Greg drops Wynn off, then lets Blake take his car to drive Martha home, because Greg is an awesome wingman. Blake and Martha pull up to her house, and he’s amused because Conor’s light is still on? Huh? That . . . that doesn’t mean he’s waiting up for Martha, you know. Maybe he’s still up reading. Or is that just the book nerd interpretation? She asks him if kids in town like to make prank calls, and he shrugs it off like there are lots of dumb kids in town.
Even though he walked her to the door, Blake doesn’t stick around to make sure Martha gets inside safely, and wouldn’t ya just know it, she’s locked out. So, no one gave her a key to her new house? Everyone has a key but her? Wow, that’s cold. Well done, Martha’s family! She walks around the house, screaming for Conor, and sees a silhouette of a person moving around in her room. I mean, maybe it’s Conor snooping around trying to figure out why you’re such a whiny brat?
Nope. She runs back screaming and pounding on the door, then screams at Conor some more about there being someone in her room, but of course no one’s there when they check. Then she accuses Conor of being the one in her window watching her run around the yard like an idiot, which he seems to find amusing while simultaneously being done with her shit. He offers again to switch rooms with her; she acts like a brat and waits for him to shrug and walk away before calling him back and agreeing. She moves her stuff in for the night and slams Conor’s own door shut in his face, despite him being, you know, nice enough to trade rooms with this tiny screeching harpy.
Again, this is me not hating on Martha as much as everyone else does.
Martha oversleeps and fails a test at school (I’m sure she’ll find some way to blame Conor for both those things), then runs into Wynn and they have a nice talk about how much Wynn likes Conor but doesn’t want Martha to think she only wants to be friends because of hot older (step)brother. My brother is almost 13 years older than me and was married with a baby on the way by the time I was 7, so this was never an issue for me. Anyway, Martha is surprised because this never even occurred to her. I’m sure if it had, she would have tried to use it to make people be friends with her.
Wynn tells her about Elizabeth, and that she doesn’t really remember anything – just the “long dark.” Martha asks her what that is, but again, Wynn doesn’t fucking remember. It’s just . . . darkness that went on and on. Wynn reveals that she needs to talk about it, despite Blake’s warnings, and furthermore that she wants to visit the house.
They’ve been walking through town with Wynn pointing out the sights (such as they are) and talking about what there is to do in town. Wynn asks about Martha’s boyfriends back in Chicago, and Martha tells us a tale as old as time – she dumped a nice guy for a jerk. Hey, did Martha start the Nice Guy™ phenomenon? Can we blame that on her? This reminds Wynn of Elizabeth and Dennis, how everyone thought Dennis was a jerk, but he really wasn’t. She doesn’t think that he killed Elizabeth, and also tells Martha that Elizabeth had broken up with Dennis and started dating Blake. So . . . does that make Dennis the nice guy dumped for Blake, the jerk? LOL if so.
Then Wynn tells Martha how much she reminds her of Elizabeth – they were both small and blonde, and Martha is such a nice person. Debatable, but whatever.
I have to take a second to tell y’all how much these names are tripping me out. When I was in 7th grade, right around the time I must have read this, I was friends with a girl named Martha, except she generally went by her middle name, Elizabeth. Seeing those names together is kinda funny to me now.
Martha has a nightmare where she is Elizabeth getting murdered, then has more over-the-top melodrama in the morning, claiming she looks like a dead girl and that’s why everyone has been staring at her. Conor tries to reason with her (she reminds Wynn of Elizabeth; no one ever said she looks identical to her, etc), to no avail.
She has a terrible day at school, then Blake shows up to convince her to cut the rest of school and come with him to get Halloween decorations from some relatives’ place the next town over. The decorations are for the Halloween dance that Martha knows nothing about, despite the posters up all over school, and you know, the fact that she knows there was one last year that Elizabeth was at before being slaughtered.
They go to the barn and hang out in the hayloft; Martha asks why he didn’t tell her that she’s a carbon copy of Elizabeth, and Blake is understandably confused since he thought she resembled her from the back but that was it. Like, lots of girls are petite and have blond hair, Martha. Oh, then they make out for a while.
On the way back, they pass the cemetery in the town of Whitley, and Martha asks about the cemetery on her property. Turns out that’s the old Bedford cemetery, and this one in Whitley is where Elizabeth is buried. There’s a marker for Dennis, too, even though there was no body to bury, and Blake opines that he may not be dead since he was never found. I thought he was on the “Dennis is dead” train earlier, but okay. It’s not like continuity is a high priority in Point Horror.
Blake drops her off at home and tells her she’s going to the Halloween dance with him rather than asking her to go like a civilized fucking human being. Once inside, Martha spooks herself with every little noise and draft, and puts a record on – her favorite love song, which she turns up full volume. Okay. 1989, right? So, in my mind she’s blasting “Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli. Change my mind.
Despite being so terrified by being in the house, Martha dozes off, then wakes up convinced someone is watching her. Her light is out despite it being on when she fell asleep, and then she sees someone standing in her closet watching her. Then thunder and lightning crash, and the figure in the closet is gone. Then the phone rings and it’s our Mystery Caller, who again taunts Martha, calls her Elizabeth, and says trick or treat.
So, is there another phone line in this house? Does Mystery Caller have one of those phones that telephone linemen have that they can clip directly on to the phone lines to make calls? Where, exactly, is Mystery Caller calling from if they were literally just in Martha’s closet?
Cue Martha screaming and running around like a cartoon character, and freaking out on Conor when he comes in, late because of car trouble. Martha goes to make a dramatic exit and runs into the newel post on the stairs instead. Cue me ugly-laughing for sixty seconds straight. Oh, Martha. Then she screams at Conor when he asks if she’s okay. Embarrassment is an ugly bitch.
She runs to her room, thinking about how much she hates Conor (. . . why . . . ?) and convinced that Dennis is alive and stalking her because she’s the spitting image of his dead girlfriend or whatever. It’s not directly stated, because RTC is shit at description, but I guess there are no curtains or blinds on Martha’s window, because she rips a blanket off the bed and starts frantically looking around for something to hang it with. Then Conor comes in through her closet, informing her that there’s a secret passageway leading from the butler’s pantry to the closet. Martha responds by screaming about how much she hates, despises, and detests Conor, and also physically assaulting him yet again.
He tackles her onto her bed (. . . kinky? rapey?) to stop her from throwing her radio at him, and somehow this leads to him rattling off all the things he knows about her, including the vast number of friends she had in Chicago. Okay, seriously, are we talking about a different Martha?
Anyway, Martha stops accusing Conor of doing all these things long enough for them to talk about what’s actually going on. He kind of derails things by telling her she looks maybe thirteen when she’s passionate about something, and asks if she gets passionate often. Conor. Not the time! (Also, the fact that all this pseudo-incestuous subtext leads nowhere is puzzling as hell. Why is it here, then?)
Now this book wants to throw some supernatural bullshit at us, because Conor has also felt the spookiness of the house, especially Martha’s room, and apologizes for assigning her that room as he didn’t think she would be so receptive to the ghosty-ghostiness. They bond over the spookiness that led Conor to the cemetery that first day, and then he mentions that there could be other hiding places in the house, and maybe it is haunted, but not by ghosts. But, Conor, you just said –
No, it’s fine. Did I expect continuity from Richie? AHAHAHAHAHAHA silly me.
Martha sleeps in Conor’s room even though he boarded up the panel in her closet, and then at school the next day she gets called into Greg’s office so he can tell her how awful she looks and how concerned her teachers are about her. He refuses to believe she’s this upset over a murder happening in her house, and she just kind of explodes about everything that’s happened there. I swear, if we got rid of Martha’s inner dialogue and all the times she recaps the book so far for someone, this book would be half as long as it is.
Anyway, Greg tells her that the place is probably full of hidden rooms and passages since it was used in the Underground Railroad. Because of course it was. Guys, I’m having such flashbacks to Music from the Dead; please send help.
Greg asks if Wynn has talked to her about that night; Martha asks what the “long dark” is; Greg doesn’t fucking know any better than you, Martha. He speculates that it might mean the walk up the dark staircase to Elizabeth’s room, or she might have blacked out for a second when she saw her.
Martha meets up with Wynn after school; whines about her meeting with Greg; they have a debate with disturbing implications over who’s sexier: Blake or Conor; then fall all over themselves laughing about nothing. They manage to curb their hysterics long enough for Martha to introduce Conor to Wynn and arrange for him to pick her up in the school parking lot at five, after she hangs out with Wynn for a while in town.
They go have hot chocolate and Martha asks Wynn about the dance. Wynn says she isn’t going because she doesn’t have a date, then in the next paragraph says that she’ll be there in charge of the refreshments and going will be good for her. So, she’s not going, but she’s going? Goddammit, Richie Tankersley fucking Cusick, I swear to God . . .
Blah blah blah, Dennis loved Elizabeth, blah, the long dark, blah blah, Wynn found Elizabeth and there was a ton of blood everywhere, blah, rivalry between Blake and Dennis, blah blah. Did I cover everything? This is basically all rehashing everything we already knew. Except maybe the part where Wynn thinks Dennis killed himself after he heard Elizabeth was dead because he couldn’t live without her.
They leave the coffee shop and spook themselves on the street thinking a mannequin is a person following them, then Wynn leaves Martha in the school parking lot to wait for Conor because she suddenly remembers she has to babysit. For some reason, Martha goes into the school. Oh, it’s because she forgot to get her history book out of her locker. Why the fuck didn’t you say that in the first fucking place, Richie?! WHY?! THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WRITE A FUCKING COHERENT STORY WITH EVENTS THE READER CAN FOLLOW AND CARE ABOUT!
Ahem. I think I’m okay now, guys. I think. I guess we’ll see.
The school is empty (then why was it unlocked . . . ?) and Martha wastes no time hearing footsteps “following” her and readying herself to scream. But why wouldn’t you assume it was, like, the janitor, or a teacher, or another student who forgot their fucking history book? Why would you immediately jump to DANGER DANGER DANGER? Ugh, Martha. Then the lights go out, which totally helps her keep her calm, and she runs around in a blind panic, trying to throw herself out a second-story window, then running past the Mystery Guest who’s following her, then she falls down the stairs and breaks her wrist. She finally finds an unlocked door to the outside through the teachers’ lounge, sees the family car, screams for Conor, then sees the car is empty. So, is this supposed to make us suspect Conor or something? Because it doesn’t. At all.
Then Conor comes out of nowhere and catches Martha as she passes out. Cause women be faintin’!
Martha wakes up in the hospital with a broken wrist; Blake and Greg show up; Conor tries to run them off because he obviously suspects one of them; the police were called but didn’t take anything seriously (Point Horror cops, yo); the lights went out in the school because the power went out all over town for a little while; and for some reason Blake found it impossible to believe Martha was in the hospital when he was told by . . . someone. He literally just says “they” told him she was in here. No word on who “they” is. Aliens? I’m gonna go with aliens.
The next day, Saturday, Wynn shows up at the house to visit Martha and face her fears or whatever, and she starts to head to the back bedroom. Martha tells her she’s trading rooms with Conor so that’s not her room anymore. Wynn is flustered and says she’s so used to going back to Elizabeth’s room. Is that all it is, Wynn?
Martha makes Wynn help her get dressed because she’s just so helpless with a cast on her wrist. They talk about Dennis and whether he could still be alive or if he might have been killed by the same person who really killed Elizabeth, then have lunch with Conor, who starts gently questioning Wynn about the house – for instance, did she know about the secret passage into Elizabeth/Martha’s room? She did. Dennis used to use it all the time. Blake also knew about it. Any passages that lead outside? She doesn’t know.
Conor gets her talking about last Halloween. Elizabeth went to the dance with Blake; sneaked off home with Dennis; people got worried when she didn’t come back, so Wynn finally admitted to Blake and Greg that Elizabeth was with Dennis; they went to the house to look for her; Wynn went up the stairs ahead of them and found Elizabeth stabbed to death in her room. I guess we’re supposed to suspect Blake now, because we’re told he fought with Elizabeth, took off in a huff before she did, then showed back up at the dance soaking wet from the rain. Hey, to quote Scream, there’s always some bullshit reason to kill your girlfriend, right?
Then Wynn starts screaming about the long dark again, and how she doesn’t remember. Okay, well, that was productive, thanks for visiting, Wynn.
Now we’re up to Halloween, and of course Martha is wearing a “gypsy” costume. Of course she fucking is. Every goddamn book I’ve recapped lately, I swear . . . look, I don’t have the energy to go into this again. Just, like, read this for more info on why it’s terrible.
Anyway, she’s going to the dance with Blake, because he told her she was rather than asking her, remember that? Conor is home sick with a cold or flu or somedamnthing, and therefore too sick to come with her and be her bodyguard. Okay. He’s back in his own room again because it’s less drafty and, you know, it’s also away from the secret passage the killer will undoubtedly use at some point tonight.
Blah blah blah, the gym is spooky, blah blah, the cousins are dressed in similar black costumes because Wynn made them all – Blake is Death, Greg is an executioner, Wynn is a witch. I guess this is some sort of masquerade as well, because there’s an unmasking at the end of the dance. What even. So, the g*psy is wearing a mask? The witch is wearing a mask? I am confusion. (Except . . . they’re not. So what the hell?)
After they’ve been there a while (and Blake jokes that Martha would rather just be there with Wynn – hell, I ship it), Wynn pulls Martha aside and freaks out to her that she saw Dennis here at the dance! Oh noes! Martha sends her to the bathroom to hide and calm down while Martha searches for the “boys.” You know, Greg is a boy despite being a full grown fucking man, but sure. While she’s looking for them, she gets paged for a phone call, and the caller calls her Elizabeth and tells her everyone at the house is dead. So, the caller calls her Elizabeth, but obviously had Martha Stevenson paged? Okay, just checking.
Martha runs screaming back into the gym and finds the cousins (. . . I thought Wynn was supposed to stay in the bathroom until Martha came for her?), tells them about the phone call, with Wynn adding the whole “I saw Dennis!” thing in for good measure, and they go racing down rainy streets to get to the house.
Ah, now starts the good old RTC disjointed description of the action. Pray for me.
Somewhere amid all the ellipses and dashes, they arrive at the house, the power goes out, Martha establishes that Conor is still alive, but there’s someone else in his room because she hears a sliding noise she recognizes. I think that was supposed to be the secret passage sliding open, but that’s in Martha’s room. And it’s boarded up, right? I’m so confused. What the fuck is happening?
Martha hears a “soft hiss of metal slashing darkness” and I have no idea how she can identify that, but okay Richie. Okay. I’ll muddle through this disjointed nonsense somehow. Mostly by telling the readers what’s actually happening. You know, like you should have.
Conor got stabbed, guys. Or, slashed at least.
The cousins are running around somewhere in the dark, and Conor and Martha make their way into some generic secret passageway that takes them to the cellar, where they’re trapped while the killer is outside setting fire to the place and ranting about how they “were the one who really loved you . . . don’t you see? I would have loved you best of all . . . . But no – you always wanted to be together. And now you will be. Forever.”
This brings up interesting questions when the killer is revealed, guys.
Anyway, out of nowhere Martha laments that “he thinks I’m Elizabeth and you’re Blake.” Uh, what? Oh – she thinks the killer is Dennis. Okay, I guess that makes some kind of sense. Not good sense, but some kind of sense.
They find yet another secret tunnel in the cellar with crap piled in front of it, and they uncover and crawl through it for what I think we’re supposed to think is a long time (the long dark?), but in reality only lasts for about a sentence. It comes out in the mausoleum, where they find candles burning around an alter with something on it. Conor tells Martha not to look, then says he thinks they just found Dennis. This isn’t described well at all (shocker), and for some reason I’ve had it in my head all these years that it was Dennis’s decapitated head up on the alter. However, that is never specified. It’s only described as “something that might once have been human” and “the thing upon the alter.” No idea why my adolescent brain went to “decapitated head.” Maybe because I was picturing a raised alter, something like a pedestal, only big enough to put a head on? Also, in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, Richie Tankersley Cusick is terrible at description.
Anyway, Death attacks them in the mausoleum, so Martha now believes it’s Blake trying to kill them. Sure, why not. She moans that he couldn’t have hated Dennis that much, he couldn’t have been that afraid of losing Elizabeth, and he could have had anything he wanted. Eh, not really, though. Then the killer hisses “I want you, Elizabeth. Trick or treat!”
Aw, just give him some candy, Martha! Damn.
Then Blake jumps into the fray and we find out the killer is Wynn. Blake tackles her and yells to Greg to call an ambulance, and somehow the mausoleum doors are wide open now. Look, I don’t need everything spelled out for me, but some sense of what the fuck is happening would be nice.
Wynn monologues about what happened – essentially, she was in love with Dennis, who started paying attention to her after Elizabeth dumped him. Wynn was convinced Dennis was in love with her (or would be, if Elizabeth left him alone); Blake tells her Dennis was using her to keep tabs on Elizabeth. Wynn refuses to hear that. Anyway, when she saw them sneak off together at the dance, she freaked out and followed them, spying on them from Elizabeth’s closet. She tells us she heard them talking and laughing, and she heard the bed. Ooh, dirty! Was there off-page fucking in this book?
She lured Dennis downstairs by “pretending” to be a prowler. I mean, you were legit an actual prowler in this situation, Wynn. Let’s not pretty this up too much. Then she hit him over the head. No word on what she used, but I’m going with a frying pan. She then grabbed a knife and went up to Elizabeth’s room, where she was still on the bed waiting for Dennis. Round two, aye-oh! In the ultimate cock-block move, Wynn killed Elizabeth, then went downstairs to tell Dennis the good news that they can be together now without Elizabeth interfering, but alas, she hit Dennis too hard and killed him. So, wait, you’re telling me a head injury had actual consequences in a Point Horror book? I’m stunned, y’all.
She then apparently dragged him down the tunnel to the mausoleum (the long dark!) and set up this creepy-ass shrine and shit. Then turned her ire to Martha, despite her not actually looking that much like Elizabeth at all. I guess the explanation is just “crazy people be crazy” or something. Wynn also thinks Dennis is alive and just doesn’t understand why he won’t get up. Except that comes and goes as well, along with thinking Martha is Elizabeth. It’s one of those touch and go delusions, I guess.
The authorities show up, cart unconscious Conor off to the hospital and Wynn off to whatever asylum is handy, I suppose; Martha has a familial breakthrough by finally referring to Conor as just her brother, no step; then she and Blake get cozy and she kisses him “right on his smile.”
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Guys . . . I actually still like this book. Oh, the writing is atrocious, and Martha is annoying, but . . . I like the story. I think this was one of my favorites as a kid, so I’m a slave to my own nostalgia in this case. I’m a sucker for secret passages and cemeteries and creepy shit happening on Halloween. Conor is an awesome character, and despite being the killer, I really like Wynn. I hate the motivation that this was all over a boy, though. I really think this could have been a good book with a little tweaking. And by “little tweaking” I mean a better author. I’m sure Richie was one of my favorites as a kid, but as an adult I can’t even begin to fathom why. I’m sure I’ll recap another of hers at some point, and I can only hope third time will be the charm?
Okay, I have to address a couple more things real quick. Teen Creeps did this thing when they talked about RTC’s Overdue where they tried to map out how busy the killer would have to have been, running back and forth to do their dastardly deeds and then show up again doing their normal everyday stuff, and it was a madcap run, I’m telling you. I feel like Wynn had some of the same stuff going on here. Like, I get that she was probably spending a lot of time in the mausoleum, but how did she get to a phone to make threatening calls right after being in Martha’s closet? So, she saw a family moving in (I assume she was spying on the house basically 24/7) and immediately decided to make threatening calls and hang the scarecrow from the tree without even having met Martha yet? I can see her maybe wanting to scare people away so the house would remain empty and no one would discover her weird mausoleum shrine, but this isn’t made clear in any way.
Also, when Martha and Conor were trapped in the cellar and Wynn was yelling about being the one who would love you best, did she think Conor was Dennis? Because it really seemed like she was yelling at Martha, which was supposed to make us believe it was Dennis, but nowhere else was it stated that she thought Conor was Dennis, so . . . . My headcanon is that Wynn was actually in love with Elizabeth. Of course, that leads us to a whole new bracket of problematic when it comes to motive, so I dunno. This book is a mess.
But it’s a mess I still hold a deep fondness for. Ugh, just why?!