Title: The Listeners
Author: Bebe Faas Rice
Published: March 1996
Tagline: Kathy’s new house hides old secrets that could frighten her to death
Description: Too good to be true.
When the Colby family moved to a suburb of Washington, DC, they found a huge old mansion in a great part of town. But when sixteen-year-old Kathy was alone in the house, she had the strangest feeling that someone was there, listening. Soon she learned that the perfect house had a disturbing past. Ten years before, a family had been murdered there. Although they never caught the killer, the police knew who it was. That killer was supposed to be dead, but Kathy didn’t like the creepy character who hung around the neighborhood doing odd jobs. Kathy didn’t like him at all, but nobody was listening to her.
First off, whew, that description pretty much gives the whole story away, doesn’t it? Or does it? It’s been so long since I’ve read this, I don’t remember a lot about the story. Still, that description seems like it tells you pretty much everything that happens, huh?
So, I remember lying on the couch in my living room to read this book when I was fourteen. I was enchanted and somewhat obsessed with the snippet of poem that starts us off on the title page – it’s The Listeners by Walter de la Mare, and the snippet goes like this: . . . But only a host of phantom listeners/That dwelt in the lone house then/Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight/To that voice from the world of men
I loved that bit. (The full poem can be found here. I don’t love it in its entirety as much as I loved that one excerpt, though.) I remember finding this book spooky and beautiful; eerie like that bit of poem. I think there were real ghosts, and I fucking love this cover art. But, then again, I said the same exact things about Rice’s Music From the Dead, and that turned out to be a total shitshow on my revisit. With that in mind, I can’t quite work up the enthusiasm my memory is insisting this book deserves. But the only way to find out is to get to it, right?
Here we go!
We start off with an all-italics, present tense prologue. I know I write these recaps in present tense, but reading it in a story feels weird. Like second-person narration. I can deal with both those things, but they’re not my preferred style to read.
Anyway, it’s just one page of prologue. I can deal with that.
It’s set in November of 1985, and an unknown man is leaving his home, pausing in the doorway to wonder if he left anything undone, but no. He tells himself that he followed “Their” instructions perfectly, and “They” will be pleased with him. Oh, awesome. Four sentences in, and we’re already playing the Pronoun Game.
He leaves the house, and tells himself that his family is gone, so why does he still feel like they’re there on the landing . . . listening? Oh, I dunno, maybe because it’s the title of the book? He takes off without a second look back at the house, and we’re told that inside, the listening silence continues.
So, this dude totally just murdered his family, right? I mean, even without the book description up there, it’s pretty fucking obvious.
Cut to the present day of November 1995. Kathy Colby and her family (Mom, Dad, 7-year-old brother Timmy) are driving to their new house in Brentwood, Virginia. There’s a whole expository inner monologue from Kathy about how Dad lost his job, but Uncle Ned helped him find something in the DC area, and Kathy is bummed about leaving her best friend, Beth, behind, and Beth told her all about how Brentwood is a super posh area and Kathy thinks she must be wrong because they can’t afford super posh. Sorry for the massive run-on sentence; that’s always how exposition reads in my head.
Kathy is predictably whiny about moving and starting a new school in her junior year, but she’s also worried about Timmy, who is shy and sensitive and still talks to imaginary friends more than actual other humans. She thinks of him as a “poor little scrap,” because that’s how she heard a neighbor refer to him once, even though the neighbor’s assessment of Timmy pissed her off. Anyway, everyone is insultingly worried about this little boy being imaginative and creative rather than running around murdering frogs and pulling wings off of flies with other little hellbeasts his age. Or whatever it is that seven-year-old boys are “supposed” to do to be considered “normal,” I don’t know.
I’m on page 8. I can’t hate this book already, can I? *cries in nostalgia font*
They pull up to the house, and it’s huge and beautiful. Yup, definitely a murder house. It has a red front door, which Kathy immediate thinks reminds her of blood, then she realizes it’s actually a muted red, not like blood at all and ha ha why did she think of blood? There’s going to be a lot of manufactured suspense in my immediate future, isn’t there?
Everyone goes inside (including the family’s little black cockapoo, Mitzi, and oh god, I hope Rice doesn’t murder dogs in her books the way R.L. Stine does. Also, if you don’t know what a cockapoo (half cocker spaniel, half poodle) looks like, they are adorable), and although the house is empty, there’s a floor-to-ceiling antique mirror hung over the mantle. I’m not sure how the fuck you hang something that’s floor-to-ceiling over a fucking fireplace mantle, which probably takes up half the space between the floor and ceiling, but that’s what’s being described to us. Goddammit, I wasn’t expecting to be this annoyed by page 10, but here we are, folks. Oh, and here we have another sixteen-year-old who knows all about antique furniture, just like fucking Marnie in fucking Music From the Dead, but at least this time we’re given an explanation – Kathy’s mom has been hauling her around to antiques auctions since she was little. Cool, I still hate it.
Marnie Kathy also uses phrases like “shall we?” when asking Timmy if he wants to go look at their new bedrooms. God. She’s thrilled that her room has its own bathroom, which is pretty cool, really. We’re told that Mitzi is old and arthritic, and she’s having trouble making it up the staircase. I’m about to rage about this, aren’t I? Kathy finally picks the dog up and carries her up the stairs instead of forcing this poor puppy to endure the pain of trying to navigate stairs on her own (toward the end of her life, my dog couldn’t make it up the two steps on the porch by herself. I had to scoop up this 60-pound German Shepherd mix in my arms and try not to hurt her as best I could to get her back in the house whenever we went out. Basically, fuck this spoiled brat for acting like it’s so unreasonable to pick up a small, arthritic dog to minimize its pain). Once they get to the top of the stairs, Kathy tries to set Mitzi down, but the poor thing freaks out and wants nothing to do with the second floor of this house.
So, ghosts, then?
Despite probably being in all kinds of pain, Mitzi slinks back down the stairs and whines at her stupid human from the bottom. Kathy has the fucking gall to call her a dumb dog, then literally wags her finger at her and tells her, “I’ll deal with you later, Miss Twitch.” Because Kathy has somehow morphed into someone’s grandmother. Or at least her vocabulary has. God, is she going to talk like an eighty-year-old for the entire book?
As soon as she sets foot on the landing, however, Kathy immediately feels that something is terribly wrong here and understands why Mitzi bolted. Okay, dumb human.
She experiences a cold like she’s never felt before, and a silence so intense that she can hear it. Um. Okay. Today I learned that you can hear silence. Who knew? Anyway, she describes a feeling like being muffled behind a glass wall, enveloped inside another glass wall that’s moving and fusing into one. I dunno, this description makes little to no sense to me. Like, I get the effect Rice is going for, but it’s a fucking weird description.
Then Kathy can feel that someone is listening intensely, and feels like she tapped into another dimension. Of listeners. Listeners who listen. Then she realizes Timmy has been yelling her name at her repeatedly, because she was just standing staring into space and “looking funny.” Kathy wonders if she passed out for a minute, then comes to the conclusion that she fell asleep on her feet momentarily, like she’s read that Civil War soldiers did. I’d like to point out that absence seizures are a thing.
That doesn’t explain what spooked Mitzi, but Kathy then wonders if the dog had smelled a mouse on the landing since she’s afraid of mice. I . . . sure, Kathy. Then she wonders why she got spooked, and chalks it up to being traumatized from the move, since it’s literally the first time she’s ever moved. In sixteen years. I was a military brat who had already moved at least thirteen times by the time I was sixteen, so . . . I imagine the average is somewhere between Kathy and me? I just can’t even imagine living in the same place from birth through teenagehood.
Timmy ushers Kathy into his new room, and Grandma’s Ghost possesses her again to make her exclaim, “Why, Timmy, this is a perfect room for a little boy!” I absolutely cannot imagine a scenario in which a teenage girl uses the word “why” as anything but a question. Fucking hell, Rice has never actually met a teenager, has she?
Ugh. So, the room is perfect for a little boy because it has a bunch of shelves and shit to put all his toys and collectibles on. I mean, that sounds perfect for literally anyone who owns things, but okay. She tells him that whoever designed this room had a messy little boy in mind, all right! This isn’t quite Grandma’s Ghost-level dialogue, but it’s close enough to make me cringe. Stop it, Kathy! Talk like a sixteen-year-old in the 1990s!
Apparently they’re not staying in the house tonight; they’re staying in a hotel because the movers won’t be here with their stuff until the next day. The only time we ever had movers was when the Navy moved us; every time we moved for some other reason, we rented a fucking U-Haul and moved ourselves. Do people normally hire strangers to pack and transport all their shit? Because literally everyone in these fucking books does, and it’s making me irrationally angry. I have no idea why.
Fuck. At this rate, I’ll never get through this book. Okay. No more pointless tangents, I promise!
They go to check out Kathy’s room, which has the same kind of built-in shelving Timmy’s room has, and her private bathroom, which instead of having the expected pink, feminine decor, is decorated in masculine green and beige, and the wallpaper has little sailboat designs on it. So, today I learned that beige is a masculine color. Fucking beige. *rolls eyes in delicate feminine font*
Kathy’s bedroom windows look out onto the backyard, which is an overgrown mess, but also huge and slopes down to the woods. There are no neighbors close by, and suddenly this house is my favorite character in the book. Timmy points something out in the yard, and Grandma’s Ghost shows up again to make Kathy say, “Oh, Timmy, how nice! We have a fishpond! A little fishpond built of rocks.” Actually, earlier, Kathy mentioned reading Gone With the Wind (and lamenting that she’s unlikely to find a boy like Rhett Butler, ugh); maybe she’s just doing a Scarlett O’Hara impression. I bet that’s it. Grandma’s Ghost will now be referred to as Scarlett O’Hara.
Anyway, Timmy wasn’t talking about some stupid fishpond, no sir! He was pointing up at an impressive treehouse, impressively far up in a tree. Mom comes in and says she was wondering how long it would take Timmy to notice it, and that she and Dad didn’t think he’d spot it right away. That seems pretty condescending, but whatevs, I guess. Anyway, it’s safe; Dad tested it all out before they bought the place. But then Mom frets about Timmy getting hurt and insists that Kathy go with him to watch him go up the rope ladder. I’m not sure what she thinks Kathy can do about it if he falls. Kathy is pissed that Mom is treating Timmy like he’s an incompetent toddler, so she does her best to bolster his confidence in his climbing abilities, which is actually pretty sweet.
Then she does some more thinking about the weird cold feeling she’d sensed at the top of the stairs, and does her best to convince herself it was just a waking dream. She thinks that it better not happen again, because this is her beautiful new home, and she’s going to love living here, dammit! Okay, Kathy. We believe you.
I guess telling us that they were spending the first night in a hotel was completely pointless, because we never see it. We pick up the next chapter by finding out that Timmy loves the treehouse and has gone full-on MRA by telling Kathy that no girls are allowed. Then, while Kathy is helping Mom unpack, she notices Mom acting strangely, staring at her and such, and demands to know what’s up. Mom literally says, “Why, whatever do you mean?” because Bebe Faas Rice obviously hates me. Am I in a feud with her? I might be in a feud with her. Other recappers have claimed R.L. Stine and Richie Tankersley Cusick for their feuds; mine might have to be with Rice. (Although Janice Harrell and Jo Gibson are pretty good candidates, too.)
So, Kathy’s like, cut the shit, Mom, and Mom finally admits there is something she needs to talk to her about, but she wants to wait until Dad is available and Timmy is . . . not. She’s obviously about to tell Kathy that they moved into a murder house.
Fast forward to later that night, when Mom, Dad, and Kathy convene in the family room. They stall by lighting a fire, and Rice describes the room to us, complete with “occasional tables.” Look, I know what they are, okay? Even so, I still want to ask what they are when they’re not occasionally being tables. Also, Kathy sits cross-legged on the couch, and we should be grateful that it wasn’t described as “Indian-style,” since it was 1996, after all. Personally, I’m grateful it wasn’t described as sitting “crisscross-applesauce” because I fucking hate that term. There’s nothing wrong with saying cross-legged; just say that. It doesn’t sound stupid like fucking crisscross applesauce. Fuck you.
Sorry. *puts away the SJW soapbox*
Anyfuckingway. Mom keeps stalling, telling Kathy that the house really is too good to be true, and then mentioning its “history,” and I both understand Kathy’s confusion and am incredibly annoyed with her for not figuring out that this is a murder house. When Mom finally spits out that a woman and her three children were murdered here, Kathy literally yells, “W-H-A-A-T?”
Because that’s an accurate representation of how people talk.
Long story short, ten years ago, a man named Charles Winston, whom everyone liked and thought was a loving husband and father, poisoned his wife and three sons one night, then drove off, never to be seen again. Everyone who knew him assumed he’d gone temporarily insane, then killed himself when he realized what he’d done. From everything I know about family annihilators, this is certainly a possibility. From everything I know about Point Horror and its ilk, this isn’t even close to what really happened.
Scarlett O’Hara makes another appearance to gasp about how she can’t believe something so “ghastly” happened right here in this very house, then Kathy asks if other people have lived in the house since the murders. Yes, they have. But no, none of them stuck around long. Oh, so the house is haunted, then? Nope, most people just don’t want to live in a murder house. Go figure. Then Scarlett shows up again to exclaim that that’s why they were able to buy a house like this for a song! Seriously, what teenager has ever used that phrase? Kathy starts whining about how her parents could do this to her, and she’d rather live in a slum than in this murder house! Oh, shut up Kathy, you would not. Mom and Dad point that out, along with the fact that they were thinking of her welfare when they bought the house – they wanted her to live in a nice part of town and have a house big enough to throw parties in and bring dates home to. Wow. That’s odd. Considerate, I suppose, but odd.
Kathy grudgingly accepts this, then briefly considers telling them about the weird shit she experienced on the landing. She decides against it because they would think she had “flipped her lid and probably send her to a psychologist.” Because seeing a therapist for any reason is obviously the worst thing that could ever befall a person, ever. Also, again, I would like to point out that Kathy’s episode on the stairs could very well have been an absence seizure, so telling the parents would be a very good thing if it was. I know it wasn’t, because of the type of book this is, but in the real world she should go to a damn doctor and get that shit checked out.
That night, the sound of a barking and whimpering dog wakes Kathy up. At first she thinks it’s Mitzi, who she set up in a bed in the kitchen since the dog refused to come upstairs, but then she realizes it’s coming from the backyard. Despite there being a full moon (which is described in the text thus: “It was a night of a full moon.” Very awkward phrasing, that.), Kathy can’t see any dog outside. She heads downstairs to check on Mitzi, but as soon as she gets to the top of the stairs she gets that cold, silent, listening feeling again. She bolts down the stairs and finds Mitzi hiding in a corner of the kitchen. Kathy wonders if it was the barking dog that scared Mitzi, and since I remember basically nothing about this book, I’m going to guess we have a ghost dog on our hands.
Kathy decides to check outside for the dog, and tries to take Mitzi out with her (which is incredibly stupid; you don’t know how some strange dog is going to react to your dog), but Mitzi, wisely, is like nope, fuck that, and runs back into the corner. Predictably, Kathy finds nothing in the backyard, so she gives up and goes back upstairs.
She gets the ghostly sensation on the landing again, and this time she thinks she can hear whispers in the hissing-tv-warming-up silence (so she’s hearing white noise, not actual silence, okay?), but she can’t make out what the whispers are saying. Then she feels a furry body brush up against her leg and hears a frightened dog’s whimper.
She freaks out, then thinks it’s Mitzi, then calls for Mitzi and realizes she’s still in the kitchen, then freaks out again.
So. Ghost dog confirmed.
Kathy drops her flashlight and runs into her parents’ room, where Mom and Dad act like the typical parents in one of these books (when they’re not inexplicably in Europe, that is). Kathy tells them there’s “something terrible” on the landing, and Dad thinks she means there’s a person who broke in or something. When she explains that it’s a dog that she heard and felt but didn’t see, the parents are predictably skeptical. Dad investigates and determines that there’s no way a random dog got in the house, then points out Mom’s cardigan draped over the banister and tells Kathy she probably just brushed up against that. And what about the whimper? Oh, probably just Timmy making noises in his sleep, no big deal.
Kathy tells them about the weirdness she’s experienced on the stairs before, and of course Mom and Dad don’t believe her and think she’s letting her imagination run away with her now that she knows it’s a murder house. Then Kathy starts talking about going to the library to look up exactly what happened with the murders, and Mom and Dad basically forbid her because it’ll just freak her out and Timmy could pick up on it, too. Kathy reluctantly agrees, then goes to bed still wondering what the fuck is going on, but also trying to get some sleep because tomorrow is her first day at Brentwood High, and she doesn’t want to show up looking like death warmed over!
Oh. Uh, now we get Bad Guy POV. I thought the prologue was the end of that mess. Okay, well, Dude (I assume it’s Charles Winston, but since the book isn’t telling us that yet, I won’t jump the gun myself) thinks about how he saw the moving van on Friday but didn’t stick around, and now he’s back watching the house because The Voices told him to. He saw Kathy come outside and thought at first that she was Estelle because they have the same blonde hair. Except death must have restored Estelle’s youth or something. But then he sees that it’s not Estelle, just another girl with blonde hair. Is it weird that I wasn’t picturing Kathy as a blonde, like, at all? To me, Kathy is a dark-haired girl’s name. I don’t know why. (Then again, Cathy-with-a-C is absolutely a blonde. Don’t ask me why; I can’t explain it.)
Anyway, Maybe-Charles thinks the ghost dog sounded like Roxie, but it couldn’t be because Roxie has been gone for ten years. Oh, fuck, did he kill the dog, too? R.L. Stine, is that you? Maybe-Charles shakes his head like a dog to clear it, then heads back to his van, still shaking his head. I’m sure whatever mental illness is being alluded to is going to be handled with all the tact and sensitivity in the world, isn’t it?
The next day, Kathy is excited to discover her new school is small, like a private school, and everyone seems friendly. She’s paired with a senior girl named Maureen to show her around, then is surprised that Maureen has only been at school for a month, because she seems to know everyone. Turns out nearly all the kids here belong to military or government parents, so they’re used to moving around and having to make new friends all the time.
She gets her class schedule and the principal gives her a list of extracurricular activities to choose from. In her homeroom, she makes her way all the way to a seat in the back, noticing the speculative looks from the girls (probably trying to figure out if she’s going to be “witchy and stuck-up”) and the admiring looks from the boys. For the first 50 pages it was never mentioned that she was blonde; now she can’t stop talking about it.
She literally gets whistled at and heavy-breathed at as she sits down, and the girls around her tell her the boys are animals here. Then a “hunky” boy next to her smiles and passes her a note saying he needs to talk to her after class. Throughout the class, she convinces herself that he’s some sort of pickup artist, so when he approaches her after class, she’s ready to freeze him out. He doesn’t help himself by immediately telling her he wants to sign her up before anyone else gets to her.
But not to worry, he just saw the list of extracurricular activities and wanted to sign her up to join the Bugle. Kathy misunderstands what this is and says she doesn’t play a musical instrument. The boy, whose name is Matt Hamilton (and there’s a million things he hasn’t done, but just you wait, just you waaaait), explains that he’s talking about the Brentwood Bugle, the school newspaper. Everyone acts like this is the dumbest, oddest name for a paper ever, despite The Daily Bugle being one of the most famous fictional papers in the Marvel universe. Guess none of these kids are Spiderman fans.
Kathy was on the newspaper at her old school, but the Bugle is so desperate that they would have taken pretty much anyone. Matt invites her to sit at the “journalists’ table” at lunch, because that’s definitely a thing.
At the journalists’ table, a girl named Jassy (I can only imagine the cruel nicknames she’s experienced throughout her childhood) compares their staff writers to the Algonquin Round Table of the 1930s. Calm yourself, Jassy. Matt told them all about Kathy mistaking the Bugle for the marching band, so everyone is making as many instrument puns as humanly possible, because these kids have the worst senses of humor ever. I want to slap them all.
In bed that night, Kathy thinks about how much she likes everyone she met (okay, they all seem pretty nice, despite their corny senses of humor), and how hot Matt is, and is relieved that she hadn’t experienced any more weird shit on the staircase that day. She ends the chapter by thinking that maybe she’s going to like it here after all!
What’s the over-under on some spooky shit happening in the next chapter, do you suppose?
Kathy calls BFF Beth over the weekend and tells her about Matt. Beth insists that Matt will ask her out soon because she’s got more sex appeal than she thinks, then immediately segues into asking about Timmy, which is a little disturbing. “You have more sex appeal than you realize; by the way, how’s Timmy?” What the fuck, Beth?
While preparing dinner, Mom tells Kathy that she’s thinking of taking Timmy to a child psychologist because he’s still not making friends at school. Then Timmy comes in from playing in the treehouse and asks if this is a bad house, because a kid at school told him someone died there. So, Mom tries to dance around it by pointing out that yes, sometimes people die in houses, but that doesn’t make the house bad. Then Timmy starts telling them about a boy named Philip who plays with him in his treehouse. He thinks Philip lives on the street on the other side of the woods, and Philip is his age and has blonde hair like him, and loves the treehouse as much as he does.
I automatically think Philip is a ghost. Kathy and Mom immediately think he’s an imaginary friend, simply because he’s the same age as Timmy and likes the treehouse and has the same color hair. Because apparently blonde seven-year-olds who like treehouses are a rarity in their universe? I dunno, their logic is weird.
Kathy looks out the window to the backyard, and thinks that the bit of mist swirling around the fishpond could easily be mistaken for a “small, beckoning boy with pale, silvery-blonde hair.”
Aside: earlier their hair was described as “flaxen,” which is pale yellow, definitely not silvery. However, after about page 50 or so, when Rice became obsessed with talking about their hair color, she’s described it as silvery-blonde every time. Flaxen and silvery-blonde are two completely different things! Goddammit, Rice.
We get Bad Guy POV again, this time the man (whom this chapter confirms is Charles) is confused as to why Philip was playing in the treehouse. He’s disturbed that Philip isn’t with the others; did he come back, or had he never left? Charles thinks that maybe They can tell him what’s going on. He lurks around the backyard and thinks about climbing the trellis up to Kathy’s window to watch her sleep, because she reminds him so much of a young Estelle. Dude. Just . . . no.
As he reaches the trellis, he hears the whining dog again, and again thinks that it sounds like Roxie, except Roxie should be “with the others.” Oh, like Philip should be with the others? Yeah, how’s that going for you? Then Ghost Roxie starts barking, and Charles gives up on peeping, and makes his way back into the woods instead.
Inside, the ghost barking woke Kathy up, but she’s not having another night of chasing a phantom dog, so she goes back to sleep after some thoughts about how weird the landing is and how Mitzi still won’t cross it.
Matt and Kathy seem to fall into a dating situation without him ever having asked her out, so that’s interesting and very grade-school-like. When Kathy calls Beth to tell her about it, she asks if it’s dating or heavy dating. Kathy has no idea what she means by that, and I would assume she’s asking if they’ve fucked yet, but Beth explains herself by saying, “I mean, like, do you both think this is IT?”
Well, Beth, I have yet to see a killer clown in the sewers, so probably not.
We’re told that for all her good looks, Kathy has little experience with boys, because of course pretty girls are expected to date a lot or whatever. Obviously a person’s personality has zero to do with how many friends they have or how much they date. Then again, this is the same author who in Music From the Dead had a character claim that a beautiful woman’s husband couldn’t have been a bad guy because she was so beautiful she could have anyone she wanted, so obviously he had to be a good guy. Or something to that effect.
Kathy tells us all about how easy it is for her to be around Matt, though, because they have so much in common. So far all we’re shown is that they both want to be writers, though. Matt wants to be an investigative reporter, while Kathy wants to write the Great American Novel. You and me both, girl.
I’m a little confused about the timeline here, because this section makes it seem as though a couple weeks have gone by, but then we’re told it’s the day after Timmy asked about the house being bad, and Kathy decides to ask Matt about the murders. And they’re already heavy dating at this point, so . . . I have no clue what’s going on. Also, Kathy apparently thinks asking Matt about the murders is a work-around to promising her mom she wouldn’t go to the library and look up newspaper article about it. I mean, she’s technically keeping her promise, I suppose.
Time for another long story short? Essentially, Charles Winston was a state department official and a hero. He’d been in the Mideast and thrown himself in front of some children to save them from a bomb in the marketplace, and come home injured and scarred up. He was acting distant just before the murders, and his wife was worried about him, but nobody took it too seriously. The neighbors didn’t see them for a few days, and no one was answering the phone, so they called the police, who came and broke into the house. Estelle and two of the boys were found dead in the house with weird crosses carved into their foreheads, and the youngest boy was found down by the fishpond. (Kathy asks if they were stabbed when she hears about the crosses, despite her mom telling her they were poisoned. Bitch, pay attention!) The dog, a black Border Collie, was stabbed, however, and a blood trail led from the landing at the top of the stairs all the way out the back door and onto the deck, where the dog’s body was found.
Kathy wants to know how they’re so sure Charles did it, and Matt tells her that his fingerprints were found all over the mugs containing the poisoned hot cocoa, and the poison was the type he had to sign for at the store. Then he tells Kathy that the bodies were found on the landing, propped up against the wall all in a row. (Except for the littlest boy, who they think didn’t drink as much as the others and was trying to run somewhere that was obviously the treehouse, although we’re not explicitly told that.) That would have been a good chapter end, except Matt actually ends by telling us the dog’s body was found out on the deck, like it’s a big reveal even though he already told us that literally four paragraphs ago. Maybe Rice got confused and thought she’d deleted that part, and her editor didn’t have the heart to tell her. Who knows.
So, now Kathy can’t stop thinking about what happened on the landing, and whether or not it was the ghost dog she felt and heard that night. She goes back and forth trying to convince herself it’s not ghosts, but secretly thinking it really is.
The next day, Mom starts talking about how Mitzi won’t go out back to do her business, and Kathy’s determined not to tell her mom about the doggie murder scene on the deck. Instead, she tells her that Mitzi got used to doing her thing on the bush in the front yard, and she’s a city dog who’s used to whizzing with cars whizzing by. Except this seems to be a secluded house with not many cars passing by, but okay. I guess any weak excuse is better than “she’s afraid of the ghost dog.”
Kathy also starts feeling/sensing the cold on the landing again. Because of course she does. She doesn’t have anyone to talk to about it, because her parents don’t believe it; Beth is apparently too practical to believe it; and she thinks Matt will blame himself for scaring her.
On Sunday, over “their usual Belgian waffle brunch” just in case you were wondering how exceedingly bougie this family is, Mom suggests they all go to the Washington Zoo. Since Kathy hates the zoo, she declines in favor of writing an English paper. Just when I was starting to be okay with Kathy, she has to go and say she hates the zoo. Hrumph. At least her main complaint seems to be the monkeys, which, fair. Monkeys are assholes.
She spends the afternoon alone in the house, working on her paper, with Mitzi practically attached to her ankle. That is, until she has to go upstairs to get her notes from her bedroom. Mitzi whimpers at her from the bottom step; and the cold sensation travels down the stairs to Kathy this time rather than staying on the landing. Making her way up the stairs, Kathy listens . . . listens to the sound of silence. Hello, darkness, my old friend.
This time, Kathy decides to be proactive, and runs up the stairs, yelling at the ghosts that she can’t help them; whatever happened to them is over now, and her family is here and happy, and it’s time for them to move on and leave her family alone. When the cold only deepens in response to her, she yells “Then – damn you!” at the ghosts. So, she’s doing a really aggressive impression of the Ghost Whisperer?
The presence freezes her in place, and Kathy sort of . . . senses? perceives? something plead at her, Stay. Help us. She yells at them again to leave her alone, and the presence lets her go suddenly. I would have laughed my ass off if she’d fallen flat on her face like it seemed she was about to, but the Listeners decide to be friendly ghosts and keep her from falling. Boo. Kathy wants to know who they are and what they want of her (her phrasing, hello again, Scarlett), but all she gets in response is the sense of someone listening. I get the feeling that word is going to lose all meaning to me by the end of this recap.
Kathy wonders whether or not to tell her parents what happened, and settles on oh hell no. For one thing, they might be mad at Matt for telling her what happened and forbid her from seeing him. For another, they might make her go see a psychiatrist, which as we all know is a fate worse than death. She tries to talk herself out of thinking it’s anything supernatural, remembering hearing something about how echoes of past events can linger on. She hopes that they can fill the house with their own energy and erase those past echoes.
Two days later, we finally get to the bit the back-of-book description tells us about. A raggedy-looking man rings the doorbell, introduces himself as Dennis, and says he does odd jobs around the neighborhood. Mom was prepared to slam the door in his face based on his appearance, but then reconsiders and tells him to come back around in a couple days when he’s scheduled to do some work for the next-door neighbor. Then she calls the neighbor to see if he’s legit, and surprisingly, he is. The neighbor, Mrs. Lilley, invites them to a “meet the neighbors” party on Friday, and now it sounds like the houses are much closer together than I was led to believe earlier.
Back to Charles POV, and of course he’s “Dennis.” He wonders who these people are who’ve usurped his house, so he came by to offer his services in the hopes of seeing Philip again. Instead, he saw Kathy, and wonders if she’s trying to look like Estelle just to fuck with him. Then he starts thinking about how he sacrificed his family to The Cause, and how the Voices came to him after his head injury in the bombing and promised to make the world a paradise if he did what They said.
Um. Assuming the Voices aren’t supernatural themselves, I’m trying to figure out if they’re the result of the head injury, or if they’re a symptom of schizophrenia. Because media loves to fear monger the fuck out of schizophrenia. I’m going to be very unhappy with this particular plot line by the end of the book, aren’t I?
The next day, “Dennis” has already done some work in the backyard. He just showed up claiming he’d had a cancellation so he could get to work. Mom is thrilled, while Kathy thinks he’s creepy and entreats Mom to not let him in the house when she’s alone. Which is good advice regarding any stranger, not just the creepy-looking ones. Mom laughs it off and doesn’t think she should find him dangerous since no one else in the neighborhood does. Mrs. Lilley told her he’s been working for her for about a month, and he lives in a shitty trailer park on the edge of town.
At dinner, Timmy suddenly announces that Philip gave him a photo of himself, and since Mom and Dad think Philip is imaginary, they think Timmy means he drew a picture of Philip. But no, Timmy pulls a photo out of his pocket to show them. It’s Philip at his seventh birthday party, blowing out the candles on his cake, and the photo has seen better days. Mom thinks there’s a date on the back of the photo, but it’s too faded to make out. They admit to Timmy that they thought Philip was make-believe, then tell Timmy to invite him into the house sometime, but Timmy tells them that Philip is afraid of the house and he doesn’t have to come in if he doesn’t want to. Kathy says she wants to meet him, and Timmy tells her that she’s walked right by him a couple of times and never even noticed him!
Not. Suspicious. At. All.
Then that night, Kathy thinks she hears whispering out on the landing, but by morning she’s convinced herself it was just a dream. Goddammit, Kathy, it’s never just a dream; don’t you know that by now?
At school, the Bugle staff have, for some reason, signed up to choose the theme of the annual Christmas dance. All their ideas are terrible or have been done before, but some girl named Sallie Johnson suggests a Snowflake Ball, and given the current connotation of “snowflake,” I had to laugh. Would this just be a bunch of people in MAGA hats standing around calling people “libtards” and mocking them for treating others with basic human decency?
Anyway, Kathy suggests a Christmas Future dance – a Space Age Christmas! This isn’t any better than any other suggestion, but everyone loves it. And bonus, Matt announces in front of everyone that it’s no wonder he loves her madly! Warm fuzzies everywhere, guys. Later, he tells her he really meant it – not that he loves her, but that she’s really special. Even though that’s definitely not what he said, but whatever. Then they have some conversation about how they wish they had their class rings already so they could exchange them to let the world know they own each other. Or something.
Matt drives Kathy home, and she spots “Dennis” raking leave across the street, and then suddenly we’re thrown into his perspective. Sigh. He thinks Kathy suspects something, so he’s got to be careful around her. He wonders some more if she’s purposely trying to look like Estelle to fuck with him, and then we get the story of how he got away after massacring his family.
He’d come across a secluded area in the Blue Ridge mountains once, and since he’d been planning to kill his family, he’d stocked this area with provisions, then hid out there while the cops and FBI were checking all the airports and such. He let his hair and beard grow out, stopped wearing the toupee that only he and Estelle knew about, and stopped wearing his false front tooth. He feels some regret off and on, but always remembers that he’s a prophet and savior, here to save mankind. The sacrifice was necessary. You know, because They told him so.
He went off to New York City and lived as a street person, despite having a fuckload of money stashed away in a money belt; then recently came back to Brentwood when the Voices told him he’d left something undone. See, he’d noticed that the world wasn’t getting any better, despite his sacrifice. So he came back, started living in a trailer and doing odd jobs around his old neighborhood, and was amused that none of his old neighbors recognized him. But coming around the house, he realized that Philip was still here; he hadn’t been sacrificed with the others, so he needs to kill him.
Back to Kathy’s family. While the women are fixing dinner (no idea where Dad is), Timmy comes in crying that Philip is going away because his dad is coming back and his dad is going to hurt him like he hurt his brothers. Through questioning, Mom and Kathy find out that Philip is all alone – his mother and brothers went away, and Timmy doesn’t know who he lives with or where exactly he lives. Well, yeah. He’s a fucking ghost. I mean, keep up, ladies.
Mom, thinking Philip is a living child, goes to the school to try to find out who Philip is, even though Timmy doesn’t think he goes to school and doesn’t know his last name. The police meet them at the school and take the photo Timmy has of Philip, planning to mount a search around their house and try to figure out who the fuck Philip is. Then Mom offers to take the boy in when they find him, if he doesn’t have any other family to go to. Mom may also talk like she’s channeling an 1800s debutante, but she’s not half-bad when it comes down to it.
When Kathy finally goes to bed that night, the chilling cold presence from the landing finds its way into her bedroom, pressing her down and holding her. Then she hears/senses/feels something telling her that something terrible is coming and to be aware and ready. Sooooo . . .
She also hears Ghost Dog Roxie whimpering under her window again.
Once she’s able to move again, Kathy looks at the clock and realizes it’s only been a couple of minutes even though it felt longer. She’s now thinking things through and finally comes to the conclusion that the dog she’s hearing is the ghost of the Winston family’s dog. I . . . don’t know just how the fuck she didn’t put that together the second Matt told her about the dog. But . . . moving on. She remembers Matt telling her about the dog – a black and white Border Collie, and nope. He told her it was a black Border Collie. I remember because I thought a solid-color Border Collie was strange. She’s also going to keep referring to it as a “small” dog, and nope again. Border Collies are not that small. They’re solidly classified as medium-sized dogs. Kathy may love dogs, but I don’t think Bebe Faas Rice knows the first thing about breeds.
Anyway, Kathy finally names the ghostly presence as the deceased Winstons, but somehow fails to put it together that Philip is one of them. She pictures Charles propping their corpses up against the wall, and Roxie trying to nudge them awake, and Charles stabbing her and then chasing her through the house and out to the deck where she finally died. Ugh, poor doggie. All of this is either to showcase how slow Kathy is on the uptake, or to assume the reader is slow on the uptake and needs it all spelled out, despite all of this basically already being spelled out to us. Several times, in some cases.
Kathy decides she needs to tell someone about all of this, so she chooses Matt. It goes about as well as you’d expect, with him at first blaming himself for putting all this in her head, then being all super-obnoxiously rational to explain it all away. It’s not exactly mansplaining, but it’s got that vibe to it. Skepticsplaining? She accuses him of thinking she’s crazy and asks if he’s afraid he’s hooked himself up with a looney. I’ve skipped over most of the ableism regarding mental illness so far in this book, but just know it’s been here all along. Kathy constantly thinks she’s “crazy” whenever she experiences anything supernatural.
Anyway, Kathy demands Matt take her back home (they’ve been having this conversation out at a local park, in the wintertime, wtf Kathy) and basically breaks up with him. He’s astonished that she’s breaking up with him because he doesn’t believe her story about ghosts, and when she corrects him to say that she’s breaking up with him because he’s refusing to listen to her (which, fair), he calls her “imaginative and hysterical.” Then when she gets pissed about that, he points at that as evidence that she’s being hysterical and there’s no reasoning with her. Wow, Matt. Please go get eaten by velociraptors as soon as humanly possible, k thanx.
Kathy tells him she wishes she did have his class ring so that she could rip it off and throw it at him, and same, Kathy. Same. Of course, I’ll bet everything I own that they’ll be back together by the end of the book and his condescending ways will never be mentioned again.
At home, everyone is still concerned with Philip’s disappearance, and the police have informed them that there’s no little boy matching Philip’s description enrolled in any school in town. Really? There’s no little blonde boy enrolled at any of these schools? I . . . okay. I mean, bullshit, but okay.
Then Mom suddenly realizes that Philip might be an imaginary friend after all, and mentions that to the cop. But she’s quick to add that they have the picture, and Timmy’s always admitted before when his friends were imaginary. The cops promise not to stop looking, but they’re going to proceed with caution given this new information.
Mom asks Timmy about it, and he swears Philip is really real, cross his heart. Then Dad decides to show up in the story again, only to inform everyone that he can’t change the date of some out-of-town business trip that’s never been mentioned before, and he leaves early tomorrow morning. Oh, I see. This book is about to climax all over the place, and we’ve gotta get the parental units out of the way first, huh? Bonus points if Dad’s business trip is to Europe. Not a specific country. Just Europe.
Kathy goes to bed and cries herself to sleep, thinking about how things are over with Matt. Oh, honey, if only I believed that were true.
The next morning, Matt calls her to tell her that maybe it’s not such a good idea for him to drive her to school anymore, under the circumstances. Um, no fucking shit? Like, she dumped your ass, why is this even a question? Anyway, Kathy overanalyzes what he means, but finally agrees with him. This relationship plotline is stupid and pointless. And that dance they made such a big deal about a few chapters ago? It’s never mentioned again. So much for Chekhov’s dance.
There’s some pointless teenage angst at school between Kathy and Matt that I really don’t feel the need to recap. At home that night, the other shoe drops, as Kathy tells us. Something about an aunt who needs emergency surgery and can Mom come out and sit her kids until she can find a live-in babysitter. Just a couple days, max. Ah, there we go. Now we’ve got Kathy and Timmy alone in the house so some shit can really start going down!
Mom frets about leaving them alone, but Kathy puts on a brave face and assures her everything will be fine, and she’s been babysitting Timmy since he was born. So, she was babysitting a newborn when she was nine? I hope she means helping out while her parents were around, rather than caring for an infant with no adults in sight. Cool, cool, cool. I’m sure it was fine.
Saturday afternoon, Kathy tries to reassure Timmy that Philip will be fine, then she has to go to the library, so she calls some older lady who’s babysat Timmy before. I’m not sure why she didn’t just take him with her; Timmy strikes me as a kid who would be happy enough hanging out in the children’s room at the library, but whatevs. He wants to play in the treehouse, even though it’s too cold out, because he thinks Philip might come back if he’s out there. Oh, honey.
Kathy passes “Dennis” trimming some old lady’s bushes (heh), thinks about how creepy he is, and then we switch perspectives to him thinking about how the Voices told him that the next time he saw her it would be time to fulfill Their prophesy and kill Philip. So, the time is now.
At the library, the librarian helps Kathy find all these books about the Wars of the Roses, but she finds her mind wandering back to the Winstons and all the haunting stuff. She goes back to the librarian and asks for the microfilms relating to the murders, then tells the librarian that she’s thinking of changing the topic of her term paper when she asks about it. Dude, just say you’re curious about it or something. Why do you think you need a cover story to look at old newspapers? Literally no one gives a fuck what you’re looking at or why.
We don’t really get any information that we didn’t already know, and now I wonder if Rice had a set word count she was trying to get to, and that’s why she’s repeating everything five fucking times. Kathy sees the photos of the family, and thinks that she and Timmy could be related to them, because every blonde must be related or something, I dunno. Then she finally gets a good look at a picture of the youngest boy, which if I’m reading the text correctly is a close-up of his corpse on the lawn (I have to be wrong about that, but the way it’s written makes it seem like that’s what it’s saying), and sees that his name is Philip, he died shortly after his seventh birthday, and he’s the same little boy in the photo Timmy showed them.
Timmy’s new BFF is a fucking ghost, oh no. I am shocked. Who could have ever seen this coming. You know, except everyone reading the book who noticed that Charles kept talking about his dead son Philip. Was this supposed to be a surprise to anyone but Kathy? Because it’s strange that the author wouldn’t even try to build any suspense with the reader about this, but here we are.
Kathy, at least, is in shock. She freaks the fuck out and drives home, probably running several stop signs and mowing down countless pedestrians, although we’re not told that. She has good timing, too, because the old lady babysitter needs to leave immediately for unknown reasons. She lets Kathy know that Timmy is in the treehouse, then grabs her purse, which is odd because Kathy always has her “carryall,” which I assumed is what we were calling purses for some reason, but nope. Mrs. Metzger has herself a purse. So now I’m wondering what the fucking difference is. None of this matters, I’m just trying to pad my word count with pointless wonderings. If Bebe Faas Rice can do it, so can I.
Kathy races out to the treehouse and scrambles up the ladder. She hears Timmy talking to someone, but when she gets up the ladder, he’s alone. He accuses her of scaring Philip away; he was just about to tell Timmy something important about his dad. Rather than being concerned about the mass murderer possibly about to come after them, Kathy is upset about Timmy playing with a ghost boy. Kathy. The ghost is not the threat here, fucking hell. THE GHOSTS HAVE NEVER THREATENED YOU, YOU FUCKWIT!
Kathy questions Timmy about how Philip could have left the treehouse since she was blocking the ladder, and Timmy gets a little confused, saying that Philip just kind of comes and goes, and just sort of appears by the treehouse when he wants to play. Kathy orders him into the house and questions him some more over hot cocoa, trying to convince herself that he made it all up, because the idea of her brother playing with the ghost of a little murdered boy is too horrible and unbelievable. Kathy. That’s not the fucking issue here, Jesus Christ. This isn’t Wait Till Helen Comes. Philip isn’t trying to get Timmy to kill himself so he can have a forever friend, so calm the fuck down already.
Timmy mentions that Philip’s mom has a really pretty name, something like Esther, which, no offense to any Esthers out there, but that’s really not that pretty a name. Then Kathy asks if it’s Estelle, and Timmy’s like, yeah that’s it! So obviously Timmy is telling the truth and Philip is a ghost. (Also, this is the second time that the mistaken name “Esther” has been called really pretty, so I have to wonder who in Rice’s life was named Esther.)
Kathy again freaks out and goes around turning on all the lights in the house to push away the dark. And make herself highly visible to any creepy handyman lurking around outside, but you know. She thinks about how her parents will have to believe her now and call in a parapsychologist or an exorcist, or possibly move just like everyone else before them, and it won’t take much convincing once Mom finds out her son’s best friend is a ghost!
First off, still focusing on all the wrong things here, Kathy. Secondly, My Son’s Best Friend is a Ghost, coming to you this fall on TruTV!
Kathy decides the two of them will spend the night in their parents’ room, watching TV and eating snacks, because sleeping in the bed where their parents fuck will certainly keep them safe from ghosts and murderers. Kathy fixes Timmy his favorite dinner of creamed mushrooms on toast, and I just threw up a little in my mouth. Look, I like mushrooms, but that sounds revolting. I doubt that would be any seven-year-old’s favorite meal. (I’m suddenly remembering that in Music From the Dead, we had characters calling pork chops “fancy foreign food” and chicken and rice made with cream of mushroom soup was an elegant dinner. Bebe clearly has some weird ideas about food.)
Kathy has also brought Mitzi into the room with them, and she leaves them watching TV while she goes downstairs to dump their dishes in the sink. While downstairs, she decides to call Matt, because she needs someone, anyone, to talk to about Timmy’s little ghost friend. Because Kathy has a hard time identifying what the danger actually is. Hey, Kathy? The little ghost boy is telling your brother that his dad, who fucking murdered him and the rest of his family, is coming back to hurt him. Maybe be worried about that? No? Well, fuck.
Speaking of, now we’re kicked back to Charles POV. He’s lurking by the kitchen door, lovingly caressing his newly-sharpened hunting knife and thinking about how he saw Kathy drag “Philip” into the house earlier and turn on all the lights. The better to see you through the windows, my dear. And yes, Charles has mistaken Timmy for Philip. He’s not seeing his dead son’s ghost after all, and he’s very confused as to why Philip is still alive; he was sure he’d killed him – the newspapers had even said so! Never once does it occur to him that if Philip were alive, he’d be seventeen, not seven, now. Oh, well.
Back to Kathy. Matt picks up after two rings, and is overjoyed to hear from Kathy. Kathy tells him that she’s “missed him so,” and who the fuck has ever thought that’s how teenagers talk?! Anyway, he’s missed her, too, and he’s actually done some reading on the paranormal and is ready to be a better listener now. Well . . . okay. I’m all for people changing for the better. I mean, he didn’t actually apologize, or mention the whole “calling her hysterical” thing, but I guess he’s trying to be better?
Kathy asks him to come over, then shushes him because she heard a noise outside. I’m having trouble picturing how this kitchen is set up, but somehow she’s in a position where she can see out the window of the back door, but anyone outside can’t see her. She tells Matt she sees “Dennis, that horrible old handyman” outside looking in, and then he starts rattling the handle trying to get in. Quick question – do you think they’ve changed the locks since the murders? I mean, probably, but wouldn’t it be funny if Charles were trying to break in, then decided to try his old key just for the hell of it, and it actually worked? That would be next level hilarious.
Matt tells Kathy to hang up and go back upstairs with Timmy and lock themselves in the room while he calls 911. I’m not sure why Kathy can’t call 911 herself, but as long as they get called, I’m not stressing. Also, I’m not advocating going around shooting people willy-nilly, but if Charles were breaking into my house, Boyfriend and I would have our choice of guns to fire at him. I guess what I’m saying is, this book would end a lot differently if Kathy’s parents had a gun.
She runs upstairs as she hears the window in the back door breaking, and feels the ghostly presence pushing her down the hallway toward her parents’ room. She locks the door, but even though the door is solid, the lock is a pathetic little push-button, able to be easily broken into by a determined toddler. She shoves a small dresser in front of the door and tells Timmy that there’s a bad man in the house, the police are on their way, but they can’t let the bad man near them. Timmy immediately puts it together that it’s Philip’s dad as he begins stomping up the stairs calling for Philip. It takes Kathy a little longer to connect the dots, and then to realize that Charles thinks Timmy is Philip. Oh, and the whole time she’s thinking about how crazy he is, how he must have been crazy to do the things he’s done. More on this later, because it turns out it was never mental illness causing him to do these things. At least, that’s my read. But I’m getting ahead of the story, dammit.
Anyway, Kathy decides that they’re going out the bathroom window and then they’ll run for help. Timmy’s onboard, but then he points out that they can’t leave Mitzi behind. Look, I know she’s no kind of guard dog, but she’s slept through this whole thing so far, and that’s just not how dogs operate. I’m surprised she’s not yapping her head off at this point.
Kathy wakes Mitzi up and fashions a sort of Baby Bjorn sling out of her mom’s pantyhose to hold the dog against her stomach while they’re climbing around on the roof. This sounds ridiculous, and I would love to see it in action. My little dog, who is about Mitzi’s size, would probably murder me if I tried this with her. She’s been a cranky old lady dog since she was three.
They make it out the window, and Kathy is very dramatic, telling Timmy that he has to run and not worry about her, and calling him “darling.” Yup, that’s definitely how teenage sisters talk to their little brothers; nothing weird here! They climb down onto the roof of the garage, and Kathy can hear Charles now trying to break down the bathroom door. They start to climb down onto the trash cans, but Kathy slips and falls, and apparently lands on her back, because she somehow doesn’t crush poor Mitzi. She feels a wetness against her stomach, and here we get maybe the best fucking line in this book: “In all the excitement, Mitzi had piddled.”
Not only did the dog piss all over Kathy; it’s referred to as piddling. Which is a term I’ve never heard anyone under the age of eighty use. This is beautiful. I need this line on a t-shirt. I want to scream it from the rooftops. I need this to be my new ringtone. I’m just imagining this in Ron Howard’s voice, as a VO on Arrested Development. This is the purest, most perfect line in this book, and I will treasure it always.
All right, moving on from the piddling.
Charles has made it to the bathroom window, calling for Philip, then he disappears. Kathy doesn’t know quite what to do now, because the nearest neighbors are out of town; the other neighbor is an old lady who will take forever to answer the door; and the car is locked up in the garage that Kathy can’t get into without the electric opener. Then Timmy points to a spot in the yard and says that Philip wants them to go to the treehouse, and Kathy thinks maybe she can make out the ghostly figure of a little boy beckoning them. It’s that, or a trick of the moonlight.
They take off toward the treehouse, because Kathy realizes that they can pull the rope ladder up after them and wait for the police, and Charles won’t be able to climb the tree itself because the branches are way too far up. Speaking of Charles, he’s coming out the back door for them, because why would he climb out the window after them when he can just go downstairs and use the door like a civilized murderer?
While running for the treehouse, Kathy feels Philip’s presence, and it suddenly occurs to her that he’d been trying to get to the treehouse the night he died, and that’s why his body was found on the lawn. Fucking duh, Kathy. My god, are all of Rice’s protagonists incapable of putting the simplest things together? (I guess we’ll find out when I recap the remaining two books of hers that I still own! Something to look forward to, yay.)
The kids climb the ladder into the treehouse, and Charles reaches it just as Kathy is about to pull it up. She’s too late, and he starts climbing, calling out for Philip. The real Philip, Ghost Philip, answers him from where he’s standing by the fishpond, and we’re suddenly back in Charles’s POV. He’s confused, because didn’t he just see Philip go up the ladder? Running has made his head ache and pound, but he’s determined to complete his mission – his “immortal sacrifice for all mankind.”
And then, suddenly, the scarlet, pulsating thing that had lurked, undetected, in his skull all these years exploded.
A curtain of crimson blinded him and he fell.
And in that last micro-second before he died, he remembered . . . everything.
Oh God, he thought. Forgive me!
So, this sounds a lot like he had a brain aneurysm that just burst. Probably caused by the head injury he sustained after jumping in front of a fucking bomb. The voices, the delusions, they were all caused by a traumatic head injury, not mental illness. So, all Kathy’s thoughts about how crazy he is are all the more infuriating, because while no, crazy does not equal dangerous, after all that he wasn’t even “crazy;” it was a fucking medical condition. So fuck you, Kathy, so willing to demonize mentally ill people, along with everyone who even appears mentally ill. Maybe check for brain tumors, head trauma, and aneurysms the next time someone’s personality does a complete 180.
Oh, well. At least it wasn’t schizophrenia. Media would have us believe all schizophrenics are kill-crazy lunatics, and that is not a rant I wanted to go off on today.
Anyway, we’re not quite done with the book. There’s an epilogue, written in italics for some odd reason. We skip forward to Thanksgiving 1996, over a year after Charles tried to kill Timmy. Timmy’s become the rough and tumble little boy that his parents and Kathy wanted him to be, hooray for gender norms! No child psychologist for him, oh happy day! He’s not sure anymore who or what Philip was, but he no longer has any interest in the treehouse, which is now falling into disrepair. Sad. The house is no longer haunted by the deceased Winstons; they’ve moved on. Matt and Kathy are still together and planning to go to college together – somewhere with a good journalism program. Even though Kathy supposedly wanted to be a novelist and I’m sure a creative writing or literature program would be more suited toward that. Anyway, the house feels like a warm home now, and they all lived happily ever after and whatnot.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
This one is tough, guys. I have very fond memories of this book, but on this reread, I’m not quite sure what I liked so much twenty years ago. I still enjoyed it somewhat, especially in the second half, but really, not a lot happens. Maybe I was just a less demanding reader as a teenager, but I can’t believe I wasn’t annoyed by Kathy’s obliviousness. Overall, I don’t hate it, but I am seriously disappointed that this one didn’t live up to my memories of it. If you had asked me before I started writing this recap, I would have recommended this as one of my favorite books from my teenage years. Now . . . not so much. Still, the cover is great. At least we have that. And remember:
In all the excitement, Mitzi had piddled.
Piddle on, you cool piddler.