Title: 99 Fear Street: The Second Horror
Author: R.L. Stine
Published: Sept. 1994
Description: There’s no place like this home . . .
At first, Brandt McCloy thinks moving to Shadyside is great. He has attracted the attention of three beautiful girls – Meg, Jinny, and Abbie. [The book doesn’t actually put the Oxford comma between the last two girls’ names, but fuck that mess. Also, I hate how Jinny is spelled.] But Brandt hasn’t heard the terrifying stories about his new home – 99 Fear Street. He doesn’t know about the headless bodies, the bleeding walls. [Wait, what? When did the walls bleed? The ceiling bled . . .] He doesn’t know that Cally Frasier still haunts the house and plans gruesome deaths for him and everyone close to him. Poor Brandt – what he doesn’t know will hurt him. [That . . . that’s not the expression at all.]
Note: You can find the recap for The First Horror right here. While it’s probably not absolutely necessary to read it before diving into this one, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Anyway, it’s there if you want to check it out. I will probably refer to jokes I made in that recap, so it’s best to be prepared. Um, something something, shameless self-promotion.
Well, here we are, guys. Back to R.L. Stine. It had to happen sometime, huh? Fortunately, I really enjoy (or at least, remember enjoying) this trilogy, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I don’t remember this one as clearly as I did the first one, except for the twist ending. Well, one of the twists. I think there are a couple. Other than that, I remembered nothing about the story. I think this one is the weakest of the trilogy, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Let’s find out!
We start out with a prologue that is basically the epilogue from the first book – the ghost of Cally Frasier looking out the attic window of 99 Fear Street, angrily thinking of how her own family left her behind as she watches a new family move in. Mom, Dad, and good-looking teenage son holding a black and white cat. Since this is Stine we’re talking about, I wouldn’t recommend getting too attached to the cat. Cally watches them move in several oddly-shaped boxes marked “fragile” and vows to give them a welcome they won’t forget!
Cut to the McCloy family moving in, with the help of movers, because apparently everyone in books hires movers instead of renting a U-Haul and moving their damn selves like normal folk. Anyway, Dad yells at one of the movers for not being careful enough with his boxes of tribal masks. Oh, good. I’m sure this won’t in any way turn out to be racist!
Brandt (which I keep mistyping as “Brandy,” so that’s fun) ruminates over what a shitty fixer-upper the house is; thinks about the leather pouch he wears around his neck and never takes off; and talks to the cat he’s holding. The cat’s name is Ezra, but I’m sure that won’t matter for long.
Dad comes running out of the house, yelling about rats in the basement and how they weren’t there when he looked the house over two months ago. Huh. I guess Mr. Hankers never got rid of the little bastards, did he? Speaking of Mr. Hankers, here he pops up out of nowhere and offers his handyman and extermination services. How very convenient, right?
Brandt hands the cat off to his mom so he can go help the movers carry boxes. Mom warns him to be careful because of his “condition.” Uh-huh. Brandt gets sidetracked helping his dad hang up his artifacts on the wall. These artifacts include a spear, a blowgun (complete with darts), and several masks, “most of them twisted into frightened or cruel expressions.” Yeah, this isn’t racist at all, nope.
As Brandt is helping his dad hang the spear on the wall, he feels something tugging on the spear. It flies out of his hands and straight down into the floor, where Ezra yowls like a spear just pierced his side and stuck him to the floor. Oh, because that’s exactly what happened. There was a cliffhanger chapter end there, but since something actually happened instead of it being a fake-out, I won’t complain too much.
I won’t complain about that, that is. I’m still all kinds of annoyed at Stine for killing every fucking pet he’s ever written. WTF, Bob?
At dinner that night, Mom and Dad try to comfort Brandt by telling him that Ezra was old and would have died in a year or so anyway. Yes, very comforting. I’m sure impaling him on a spear was a kindness. They eat pizza, and at least they seem to have unpacked their dishes so that they won’t have to somehow eat cereal and milk off of plates like the Frasier family did in Book 1. They talk about how they haven’t had pizza in two years because they’ve been on an island in the Pacific called Mapolo. They were there because Dad is an anthropologist who is always moving them to exotic locations to study the people there or something.
Mom asks if the grocery stores are open on Sundays so she can go buy some healthy food tomorrow, and uh . . . I’m pretty sure big grocery stores were definitely open regular hours on Sundays in the 90s, what the fuck. Anyway. We find out more about the island of Mapolo – they lived in a grass hut, ate pineapple, and knew a village sorcerer. There was an old woman who disappeared and her daughter insisted she had turned into a panther and wanted the then-fourteen-year-old Brandt to trap the panther because of a prophesy about a young stranger coming to the village. Mom thinks the daughter made up the prophesy because she had a crush on Brandt, and teases him about her liking him when he points out the daughter was twenty and he was fourteen. Ah, yes, because statutory rape is just adorable, isn’t it? Goddammit, Stine.
Lying in bed trying to sleep, Brandt thinks sad thoughts about missing Ezra (at least someone feels bad about the cat), then starts hearing scratching noises in his room. He immediately thinks it’s rats in his room, and we get an unnecessary dun-dun-DUN! chapter end.
Being the brave boy that he is, Brandt sits up in bed and pulls the covers around himself for protection. Because rats are afraid of blankets, you know. He suddenly remembers that there’s an attic (because he remembers passing the staircase for it, and for some reason I was sure the way into the attic was one of those trapdoors with the stairs that come down from it, but I think that’s just in my head rather than actually in the first book) and realizes the sounds are coming from above his head. Even though he’s cowering in bed like a tiny child, he tells us his parents think he’s too impulsive; reckless, even. So, he tiptoes upstairs to investigate, because he’s no wimp, goddammit!
Something jumps at him, claws out, and Stine gives us yet another cliffhanger chapter end. I’d be tempted to complain about it, but in a couple pages I ended up laughing harder than I have in a while, so I’ll let it go.
It’s a raccoon. Just a cute little, snarling, pissed-off raccoon. Brandt thinks it absolutely must be rabid since it’s attacking him, so he grabs a broom and starts either trying to shoo the raccoon back out the partially open window it came in, or swinging it wildly in a panic at nature being in his house. You can probably guess which one I believe it is.
The raccoon, probably as freaked out by Brandt as he is by it, continues to snarl and defend itself against this asshole trying to beat it to death with a broom, then bites the bristles of the broom and yanks it out of Brandt’s grasp.
I repeat: THE RACCOON YANKED THE BROOM AWAY FROM BRANDT. WITH ITS FUCKING TEETH.
There are not enough cry-laughing emojis in the world to describe my reaction to this. Stine, you are ridiculous, and I kind of love you right now.
After being handily disbroomed by the raccoon, Brandt finds himself in a bit of a pickle. If he bends down to retrieve the broom, the raccoon will attack. He backs up, trips over a chair, then grabs the chair to defend himself when the raccoon pounces. He throws the chair (and raccoon?) toward the wall, where the chair shatters. The raccoon is done with Brandt’s shit and dives out the window, where it hopefully lived a long and happy life digging through some garbage cans filled with tasty table scraps, using its adorable little hands to wash its food off.
Brandt slams and locks the window, then heads downstairs, where his parents have woken up and want to know just what the fuck is going on. He tells them; they worry about rabies, then mention his “condition” again. Really driving that one home, huh Bob? I really want to make cracks about his “condition,” but since it’s literally the only thing I remember about this book, I don’t want to give spoilers. You can see my quandary. Also, Brandt keeps touching some scar on his cheek. I don’t know if that’s important, but Stine keeps drawing our attention to it, so I’m going to guess it is.
Cally’s ghost watches Brandt get back into bed, because it’s well-known that ghosts are perverts and have boundary issues, and thinks about how the raccoon wasn’t rabid; it was just responding to the evil in the house. Also, she thinks Brandt is cute when he’s scared and she has lots of excitement in store for him – they’re going to be really good friends! I mean, what’s better than making new friends, right?
The next morning, Brandt decides to take his parents’ green Honda out for a little drive, despite them practically chasing him down the driveway to stop him. Cool? He drives down Fear Street (named after Mr. Street, as Cally so wittily told us in the previous book – I’m curious to see if being a ghost improves her sense of humor), then turns onto some road that leads out of town. He refers to it as a highway, but it sounds more like a back road, or a county road.
There’s a sharp drop-off to a river on the right-hand side, and Brandt pushes the car’s speed up to 80 mph while singing along to some song (on cassette!) that has the lyrics “I don’t care if I live, I don’t care if I die.” Very on the nose, Stine. Anyway, Brandt careens around some curves and ends up in the wrong lane with a semi-truck coming straight at him. He twists the wheel back to the right, misses hitting the truck, but ends up over-correcting and heading straight for the drop-off to the river. This is suspenseful and deserving of a cliffhanger, because Stine has never heard of roads having guardrails, I suppose.
Brandt manages to stop with only one wheel hanging off the edge of the cliff, but starts sliding toward the edge anyway. But then he gets the car back on the road headed for home and speeds up to 80 again, thinking about how much fun almost killing himself was, because clearly Brandt doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Also, I have no idea what the point of this scene was, but okay. Chills and thrills, huh, Bob?
In bed that night, he thinks about starting school at Shadyside High the next morning, then feels a breath of cold air on his face, then something bites his shoulder. Ah, probably just your friendly neighborhood succubus; nothing to worry about!
Dad comes running into the room and literally checks in the closet and under the bed for monsters. I am greatly amused. I know that sounds sarcastic, but I’m being totally genuine. This book is completely ridiculous so far, in an incredibly hilarious way. Good on you, Bob.
Brandt fingers his scar again, just in case we forgot it was there (I get the feeling that between scar-fingering and mentions of Brandt’s mysterious “condition,” I could make a pretty good drinking game here, the only downside being that I would probably die sooner rather than later), and Dad determines that there is no monster hiding under the bed and Brandt just had a bad dream because he’s nervous about starting school tomorrow. Then Brandt tries to go back to sleep and feels yet another gust of cold air on his face.
In the morning, he finds a strange woman vacuuming the living room. Man, how can I get in on that? I wouldn’t even mind someone breaking in if they just wanted to clean my house. Mom informs him that this is Mrs. Nordstrom, and Mr. Hankers recommended her but she just showed up before Mom could even call her; isn’t that funny? Oh, and she worked for the previous owners, too! Yeah, this is totally normal and nothing at all to worry about, got it?
Brandt is still thinking about his ghostly love-bite from the night before, and posits that the house might be haunted. Dad is amused by this, thinking that his research is rubbing off on Brandt, while Mom is annoyed because “There aren’t ghosts and spirits floating around everywhere in the world, you know.” Oh, okay. The supernatural is only for primitive, third-world countries, not civilized first-world places like America, got it. And to think I was worried about racist subtext here. *rolls eyes into oblivion*
Dad promises he’ll look into the possibility of the house being haunted, which I know means research at the library or something, but I hope actually means hiring some ghost-hunting assholes to come in and scream at the ghosts until the Winchesters show up with shotguns filled with rock salt and a couple gallons of holy water. Brandt announces he’s going to head off to school early to try to find some kids to make friends with; Mom and Dad worry about his “condition” again. Stine, put down the bat and step away from that poor dead horse, mmkay?
Brandt walks out the door and as soon as he reaches the sidewalk, someone shoves him and an icy hand clamps down on his shoulder! Dun dun DUN!
Okay, seriously, I let a lot of these slide because I was having so much fun reading about a raccoon wrestling a weapon away from a strapping young lad, but now the unnecessary cliffhangers are getting really fucking annoying, Stine. I swear to God, if Brandt turns around and discovers his sweater is just snagged on a tree branch or something, I will be coming for you, Bob. Mark my words.
It’s not a tree branch. It’s a pretty, blonde neighbor girl named Abbie Ayler, who didn’t mean to grab Brandt – she tripped. Brandt is immediately like, “Damn, she cute,” but unfortunately she doesn’t go to Shadyside High, she goes to a private girls’ school. Bummer. She mentions that Brandt’s house is evil and one of the girls who lived there before him died, then they look up at the house and see Dad hanging in the window. Because apparently curtains aren’t a priority in this house. Cue another cliffhanger chapter end, because of course.
The two kids race up to Brandt’s parents’ room, where Mom is casually making the bed and Dad is casually stepping out of the bathroom. Brandt looks at the window and realizes it’s just one of his dad’s suits hanging in the window. Because everyone hangs their suits up in front of the window instead of on a rack, in a wardrobe, or in a closet. Nope, can’t tell you how many of my bras and jackets just hang in the damn window for all the neighborhood to gawk at. Totally normal thing to do, y’all.
Jesus. Anyway, the parents are far less “What the fuck is wrong with you?” than they should be (although Mom does ask Brandt if he’s “totally lost it”, because that’s how parents usually ask their kids what the fuck is wrong with them), and Brandt awkwardly introduces them to Abbie. Well, that’s one way to make a first impression. Not a good first impression, mind you, but an impression nonetheless.
Then Brandt realizes he’s late for school and says goodbye to Abbie so he can catch the school bus. I’d like to point out that if there’s still a school bus for you to catch, you are most certainly not late for school. Do you know how anything you write about actually works, Stine?
In the cafeteria at lunchtime, everyone apparently knows that Brandt is the new kid. I guess Shadyside is smaller than I thought. He meets two more cute girls: Jinny Thompson – tall, black hair, blue eyes, and her friend Meg Morris (Stine does love his name alliteration, doesn’t he?) – shorter than Jinny, short auburn hair. They have some oh-so-witty repartee about wet lunch trays, and the girls laugh like it’s the best stand-up they’ve ever heard even though I swear Brandt isn’t funny at all.
They sit down together, and Brandt meets a guy named Jon Burks who appears to be Jinny’s boyfriend. Jon is obnoxious to Brandt about basketball, insisting he try out for the team despite Brandt telling him he “doesn’t really” play. Except he does, just not ever on an official team. Whatever, this isn’t a storyline I give a fuck about. Where are the ghosts, dammit! Then Jon leaves after being a jerk to Jinny, and she explains that he gets jealous if she sits alone reading a book, but that doesn’t stop her from doing what she wants! Ah, yes, here we have the return of Perpetually Angry Shadyside Boys™. Groovy.
After school, Brandt shows up to basketball practice (which is apparently held every single day WTF), and Jon starts trying to embarrass him immediately by telling everyone that Brandt said he was all-state last year and that his nickname is “In Your Face.” Wow, that’s . . . pretty fucking weak. Git Gud, Jon, cuz you suck.
None of this basketball practice matters. I’m confused as to why he’s being allowed to practice with the team a week before tryouts, but I don’t care enough to put much effort into it. Anyway, Brandt plays fine, except for getting winded after a very short time playing. He thinks he’s just out of shape. Anyone want to bet it has something to do with his “condition”?
He has to lie to Mom about what he’s doing after school, since she’ll lose her shit if he tells her it’s a physical activity, so he tells her he got involved with student senate. Does . . . does he mean student council? Or . . . the model U.N.? I’ve never heard anything referred to as “student senate” before. Is there also a student house of representatives? A student department of the interior? I’m very intrigued now.
Brandt goes upstairs and collapses into bed without bothering to turn the light on, and since it’s October (and the trees around the house keep literally all the sunlight out of the house), it’s already pitch black in his room. He smells something awful, something sour, which is how Stine always describes the scent of decay, leading me to believe that our Bob has never actually smelled anything that was decaying. Brandt looks around his dark, dark room and spots green light emanating from around his closet door, despite the fact that his closet doesn’t have a light, and if it did, I doubt it would look like something out of Poltergeist.
Brandt tries to open the closet door, but the doorknob is covered in a slimy green goo. Clearly Slimer has escaped from the Ghostbusters set. When Brandt does manage to get the door open, he sees a flash of white, and then a thick smoke starts choking him.
Aaaaaaaand . . . say it with me now: Cliffhanger chapter end!
Fuck me sideways. Bob, you are exhausting.
Brandt falls onto the floor, choking and gasping, then Mom comes in and everything is A-Okay again. Sure. After she leaves, he keeps checking the closet and looking at the ceiling as Cally’s ghost watches him and gloats to herself.
The next afternoon at basketball practice, Jinny and Meg are both watching Brandt, who is convinced they’re competing for him, despite Jinny being with Jon. Because of course all the girls are in competition for some boy in an R.L. Stine book. That’s the only character trait he thinks teenage girls possess.
Jon fouls Brandt, sending him to the floor, where he hits his elbow, which immediately starts to bruise. The bruise turns black and spreads over his entire arm within seconds. Oh, no, his condition! The chapter ends with the coach looking at Brandt in horror.
But Brandt covers the bruise with his other hand, and coach does nothing but bench him for the rest of practice. Very anti-climactic.
In bed that night, Brandt thinks about how much Jinny and Meg must like him, wonders why Jon seems to hate him (. . . seriously? Couldn’t have anything to do with you flirting with his girlfriend?), and hears footsteps in the attic. When he goes up to check out the mysterious footsteps in the attic, he finds Cally Frasier’s old diary.
He skips over the beginning, which is all about some boy Cally liked, and stops when he gets to the entry about Anthony telling Cally and Kody about how evil their house is. All that stuff about Simon and Angelica Fear killing people and burying the bodies on the property, then the bodies being found thirty years ago when the house was built, but since Poltergeist hadn’t been made yet everyone thought it was okay to build over the graveyard anyway. Also, thirty years ago oh my god this house is so old, amirite? Then all the stuff about the house builder coming by with his family, leaving them alone for five minutes, then coming back to find them dead with their heads ripped off. You know, the usual.
Brandt feels vindicated for his earlier thoughts that the house was cursed, then wonders what happened to Cally; where she lives now. Um . . . . Then he remembers that Abbie told him one of the sisters died, and he wonders if it was Cally. Then the diary falls open to the last page, you remember. The one that says “I died tonight”? So Brandt has his answer. Although I wonder if he wonders how she wrote that if she was dead, or why she wrote it if she was alive. You know, since he doesn’t have the backstory we have from reading the first book.
Somehow Brandt is in the same chemistry class with everyone he knows so far, and Jinny lies to Jon about already promising Brandt she would be his lab partner. She pushes Meg into being Jon’s partner, and after class tells Brandt it’s because Jon is terrible at chemistry and she would have ended up doing all the work. For all she knows, Brandt could be even worse, but since this is obviously just so she can flirt with him, who cares, right? They make plans for her to come over to Brandt’s house on Saturday to work on their project, and she slightly freaks out when she learns he lives at 99 Fear Street. But then she guesses it can’t be all bad since he lives there. Brandt immediately starts wondering how he can get his parents out of the house. You know, so he can mack on the girl with the boyfriend. Are we supposed to like any of these characters? Because I’m really not sure I do.
At basketball practice, Jon and Brandt start competing over lay-ups, and Brandt starts to feel tired again. Then as he goes up for another lay-up, he hears and feels something snap in his right arm. This is deserving of a cliffhanger. At least, Stine thinks so. I’m of the opinion that unless Brandt’s neck just broke, we can do without a cliffhanger here.
Oh, nope. Dislocated shoulder, which Coach pops right back in. I’m not sure dislocated shoulders make a snapping noise like something breaking, but whatever. Way to manufacture suspense there, Bob. That was so much better than something actually happening.
He walks home from school with his arm in a sling, bummed because Coach told him he might be out for the season. I’m sorry, did I miss the part where Brandt went to tryouts and made the team? Because right now he’s not on the team; he’s just practicing with them for . . . some reason. Fucking hell. Anyway, he gets jump-scared by Meg, who tells him to watch out for Jon because he’s really jealous and has a temper – he beat a kid up and put him in the hospital for two weeks! And he’s not in jail because that’s just how boys are in Shadyside, I guess. Then Meg kisses him, and he thinks about how awesome she is, despite not knowing anything about her other than how much saliva she generates when surprise-kissing him. Then she invites him to hang out at her house on Sunday, and he jumps at the chance, despite also not knowing where she lives. I guess they’ll work it out off-page.
When they part ways, he remembers that he made a study date with Abbie on Saturday (despite them going to different schools; how do you study together on a different curriculum?) that is going to clash with his lab date with Jinny. So when he sees Abbie waiting for him on his porch, he tells her something came up and they’ll have to reschedule. Which is incredibly rude since he made the date with Abbie first, so that’s the one he should keep and reschedule with Jinny. Emily Post and Miss Manners should double team to kick Brandt’s ass.
Brandt goes inside, thinking about how girls are just throwing themselves at him right and left, then yells to his mom that he fell down the stairs at school, because he had to come up with some explanation for his injury, and “fist fight at the student senate” wasn’t going to cut it. I dunno. I find Brandt very punchable so far, no matter the setting.
On Saturday, Brandt is watching college football on TV when Jinny knocks on the door. Rather than being a gracious host or any kind of decent human being, Brandt waits until the first half is over before answering the door. Fuck you Brandt. And fuck your stupid name that I’ve never met a real person having, too.
Where were we? Oh, right, Jinny. Brandt shows her into the house, and I can’t figure out what the fuck the floor plan of this place is, because he shows her the dining room first, then points out the kitchen, then leads her through the living room. Is the front door located in the dining room? Because that is odd as hell. Anyway, he shows her all the tribal shit hanging on the living room walls (I could have sworn that stuff was going up in Dad’s study, but okay), including the blow darts and a whole fucking suit of armor. Which was apparently used by the same people who used the blow darts, and I’m very confused about this society. It reads like someone who knows nothing about history designed a D&D campaign, but they also know nothing about D&D. Although I’m struck by the thought that I would probably enjoy a D&D game DMed by R.L. Stine, and now I feel dirty and I hate myself.
They go up to Brandt’s room to study ( . . . “study”?), and then Jinny decides she wants to go down to the kitchen and grab a drink. While she’s down there, Brandt hears her screaming, and runs down into the kitchen and into “so much blood. So much bright red blood.”
Well, at least Stine knows what color blood is in this book. In some of his others, blood leaves pink streaks everywhere and I’m left wondering if Bob is actually a Klingon.
Also, in case you were wondering, yes that was a cliffhanger chapter end! Good for you. Also also, let’s remember that this is the same kitchen in which Anthony lost his fingers down the garbage disposal, so it’s anyone’s guess at this point what has happened to Jinny.
Ah. Apparently the glass she was using shattered in midair and sliced her wrists open. And Brandt has no idea what to do and so starts pressing paper fucking towels against the gashes. Oh, yeah, I’m sure that’ll stop the bleeding; good job.
Mom and Dad come home while this is going on and run to grab some actual bandages. Mom says the cuts aren’t that bad and Jinny probably doesn’t even need stitches. From the amount of blood described to us, I would humbly like to call bullshit on this. Story time! I’ve never sliced my wrists open, but last summer at work I managed to slice the back of my thigh, inches above the back of the knee, open on some glass in the trash I was taking out. It didn’t bleed all that much, but it required a trip to the emergency room, eight stitches, and a tetanus shot. It didn’t need the stitches because it was all that deep, per se, but because it was gashed open in such a way that it wasn’t going to close up on its own without the stitches. I imagine the wrists would be a similar thing. In other words, take this poor girl to the hospital, you dolts!
Jinny’s still going on about how the glass just flew up in the air and shattered for no reason, and Brandt suddenly remembers the spear flying out of his hand and impaling Ezra the cat. You mean like your evil house is haunted, Brandt? Then Mom determines that they should, in fact, take Jinny to the emergency room. Which they do, apparently without informing her parents. I feel like that’s a wash on the responsibility front here, guys.
The McCloys drop Jinny off at her house (she didn’t need stitches, which I still call bullshit on), and Brandt decides he wants to walk the rest of the way home, despite being covered in Jinny’s blood. As he turns onto Fear Street, probably looking like a serial killer, he starts thinking he’s being chased by . . . a shadow. Or something. He starts freaking out, yelling and running, then trips over a tree root in his yard and falls face down on the lawn, sure the shadow is about to get him.
Nope, Abbie pops up and asks him what the fuck he’s doing, and the shadow is gone. So suspense, much thrill. She laughs at him; asks if the bloodstains all over him are mud; tells him his house scares her; then refuses to answer any questions about Cally’s death because she’s not a snoopy neighbor and doesn’t really know that much about it. Brandt asks her to go to a movie right then and there; she suggests tomorrow afternoon, which he can’t do because of hanging out with Meg; she tells him not to worry because they’re neighbors and they’ll run into each other again, no problem.
Inside, Mom and Dad aren’t happy that Brandt invited Jinny over without telling them, and start talking about him overdoing things with too many girls. It could be too much for him, after all. I figure this has something to do with his “condition,” sure, but what if it’s really just that they don’t want to be grandparents yet? Don’t knock some poor girl up, son!
In bed that night, Brandt hears footsteps in the attic again, and decides to sneak up there and catch whoever’s walking around, because he still hasn’t figured out that it’s a goddamn ghost. He sneaks up the stairs and finds Cally’s diary lying in the middle of the room again. I haven’t mentioned it before, but it’s become quite egregious now: Brandt is the type of Stine character who expresses surprise by saying “Huh?” a lot. This is maybe the third or fourth time he has uttered a “Huh?” It’s always “uttered,” too. It doesn’t make him sound surprised. It makes him sound like a stupid asshole.
Anyway, Brandt utters a “Huh?” when he sees the diary flipped open to a new page, with new writing on it that says: “I made Jinny bleed. Abbie is next.”
Dun dun dun.
Brandt determines to save Abbie from the ghost, if there is one. He tells us that if anyone can beat the evil in the house, it’s him. Cool story, bro.
The next morning, he picks up the phone to warn Abbie, but realizes he doesn’t have her number. Or her last name, despite the fact that she did indeed tell him her name is Abbie Ayler. I remember because of the alliteration. Alliteration clearly isn’t something that sticks in Brandt’s mind, because he struggles to remember if she even told him her last name. Goddammit, dude, seriously? Then he runs outside and tries to figure out which house might be hers, but he can’t remember if she said she lives across the street, or down the street on his side. To be fair, it seems she was purposely vague.
Now, let’s add this up. You’ve only seen this girl on your own property, you don’t know her phone number or which house she lives in, and she didn’t want to go into town to see a movie with you. Is this particular plot twist obvious yet, or should we keep going?
. . . anyway. After vowing to knock on every door on the street to find Abbie, Brandt apparently abandons that idea before even starting, because the next time we see him, he’s at Meg’s, watching a movie. Actually, she paused the movie so he could tell her all the weird shit going on in the house. She suggests it’s Jon playing a prank on him; the closet door opens, freaking Brandt out, but it’s only Meg’s cat (I don’t remember whether or not we can allow ourselves to get attached to this cat. This is Stine we’re talking about, so probably not.). They make out a little, the cat claws Brandt, then Jinny rings the doorbell and drags Meg off into the other room to ream her out when she sees that Brandt’s there. Jinny leaves; Meg is pissed because Jinny already has a boyfriend, so what the fuck does she care if Meg has Brandt over; Brandt loves having two girls fighting over him. Gross.
Once he’s home, Brandt goes up to the attic again and sees another diary entry. This one tells him that he can’t save Abbie. Uh-huh. Honestly, at this point, I’m not too worried about Abbie, you know?
After much screaming of the word “No!” Brandt gets it together and starts yelling at the ghost of Cally Frasier, asking if she’s the one doing this, then scolding her that he’s taking her diary away. He hides the diary in his dresser drawer, because I’m sure Ghost Cally isn’t watching him and can easily retrieve her Ghost Diary or anything.
Then he starts hearing a little boy’s voice calling for his mommy, saying it’s him – James. Brandt remembers reading in the diary all about James and his puppy going missing and the family hearing his voice coming from the walls. The voice seems to be coming from an empty bedroom, and Brandt runs to get a wooden mallet from his dad’s toolbox (do you keep mallets in toolboxes?) and then tells James to stand back from wherever he is, and starts swinging the mallet at the wall.
After he’s bashed a pretty good-sized hole in the wall, Brandt starts smelling the sour odor he smelled from his closet before, even though I still contend that the smell of decay and decomposition isn’t sour. Maybe I’m just playing a losing game of semantics with our good friend Bob here. Then Brandt sees the most gruesome sight he’s ever seen: a child’s skeleton clutching a dog’s skeleton in its sad little arms. Also, James’s cries have now stopped, leaving only silence.
Okay, Bob, you got me. That’s actually pretty good. Probably didn’t need the twenty previous cliffhangers before this, but this is pretty good.
Instead of calling the police, Brandt waits an hour for his parents to come home. Dad thinks that James was a poltergeist, and Brandt argues that what he felt in the house was evil, not mischievous. Dad says that no one’s been hurt in the house, and Brandt and I are both like, uh, what about Ezra and Jinny? Dad claims it just feels evil because we don’t understand it. Oh, bullshit. It’s clearly malevolent, you total fuckwit.
Cally’s ghost watches as the police take her little brother’s remains out of the house, and she’s too angry and bitter to feel sad. She thinks that it’s too late for James; too late for her; and soon to be too late for Brandt.
So, that’s a no on the house “settling down” now that James is going to get a proper burial?
On Saturday, almost a week later, Brandt opens the door to get the newspaper, only to find Abbie standing there about to ring the bell. My, my, how convenient. She comes in, and Brandt decides not to warn her about the message in the ghost diary since nothing ghostly has happened since James’s body was removed.
She marvels at his dad’s totally-not-racist tribal shit, and Brandt tells her how the natives of the island had some strange ideas, like a two-spirit thing. No, this has nothing to do with gender identity; they believed that one spirit was the personality, and one was the lifeforce. The personality spirit was the part that would become a ghost; and the lifeforce is what kept you alive. Which is why they would have rituals where they drank animal blood to consume the lifeforce and make their own stronger. This is either pointless exposition, or heavy-handed foreshadowing. You decide!
Brandt leaves Abbie alone in the living room to answer a phone call from Jinny, but quickly runs back into the room when Abbie begins screaming. The suit of armor fucking fell on her.
I repeat: Abbie is currently being crushed by a suit of fucking armor.
You know, we’re two-thirds of the way through this book, and so far it’s been pretty boring, with the occasional ridonkulous what the fuck moment breaking up the monotony. You know, like a raccoon wrestling a broom away from a kid, and a fucking suit of armor falling on someone. I’m sure I have a vague memory of something happening with the blow darts as well, but I’m not ready to put money on it.
Brandt and Mom manage to lift the armor enough for Abbie to wiggle out from underneath it, then when Mom goes to get Abbie a glass of water, Brandt tells her about the Ghost Diary and the prediction that she would get hurt. Abbie believes it at once, saying that she knew the house was evil, and someone will definitely get hurt here. Brandt thinks to himself that James is buried now; the ghost is gone! Okay, but aren’t we forgetting all the other people who’ve died here? Like, you got one out, sure. How many dozens left to go, though?
At school, Brandt runs into Jon, who smacks his bad shoulder repeatedly and tells him that whatever he thinks is going to happen with Jinny, isn’t. Brandt sees the evil shadow-figure behind Jon, and freaks out, trying to start a fight so that he won’t be alone with the shadow. Jon thinks Brandt is super weird, and suddenly doesn’t want to fight him any more, because . . . reasons? So Brandt starts trying to tail him to basketball practice, and Jon is like “LOL dafuq?” and then the shadow disappears. Brandt has no idea what the shadow is, but he feels it’s totally evil and he has no idea how long he’ll be able to avoid it.
Brandt races home to read Cally’s diary again, sure there’s something in there that can help him. He laments how nice Cally seemed at first, and I wonder if he’s reading the same diary we did in the first book. Because all the entries we saw Cally writing were about how Kody was so jealous of her because she was the funny, popular one, and how sorry she felt for Kody, but she just couldn’t help being better than her in every way. Oh, and she didn’t know why Kody was so mad that Cally stole her boyfriend, I mean, GAWD! So, yeah. Brandt has a funny definition of nice.
He goes up to the attic to look through some of the stuff the Frasiers left there in their hurry to get the fuck out of this house, and finds a photo of the twins when they were twelve or thirteen, along with James when he was little. Then a girl’s evil, screeching laughter fills his head, drowning out everything else (even the heavy metal music he turns up full blast), and Brandt thinks the laughter is going to kill him. God, what a drama queen.
He runs out of the house, and the laughter finally stops when he reaches the street. Meanwhile, Ghost Cally is watching from the window, and wonders what’s wrong; doesn’t Brandt like to hear a girl having fun? After all, he likes it when Jinny, Meg, and Abbie laugh; why not her? Then she thinks about how bored she’s getting with these little pranks, and how she’s going to take care of Brandt’s little friends, and then she’ll take care of him. Then they can spend eternity together. God, why? Brandt is fucking insufferable, Cally. Ghost Girl, you can do better! Is . . . is it weird to say that to a ghost who wants to kill someone to be their forever friend? That’s weird, right?
Wednesday afternoon, while Mom is out shopping and Dad is outside trying to cut down some tree limbs, Meg and Jinny show up at Brandt’s with a plate of brownies left over from a bake sale. They wish him happy birthday, and he spends way too much time telling them it’s not his birthday and way too little time understanding that they’re joking with him. They’re apparently not competing over him now, because Jinny likes Jon again, as Meg announces. Ah, yes, all it took was him suddenly not wanting to fight Brandt to make his girlfriend realize what a prince he is.
Brandt shows the girls how to use the blowgun and darts, because there are no trigger locks or gun safes for blowguns. Then Dad calls Brandt out to help him with a tree branch. Anyone else suddenly get an impending sense of doom, or is it just me?
The tree is hard to cut, and its insides are all red. Dad says if he had to name the tree, he would call it a bloodwood, because Dad is super original. Brandt exclaims that the sap oozing out of the branch they just cut really does look like blood. I’m gonna go out on a limb here (ha!) and say that it actually is blood. This whole property is cursed. Doom! Doom! You’re all doomed!
Dad says he really should have Mr. Hankers take care of these trees, and I’d forgotten he was even still in this book. Apparently his appearance here was simply a returning cameo. Anyway, Brandt’s “condition” is mentioned again, and damn am I glad I didn’t try to make this into a drinking game! Consume R.L. Stine responsibly, kids!
Brandt goes back into the house and notices it’s quiet; he wonders if Jinny and Meg got bored and went home, since they “never shut up when they’re together.” Not loving that phrasing. Wimmin always be running their mouths, huh? Anyway, they’re so quiet because they’re both lying on the living room floor with blow darts in their necks.
Gee, didn’t see that one coming. *rolls eyes; sees God; curses R.L. Stine*
They’re alive, though. Whew, am I right? For a minute there I was afraid there might be actual life-or-death stakes to this story. Fortunately, Ghost Cally is terrible at killing people. It’s like she’s not even trying.
The doctor (a woman! I shouldn’t find this as progressive as I do for the time, should I?) tells everyone she’s keeping the girls for a few days; they’re in shock, have minor nerve damage, and haven’t regained consciousness yet. Can you tell if an unconscious person is in shock? That’s a new one to me.
On the drive home, Dad is convinced an intruder is the culprit and shuts down Brandt’s ghost talk. Brandt runs upstairs as soon as they get home to see if there’s a new diary entry, and the diary is lying open by his closet door instead of sitting in the drawer where he left it. The new entry reads: “No more Jinny or Meg. Abbie dies next.”
What’s with this “next” shit? Did Ghost Cally not get the memo that nobody’s died yet?
Brandt freaks out, thinking he’s got to warn Abbie . . . who is standing right outside his bedroom door. He cries “Huh?” yet again when he sees her, then starts babbling about her being in danger. She starts laughing at him; he tells her about Jinny and Meg being attacked; she stops laughing and says that he’s been reading her diary – hasn’t he?
Yup. Abbie is Cally. Like, surprise or whatever.
“Abbie” morphs in front of Brandt’s shocked eyes, turning into Cally, although she’s still a blonde. She tells him that Abbie is indeed dead, as she was just a disguise that Cally wore. I mean, I feel like we’re really splitting hairs here, but okay, Cally. If you insist.
Cally assures Brandt that she’s not going to hurt him – she cares for him. She’s just been so lonely, but now she won’t be any more. She’s going to keep him here with her forever and never be lonely again. He tells her they’ll leave tonight; she counters by telling him that his parents can leave, but he’s staying with her.
Then she pulls out one of his father’s ceremonial hatchets and buries it in Brandt’s head. It sinks into his skull with a sickening crack.
If you thought that was a fake-out and are about to come after Stine, put down the torches and pitchforks for a second. This shit was real.
Brandt doesn’t fall, doesn’t move, doesn’t bleed. Cally is understandably confused, then angry, and starts yelling at him to die; she killed him! He reaches up and casually removes the hatchet from his skull, then explains that it’s his condition, you see. He can’t die because he’s already dead! So, what is dead may never die? Is Brandt from the Iron Islands? Is Mapolo in Westeros?
Also, this is the major plot twist I remembered. I also remembered early on that one of the girls was really Cally, but it was so obviously Abbie that I actually second-guessed myself on that one for a while.
Cally is again understandably confused, so Brandt settles in for story time. So, very long story somewhat shorter: Brandt died two years ago. Dad had bought those damn blow darts from someone who later decided he had been cheated and decided to kill Dad by sprinkling a poison powder on the porch and then growling like a panther. Except Brandt was the one who came out and stepped in the powder and died. He was buried – the scar on his cheek is from one of the nails being hammered into his coffin. But Mom couldn’t accept his death, so the local witch doctor dug Brandt up, lured a drifter into his hut (because not only is this tiny island swarming with panthers, it also has fucking drifters), drugged him, then cut off his hair and fingernails, put them in the pouch Brandt wears, dressed Brandt’s corpse in his clothes, and performed a ritual. When the rooster crowed at dawn, the drifter died and Brandt was alive, with the drifter’s stolen life force.
Cally is thrilled – Brandt is better than dead; he’s undead! They can haunt this house forever and ever! As she goes in to kiss Zombie Brandt, the shadow figure appears behind her. Uh-oh, right?
It is, of course, the spirit of the drifter. He’s come to get his life force back, which he does by yanking the pouch off of Brandt’s neck. He becomes corporeal and joyfully exclaims that his heart is beating, then goes back downstairs and presumably rides off into the sunset. Hopefully he stays away from witch doctors plying him with drugged tea.
Brandt, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well. He struggles to breathe as his skin starts to shrivel and turn green and fall off. Cally is freaking out, but Brandt can no longer hear her, as his ears have fallen off. As Cally watches, Brandt shrivels and decays and turns into nothing more than a pile of bones on the floor. Then she laments being all alone again. So, I guess Brandt’s personality-ghost-spirit didn’t stick around? Where is it? Still back on Mapolo? I guess I’m just confused as to why there’s no Ghost Brandt to keep Cally company.
Some time later, Cally watches as a hearse takes Brandt’s coffin away. She screams and wails about being abandoned again, but alas, no one can hear her. She vows that someone will pay for her unhappiness, and the next people to arrive will be sorry they ever set foot in 99 Fear Street.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Boy, that ending is really . . . something, all right. This book goes like: Nothing nothing nothing raccoon attack! Nothing nothing nothing dead kid in wall! Nothing nothing nothing suit of armor attack! Nothing nothing nothing blow dart attack! Nothing nothing nothing fucking Zombie Brandt! I’m not quite sure what to make of any of this, frankly.
So, I don’t hate it. The pacing is odd, with nothing much happening until the last third. This is definitely the weaker of the first two books. I can’t say if it’s the weakest of the whole trilogy, as I haven’t reread Book 3 yet. I think that one’s better than this, but who knows at this point.
Gotta be honest, I’m still laughing about Zombie Brandt. Like, even though I knew it was coming, it’s just so goddamn fucking ridiculous. I kind of love it. Now I just need the whole thing rewritten to fix the pacing, weird racism (fetishization?), and other assorted Stine-isms, and I’ll be grand.
To be continued in Book 3 . . .