Title: The Yearbook
Author: Peter Lerangis
Tagline: Most likely . . . to DIE!
Description: According to his IQ test, David Kallas is a genius, even if his teachers think he’s a slacker. His sole extracurricular activity is the yearbook, and he only became editor as an excuse to get close to Ariana Maas. On his way to the printer’s to check on the book, he takes a shortcut to spy on Ariana and her boyfriend—the impossibly perfect Stephen Taylor—and ends up finding something even nastier than two students making out: a butchered corpse floating in the creek. The body leads David to a disturbing secret about his school’s past. When members of the senior class start dying, David is determined to solve the mystery and save the school—even if he has to destroy himself to do it.
Well, it had to happen. After a short run recapping things I actually enjoyed, we had to get back to a book that makes me rage. I might be biased from reading the book, but that description absolutely makes David sound like an incel Nice Guy™ asshole, right? Because he is. Which I unfortunately didn’t remember before buying the Kindle version of this. This character is the fucking worst.
Anyway, I remember owning this book; I didn’t remember the overall story, though. I remembered exactly two oddly specific things – the first was the lead female character tying a cherry stem in a knot with her tongue. The second was the same character talking about Pepsi dissolving a tooth left in it overnight. I remember this leading me to test this out with one of my baby teeth (this book came out when I was 13, so I shouldn’t have still been losing baby teeth, so I’m a little confused where the tooth came from), and finding out it’s bullshit. I’m sure Pepsi will dissolve teeth eventually, but it takes longer than overnight.
Anyway, after reading and refreshing my memory, I have no idea why this book is called The Yearbook, or why that cover up there exists. The yearbook is only a peripheral part of the story, really. I guess it would have been too on the nose to title it “Lovecraftian Monsters in the School Basement.” However, there is a second cover (I suspect it’s the UK cover) that gets to the point much quicker than the US cover.
Much more honest. Also much more WTF. They really don’t bury the lede on the UK covers, do they?
Anyway, this book is weird. We have time jumps, secret cults, eldritch horrors, and a protagonist that I want to set on fire. I think the scariest part of this book is the fact that we’re supposed to be on David’s side. Like, he’s the hero. We’re supposed to root for him. We’re, I think, supposed to be rooting for him to get together with the girl he’s stalking and girlfriend-zoning (basically friendzoning, but from the uninterested girl’s perspective). It’s gross and I hate it. Prepare to read 10,000 words of me raging. [Note from Future Me: 10,000 words was way too conservative an estimate.]
We open with a prologue, and David Kallas on top of a hill outside Wetherby, Massachusetts, convinced he’s destroyed the town. But there’s a silver lining – he’s alone with Ariana Maas, and their clothes are tattered in some very convenient places. Also, I had managed to forget that this book is written in first person, so there’s no fucking getting away from David’s inner thoughts. Great. We’re literally on page one.
David is writing us this story, not sure if anyone is left alive as smoke still billows up from the town below. He needs to piece it all together and start from the beginning, and he absolutely could not have done that without starting the story at the end and then wavy-lines dissolving to a month, or a week, or however fucking long ago. He tells us that someone needs to know everything that happened, because it may happen again, and if it does, there may not be anyone left. Dun dun DUN!
He tells us that it all began on April 15, and I would give anything for this to just be a story about rushing to file taxes before the end of the day. But then David interrupts himself in order to tell us that he’s a Genius. Capital G. I would say he’s also Insufferable. Capital I. Anyway, he’s lazy as fuck and gets mediocre grades, much to the disappointment of his teachers.
Despite being a Genius, he tells us he did a stupid thing on April 15. He took a walk in the Ramble, which seems to be a shitty wooded area that slopes down to a river and is also the local makeout spot. Because of course it is. It’s there that our poor, poor incel comes across Ariana Maas making out with her boyfriend in his car. Ignore the boyfriend’s name in the description up there; he’s commonly known as Smut. Because his full name is Stephen Matthew Underwood-Taylor, and teenagers are super witty. David tells us he has an urge to yank Smut out of the car, but he doesn’t. Because he’s a Genius, not a Hero.
*record scratch* *inarticulate noises of rage*
So, he wants to do violence to a boy because he’s consensually making out with his girlfriend, and he thinks this would make him a Hero?! David, you are the fucking worst. Ariana should run as far away from your toxic ass as possible.
Anyway, long, boring story short, David is off to the printer’s to proofread the yearbook. (The print shop is called Someday My Prints Will Come, which David thinks is a stupid name, and I think is way too long a name. Also it kind of implies that you won’t be getting your prints anytime soon, which I’m sure isn’t quite the message the proprietor wants to send.)
David passes by the river and sees something hairy floating there. He thinks it’s a badger or river rat, so he throws a rock at it, because in addition to thinking women belong to him just because they give him a boner, David is also apparently an animal abuser.
It’s not an animal. It’s a human body, but it’s flat, like all the insides are removed. There’s a sweet, chalky sort of smell rather than a decomposing body smell. David notices the legs are curving into the opening of a drainage pipe, and thinks the body looks like “a Gumby.” I was under the impression that Gumby is the name of, well, Gumby, but David’s treating it like it’s the species or something. Like calling a vampire “a Dracula.” (Sorry, Jesse Thorn of the Judge John Hodgman podcast; I refuse to accept your terminology.)
Anyway, yeah. It’s a body with no insides. An Edgar suit, if you will. Is this just a shitty MiB sequel?
Then David faints, presumably because there was no female character nearby to fulfill the “wimmin be fainting” trope.
Then he has a dream about catching and gutting a fish, except it’s actually one of his classmates. Groovy. Also, do people dream when they’ve fainted?
David wakes up, runs home (because fuck going to the print shop after that mess), strips off his muddy clothes and jumps in the shower while his mom demands to know where he’s been til one in the morning. He reflects over his dad being dead, and his mom being cool but having an old-school Greek streak (I guess the last name “Kallas” should have tipped us off to the Greek thing).
During his shower, David ponders what he saw, then veers into telling us how much he hates Ariana for making him want her so much. I . . . that’s . . . jfkasldfgjdal
It’s all her fault, guys! David only joined the yearbook to
stalk her be close to her; if he hadn’t been going to the printer (by this roundabout way for the sole purpose of spying on her and her boyfriend), he wouldn’t have seen the filleted corpse! See, all that fucking cunt’s fault!
Have I mentioned that I hate David?
Now he takes us back to the day he met Ariana – the day of the Great Wetherby Earthquake. He’s very fond of capitalizing things to Give Them Importance That They Don’t Actually Possess.
It was February 7, and David was following Ariana home from school. Well, he was walking home from school and she happened to be half a block in front of him. He calls it “taking the fun way home” and if we could see the way her body moves, we’d know what he means. “Real slow and lazylike, with lots of . . . well, movement.” Then he tells us he knows it sounds pathetic, but he was obsessed, and “don’t tell me you don’t know what that feels like.”
No, David. No, I don’t know what it feels like to feel entitled to another’s body, time, and affection simply because they make you tingly in the pants. I don’t know what it’s like to view someone as an object, and to hate them for “making” you want them. And the fact that we’re normalizing this and stating that all men feel this way is disgusting. You’re telling these misogynist, toxic idiots that their disgusting behavior is normal and valid. And you’re telling your female readers that we should expect and accept this behavior, because this is how all men are. If David were shown at any point to be completely in the wrong, I could accept it, but that is not what’s happening here. His terrible worldview is totally validated in the story, and Peter Lerangis can suck donkey cock.
Oh, good, now we jump back even farther to November, when David first saw Ariana. God, this poor girl. He knows that Smut is her boyfriend, her co-editor on the yearbook staff, an athlete, lead in the school play, got into Yale, and is friendly and nice to everyone. Then David tells us that we can see why he hates the guy. Sure. Because he got a girlfriend based off his personality and the way he treats people, and you’ll only get one through manipulation and the literal end of the world? Try being a better fucking person, David, then maybe girls will want to talk to you, you whiny incel cockwaffle.
Back to February and the earthquake. Everything goes silent, then there’s a rumbling and the earth starts to well, quake. Like an idiot, David runs to a tree and hugs it, because placing yourself directly under a tree during an earthquake is a brilliant fucking plan, A+ you Genius. He hears a cracking sound, then Ariana screams at him to look out and tackles him. Despite the circumstances, we’re led to believe David practically jizzes his pants when Ariana lands on top of him. There’s a tree limb lying right where David had been standing, and Ariana saved his life. Which makes me hate her. I am #TeamTreeLimbThatAlmostKilledDavid all the way.
Ariana invites David to her house to bandage up his hand, which got shredded up when he hit the pavement, then we find out from a report on the TV that the quake was 5.1 on the Richter scale, and damage was limited to some broken plates and glasses in private homes. I was going to scoff at a 5.1 (the largest earthquake I’ve been in was a 7.3), but then I realized that the damage described is pretty believable. We find out there hasn’t been an earthquake in Wetherby since 1950, and also that a massive tree has fallen in front of the high school, basically crushing a car. Ariana is elated, because now they have an event to base the yearbook around.
Then she appoints David “Theme Coordinator,” putting him in charge of earthquake-related blurbs, captions, and photos. Even though David is apparently a terrible writer, but fuck it; it means he’ll get to spend time with Ariana! Lying to her, manipulating her, and resenting her for not jumping on his dick completely unbidden.
We catch back up with David a week before he found the “body,” dressed in a white fright wig, Groucho Marx glasses, and a Carmen Miranda-type hat with fruit all over it, posing in photographer Mark “Rosie” Rosenthal’s basement. No, this isn’t some weird pornography scheme; it’s one of David’s “many brilliant concepts” for the yearbook. I can’t even tell if he’s being sarcastic or not, because he’s so insufferable I wouldn’t doubt he calls all his own ideas “brilliant.” He calls this character the Bananahead, and the plan is to put a photo of Bananahead above the names of the 23 kids who didn’t show up for picture day. We have Ariana to blame for the name “Bananahead,” since that’s what she called the kids they don’t have photos for. Yes, how horrible of them to be out sick on the day yearbook photos were taken. We should totally call them names and mock them with these ridiculous photos. (It’s not the prank I have a problem with; that’s actually pretty inoffensive. It’s the calling them names for being absent from school that gets me. I think I’ve mentioned in a previous recap that I missed so much school in fifth grade that my oh-so-witty classmates started calling me “school skipper.” Like, imagine making fun of someone for missing school. It’s so bizarre. Also, that could have been taken another way, like I was the captain of the school. Ten-year-olds never think of the double meanings of things, do they?)
David tells us that over the weeks, Ariana has started looking at him with respect, since he’s really thrown himself into the whole yearbook thing. He would prefer she look at him with lust or even mild carnal interest, but respect was fine. In twenty years, David is going to start an incel sub-reddit and post about how stupid some hot celebrity woman is for marrying some other guy instead of a Nice Guy who will treat her right, like David.
Anyway, Rosie thinks all this Bananahead stuff is so hilarious he’s practically pissing himself laughing while snapping the photos. God, everyone in this book is insufferable. Rosie says the prints will be ready later that afternoon (I guess he has his own darkroom, because why not), and David will pick them up on his way home from the library. Rosie can’t conceive of someone going to the library on a Saturday, and thinks David has lost his mind. Yes, that’s what mentally ill people do – go to the library on Saturday. It’s really what we’re known for, y’all.
David has a “date” with the librarian, Edna Klatsch, and I’m just going to call her Edna because I can’t type “Klatsch” over and over, guys. Apparently there’s an artist there, repairing a mural that got damaged during the earthquake when a tree fell through the glass entrance. Okay, now I’m going to scoff at this earthquake – there are far too many trees falling over for a 5.1 earthquake. I don’t believe this.
David describes the mural to us:
The painting was faded and awful. It showed a bearded white man, dressed in formal clothes, shaking hands with an African slave in front of an open trapdoor in the ground. The slave looked bewildered, and a dozen or so equally dazed-looking slave families stood behind him.
The mural was labeled JONAS LYTE, WETHERBY RESIDENT, HERO OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.
Why did so many of these 90s books have the Underground Railroad as a plot point? Was it a White Savior thing (because the black people who were instrumental to the Underground Railroad are never mentioned, only the white people), or was it more “we need some tunnels underground, how do we explain them? Better make it the Underground Railroad! That’s a thing our target demographic is probably learning about in school right now, right?”
Anyway. Edna points David to a book where he can find pictures of the 1950 earthquake. He tells us the school actually caught fire then, and then tells us that high school students from 1950 all look about forty years old. I mean, only if they’re on Beverly Hills 90210. (RIP Luke Perry.)
David stumbles upon an engraving of a witch being burned at the stake (this never fails to annoy me – most “witch” executions in the US were hangings; nobody was burned at the stake) while the devil rises out of a crack in the ground. The girl’s name was Annabelle Spicer, as Edna tells us when she sneaks up behind David to comment on the picture. Except she didn’t really sneak up on him – he smelled her coming. Ben-Gay, mixed with “some perfume only elderly women seem to wear. Eau de Old Lady.” Meanwhile, we can smell David coming in a cloud of Axe Body Spray, Cheetos dust, crusted cum, and sadness.
Edna (who so far is my favorite character in this trashfire of a book) talks up Wetherby, telling David that they were a spy post in the Revolution in addition to their role in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The Pilgrims also set up the first college in the country here, but try telling that to the snobs down at Harvard. Yeah, get bent, Harvard! So there!
David marvels again at his being at the library for three whole hours, guys! When he doesn’t have to be! He tells us it was sick, and not in the slang way that now means it’s cool. It’s at this point that I wonder about Peter Lerangis having a character act like going to the library is an uncool, terrible thing. Because I imagine a good portion of the people reading your book probably enjoy going to the library. Because that’s where the books live. And, again, they are currently reading your book. But, I mean, go ahead and insult your audience, that’s cool too.
Anyway, he tells us it’s sick, and Ariana is the cause of his disease. Or the cure, depending on how you look at it. Can I look at it with you on fire, David? I would rather enjoy that.
Anyway anyway, David thinks he and Ariana work well together, except when he suggested using the picture of Annabelle Spicer being burned at the stake in the “student activities” section and Ariana thought it was sexist. Because she can be “too serious” sometimes. Look, I’ll admit I actually thought it was kind of funny. But Ariana’s got a point – a lot of innocent women were murdered during the witch trials in part because men wanted to keep women “in their place.” When you look at it from a historical perspective, it’s not such a funny joke.
David tells us that was the one blot on his record, so either he’s an idiot who doesn’t think Ariana is picking up on his creepy Nice Guy vibes, or Ariana is an idiot who isn’t picking up on his creepy Nice Guy vibes. They all work their asses off to get the yearbook ready for the printer, then have a party on April 15 at Mr. DeWaart’s apartment. I don’t think we’ve been officially told who the hell Mr. DeWaart is, but from context he seems to be the yearbook supervisor. Who throws parties for teens at his apartment. Yeah.
David greets him by calling him “Mr. DeWaart,” and he responds to call him Richard, to which David protests his name is Joel. Then he tells us that Mr. DeWaart rarely smiles and sometimes you don’t realize he’s told a joke until five minutes later. This introduction seems to imply pretty much the opposite, but whatever. Oh, and his nickname is apparently Wartface, both because of his last name and because he has moles on his cheek and his hand. Because high-schoolers are both terribly witty and incredibly sensitive. Mr. DeWaart is only about 25, but looks older, and runs some secret society/academic achievers club called the Delphic Club, which Smut is a member of.
David is surprised when he gets to the apartment that there isn’t some “knockout grad student . . . jiggling out of the bedroom,” or any other tell-tale signs of bachelor life – you know, like a rumpled camisole tossed on the floor, or some female-type perfume in the bathroom. All his words, not mine. Also, I feel like our heroic little incel here is in for a shock when he grows up and discovers that’s not at all what adult life is like. Jesus Christ.
Anyway, here we have one of the two scenes I remembered from this book – the tying a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue bit! When David, Ariana, and Smut walk in, some guy named John Christopher is performing this amazing feat, so of course all the guys have to try it themselves, because boys are naturally competitive, you know. David almost chokes on his, but sadly survives, while Smut does it perfectly. Then Ariana tries it and David describes it to us almost pornographically, telling us her “eyes became half-lidded and mischievous.” Sure, David. We’re given to believe he jizzed his pants again by the time she pulls the perfectly-knotted cherry stem out of her mouth.
David watches Ariana and Smut in the corner laughing together, and tells us that if Smut were in front of a window, he would push him out. At one point they start kissing, and David is pissed and snottily thinks they should just go park instead of tormenting everyone who has to sit and watch this. And the case against David continues to build itself.
Oh, and since he doesn’t have any vices, David consoles himself with elaborate murder schemes. Jesus, just when I think David can’t get more abhorrent, I turn the page and there he goes. Just making me hate him all the more.
The printer calls during the party, and the prints are ready, so someone has to go proof them. I have questions. First off, what time is it? I was under the impression it was late in the evening; why is the printer still open? Then they go round trying to decide who’s going to go proofread it, since letting the printer do it himself would be a bad idea. Apparently the school is full of last names like Xarvoulakis, Wojcechowsky, Orailoglu, and Nwogalanya. At least the school seems to have some diverse names? Even if all the characters we’ve met are very, very white. So, why isn’t the adult yearbook supervisor going to proof the prints? That seems like the sort of thing for an adult to do in the middle of the damn night, right?
Anyway, everyone has plans (is it not actually as late as I’m thinking it is? I’m very confused), so David volunteers so that he can be Ariana’s knight in shining armor. He literally says that. Also, he’s curious about where she needs to be and why Smut is trying to force her not to do her yearbookly duties or somedamnthing, I dunno, and I hate being in David’s head. Fuck this book.
So, that’s how David came to stalk Ariana in the Ramble and stumble upon the human Gumby.
And we’re back to that night and David in the shower wondering why he was so determined to peep on Ariana and her boyfriend, and why he couldn’t have just walked to the printer’s the normal way. I’m more interested in what time this party was and how late the printer stays open, since if you remember, it was past one in the fucking morning when he got home. I know he passed out, but did he pass out for like eight hours or something? What the fuck is going on with this bullshit?
David decides not to go to the police because he thinks he would be their only suspect. And he doesn’t want to explain what he was doing in the Ramble. Then he turns on his closet light because he’s been afraid of the dark ever since his dad died, falls asleep, and has another bizarre dream. Which we’re not currently privy to, because now we switch over to Part Two and some kid named Marky.
This whole chapter is so much italicized, disjointed nonsense from the POV of a fucking five year old, holy shit. Little Marky hears the TV and a bunch of phrases with ellipses between them. Something about a possible double suicide of two people who sought cures for neurological diseases. Marky thinks that Mom and Dad have the TV turned up too loud, then remembers that they’re in New York getting treatment from a doctor, and Marky’s Yiayia is downstairs. Also, Yiayia is a Greek word that means Grandmother, and it’s okay to call her that even though she’s American Greek rather than Greek Greek.
God save us from chapters written from children’s POV.
Marky goes downstairs and finds Yiayia crying, and the news showing the building where his parents work, and he puts two and two together and throws up on the rug.
And now we’re back to David. Thank God. Well, never thought I’d say that.
Oh, for fuck sake. The Marky bit was a dream David was having. I . . . sure, okay. I’m not sure this makes sense later on, but sure.
David wonders who the hell Marky is, since he only knows one Mark (Mark “Rosie” Rosenthal), and he’s Jewish, not Greek. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality, and Greek Jews certainly exist, but whatever, David.
He notes that the TV in the dream was a strange, long shape and the clothing was ugly, then wonders if Marky was an alien. Yes, that’s obviously the logical conclusion to jump to. Well done, David.
David’s mom comes in and asks him about his muddy pants in the sink, and apparently she’s under the impression that David was fucking in the mud til one in the morning. I don’t know who laughs more derisively at this, me or David.
Even though it’s only five thirty in the morning, David decides to go to the print shop to proof the yearbook since he didn’t get a chance to the night before, what with finding the skin suit and all. Shockingly, Mr. Brophy, proprietor of the print shop, is there and ready to express shock that a high school senior is awake before noon on a Saturday. David half-asses the proofreading since his concentration is shot, finds out the yearbook will be ready on Thursday, then Mr. Brophy holds up an envelope that contains the Bananahead photos, confirms these are the photos David wants for the absentees, and then grins and tells David that “You guys are sick, man.” I am officially picturing Tommy Chong as Mr. Brophy.
David watches the news all weekend; no mention of a body missing its insides. Then on Monday there are police at the school, and Ariana, Smut, and a friend of theirs named Monique Flores tell him that a boy named Rick Arnold has been missing all weekend. Ah. Rick is Gumby! Gumby is Rick!
David approaches an officer to tell him about the body, but the cop tells him to move along while hovering his hand over his billy-club. That . . . is worse police work than usual from this type of book. Dafuq?
Before class, Ariana hunts David down in the yearbook office and demands he tell her what he knows about Rick’s disappearance. Apparently she thought it was weird that David asked how long he’d been missing and what he was wearing when he disappeared. Whoops. So, he tells her his story, conveniently leaving out the part about stalking her and wanting to kick her boyfriend’s ass for daring to make out with her.
She tells him that if he’s telling the truth, he’s a coward, and if he’s not, then he’s a nutcase. This book is such a trashfire that the casual ableism toward mental health is barely even pinging my radar at this point. Anyway, Ariana claims that she’s not a coward, so she’s going to go talk to the cops. Unable to stand the thought of her seeing him as the coward (and worse) that he really is, David goes to the principal’s office to talk to the cops himself.
Here we meet Chief Hayes, the man in charge. And he’s black! This book finally introduces a non-white character, holy shit! (I thought maybe Monique Flores was Latinx, but she’s described as having blond hair, so while it’s certainly possible, the jury’s still out on her.)
David announces that he can take the chief to Rick, and instead of asking any questions, Hayes ushers David to his car and sets out toward the Ramble. Then he asks if he’s correct in assuming, since David says Rick is still there, that he is not presently alive. When they get to the Ramble, Hayes notices that David looks sick and tells him he can stay here as long as he tells him where the body is, and if he thinks he’s going to throw up then for God’s sake get out of the car!
David thinks Hayes lacks sensitivity. I think Hayes just jumped to the top of my list of favorite characters in this book. All two of them.
David thinks Hayes looks about sixty, and has a limp that makes him look tough and heroic. When I worked as a parking valet, I injured my foot and walked with a limp for a good month or so. I doubt I looked tough or heroic. Like, at all. But at least David doesn’t say anything racist here, so that’s a plus.
Hayes comes back to the car about half an hour later, and he looks like he’s seen some shit. David, apropos of nothing, announces that he didn’t do it, and Chief Hayes says he knows. He calls for backup, then rubs his face and David thinks he’s crying. Well, no, he says that if he didn’t think such a thing was impossible, he would think Hayes was crying. Because toxic masculinity is very much in play in this piece of shit.
The chief drives David to the police station and David makes some snide internal comments about what a dump it is and wonders what jail must be like if this is what the police chief’s office is like. Well, yeah David, jail sucks.
Hayes directs David to look at a photo on the wall of the basketball team from his high school years. He points out that he and Reggie Borden were the only two boys of color (his words) on the team, and goes into this whole soliloquy about how amazing Reggie was at everything, and how he wondered if Reggie was only his friend because they were both black. He tells David that the school had secret societies (oh, like the Delphic Club?) and that some of them were racist gangs. Hopefully not like the Delphic Club, then.
This is the long way around of telling us that Reggie disappeared one day and was never found. Hayes suspected the racist gangs, but then three white kids went missing, except their bodies were found. Disintegrating by the drainpipe in the Ramble, in fact. Oh, huh. How about that.
Then David asks when this all happened. Why, in the spring of 1950, right after the big earthquake, of course! Dun dun DUN!
After school, David goes to the library to ask Edna about Reggie’s disappearance, and she tells him that Pudgy Hayes looked into it for years. So, yep, the chief’s high school nickname was “Pudgy.” Again, because teenagers are both witty and sensitive. So of course David starts thinking of Hayes as Chief Pudgy and Officer Pudge. David is an ass.
He looks through old newspapers and finds out that Reggie’s full name was Reginald Philip Borden III, and he was in Drama Club, Glee Club, Honor Society, the prom committee, and Key Club. Whatever the fuck that is. I’m guessing it’s not like a key party, but then again . . .
The drama club photo includes a picture of Reggie emerging from a trick bookcase that swings open, and I only mention it because it shows up again later. Much to my dismay. Readers, meet Chekhov’s trick bookcase!
David makes copies of some newspaper articles which we lucky readers get to read in their entirety. Don’t worry, I like you guys more than Peter Lerangis likes his readers, so I’ll summarize thusly: “Oh noes, an earthquake in New England?! This land is cursed! But no! We’ll make it a source of civic pride!” and “Communists are holding secret meetings in the high school basement; obviously it was they who caused the earth to quake, not an earthquake!” and “17-year-old Negro boy (the book’s phrasing) missing, who gives a fuck,” and “Three missing white kids found dead; missing black kid considered top suspect,” and “The town common sits above a collapsed limestone vault; I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” and finally, “Our soil is lacking in nutrients like iron, potassium, and ESPECIALLY CALCIUM, better come on out to Farrell Nursery and stock up on fertilizer, bitches!”
Yes, David copied an ad for fertilizer. Somehow he thinks it will be important. I think David has read the end of the book, because there’s no way in hell a normal kid thinks that soil lacking in nutrients would have anything to do with kids disappearing and dying.
School is cancelled on Tuesday, and grief seminars are held with the school psychologist on Wednesday, along with safety seminars. The chief left David out of the official report, which I’m not sure he could actually do, but sure, okay. Ariana demanded to know everything David and the chief talked about, but agreed to keep it a secret. Meanwhile, David tells us that he’s miserable, and the secret is festering inside him until he wants to scream the truth. Um, what secret is he referring to? That he found the body? That he’s stalking Ariana? Make more sense, David. Fuck sake.
Thursday morning – yearbook morning – rolls around, and the kids are all a-flutter when the yearbooks arrive. They have a list of the senior class that tells them who’s paid for their yearbooks, and they hand out the first one to a guy named Jason Herman, who pre-paid by check and is number 44 on their alphabetical list. Infuriatingly, this list is important.
Ariana gets pissed and yells at David because they’re not supposed to give the yearbooks out individually; they’re supposed to deliver them to all the senior homerooms and let the teachers hand them out. And this is where I have to stop and protest the fact that these are “senior yearbooks” and only go to the senior class. That . . . is not how yearbooks work! There’s one yearbook for the whole school, and it includes every student in the school! Are you telling me this yearbook only has seniors in it? So, that yearbook is only a few pages thick, then. I don’t know what the fuck this even is, because it’s not like any yearbook I’ve ever seen.
After all the yearbooks are distributed, Jason comes storming back into the yearbook office demanding to know what’s up with his picture. See, he was one of the students absent on picture day, and therefore has a Bananahead photo under his name. Except he doesn’t. Instead of David’s stupid photo, there’s a photo of a shrunken face with dried flesh and blood dripping from the mouth. David thinks it looks like Rick did when he found him in the Ramble.
Jason starts threatening a lawsuit if he doesn’t get a refund, and after seeing the yearbook, Mr. DeWaart says he will get his refund. They look through the yearbook and discover all the Bananahead photos have been replaced by the gross photo. David gets yelled at for not properly proofreading, Rosie denies switching the photos, and Rachel and John say Mr. Brophy must have done it himself – he was a hippie who fried his brain on LSD in the 60s. Okay, kids. Settle down there.
Mr. DeWaart goes to make an announcement to recall the yearbooks, and David tries to puzzle out who could have switched the photos. For a supposed Genius, he comes up with some dumb theories. Then he flips through the book and comes across Rick’s photo. Underneath, his activities are listed – Choir, Spanish Club, and Prom Committee. Then there’s a threatening poem, because this is Point Horror, after all: Which “Most Likely” goes to Rick?/ He isn’t smart or cool or quick/ Or careful, so perhaps that’s why/He’s likely, most of all, to die.
Wow. Victim blaming in poem form. Classy.
David suddenly smells that sweet, chalky smell he first smelled in the Ramble, then feels something “growing in [his] body . . . rumbling the walls of [his] stomach, spreading like a cancer.” David is a drama queen. He realizes that he did a shit job proofing the yearbook (look, I know I said the title of the book is misleading and the yearbook only plays a peripheral role in things. That’s still true in the sense that once you find out what’s going on here, the question will arise, “What the fuck does the yearbook have to do with any of that?”) and pages through it to see what else he missed. From the way he talks, I’m going to assume every photo is a full page. It’s the only thing that makes sense when I hear that this yearbook only has the seniors in it (and presumably is more than ten pages long).
Everyone has boring shit under their photos until David reaches a girl named Laura Chase (dumb as a brick, but popular) – she has another shitty poem under her picture: Pity, pity, Laura Chase/Pretty hair and pretty face/Isn’t it a sorry fate/She won’t live to graduate?
And another one under Robert “Butthead” Heald, who is a jock, and David bitchily tells us that his greatest academic achievement is recognizing the numbers on his opponents’ jerseys. Gee, David, I wonder why no one likes you. Anyway, Robert’s poem is this: Study? Not burly Bob Heald!/’Cause his passion for football won’t yield./So fold him in creases/Then cut him to pieces/And spread him all over the field.
Apparently our poet shares David’s shitty judgmental nature. Also, did Bob just get a limerick? Is he too stupid to understand any other form of poetry?
David finds another poem by Ed Lyman’s photo, right before Ariana’s. He tells us that Ed is quiet, antisocial, and likes motorcycles. His poem is: Ed Lyman Hates rhymin’/Seeya, Ed./Dead.
Well, that shit was just lazy.
Another poem on Janie Youmans’s page. Apparently she’d had plastic surgery to look like a character on a teen soap opera, then ended up hating the character. Because every single female character in this book is shallow, stupid, or too old to be fuckable. (To be fair, the male characters aren’t that great, either.) Anyway, Janie’s poem is equally ridiculous: Greetings to Janie P. Youmans/Who fancies TV over humans/Ask ’em, Jane, while you’re able/Will they wire your casket with cable?
Honestly, these are almost too stupid to be threatening.
David gets stopped in the hallway by good old Butthead Heald, who demands to know if David was the one who put the poems and pictures in the yearbook. Then he announces that they’re great, like something out of National Lampoon or Spy (not sure what that one is . . .), and that his poem is the best he’s found so far. You know, the poem talking about how stupid he is and dismembering him and throwing the pieces all over the football field? Haha, great stuff, man!
Ed Lyman also apparently loves it, as he paints his own version of the shrunken head on the cover and refuses to return the yearbook. Janie Youmans, on the other hand, cries by her locker as her friends try to comfort her, and Laura Chase looks freaked out. Because they might be dumb and shallow, but at least they know when to be upset by bad poetry.
After school they hold an emergency yearbook meeting. Mr. DeWaart tells them that Mr. Brophy claims he pasted down the correct photos, and someone else set the text, so he couldn’t have had anything to do with the poems. He’ll reprint the run of yearbooks for free, and by the end of next week. They decide to send apologies and free yearbooks to the “affected kids,” and to send a copy of the sabotaged yearbook to the police. Are the cops gonna care about something that seems like a senior prank? I don’t think this is the sort of thing the cops take seriously in books like this. Or . . . ever.
Mr. DeWaart and Smut quote some Eliot at each other as they leave, prompting everyone else to gag and banter with Ariana about how she should smack Smut, and they’ll sell tickets and take pictures. Cool story. Then David tells us he was wrong about Smut. How so, you ask? Well, he guesses not everyone loves perfection after all! What’s that, you say? That doesn’t actually mean he was wrong about Smut at all, and this actually just validates his own unfounded hatred of the guy? Oh, okay.
Ariana and David leave together, and Ariana’s in a funky mood because she’s jealous that Smut spends so much of his time with the Delphic Club, and she’s sure their friend Monique (who is also a member of the club) is after him. Ariana doesn’t want to join the club, though, because she thinks it’s pretentious as fuck. David does the friendzoned “listen and pretend to be a supportive friend but really try to figure out how to break the girl up from her boyfriend” thing as they walk home, and he tells us he’s tap dancing on the inside, because he thinks he knows where the Delphic Club is meeting, and if he can expose Smut macking on Monique, then Ariana will be sure to dump him! Oh, happy day!
Seriously, fuck this book.
David doubles back to the school and gets the custodian, Mr. Sarro, to let him in. We’re told that he’s holding his customary can of Coke in his free hand while he pushes a broom across the lobby floor, and I just woke the cat up snorting. First of all, no. I work cleaning offices, which occasionally involves pushing one of those big push brooms, and let me tell you, they require both hands. Believe me, if I could push one with one hand while swigging a can of Dr. Pepper with the other, I would. Second of all, this shitty book was apparently brought to you by Coca-Cola. Who knew.
So, David lies to Mr. Sarro about “emergency yearbook business,” and sneaks off to the backstage area, which is filled with props that remind David of the time Smut fell offstage and into the orchestra pit during a performance. Good times. He goes down a spiral staircase into the basement, which is used as a scenery shop by the drama society. Because spiral staircases to the basement are totally normal things to find in high schools. Among the props, he notices a huge bookcase that looks familiar. Yup, Chekhov’s bookcase!
David thinks this room must be the Delphic Club’s meeting spot, but that they must still be out rowing on the river and will be back any minute. Was it ever mentioned that the Delphic Club rows on the river before meetings? I don’t know! Do you know? Does David know? Does Peter Lerangis know?!
He goes back upstairs, hides behind some stage sets, hears Mr. Sarro butchering the score to Cats, then hears people coming up from the basement and is super confused because where the fuck were they when he was down there?!
At any rate, he’s able to spy on the club coming up from the basement, and sees Smut with his arm around Monique. He tells us he feels resentment toward Monique, anger toward Smut, and sympathy for Ariana. I’m stuck on the resentment toward Monique. Why? Because she’s yet another girl who’s hot for Smut rather than you? If you want Ariana and Smut to break up so bad, shouldn’t you feel grateful that Monique is likely about to make that happen? You’re all over the damn place, David. Figure your shit out.
David goes back downstairs, stumbles around in the dark, trips over a barbell, crashes into the bookcase, then finally locates the light. He takes way too long to figure out that the bookcase is the same trick bookcase from the photo in Hayes’s office, then finally pushes it open.
Behind the bookcase is a dirt-floored tunnel (what do you suppose the over-under is on the Underground Railroad being mentioned again?) shored up with wooden beams. Kids have carved things into the beams (my favorites being “Impeach Nixon” and “Trample the Nazi dogs!”), and David spots “George loves Cali 4 ever 1967.” George and Cali are his parents. Oh. I just thought George really liked the state of California.
David has some /sadface about his dead dad (gone for seven years and counting), then inspects the graffiti a bit more. Nothing is dated between 1950 and 1965, and he remembers that the basement was sealed off after the earthquake in ’50. He’s not sure why it was sealed, though.
Now we come to the bit I can’t quite picture, but I’m gonna do my best to describe it to you anyway, intrepid and determined recapper that I am. This tunnel David’s been following has been opening into wider and wider areas, with odd corners here and there. The air gets sweeter, and a crack begins in the floor near the wall and continues on for 15 feet, where it leads into a wide opening where mist is billowing and hissing up.
Um, that’s probably not a good thing.
David walks toward the hole, laughing and cackling while wild thoughts run through his head about how smart and powerful he feels and how he could live here forever (4 EVER!) and other assorted nonsense. He cries out, realizing he’s at the edge of the . . . hole? Chasm? How the fuck is there just a huge gaping chasm under the school? What is supporting the foundation? . . . . Anyway, he turns and runs back toward the bookcase, but passes out before he reaches it.
Where he has another “dream” about Marky Mark. (No, not that one.)
This time, Marky is eight years old. He’s supposed to be having dinner with his Yiayai and her friend Joyce, but instead he’s squirting ketchup all over himself to look like blood. Yiayia discovers him and freaks out, trying to give him CPR, then screams at him when she realizes it’s a joke. She walks off apologizing to Joyce, claiming that Marky’s parents’ death was a huge trauma and she’s looking for a therapist for him.
Marky thinks that she’s all wrong, his parents aren’t dead; their bodies were never found! Dun dun DUN!
Back to David, waking up by the bookcase with Ariana shaking him. Apparently she found him because Mr. Sarro heard voices in the auditorium and made a leap of logic. Ariana starts crying, and David thinks she found out about Smut and Monique, but before she can say anything about it, Mr. Sarro herds them outside. Ariana leads David to a construction site in the road, where the street has been torn up and there’s a drainpipe underneath.
Inside the drainpipe? Someone’s leg is sticking out. Then, as they watch, the leg twitches and is pulled farther into the pipe. Dun dun DUN yet again!
They run away; David has that chalky smell in his nose again. For some reason they stop and sit on a bench by the Ramble, despite that being where the first body was found. Okay, then. They finish freaking out about what to do (which, it seems, is nothing), and Ariana apologizes for not asking how David is after his accident. Then she thinks he has amnesia from hitting his head in the basement, and holds up three fingers for him, and he starts reciting the Boy Scout oath to her. She is not amused.
David tells Ariana all about Reggie Borden and the Delphic Club’s happenings, all while she’s stroking his hair. Um. He tells her that her hands are really soft and she could be a masseuse or a painter or a pianist, which she scoffs at. She tells him she’s much too practical – discovered Santa was fake when she was three, and oh! Here’s the other bit I remembered! She discovered the tooth fairy wasn’t real when she lost her first tooth and put it in a glass of Pepsi to see if it would decay (it did), rather than putting it under her pillow for the tooth fairy. Couple things here: First, how on earth does that disprove the tooth fairy for a little kid? Second, is this book brought to us by Coke or Pepsi? Choose a side, Lerangis!
For some reason David thinks there’s this big connection between him and Ariana now, and kisses her when she asks what they’re going to do. Then he tells her about seeing Smut and Monique together, and she gets pissed, asking if that’s what this was all about; he was just trying to catch them together to make Ariana like him? Um, what exactly did she think he was doing spying on the Delphic Club, if not that?
Ariana jumps up and runs off, telling David to leave her alone, she’s on to him, she regrets ever inviting him to join yearbook because he’s spent two months staring at her but she never thought he’d stoop to this! You go, Ariana! Run away from this creep! I mean, I know it won’t last, but maybe if I hope hard enough, it’ll change the outcome of the book!
David does a /sadwalk home, stopping by the body-eating construction drainpipe on the way, because why not. There’s smoke billowing out of it, and like an idiot, David crouches down to look inside, where he’s jump-scared by a rat. Unfortunately, the rat is not rabid, nor does it bite David and infect him with rabies, thus ending my torment. Instead, David starts thinking about where the pipes end up, leading him to run to the Ramble, where the drainpipe empties into the Wampanoag River. No body, but he finds a class ring with the name Rachel Green stamped inside.
Wait. Wasn’t that Jennifer Aniston’s name on Friends?
The next morning (in Physics class! this high school has a Physics class! Either media assumes high school is way more advanced than it actually is, or I went to some very bad schools), David tells us that the night before, he ran and found Chief Hayes eating dinner at Arby’s with his family. The real question here is, did they order curly fries, or potato cakes? Either one is a valid, delicious choice. The chief told David not to contact the Greens or John Christopher until he could investigate, and it took me way too long to remember that this Rachel Green is John Christopher’s girlfriend. I was very confused as to why it would even occur to David to tell the sports editor of the yearbook about a possible dead girl.
The teacher starts grilling David about radioactive half-lives, but he’s not paying attention because he’s thinking of giving himself a bloody nose (or slitting his throat, calm down, David) so he’ll end up in the nurse’s office so he doesn’t have to face John Christopher, who is in his next class. Or you could just ditch, David. Literally no one is forcing you to go to school.
Anyway, some kid named Jason explains what a half-life is, because it will become part of the story later. Nothing in this book is there without becoming a plot point. It’s Chekhov’s Everything in this masterpiece!
Outside class, Jason needles David about his slacking off in class, then announces he’s going to “Perm State,” and now “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease is playing on a loop in my head. Of course he means Penn State, and it’s just a mistake in Kindle’s scanning process, but I like to think this blowhard is going somewhere to learn hairstyling instead.
Then Rachel Green runs up to David to tell him Mr. Brophy found and fired the guy responsible for fucking up the yearbook.
Yep, Rachel Green is alive. Ross will be so happy!
Rachel somehow doesn’t think anything’s wrong, even though the fucking police returned her ring to her; she’s just mad because she exchanged rings with John, and she didn’t go and lose his ring, now did she? No, she did not!
Welp, guess who’s not in English class?
David calls John’s house after class and just gets the answering machine. Then he calls the chief to tell him that John had Rachel’s ring, and the chief is all, Duh, you fucking idiot, you think Rachel didn’t tell us that and oh yeah, we found John’s body. I may be paraphrasing quite liberally here.
The chief asks if there was any connection between Rick and John, then mentions it being a serial killer or someone copying the killings of 1950. David thinks there’s something the chief isn’t telling him, but the chief, you know, won’t tell him what.
David tries to stalk Ariana again, and gets distracted by Jason talking to a “tall, young black guy with a terrible skin condition on his face,” who he assumes is a Penn State alumnus talking to Jason about his admission. (And David also assumes the guy is wondering how the admissions committee made such a mistake, because David is an asshole to literally everyone he knows.)
Ariana wants nothing to do with David, but he follows her into the cafeteria anyway and tells her that John is dead; he was the feet they saw in the drainpipe. He drags her off to talk in private, recapping everything Chief Hayes told him. David tells her he thinks something weirder than a serial killer is going on here, and she is immediately derisive, asking if he thinks it’s something paranormal? Ghosts? A dead dog come back to life? She tells David he’s been reading too much Stephen King. Have I mentioned how much I hate it when authors reference better writers? Anyway, I have no idea why she didn’t reference It. A monster that comes around every so many years and hibernates in between, funky shit happening in the sewers, it really would have been the logical reference here.
Anyway, they’re interrupted by a scream, which they follow down to the auditorium and the stairs down to the basement horror-movie pit. They recognize the scream as Jason, and scream for him as they run deeper into the weird, soupy mist coming out of the pit. Except . . . they’re not by the chasm, they’re by the crack, which is now six feet wide. Guys, I really have no idea how to picture this underground area. Where exactly is this crack in relation to the walls? To the pit? I’m so confused, I almost want this to be a movie just so I can see what the fuck is going on here. Whatever is going on, in between the puffs of smoke coming out of the ground, David can see the bottom, and a “churning mass of yellowish-white, not purely liquid or solid or gas, but somehow all of them interchanging.”
Thanks, David. That’s super helpful.
Anyway, they come across Jason, halfway in the crevice, the victim of some very fucked-up hentai nightmare. “Tendrils” are holding him up, poking into his mouth, ears, navel, and I presume some less-savory orifices, eating him alive. From the inside out, I assume. Ariana tries to get David to leave, but he’s drawn forward. Still alive, Jason spots him and throws everything in his pockets at him. Uh, thanks, Jason. I’m sure your pocket lint will save the day.
Oh, nope. David jumps into the abyss after Jason. Cool. Book over?
He hears voices and crying and then snaps to a stop and feels nothing but peace. A voice speaks within him, telling him he’s early. Oh, cool, these things communicate telepathically. David wants to know where he is, and a hip young male voice tells him, “The omphalos, daddy-o. Try that on for size.”
Oh, awesome. The school is haunted by the ghost of the Fonz.
The voices (there seem to be three – Fonzie, an older man, and a woman) tell him his friend was needed, and so is he, but not yet. He needs to go back and figure out who they are, and then he’ll earn his place.
Ah. Cryptic monsters.
Then they sort of . . . vomit him back up to the basement floor, because the next thing he knows, Ariana is grabbing him and hauling him out of the hole. Or crack. Or abyss. Or chasm. Or whatever the fuck it is. Then she tells him his hair turned white.
They race out of the school, almost get hit by a driver’s ed car, then run all the way to the police station. Chief Hayes is skeptical about the voices and tentacles and whatnot. They collected the shit from Jason’s pockets, which included a business card from a guy named George Derbin from a nearby software company. The chief calls the company and discovers that no one by that name works there. Cool.
David describes the guy who was talking to Jason, and the chief starts asking questions about the basement, if the guy was there, and what the Delphic Club does down there. He asks if they ever sing down there, then mutters that the acoustics are great down there. Okay. He goes on to tell us that when his friend Reggie went missing, he went looking around in the basement for proof of a KKK group, but found a bunch of seniors in togas who had formed a singing group instead. Um. They pulled him in and tried to make him sing with them, then he hurt his ankle while fighting them and developed a bone spur, which is why he limps. Then he points out a bone-hard lump on David’s temple and tells him he thinks it’s a calcium growth just like his bone spur.
The chief puts together that the guy David saw had a “lumpy” face that had growths on it, then asks them if they’ve ever seen The Elephant Man. Yup, we’re putting together all this excess calcium stuff now. Excellent.
They leave with the chief promising to try to figure out who Derbin really is, and the kids promising not to do anything related to the case without consulting him. And if you believe they keep that promise, might I interest you in buying this lovely bridge over here . . . ?
David gets home and discovers his hair isn’t completely white, just peppered through with white. So, not even a streak like Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street? Just, like, George Clooney hair? That’s disappointing.
His mom is asleep on the couch with a photo album. He picks it up and leafs through photos of his parents in Greece on their honeymoon. One of the photos is labeled “The Omphalos.”
Dun dun DUN, daddy-o.
Mom wakes up and wants to know what happened to David’s hair and what the bump on his head is. He comes up with a somewhat-plausible excuse (hair dye for a skit in drama, and he’s a fucking klutz), then demands to know what “omphalos” means. It means “belly-button,” or “the center.” We get a Greek myth lesson, where it’s mentioned that the oracle was a vein of gas that hissed up through the ground. Is this Lerangis’s idea of subtlety? God, it is, isn’t it? David makes a crack about “mystical Earth farts” that I’m sure he thinks is hilarious, then puts his mom off when she tells him to wash the dye out of his hair, reminding himself to buy some brown dye.
Unable to sleep, David writes down the name GEORGE DERBIN and starts playing word games with it, trying to see if it’s an anagram or something. He comes up with some ridiculous bullshit (my favorites are BEER IN DE GROG and GREEN DOG BRIE) before finally landing on REGGIE BORDEN. Dun dun DUN!
Then he finally falls asleep and dreams about Marky again. Oh, happy day.
This time Mark is seventeen, in a morgue, and thinking disgusting thoughts about how he wants to hook up with the pretty young police officer who is taking him to identify a body. The cops won’t tell him who the corpse is, but it turns out to be his Yiayia. She got hit by a bus. Oh. Okay, then. Mark doesn’t have any appropriate next of kin, so the cop is going to try to find someone to take him in until he turns eighteen. Oh, and we find out the date – January 11, 2016.
This is the motherfuckin’ future, guys! So future! Much wow!
A couple weeks later, the hot young cop finds someone two towns over, in Wetherby, named Walter Ojeda, to take Mark in. He doesn’t want to live in “that hole,” but Officer Garvey assures him it’s really a nice town since the chemical company opened and rebuilt the town. She asks if he wants her to fax him a holo of Walter Ojeda. So, 2016 is advanced enough to use holograms instead of photos, but primitive enough to still be using fax machines? Okay, just checking.
The guy looks older than Mark expected, and has a growth on his cheek that bothers Mark for some unknown reason.
David wakes up, the dream slips away, and he calls Ariana. She picks up the phone, crying, and without waiting to find out who’s on the other end, apologizes, says she’s glad he called, she loves him so much, and begs him to come over.
David, the Idiot, says he’ll be right there.
Of course Ariana thought it was Smut calling her, and is shocked (and, I hope, disgusted) when she hears David’s voice. Anyway, he tells her that he thinks George Derbin is Reggie Borden. She is understandably skeptical and sarcastic, pointing out that Reggie would be the chief’s age, then feigning relief that David is suggesting he’s been somehow hibernating underground all this time. We’re probably supposed to think she’s being a bitch here, but I like her best when she’s not taking shit from David.
They try to figure out why the monster eats some people and spares others, and if there’s an order to it. David is adamant that he’s going to join the voices in the hole to find out what’s going on, and Ariana changes her mind from thinking he’s stupid to thinking he’s insane. Ableism! Ableism everywhere! Ariana is afraid David and Hayes are going to turn into zombies, then wants to know how David even knows Hayes is on their side. He calls her paranoid, but I mean, she’s not wrong.
David talks Ariana into meeting him at the library to do some research. He points out that nobody else disappeared in 1950, so he wants to find out where the other two voices came from – if anyone disappeared at some other time in the past, amid other earthquakes and murders and general mayhem. But before she can meet him, she has to call Smut back. They had a fight because he broke plans with her, possibly something to do with Monique. David is thrilled that she’s pissed at Smut, which doesn’t really make sense since she’s trying to make up with Smut, not break up with him, but whatever. I know how this ends, and I’m pissed off enough for everyone involved.
David gets to the library before Ariana and proceeds to make zero progress figuring anything out. He makes a list of the dead kids by last name, and I just realized they all have first-name last-names (Arnold, Christopher, and Herman), but alas, this is just an observation and not at all important to the story.
He looks through the Wetherby history book for anything of interest, and discovers that good old Jonas Lyte, White Savior of the Underground Railroad, supposedly died in one of his tunnels after several runaway slaves died in the tunnels, except his body was never found. David figures he’s found Voice Number Two, and now his list of dates goes like this: 1994, 1950, 1862. Can you spot the pattern yet?
David happens upon the photo of Annabelle Spicer being burned at the stake again, and suddenly realizes it’s not a cloak on the ground around her feet; it’s a gash in the ground with smoke rising up from it. Except this isn’t the first time he’s realized that; that’s how it was described to us the first time he saw the fucking photo. God, this book. Anyway, he suddenly realizes that Annabelle is Voice the Third, and writes 1686 as the final date. Now do you see the pattern? David figures it out – half-life! The gap between every date is half as long as the one before it.
Gee, good thing he got humiliated in Physics class that day, huh?
Ariana still isn’t there yet, even though it’s 11:43. We don’t know what time David got to the library, only that Ariana was supposed to meet him there in half an hour. I’m guessing this makes her very, very late. David don’t give a fuck, though, cuz he’s on a roll. He looks at the list he has of seniors at the school, and realizes that the numbers corresponding to their names are 11, 22, and 44. Then he discovers that Ariana is number 88, and presumably next in line to be eaten by the monster that David has dubbed “Slimy.”
So. This eldritch horror somehow has access to an alphabetical list of high school seniors, and has decided to use it as a hit list. Totally plausible, guys. Totally. The fun never stops in this fucking book, I tell you what.
It’s now 12:15, and David has finally realized Ariana should have been here ages ago. He gets no answer when he calls her, so he calls Smut’s house and talks to his 11-year-old sister, Lily, who tells him Smut left with Mr. DeWaart, and Ariana called the house after they left.
In a panic, David takes off for the school, and maybe gets hit by a car on the way there? Lol whut? At the very least, he causes two cars to crash into a light post. Sure. The back door of the school is open when he arrives, and he races down to the basement, where the Delphic Club is having a sing-along. While wearing grey cloaks and linking arms and swaying. Not. Creepy. At. All.
All the kids seem hypnotized, and Mr. DeWaart walks into their midst. David mutters, “Wartface,” and DeWaart hears him, turning to him and informing him that he’s always found that nickname puerile. Oops.
DeWaart points out that the bumps on his face are no more warts than the one on David’s head, then David hears Ariana screaming. He pushes past the Glee Club from hell, following Ariana’s voice, and slimy tentacles start trying to wrap around him. Give it a few years and you’ll be on those forums, too, David.
He’s pulled down into the crevice, where Ariana is also confined by the tentacles. As they pull him closer to her, she bites into one of the tentacles, sending white-yellow goop flying out in all directions. Kinky. All the tentacles let go of our intrepid heroes at once, sending them falling into the chasm. David blacks out and “dreams” of Marky again.
Mark is in his new foster father, Walter Ojeda’s, house, going through all the boxes of his parents’ papers. Doctor’s reports suggesting his parents were riddled with non-cancerous tumors possibly related to radiation; letters from a retired policeman referencing mysterious disappearances; newspaper articles relaying that the same policeman was on trial for negligence after finding and losing Mark’s parents’ bodies.
Ojeda walks in and tries to discourage Mark from investigating, then tells Mark he can call him Dad if he wants to. He leaves, and Mark starts pulling yearbooks out of a box marked “High School 1990-1994.” Get it yet?
David wakes up at the bottom of the chasm, which is covered in the hardened version of the tentacle slime, and is god knows how far underground – there’s smoke swirling and he can’t see the opening above him. Ariana is unconscious beside him, and he takes the time to let us know that her clothes are ripped. Oh, also, a calcified lump has risen on her head.
She comes to, and David notices there’s a column rising out of the floor, branching at the top into three branches. Jonas Lyte, Annabelle Spicer, and Reggie Borden each sit on a branch. I’m having a hard time visualizing all this underground shit. Like, does it all widen out toward the bottom of the chasm, or what? What are the dimensions of this room as opposed to the dimensions of the crack they fell through? I feel like this isn’t described well at all.
Anyway. Reggie asks Ariana how “Pytho” tasted, since no one has ever bitten him before. Annabelle informs them that they may refer to them as priests; Reggie cracks jokes; David asks stupid questions. You know, as you do. So, Pytho wanted David as another one of its priests, and planned to eat Ariana, but she threw it off by biting it. Listen, I’ve also known people who weren’t into biting. It can really ruin a lovely evening.
Er, what was I saying?
David points out to Ariana that she was next in this clever, clever sequence he figured out, then Ariana points out that the kids on the list before the victims were the kids who got the terrible poems by their pictures in the yearbook. Well, everyone except Rick Arnold. They’re all off by one because a girl named Sonya Eggert moved, and everyone after that moved up alphabetically. So, the poems were written from the old list, but Pytho kept current with the devouring. Are you screaming about why the fuck an eons-old eldritch horror is picking victims from an alphabetical and numbered list of high school seniors yet, or is that just me?
Ariana realizes that whoever sabotaged the yearbook fucked up, then realizes it had to have been Mr. DeWaart because he’s like their slave or something. The priests are impressed with her, saying it’s rare that a sacrifice would also qualify as a priest and she’s smarter than David, and David is offended because he, too, had suspected DeWaart. Also, something something fragile masculinity.
The priests ask them the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question (according to Reggie, who seems to be obsessed with game shows): who is this smoky knucklehead beneath us? Pytho isn’t a satisfactory answer, and David racks his brain as he faintly hears the Delphic Club singing far above them. No, seriously, how fucking far down are they? How does the school just casually sit atop this vast underground cavern? I don’t understand any of this.
David starts putting together Delphi, and Greece, and ancient times, and tells them that Pytho (who is apparently a “she” although how David knew that is anyone’s guess at this point) used to be in Ancient Greece, in a crack in the earth, her messages interpreted by a priestess there. They use the Delphic Club as Pytho’s entertainment, blah blah blah, David’s basically just rehashing everything he figured out at the library. Ariana is either suitably impressed, or shocked that this idiot can link facts together. I like to believe it’s the latter. Jonas, however, tells David that he passed the test of mental agility. I would love to believe he’s being sarcastic, but alas, he is not.
The priests believe that both of them are worthy, but Pytho starts throwing a temper tantrum, so Annabelle tells them they can have only one priest. Excuse me a moment . . .
Ariana and David refuse to let go of each other, and dear god, is this like an “our love makes us strong together” thing? Because fuck that mess. But then Reggie tells them that Pytho wants them to decide which of them becomes a priest and which one gets eaten. Cool.
David takes Ariana’s hand, which makes Pytho lose its shit, ground lurching and all that good shit, and David yells to Ariana not to let go of him because their togetherness hurts Pytho. Well, fuck me. I’ve made it to 84% of the way through this mess without reaching for the flamethrower, but this might be what breaks me, guys.
David yells that Pytho has to decide who lives, and Pytho throws a damn fit, quaking the earth and booming everywhere. Then the column crumbles, and David and Ariana begin rising out of the chasm. Rising on what, you ask? Who the fuck knows, I answer. They could be rising on fluffy clouds of unicorn farts for all Peter Lerangis cares to describe to us.
Jonas calls after them that when the pain gets too great and the growths are too much to endure, they’ll come back begging Pytho to save them. Cool story, bro. As the kids rise up to where the ledge is visible, they see Chief Hayes and Mr. Sarro (holding his omnipresent can of Coca-Cola, because what this book needs most of all is product placement) staring down at them. Sarro spills some Coke on a broken-off piece of tentacle, which sizzles, then the kids realize their faces are covered in calcified lumps. Awesome.
They all run upstairs; Mr. Sarro saw DeWaart come out of the basement with the Dephic Club in their cosplay robes, which admittedly must have looked weird as fuck; he spills more soda on Pytho’s gunk, causing it to sizzle some more, which Ariana notices and has a lightbulb moment. She says they’re going back in. David the Genius hasn’t figured anything out yet and thinks she’s nuts and they’ll all be killed. David hasn’t been paying attention to anything but his boner, has he?
The town is freaking out over the latest round of earthquakes, but our Fab Four manage to buy an unholy number of cases of 2-liter sodas. Ariana still hasn’t explained why they’re procuring this cavity-fest, and apparently no one is bright enough to put it together. David could if he wanted to, but he was too busy lusting after her to pay attention to her story about dissolving her tooth in Pepsi overnight.
Anyway, Ariana gives them all a chemistry lesson about the makeup of the human body, and after briefly thinking she’s talking about chalk, David finally realizes she means that Pytho feeds on calcium. That’s why it sucks the bones out of its victims. David remembers the article he copied about the calcium depletion in the town’s soil, and I still call bullshit that he would have thought that important enough at the time to make copies of, but then not fucking remember it when it actually becomes relevant. Fuck you, and fuck this book.
The chief wants to know why the fuck they’ve got all this cola in their vehicles, and Ariana finally gets around to telling the adults that teeth will disintegrate if you put them in a glass of soda overnight. No, they fucking will not, but whatever. Maybe my tooth was just the magical exception to this made-up rule.
David adds that it’s something about the reaction of calcium with the carbonation and acidity of Coke, then claims he knows because of “Chemistry, I guess.” Oh, so now you fucking know chemistry, huh David? Fuck the actual fuck off.
Amid banal banter and discussion that I’m sure is supposed to make us like these characters or something, they eventually make it down to the school basement with all the soda. While they’re figuring out how to use their soda bomb, Ariana tells David that something about them holding hands, the demonstration of solidarity is their best weapon and they should try that first. (David interrupts her when she says “solidarity” and suggests she really meant “love.” Instead of telling him to go fuck himself, she blushes. I’m now 100% Team Pytho.)
So, that’s how our two idiot heroes come to shove a bottle of Coke in a backpack and run up to the edge of the crevice, screaming at Pytho to come and get them. Which she does, wrapping her tentacles around them and pulling them into the chasm. This has definitely been made into hentai porn, right?
Somehow the three-seated column that was being destroyed the last time we saw it is perfectly fine now. Some of the tentacles look a little worse for wear, and David and Ariana reach out for each other, causing Pytho to lose her shit and smack David in the jaw, sending him flying. I have never in my life identified so hard with a tentacle monster. #TeamTentacleMonster
Ariana dumps cola all over the tentacle that grabs her, making Pytho scream and vibrate and ooze. Are . . . are we sure Pytho isn’t just having the orgasm to end all orgasms? ( . . . and now I’m very afraid of the search terms that are going to lead people to this recap . . .) The ground is being torn apart under them; they struggle to stay together; the priests scream at them to stop hurting Pytho, but then Pytho . . . eats them? Unclear. A tentacle starts beating the shit out of the walls before falling aside, leaving handholds for the kids to climb up and out of the hole.
The adults are shocked to see them, but they recover and set up the soda bomb, which appears to be achieved by soaking the cases in gas, then running a gas-soaked rope out of the hole, lighting it, and running like hell. Somehow they manage to get half a block away before it blows up. Also, it literally blows up the school. There is so much bullshit to call here, I’m not even sure where to start. Ariana and David lose the adults as they run toward the hills outside of town, and they have no idea why everything is blowing up when they expected Pytho to simply decay. Dude. Pytho threw a fucking hissy fit earthquake extravaganza when you guys held hands. How did you think she’d react to a full-blown assault?
They make it to the hills and look down on the town, where everything is smoky and yellow-cloudy, and now we’re back where we first came into this bullshit book. David finishes writing his story, and tells us that when Ariana wakes up, they’ll head down into town and see what’s up. He doesn’t know what they’ll find, but they’ll face it together, because that’s the only thing in his life he’s sure of. Gag.
So, that should be the end of the book, right?
Ahahahahahaha, you sweet summer child. No. Remember Marky? Sigh.
Mark goes through his parents’ freshman yearbook, marvels at how young and un-scarred they were, then picks up their senior yearbook. But oh! The pages have all been ripped out and replaced by papers covered in his dad’s handwriting. It’s the book we just read. That’s right, Mark is David and Ariana’s son. Can I set things on fire now? (Also, Ariana is in the freshman yearbook, despite David apparently never setting eyes on her until senior year? We’re told this is a small town, so I’m not even sure how this is possible. WTF.)
Jump to Mark walking into the basement of the Wetherby Chemical plant, with a piece of paper he’s written the name WALTER OJEDA on, along with several crossed-out anagrams until he’s left with JOEL DEWAART. I have no idea why he would be carrying that with him, other than clumsy exposition.
Apparently this place is built over the Pytho chasm, because there’s mist swirling, then a stooped black man and an ancient white guy holding a soda can emerge from the mist. This motherfucker has one personality trait, and we’re going to beat it into the ground, all right?!
Oh, yeah, Ariana and David walk out of the mist, too. They had to go back into Pytho’s healing embrace until this “awakening” or they would have died. Or something. How Mark figured that out is left to our imaginations. Ariana says she doesn’t know if she’s strong enough to fight Pytho this time, but Mark says there’s three of them this time, then Sarro and Hayes chime in, “Five.”
They all move together, holding hands with the smoke circling them, trying to push them apart. But Mark tells us he’ll never let go. None of them will. Ever.
And that’s it, folks. That’s how this horrible piece of shit ends. I was terrified when I saw I was still only 96% of the way through this book, but no worries. The last 4% is just a biography of the author. Apparently he went to Harvard, became a musical theater actor, and ghost-wrote some Baby-sitters Club books. I knew that last fact, and now I’m really curious which BSCs he wrote. I don’t recall any of our favorite babysitters fighting tentacle monsters and being Stockholm Syndromed into marrying a deplorable incel asshole, but then again, my reading of BSC really fell off somewhere around Book 80 or so.
Nostalgia Glasses Off