Sep 19 2010

Scavenger Hunt by Christopher Pike, Part I

Scavenger Hunt
Christopher Pike
1989, Archway

Pray they don’t find what they’re looking for. . . .


  • Carl Timmons – Our Fearless Hero; dealing with death of his best friend Joe; has the hots for Cessy
  • Tom Barrett – Carl’s current best friend; not quite right since getting knocked out in a football game
  • Cecilia “Cessy” Stepford – sexy wild girl
  • David “Davey” Stepford – Cessy’s brother; senior class president
  • Tracie White – Carl’s friend and classmate; has a crush on Carl
  • Paula Morrow - Tracie’s BFF; was Joe’s girlfriend
  • Rick Morrow – Paula’s brother; a genius in a wheelchair
  • Mr. Partridge – English lit teacher; organizer of secretive club at high school, and of the titular scavenger hunt

Dead Characters

  • Joe Travers – Carl’s former best friend; died during a hike with Carl last summer

Scavenger Hunt was always one of my favorite Pike books, because I apparently loved the idea of cannibal monster teenagers in my youth. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that I probably read it over 30 times in my teens. Because of that, I’m going to take on this recap in a different way than usual. I have not re-read the book recently, and instead will be “live” recapping as I go. Because what’s life without a little experimentation, right?

The book takes place in Express, California, a small town that is “eighty miles inland from San Diego, forty miles north of the Mexican border.” That would put it close to the Anza-Borrego State Park, near the inappropriately-named Salton Sea (which is actually a lake). And were you aware that there’s a town near the Salton Sea called Squeaky Springs? That totally sounds like the title of a bad amateur porno. The characters attend Jacob High, which has a senior class of 300. Pike obviously thinks that symbolizes “small, nothing town,” but as someone whose graduating class had 52 people in it, a senior class of 300 sounds downright metropolitan to me.

Scavenger Hunt starts out with a prologue. Is there some sort of unwritten rule that ’80s and ’90s YA horror books had to have prologues? Unlike Stine, though, Pike actually makes the prologue relevant (and longer than half a page), so I’ll go with it. An unnamed boy has finally come to the realization that “they” want him as a “victim for the sacrifice.” Unsurprisingly, he is hauling ass away from “them.” He takes refuge in a church, which is empty save for an old lady dressed in black and a priest in the confession booth. While the old woman is in the booth, the boy genuflects to a statue of the Virgin Mary and then prays and lights a candle. He puts his last two quarters in the donation box, even though he realizes that now he will be unable to use a payphone to call the police. Hey, remember payphones? Those were awesome.

Once the old lady exits the confession booth, the boy goes in. He tells the priest that he has killed someone. Um, I mean that the boy has killed someone, not the priest. Although that would be an interesting twist, huh? The boy asks if the priest believes in the devil, and the priest replies in the affirmative. He’s probably getting all excited thinking that he’ll get to go exorcise some poor mentally ill person. The boy starts to cry and says that he’s “so afraid,” but at the priest’s gentle prompting, he begins to tell his story.

And with that, we’re into Chapter 1. Which is a dream sequence. OH MY GOD PIKE YOU’RE KILLING ME ALREADY. In the dream, Carl Timmons and his best friend Joe Travers are kids, riding tricycles in the southern California desert. They’re headed towards a dam when suddenly a storm comes upon them, bringing with it torrential rain and the “odor of burnt flesh.” Yum! Joe and Carl turn tail and try to pedal their little tricycles out of there. Something falls behind them, and Carl can’t resist the urge to look. It’s just like the story of Lot’s wife, if Lot’s wife were riding a tricycle out of Sodom and Gomorrah. The dam is cracking, and red-tinged blood is spilling out. Carl notices a wave coming towards Joe and yells at him, but there’s nothing to be done: the red water swallows Joe up. And now a monster is after Carl: a flying lizard with “all-consuming hunger.” Somehow I doubt Mr. Flying Lizard is a vegetarian.

Before Carl can get devoured, the ringing of his telephone awakens him. The caller is sexy Cessy Stepford, one of Carl’s classmates and a fellow member of a secretive campus club called the Partridge Club. Aw, that’s cute!

Hello world, hear the song that we’re singin’, c’mon, get eaten!
A whole lotta pain is what we’ll be bringin’, c’mon get eaten!

The Partridge Club is having their annual scavenger hunt (hey, that’s the title of this book!), and Cessy wants Carl on her team. Carl can’t believe his good fortune, since he’s been masturbating to fantasies of Cessy wanting to ask Cessy out all school year. Cessy reveals that Tom Barrett, Carl’s best friend “now that Joe [is] dead,” is at her house, watching her swim naked. Apparently Tom hangs out with Cessy a lot, even though he has no romantic or sexual interest in her. Lest you think  that Tom is a big ol’ homo, though, it’s probably just ’cause he’s messed up from being hit hard in the head during a football game last year. Carl talks to Tom briefly, and plans are made for Carl to come pick up Tom and Cessy.

Now it’s time for some back story on the whole Joe’s-death thing. Last summer, Carl and Joe went hiking in the desert and got caught in a surprise storm. A dam broke in the gully, and Joe drowned, despite Carl’s best efforts to save him. Joe’s bones were found a few months later by a ranger. This is a tragic but realistic story, and most likely the last realistic thing that will happen in this book.

We also learn about Carl’s home life. It’s wonderful, with two caring parents who are supportive of their son. No, wait, I’m sorry — this is a Pike book, so of course Carl’s home life sucks more ass than a colonic. His dad is a truck driver, often gone for more than a week at a time, and Carl hasn’t seen his mom in eight years. So Carl’s basically on his own with no parental supervision. Given his situation, he should be drinking, smoking pot, and/or watching porn 24/7, but Carl is boring and does none of those things. Youth is wasted on the young, yo.

On Carl’s answering machine is a message from Tracie White, a female friend of Carl’s whom Carl thinks of as “a good kid.” Condescending much, you little asshole? Tracie called last night at 10:15 to ask Carl to join her group in the scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, Paula and Rick Morrow are also going to be on Tracie’s team. Paula was Joe’s girlfriend, and Carl suspects that she blames him for Joe’s death. Carl decides to ignore the message and let Tracie down once he sees her at school, like the fucking prince that he is.

On his way to Cessy’s house, Carl almost mows down a kid in a wheelchair. That kid is Rick Morrow, Paula’s younger brother, who has muscular dystrophy. But because everyone knows that physical defects must be balanced by mental gifts, Rick is a genius who is graduating at the top of the senior class this year, even though he’s only 15. As a certified genius, I take offense to these kids who graduate high school early and are out of med school by 20. Those overachievers make us lazy geniuses look bad.

This cocky little bastard has been a thorn in my side for 20 years.

Rick asks Carl if he got Tracie’s message, and Carl lies and says no. Rick then basically begs Carl to be on the team with him, Paula, and Tracie, but Carl is thinking with his penis, and his penis wants to be close to Cessy. He brushes Rick off and continues to the Stepford house, where Tom is sitting by the pool in which Cessy is swimming. Naked. Sexy Cessy has long, curly black hair, which makes me happy because I love it when the sexy chick is a brunette. Suck on it, blonds. Cessy pulls a fully-clothed Carl into the pool and swims with him for a few moments. When Carl gets distracted by talking to Tom, she slips out of the pool and into her bathrobe. Ha ha, DENIED, Carl. Tom loans Carl some dry clothes and also gives Carl his shoes, since Tom is totes fine with walking around barefoot all day.

Carl, Tom, and Cessy have breakfast despite Carl’s fears that they’ll miss the big assembly on the scavenger hunt. Cessy reminds him that her brother Davey is senior class president, and he won’t let the assembly start without them. Unfortunately, though, Cessy’s not sure if Davey has enough inside information to ensure that their team will win the hunt. Carl says that she should have asked genius Rick to be on her team if she was that worried about winning, and Cessy proposes joining forces with Rick, Paula, and Tracie later in the game, even though it’s against the rules. Fuck all, this is boring. When are people going to start getting eaten?

We now switch to Tracie’s POV. She’s nervous because she feels that her time is running out to hook up with Carl. She’s been crushing on Carl since freshman year, even though, as Pike is quick to ensure us, Carl is not a knockout. He’s attractive but nothing special. Well, as my mother always says, we can’t all be supermodels. They were pretty good friends during freshman and sophomore years, but since Carl never asked Tracie on a date, she started ignoring him, but spying on him from a distance to keep up with whom he was(n’t) dating. Holy dinosaur god, these kids are such fucking pussies. Even at 16 I had no problem asking guys out. It’s not like you’re going to spontaneously combust if someone rejects you.

FINALLY Tracie ALMOST calls Carl to ask him out during their junior year, but then Joe has the nerve to die and ruin everything. As Carl suspected, Paula is bitter towards Carl, although in Tracie’s opinion it’s not so much that Paula blames Carl for Joe’s death as that she’s pissed that Carl lived while Joe died. To keep her BFFship with Paula, Tracie avoided Carl, until last week when, out of the blue, Paula suggested that Carl join their team for the scavenger hunt. Blah blah blah, when are these kids going to start dying?

Tracie is currently grilling Rick about Carl’s noncommittal response to Rick’s offer of teaming up. We learn that Rick is a lot weaker and sicker than he lets on. We also learn that Tracie plans to go to med school, “even though she ha[s] a hard time seeing people in pain.” I’m thinking that might impede Tracie’s chances of becoming a successful doctor. I mean, my childhood dream was to be a Playboy centerfold and land a billionaire husband, but sometimes we just have to accept our limitations.

We are introduced to Davey, Cessy’s brother and one big slice of gorgeous. He’s wearing “tight white slacks and [a] half-buttoned red shirt.” Sex-AY. I was going to make a joke about checking the publication date to confirm that this book is from 1989, not 1979, but then I Googled “tight white slacks” and decided to instead include this picture of Vida Guerra, solely for my husband, because I am the Best Wife Ever.

You’re welcome, babe.

Rick, Davey, and Tracie chat for a moment about their upcoming graduation. They are interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Patridge, who is “wearing his usual dark sunglasses and lumbering along as if his long legs were stilts made of petrified wood.” But I’m sure that’s absolutely normal. Nothing to see here, folks! Just a boring old English lit teacher who never takes off his sunglasses and who lurches around like he’s a reanimated corpse!

Tracie then sees Carl with Tom and Cessy. Tracie is grumbly and jealous. Maybe if you’d just put on your big-girl panties and asked Carl out, you wouldn’t be in this awkward situation, eh, Trace? Cessy rubs it in that Carl was eating breakfast at her house this morning. Then Cessy and Tom scram, leaving Tracie and Carl to awkwardly catch up with each other. Tracie asks Carl about his team situation, and Carl admits that he’s already committed to Team Big-Breasted Hot Chick and Also Those Other Two Guys.

Tracie gives up and goes inside the gym to join Paula and Rick. Paula is smoking a cigarette, which is pretty badass, since it could get her expelled. Apparently Paula “had gone wild” since Joe’s death, hanging out with a rough crowd and chain-smoking. Also, “her favorite word [is] goddamn.” Probably because “fuck” isn’t allowed in YA fiction. We learn some more about Paula’s complex personality, especially her relationship to her disabled genius brother Rick. She’s pretty tough with him, forcing him to be self-sufficient even though it hurts her not to help him with everything. And before you ask, “Where are these kids’ parents?,” well, remember that this is a Pike book, so naturally Mr. and Mrs. Morrow suck and don’t care about their kids. Is there no such thing as child welfare departments in Pike’s universe?

Tracie tells Paula about Carl’s other plans for the scavenger hunt. When she mentions Tom Barrett, Paula is puzzled, asking, “Are you sure that’s his last name?” I’m sure that’s just a throwaway line and in no way foreshadows anything that will happen in this book. Mr. Partridge gets up to speak, and he’s dressed unusually in charcoal gray hiking clothes. Again, probably not at all important. The scavenger hunt teams are given envelopes containing a single sheet of paper that reads thusly:

1. The beginning and the end of a dirt path that goes on forever, where the water flows hidden beneath blades of grass
2. A tall tree
3. A place on a course
4. The finest selection
5. At the best prices
6. A metal grave
7. Two of a kind
8. All alone with nothing around
9. Wrong turn
10. A place without a beginning, without an end, where the waters flow hidden beneath an empty sky

Upon reading the list, Paula expresses my own thoughts: “What the hell is this?” Mr. Partridge elaborates that, except for the first clue, all of the clues are incomplete: “When you get to point one, you’ll find the other half of clue two,” and so on. At each location, there will be an item for the teams to collect. There are rules, of course, including not sabotaging the other teams and not going outside one’s own team for assistance. And the grand prize is a “one-week all-expenses paid vacation to Hawaii for each member of the winning team.” Nobody asks where in the hell  this little nowhere high school could get the money for that kind of prize. Instead, the kids just cheer and shriek like middle-aged women at a Justin Bieber concert. See, this is a clear situation in which tragedy could have been easily averted with just a little bit of healthy skepticism.

Clue #1: “The beginning and the end of a dirt path that goes on forever, where the water flows hidden beneath blades of grass.”
After the assembly, Carl, Cessy, Tom, and Davey gather together to puzzle over the first clue. Carl and Davey guess that the “dirt path that goes on forever” is the school track. Tracie, Rick, and Paula are already at the track, because they made the wise choice of having a friggin’ genius on their team. The item to be collected is a hunting knife. Well, that seems perfectly safe. When is arming 300 teenagers with sharp instruments of death ever NOT a good idea? They also find the second half of Clue #2, which in its entirety is “A tall tree that is no longer so.” So is the tall tree no longer tall, or is it no longer a tree?

Clue #2: “A tall tree that is no longer so.”
Davey suggests the tree stump by the school administration building. Since Davey just willy-nilly made his announcement in the presence of Tracie and the Morrows, the two teams decide to sort of work together. As they mosey over to the stump, Davey brings up a newspaper article he recently read about a nearby gold mine called Valta, which was dug out back in the late 19th century by “a group of three men and one woman.” Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like the gender dynamics of Carl’s team. I’m sure it’s just a freakish coincidence.

The group of miners left their gold in San Francisco (and, presumably, their hearts as well) as they went back to the mine one last time. Oh, you silly, stupid people. You NEVER go back “one last time.” Of course there’s a cave-in, and the miners die. Well, presumably. The bank president who had been dealing with the miners decided to investigate, but when he cleared the cave-in, he found only two male skeletons, one of which was clutching a diary in his bony hands. Gosh, those corpses become skeletonized awfully fucking fast, considering that they were locked in a fairly air-tight, dry environment with no exposure to the outside elements or scavenger animals.

Anyway, the writings in the diary claimed that the mine was haunted. The bank president burned the diary and then disappeared, taking the map of Valta with him. But he’d told his daughter all about the place, and over the years she divulged bits and pieces of information about its whereabouts. Eventually one intrepid investigator put it all together and figured out that Valta must be in Rust Valley, only about 50 miles from Express. And now Davey wants Rick to find Valta. What the fuck, dude? Just because the kid’s a genius doesn’t mean that he’s a human GPS. Shit, I have an IQ of 170, and I’ve been known to MISS THE TURN INTO MY OWN DRIVEWAY on occasion. You’re better off using Stevie Wonder to locate a mine in the middle of the desert than asking me for help. But maybe I’m just a particularly stupid genius.

To Davey’s credit, he has more reason for asking Rick to help than just the genius card. Davey thinks that the local librarian, Mrs. Farley, will be able to provide documents and stories from local history that might help them. Meanwhile, the teams find the next item (black plastic wristwatch) and the second half of the next clue. And the two teams go their separate ways…for now.

Clue #3: “A place on a course that makes the hardy gasp.”
Rick directs Tracie and Paula to the top of the hill on Jacob High’s cross-country course. Meanwhile, Rick stays in the car, because he’s tired, and because grassy hills + wheelchairs = trouble (or a Three Stooges skit). On their hike up the hill, the two gals talk about the future, apparently unaware that they are in a YA horror book and therefore the chances are slim that both of them will have a future. Tracie, who’s going to Berkeley, wants Paula and Rick to move with her. Paula can’t afford it, since she has no savings, despite a pretty well-paying job. When Tracie starts to lecture, Paula drops the bombshell that Mr. and Mrs. Morrow, being the horrible people that they are, let their health insurance lapse, so Paula’s been spending her paychecks on Rick’s expensive health care. Wow. Not paying your insurance premiums when you have a severely sick and disabled child is, like, the Gold Star Standard for Shitty Parenting. Paula also confides that Rick’s doctors said he had maybe one to three years left to live. Well, at least you won’t have to pay those exorbitant medical bills for too much longer, then. Wait, was that mean? I never know where the line is when I’m talking about fictional characters. It’s like when I read Madame Bovary and kept urging Emma to just fucking die already ’cause she was getting on my nerves.

Clue #4: “The finest selection. ‘That boy is our last hope.’ ‘No, there is another.’”
The item at the top of the hill is a white sock, and the second half of the fourth clue. Tracie thinks the quoted lines sound familiar. No shit, Sherlock. You could grow up on a deserted island, raised by wolves, with absolutely no human contact, and one day find a message in a bottle with those lines, and you would STILL be all, “Oh, yeah, The Empire Strikes Back. Duh.”

Back at Tracie’s car, they find that Rick is gone. Remembering Davey’s suggestion of Mrs. Farley, the librarian, they head to the library to look for him. Mrs. Farley is a former professional roller skater, which is so 1970s and awesome that my mind was just blown, who loves nothing more than to share an appreciation of the printed word. I love Mrs. Farley and dearly wish these kids would just hang out at the library for the rest of the week, asking her all about her pro skating career, rather than continuing on with this scavenger hunt that cannot end well. Rick is a back room surrounded by a small mountain of old documents. He tells Tracie and Paula that he can’t find the recent article that Davey was talking about, but that he did find an article on Valta from June 1862. Suddenly, though, Tracie has an epiphany and remembers where the movie quotes are from. Then she and Rick divine that the phrase “the finest selection” refers to a certain local video rental store called Movie Marvels. Tracie and Paula are ready to haul ass to the next clue, so Rick smuggles the old newspaper out of the library.

Clue #5: “At the best prices. ‘I could’ve been a contender.’”
At Movie Marvels, the gang finds the next item (a thin gold chain) and the second part of the next clue: “I could’ve been a contender.” Nobody in the trio knows what the hell the quote means. Are you fucking kidding me?!? I would be fine if they couldn’t remember that the quote was from On the Waterfront, but to not recognize one of the most famous movie quotes ever AT ALL?? Maybe it’s because the quote was not spelled correctly as “I coulda been a contender.”

Thirty minutes later, our cinematically ignorant trio is still pondering the riddle, when in walk Tom and Carl. They, too, are bewildered by the quote. ZOMG YOU PEOPLE DESERVE TO BE EATEN BY AN ANCIENT RACE OF LIZARD GODS. Apparently Cessy and Davey are across the street getting ice cream, and Tracie winds up going over there to get ice cream for Paula and the boys. And that’s when she sees the following, the mental image of which is forever burned into my brain since I first read this book at age 13:

Cessy and Davey. They were sitting across the street in the front seat of Carl’s truck. Cessy had two ice cream cones in her hands. Davey didn’t appear to have any. His mouth was nevertheless fully occupied.

He was kissing Cessy. On the lips. She was kissing him back. Sort of. In between kisses, she would hungrily lick both her cones.

Yes, that’s right, kids: now we’re firmly in V.C. Andrews territory. Also, for whatever reason, that part about Cessy slurping down her ice cream in between kissing her brother is what really has stuck with me over the past 17 years. I have never been able to look at an ice cream cone the same way since. Thanks, Mr. Pike!

Tracie shows back up at Movie Marvels a half-hour later, obviously shaken and with the wrong kind of ice cream for Rick and Carl. While Tracie tries to compose herself, Rick tells Davey that he was unable to find the recent article on Valta. When Davey asks if Rick found anything on the mine, Rick says no. Methinks that Rick is wise not to trust Davey. After yet ANOTHER half hour, Carl finally realizes that the next clue must also be in Movie Marvels, because their slogan is “The finest selection at the best prices.” And then Tracie suddenly remembers that they know this movie, since they watched it together during freshman year. Carl wises up and suddenly spouts off an eight-sentence quote from the movie. OK, so you knew Brando’s entire fucking speech by heart but couldn’t place “I coulda been a contender” without an hour and a half of wracking your brain??

Clue #6: “A metal grave for terrible lizards.”
The next item is another white sock, but this one is wet. Eww.  The two teams again decide to part ways, but not before Carl does some brotherly-type worrying over Tracie’s old Camaro, which he thinks “sound[s] in dire need of a ring job.” Except that bad piston rings don’t make noise, they just cause your car to burn a shitload of oil.

Speaking of oil, that turns out to be the solution to the next clue! Davey and Tom deserve the credit for cracking this one, as Davey initially suggests dinosaurs as the “terrible lizards,” and then Tom jumps in a few minutes later with “oil.” Since the clue mentioned “a metal grave,” they drive around town looking at the various oil tanks with no luck, before finally going four miles out of town to a small, deserted oil refinery. The item to be collected is a jungle green camping hat.

Clue #7: “Two of a kind. The Peaks.”
This clue is ridiculously easy, as the two hills to which it refers can be clearly seen from the oil refinery. Carl figures that Mr. Partridge made the clue easy since the hike to the top of the Peaks will be hellacious. Davey suggests that only Carl and Cessy hike to the top. Smart guy. Luckily, Cessy and Carl chose the right hill to hike up, as they locate a cardboard box containing one pair of hiking boots. Carl is confused, as before now there had of course been twelve of each item at the various locations. Cessy basically says that’s tough shit for the other teams, and plus Tom could use some shoes since he gave his to Carl (remember that, way back 10,000 years ago when this recap first began?).

Clue #8: “All alone with nothing around. Keep going.”
Cessy points out a small, desolate purple house down in the desert, saying that it must be the answer to the next clue. Before trekking back down the hill, she and Carl sit down and talk. Carl asks how Cessy and Tom became friends, and Cessy vaguely says that they “have things in common.” Oh, Cessy. You’re so mysterious. Cessy brings up Tracie, alluding to the fact that Tracie is in love with Carl. Carl doesn’t want to talk about Tracie while he’s got a smokin’-hot chick by his side, though. Cessy kisses him, then asks if he wants to go back. This is the part where you’re free to start screaming at the book, “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, SAY ‘NO,’ CARL!” But Carl says that he’d “like to see where the hunt leads.” Cessy says that Tom and Davey would, too. When Carl asks whether or not she does, Cessy sighs, then smiles and says, “It could be fun.” She means that she’s going to eat you, Carl. In all fairness, she did give you a chance to avoid it.

On the front porch of the purple house is a cardboard box containing a single pair of jeans. Tom puts them on, and they fit him perfectly. Hey, you guys…are you beginning to think that maybe something’s a little, oh I dunno, off about Tom?

Clue #9: “Wrong turn. Keep going.”
Tom and Davey think that the clue means they have to keep going on the dirt road, out into the middle of the desert. Carl is not so sure about this plan. He is starting to develop a clue — unfortunately, he’s about a day too late. Davey tells him, “We don’t have any choice,” but Carl understands Davey’s intent to be that Carl doesn’t have any choice. He’s about to argue further with Davey when suddenly a two-foot-long purple lizard comes up and puts its front feet on Cessy’s leg, looking up at her. Awww! I have a little orange tabby cat who does the same thing to me every morning as I’m getting ready for work. Cessy smiles down at the lizard and says “hello.” Carl loses his shit and kicks the lizard. He loses his balance and falls, and the probably-not-amused lizard comes running at his face. Well, what did you expect, Mr. ASPCA? That the lizard would THANK you for kicking it?

Davey intervenes, stomping on the lizard’s head and crushing it into a pulpy mess. Then Tom helps Carl to his feet, saying, “It’s time to go, old buddy.” But before our fearsome foursome heads out, Carl takes off his watch and throws it in the sand by the front porch, presumably to warn Tracie, Rick, and Paula away.

We switch then to the confession booth in the church. The priest is losing patience with the boy’s long, detailed narration. I’m totally with the priest here. I mean, WHY DID YOU NOT JUST GET TO THE FUCKING POINT, EINSTEIN? I could have summed this all up in about two minutes for the priest: “Scavenger hunt! Dead best friend in the desert! Abandoned gold mine! Ice cream cones! LIZARD PEOPLE WHO WANT TO EAT US!” The boy says that the scavenger hunt is super-important to the story, since it was all just a big lie to lead the boy “back to that place,” because “they need another victim.” They chose this particular boy because he “murdered [his] friend.”

The boy goes on to say that they “drove forever” before coming to a scary underground place. It was here that “they” killed a good friend of the boy’s as a sacrifice. The boy then asks the priest if he believes that anyone besides Jesus ever came back from the dead. The priest starts in about Lazarus, but the boy interrupts and clarifies: “I’m not talking about what the Lord’s done.” The priest says that, in that case, hell no, because that shit just can’t be done without the Christian God. The boy ominously says, “Father, I’ve got bad news for you.”

On that note, I’m wrapping up the first part of this recap. Part II will be coming soon, and you do not want to miss the thrilling! conclusion!, which involves lizard people and reanimated corpses.

Until next time, don’t go on a scavenger hunt with incestuous siblings!

2 responses so far

Sep 07 2010

Fear Street: The Surprise Party by R.L. Stine

Fear Street:
The Surprise Party
R.L. Stine
1989, Archway

It was just another party — until the threats began. . .

Main Characters

  • Meg Dalton – Our Fearless Heroine; a “baby-faced” optimist
  • Tony Colavito – Meg’s boyfriend; poor; father is a drunk
  • Shannon Harper – Meg’s BFF
  • Brian – Meg’s second cousin; weird
  • Ellen Majors – former BFF to Meg and Shannon; has since moved away from Shadyside
  • Dwayne Colligan – a total creep who wants to bang Shannon

Minor Characters

  • Lisa Blume – Meg’s friend; surprisingly rational
  • Cory Brooks – Lisa’s boyfriend

Deceased Characters

  • Evan Harper – Shannon’s brother and Ellen’s boyfriend; found dead in Fear Street woods last year

The Surprise Party is the second Fear Street book ever published, but I apparently managed to avoid it throughout my adolescence because I have no memory of having read it before. But then again, all the Fear Street books kind of run together in my memory, as my frazzled little brain tries desperately to make storage room for more important things, such as the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby.”

We begin with a prologue. SURPRISE! Some unnamed guy shoots a guy named Evan. His motive, apparently, is wanting a girl who is “so baad.” So…she’s a sheep? Or perhaps she was given away as a young girl to a family whom her family had wronged. Anyway, the shooter is confident that he’ll never be caught. Pride goeth before a fall, blah blah.

After the completely necessary and amazingly insightful prologue, we are introduced to Our Fearless Heroine. Meg Dalton is a happy, optimistic blue-eyed blonde. With her flat chest and her short stature, she is “sometimes mistaken for a kid,” which she understandably hates. Meg is bicycling with her BFF Shannon Harper and her boyfriend Tony Colavito. Shannon has red hair (of course) and a perfect figure, and looks just like Molly Ringwald. Tony is not a teenage girl, so Stine doesn’t give a shit about describing him. Tony and Meg have been dating for two years, but lately Tony has been very moody. We learn that Shannon has a stalker named Dwayne Colligan. Dwayne hangs out all the time with Meg’s cousin Brian, playing “Wizards and Dungeons” in the Fear Street woods. I love the ’80s shorthand of using a thinly veiled allusion to Dungeons & Dragons to paint characters as scary, possibly satanic freaks. Moral panics amuse me. Speaking of literary shorthand, we learn that Tony is poor, which in the Stineverse means that he is probably a terrible person.

Meg notes that this day marks exactly one year since Brian found Shannon’s brother Evan shot to death in the Fear Street woods. In my experience, anniversaries of traumatic events such as the violent death of one’s teenage brother are usually pretty difficult times, but this is a Fear Street book, so Shannon is totes fine and joking around with her friends.

Meg, Shannon, and Evan run into Lisa Blume and Cory Brooks, two main characters from the first-ever Fear Street book (The New Girl). Lisa and Cory are former-BFFs-turned-romantic-couple, but since they started dating, all they do is fight. They’re like asexual teen versions of Rachel and Ross. Lisa has some exciting news: Ellen Majors is coming back to visit Shadyside! NO FUCKING WAY!! SRSLY?!?! Also, who the hell is Ellen Majors?

Oh, wait, here comes Conductor Stine of the Exposition Express to clue us in. Ellen was Evan’s girlfriend, and Meg and Shannon’s BFF since junior high. After Evan’s tragic death, Ellen moved away, and nobody has heard from her since. Then why is she bothering to visit? Obviously she’s moved on. Anyway, Meg suggests a surprise welcome-back party for Ellen, to “show Ellen that we don’t blame her.” I can imagine the party banners now.

That night, Meg is trying to work on her psychology paper. Spoiler alert: SHE NEVER FUCKING WRITES IT. She thinks about Ellen, who looks just like Daryl Hannah. Why can’t Stine just describe people instead of using the lazy, bad author’s way out by just referring to a person in pop culture? I mean, besides the fact that he’s a lazy, bad author. (Except for Eureeka’s Castle. That shit was awesome.) Meg gets a weird phone call from someone warning her not to have a party for Ellen. She’s a little freaked out, which in my opinion is a bit of an overreaction, since the caller didn’t make any specific threats. I mean, jeez, maybe it’s someone who just doesn’t like Ellen. Or parties. Meg tries to call Tony for comfort, but his line is busy. Oh, is it now? Eeeeen-teresting.

Unable to reach Tony, Meg calls Lisa instead. Lisa doesn’t take Meg’s account of the anonymous phone call very seriously, and she tells Meg that a ton of people know about the party, so really the caller could be anyone in Shadyside. Well, that’s helpful. Once Meg hangs up with Lisa, Tony calls and says that he just received a threatening anonymous call, too. He suggests that Meg cancel the party, but Meg isn’t having any of that bullshit. She’s going to fight. For her right. To parrrrrrrrr-tyyyyyyy.

In study hall on Monday, Meg shows Shannon the invitations she made for Ellen’s surprise party. They are “Day-Glo green and pink.” I hope each invitation comes with a pair of sunglasses, ’cause sweet baby Jesus that sounds horrifically bright. Shannon”s not sure that the party is such a good idea after all. Her doubts are not allayed when Meg tells her the location of the party: the old Halsey Manor House in the Fear Street woods. Yes, let’s have a the party mere yards away from where the guest of honor’s boyfriend died. That sounds like the kind of brilliant plan that can only be thought of by a Stine heroine.

As Meg looks around the room, she muses about how everyone’s life changed after Evan’s death. We learn more details about that fateful day: apparently Brian “found Evan lying dead on the ground, Ellen sitting beside him, crying, unable to talk.” No one is really sure why Evan went into the woods in the first place; he cryptically told some people that he was going “on a dare,” and he took his father’s hunting rifle with him for protection. He was found with his left foot tangled in a tree root, and the theory about his death is that he tripped and accidentally shot himself. Well, dumbass, maybe next time you’ll remember to put the safety on. Also, way to be the worst eyewitness ever, Ellen.

Meg’s reverie is broken by an announcement that she has a message at the front office. But once she gets there, there is no message. What a hilarious practical joke. When she gets back to study hall, she discovers that her invitations have all been cut into tiny pieces. Considering that the invitations were ’80s-neon green and pink, the mysterious cutter did everyone a favor. Meg halfway suspects Shannon, but before she can ponder for too long, she is called back to the front office, this time for a real message. The message is written in red crayon (SCARY!) and warns Meg not to have the party. Later that day, Tony reveals that he also got a threatening letter written in red crayon. He thinks that they should cancel the party, but Meg refuses on principle. I kind of like that Meg’s so ballsy. She notices her cousin Brian staring at her and Tony, but before she can say anything to him, he runs away.

That night, Meg forgoes working on her psych paper to create a list of suspects. First on the list is Brian, because he was staring at her and then ran away. Well, that’s certainly solid evidence. Next is Shannon, who at least has more motive and circumstantial evidence against her: she may blame Ellen for Evan’s death, and she has voiced her opposition to the party. Suspect numero tres is Ellen. One of the reasons that Meg gives for Ellen being a suspect is that “Ellen never liked parties.” So of course it would then follow that she would make vague, anonymous threats against her former best friends to prevent the party from happening. In Shadyside, logic is a four-letter word. Last on the list is Dwayne, Shannon’s stalker. Meg’s reason: “Because I don’t like him.” Meg should consider a job in law enforcement.

Before Meg can add anyone else to her suspect list based solely on personality flaws, Tony calls. He tells Meg that he was chased home by a stranger. He’s seriously over the whole party idea now, and he goes so far as to break up with Meg because of it. Meg takes this fairly well, especially for a female in a Stine book, by deciding to give him a day or two to cool off before she tries to talk to him. Instead she calls Ellen and gushes about how excited she is that Ellen will be visiting soon. Ellen gushes back. After hanging up, Meg has the following brilliant epiphany:

Ellen had seemed so happy, so thrilled, so enthusiastic.

Too enthusiastic.

Too happy.

That wasn’t like Ellen at all.

I guess Ellen should have been surly and depressed when talking to a childhood friend for the first time in months. SHE MUST BE GUILTY.

Two days later, Meg is hanging out at Lisa’s house. Meg gives Lisa some not-terrible advice about Lisa’s relationship problems with Cory, and then she tells Lisa about the anonymous threats. Meg says that she suspects Brian or Shannon, and Lisa dubiously says, “Not very likely suspects.” She then tells Meg that, if Meg really suspects Shannon, she should just ask Shannon about it — after all, Shannon is Meg’s BFF and deserves the straight dope. Lisa is way too cool and rational to live in Shadyside. I suspect that she eventually got run out of town by a pitchfork-wielding mob.

On the way home, Meg thinks she sees a person waiting ominously for her on the front porch, but it’s just the shadows from some stacked flower pots. And now I can never get back the seconds of my life that I wasted reading that lame fake-out. Thanks, Stine.

The next day at lunch, Meg asks Shannon about the threatening notes and phone calls. Shannon gets all butthurt and storms off, which makes Meg feel terrible. Meg is sort of OK, really. At least she’s not completely worthless, like most protagonists in the Stineverse. Also, someone has filled Meg’s lunch bag with red paint, which Meg mistakes for blood. In case anyone’s interested. Which I doubt you are.

That night, Meg goes to Shannon’s house to beg forgiveness. While there, she notices a picture of Evan in which he’s wearing a jacket and tie. Apparently the preppy photo is the exact opposite of “wild man” Evan. Meg remembers one night when Evan lost his temper and beat Tony over the head with a pool cue, after which Tony had to go to the ER and get five stitches. Evan sounds like a real fucking winner, yo. Anyway, Meg grovels to Shannon, and not only does Shannon accept Meg’s apology, she also says that she’s now completely on board with the party for Ellen. She tells Meg that her half-brother Mike will also be visiting while Ellen is in town, so he’ll be at the party too. Apparently Mike looks a lot like Evan now. This factoid may or may not be very important later in the book. For about two seconds.

Now that their BFFship is repaired, Meg and Shannon begin to ponder who might be responsible for the threats. Meg muses that maybe someone’s afraid that a big secret will be revealed if the party happens, leading Shannon to suggest Brian as the most likely suspect. After all, Brian somehow just happened to find Evan’s body only seconds after the fatal shot was fired. Meg gives this idea serious consideration. Then, on her way home, she is almost run down by a car. I don’t quite hate Meg enough to be sad that the driver misses. I’ve lost my edge.

We are treated to the maniac driver’s POV for two and a half pages, as he hopes that he scared Meg enough for her to cancel the party: “You can’t let Ellen come back and tell . . . You can’t let her tell what happened last year.” Well, dumbass, if she hasn’t told by now, then she’s probably not going to. Get a fucking grip.

At home, Meg calls Tony’s house because she’s a little freaked out and needs some comforting by her douchebag ex-boyfriend. Tony’s alcoholic dad answers and says that Tony isn’t at home. We cut to Tony, who is walking home when he comes across Dwayne Colligan shooting hoops. Tony asks Dwayne how things are going with Shannon. Way to encourage the creepy stalker, genius. Dwayne says that he was glad when he heard that Evan was dead, because Evan wouldn’t let Dwayne talk to Shannon. And how are things working out now that Evan’s gone, Romeo? Tony is more than a little pissed off by Dwayne’s cavalier attitude, and he screams and hurls the basketball into Dwayne’s stomach. I guess this is supposed to be an indication that Tony has a secret violent nature, but really, Tony’s reaction isn’t unjustified. Sure, he’s a moody dumbass, but I’m not getting the violent-killer vibe from him.

The next night (Friday), Meg puts off working on her psych paper (which is now three days overdue) by calling Tony. Drunk Mr. Colavito tells her that Tony is playing Wizards and Dungeons with Meg’s cousin Brian. Meg thinks this is very strange, since Tony never before expressed an interest in complex fantasy role-playing games. (Or, probably, in anything that could be described as “complex.”) She goes to sleep, but is awakened at four in the morning by a phone call from Tony’s dad. Apparently Tony never came home last night, and neither did Brian. Mr. Colavito is going to call the police and report them missing. Ah yes, the good old reliable Shadyside PD.

Meg decides that she has to go to the Fear Street woods to look for Tony and Brian, since she knows the cave where Brian likes to play and the police don’t. As she’s getting dressed, her dad comes into her room and asks what the hell she’s doing. When she tells him, he insists on coming with her. Aw, that’s sweet. On the drive over, Mr. Dalton asks why the hell Tony would be playing Wizards and Dungeons with Brian, since Tony is “not the type” to be into something like that. Meg recognizes that as a “dig” at Tony. If it’s meant solely because he’s stupid, then HA. But I wonder if Mr. Dalton’s subtle insult has to do with Tony’s poverty and shitty home life — in which case, not ha.

The Shadyside PD is out in full force, searching the woods. Meg knows that they’ll never find Brian’s cave, though. Really? Brian can’t be the only person who knows about the damn cave. Probably several of those cops used to go there to bang their girlfriends and get loaded. But whatever, Meg just has to be the fucking hero. She and her dad go into the woods to search. Meg gets separated from her father, OF COURSE, and is then chased and pushed down a steep ravine by a stranger, OF COURSE, who says that she shouldn’t have the party, OF COURSE. Meg is temporarily knocked out. Once she comes to, she realizes that she is lying beside an injured Brian. Tony appears out of fucking nowhere to help them, and Meg notices that his hand is cut. Dun-dun-DUN.

Tony calls Mr. Dalton and the po-po over to Brian and Meg. Brian is taken to the hospital as Mr. Dalton blesses Tony out for doing something so fucking stupid as go into the woods at night to play a game. Meg asks why Tony suddenly decided to play Wizards and Dungeons anyway, and Tony gives a non-answer. Then Meg tells him about being pushed down the ravine and almost run over by a car. Tony assumes that now Meg will definitely cancel the party, but Meg is STILL not having it. Tony basically tells her that she’ll be sorry. Yawn.

On Sunday, Meg pays Brian a visit. She makes small talk for a hot second before asking why he and Tony were playing Wizards and Dungeons in the woods together anyway. Brian says that he “will reveal everything when [he] reach[es] the Fourth Level and become[s] a full-powered Wizard.” Well, alrighty then. Meg starts to leave her batshit cousin, but Brian says that he has to confess something. A lightbulb goes off over Meg’s head, and she asks Brian if he’s been calling her. Brian says that yes, he has. Meg immediately assumes that he’s responsible for the threats, because she is unfamiliar with the concept of a red herring. As it turns out, Brian didn’t make the threatening calls. But he does say that he “can call Evan back” using his “Fourth-Level power.” Wait, I thought he hadn’t reached the Fourth Level yet? Ah, fuck it. He tells Meg that “it wasn’t an accident,” but before she can pump him for details, Ellen comes into the room. Meg and Ellen make plans to hang out the next day, and then Meg leaves. She calls Tony and tells him about Brian’s weird ramblings, and then out of the blue Tony suggests that he and Meg go up to River Ridge together. There can be absolutely no ulterior motive to Tony’s desire to take his meddling girlfriend to the top of a cliff.

And now we’re treated to Tony’s POV. He has surmised that Brian “squealed” about what really happened last year: that Tony accidentally shot Evan while fighting for control of the gun. If this were a good book with an interesting plot, I would be wondering why the boys were fighting in the first place, but this is a Fear Street book so I don’t give a shit. We learn that Tony beat Brian up in the woods the other night (shocker) to try to threaten him into silence. Also, Tony is planning to push Meg off of River Ridge to protect his secret. Oh my. I am so surprised.

The next day, Shannon and Meg go to Ellen’s aunt’s house to visit their former BFF. Meg tells Shannon about her near-miss with the maniac driver and about the events in the Fear Street woods. Shannon thinks that Meg should tell the police that she’s being threatened, but Meg says that she has no concrete evidence. Um, did she not keep the note? Still, it’s highly unlikely that the Shadyside police would be any help whatsoever, so I can’t entirely blame Meg here.

Shannon and Meg’s visit with Ellen is awkward, full of uncomfortable silences and forced small talk. There is mention of resident slut Suki Thomas, who is my favorite Fear Street character EVER. The girls also talk about a childhood game they used to play, called “Eek, A Mouse,” in which they would compete to see who could scream the loudest. I’m only mentioning this because it plays a role in the book’s thrilling climax.

The next night, everyone is going to a party at David Metcalf’s house. Who the hell has a party on a Monday night? Dwayne is there, and…prepare yourself…he is DRINKING BEER. I didn’t think alcoholic beverages even existed in Shadyside, but now in one book we’ve got an alcoholic father and an underaged beer-drinker. What’s next? Third base? Dwayne oozes sleaze all over Shannon, who calmly rejects him. He gets pissed off and leaves. Good fucking riddance. Meg finds Tony in the crowd, and they head out to River Ridge. As they stand on the edge of the cliff, we switch again to Tony’s POV. He’s trying to convince himself to push Meg off the cliff, but he just can’t cowboy up and do it. As it turns out, he loves Meg, and he’s not really the murdering type anyway. Plus, he learns that Brian didn’t really tell Meg anything, so she’s just as clueless as ever. He does, however, decide to bring a gun to Ellen’s surprise party, “just in case.” That’s just what this world needs: more armed teenagers. Fucking fantastic.

Aaaand suddenly it’s Saturday night, the night of the titular surprise party. I guess Stine got bored with this shit, too, and just decided to skip ahead five days. Meg picks Ellen up with some lame-ass excuse about having to run by the Halsey Manor House to get Shannon. When the girls enter the house and everyone yells “surprise,” Ellen “look[s] absolutely horrified.” One of my ex-boyfriends threw me a surprise birthday party at my own house, and I walked in wearing pajamas. It managed to be both incredibly thoughtful and terrifying at the same time. Anyway, Ellen quickly gets over her shock and starts enjoying herself.

The fun party mood is spoiled by the entrance of Brian, however. He announces that he now has the Fourth Level power and will bring Evan back from the dead. And then, to everyone’s surprise, in walks Evan. Tony immediately loses his shit completely, waving his pistol in the air and yelling, “I KNOW YOU’RE DEAD BECAUSE–.” Ellen reveals that “Evan” is actually Mike, her half-brother. Gee, I bet you didn’t see that coming, huh? Tony is about to confess the whole sordid truth about Evan’s death when suddenly the lights go out and there is a gunshot. When the lights come back on, Tony is lying, bleeding, at Meg’s feet. It is unfortunately only a flesh wound.

Now Dwayne has the pistol, and he grabs Ellen as a hostage, saying that she “helped to kill Evan too.” When Meg tries to grab for the gun (smooth move, Ex-Lax), Dwayne takes her as a hostage also. He forces them into the basement, where he believes that no one will ever find them. Yeah, they’ll never think to search the house. A criminal mastermind you ain’t, Big D. Dwayne says that he killed Evan, but Ellen doesn’t believe him. She was there, remember? She says that she and Tony followed Evan into the woods because they were “worried about him,” since Ellen had just dumped Evan for Tony. Meg is like, WTF bitch!, and Ellen says, “You’ve got to grow up sometime, kiddo.” Wow, Ellen sucks. Anyway, Tony and Evan got into a fight, and blahblah Tony accidentally shot Evan blah. Brian came running up after hearing the gunshot. Tony decided to make it look like Evan accidentally shot himself and swore Ellen and Brian to secrecy.

While Meg is trying to process this, Dwayne laughs and says that noooo, he killed Evan. He and Brian had been playing Wizards and Dungeons in the woods when they heard the gunshot. After Tony ran away, and Ellen and Brian went to get help, Dwayne went up to Evan for a closer look. And…EVAN WASN’T DEAD. He had just tripped and hit his head on a rock, knocking himself out. So Dwayne shot him, because Dwayne wanted to bang Shannon. Well, that makes perfect sense.

Meg realizes that Dwayne’s going to kill her and Ellen, so she devises a brilliant plan. She whispers, “Eek, a mouse” to Ellen and hopes that her former BFF catches her snap. Ellen does, screaming at the top of her lungs and pointing behind Dwayne. Dwayne, startled and probably deafened, turns around, giving Meg the opportunity to bash his head in with a copper frying pan. What good fortune that such a heavy potential weapon happened to be right within her reach!

The last chapter is, of course, the post-climax recap. Ellen has left Shadyside, and Tony is going to a psychiatrist in New York. As it turns out, Ellen knew about the surprise party all along, and she and Brian set up the whole “Evan rising from the dead” thing with Mike. Also, Mike wants to bang Meg.

And that, my friends, is that. Until next time, don’t play fantasy games in caves in the woods!

4 responses so far

Aug 31 2010


Published by Whitney G under Admin


Seriously, though. I get a bug up my ass to start this blog back, because (and this is sad but true) I have seriously missed it, and then the poor blog just drowns in spam again, much like the entire Deep South has drowned in kudzu.

So…yeah. I’m going to give it the ol’ college try this time. For the time being, though, I’ve disabled all commenting ability as I work my way through no fewer than 7,400 spam comments.

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