Wednesday, October 31, 2007

#48 Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns


#48 Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns

Front Tagline: Put one head in front of the other...
Back Tagline: Pumpkin Power!

Official Book Description:
Nothing beats Halloween. It's Drew Brockman's favorite holiday. And this year will be awesome. Much better than last year. Or the year Lee and Tabby played that joke. A nasty practical joke on Drew and her best friend, Walker.
Yes, this year Drew and Walker have a plan. A plan for revenge. It involves two scary pumpkin heads.
But something's gone wrong. Way wrong. Because the pumpkin heads are a little too scary. A little too real. With strange hissing voices. And flames shooting out of their faces...

Brief Synopsis:
Like all great Halloween-themed stories, Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns begins with an extended segment invoking Christmas. Narrator Drew's father likes to call his daughter "Elf," mainly because she looks like an elf, although it doesn't help her any that she only consumes Sprite and Pixie Stix. Like most elves, Drew overcompensates for her small stature by being needlessly violent and menacing.

The reader is introduced to like five more characters in the first chapter, making it something of a quorum. To ease this rare generosity on Stine's part, here's a list:

Walker Parkes Drew's best friend. I know Blogger Beware sometimes takes the easy route, but I pledge to you here and now that there will probably not be any Chuck Norris jokes in this entry. However, in order to meet Internet Meme requirements, there will be at least thirty percent more Ninja, LOL Cat, and Franklin Pierce jokes to make up the deficit.

Shane and Shana Martin Twins, and also friends of Drew and Walker. They have curly blonde hair and a bit of a weight problem, so Drew's father refers to them as being "roly-poly." Drew's dad is really shaping up to be a Hall of Fame parent here on the Goosebumps Blog.

Tabitha "Tabby" Weiss A stuck-up, pretty girl who, along with Lee, ruins Halloween for Drew and Walker. Arbor Day: safe for now.

Lee Winston Friend of Tabitha Weiss, co-ruiner of Halloween. Guys, I know it's been a while since the last Minority Alert, but this one's worth the wait. I'm going to just let the most racist passage in Goosebumps history speak for itself:

Lee is African-American, and he sort of struts when he walks and acts real cool, like the rappers on MTV videos.

I know, you're thinking "Well, that's pretty racist, but I was looking for something in Really Racist." How about:

The girls at school all think he's terrific. But I can never understand a word he says.

Okay, so Drew regales the reader with a story of how two years prior, Lee had invited Drew and Walker to a Halloween Party at his house. Drew interrogated Lee to make sure it was a "real" Halloween party by asking if there would be cider and bobbing for apples. Was there some sort of faux-Halloween Party crisis in the mid-90s that I've blocked out of my childhood memory?

Walker and Drew showed up to the very-hopping, certified-Halloween party in costume. Tabitha, who dressed as a princess, insulted Drew's Klingon outfit, asking if she was dressed as a mouse. I'm not entirely positive which Star Trek being was a Klingon and I'm not prepared to Google Image Search to find out, but I still feel comfortable assigning this quip an Oh Burn. Lee showed up, dressed as Batman (the Dark Knight-- so racist), and said hello to his guests. He heard a loud thumping in the basement and took off his Batman mask, revealing--I kid you not-- his afro, and asked if anyone else heard the noise. Several more loud crashes and thumps from the basement left little question. Lee began to freak out and tried crying out for his parents but got no response. Walker suggested calling 9-1-1 but Lee found the line D-E-A-D.

Suddenly two figures emerged from the basement, one wearing a ski mask and the other a gorilla mask. Both looming figures wore motorcycle jackets and jeans and proclaimed loudly upon entering the living room: "PARTY TIME!" Rather than diffusing the situation, this left the partygoers even more terrified, as they were all Baptists. Lee begged the masked figures to tell him where his parents went. The pair laughed wildly and reclaimed the party for themselves.

The Two masked intruders ordered everyone down to the floor. The two fat twins came dressed as snowmen and couldn't get down, so the Gorilla-masked figure threatened to push them down. The ski-masked figure ordered all of the children to perform push-ups until he could think of "something better." Oh come now, how are you going to top holding some children hostage and then forcing them to exercise? After having done pushups for several minutes, Drew looked up to see Tabby and Lee standing near the masked men. The masked men pulled off their masks and revealed themselves to be some high school kids. No one was amused but Tabby and Lee, who laughed and laughed.

Let's discuss what just happened. First, and most offensive, a flashback just took up five entire chapters. Second, I had to write in past-tense for four paragraphs. And third, high school children pretended to break-in and hold ten year old children as hostages.

Don't worry though, that was only the first half of the flashback. The next year, which would be one year before the present events of the book-- assuming of course there are any present events in this book--Drew and Walker and Shana and Shane have planned their own Halloween party to get Lee and Tabby back for their cruel prank. Here's some of their ideas:

+ Drop fake cobwebs on the two
+ Wait, why is this even a list, that's the ultimate revenge
+ Cut a trapdoor in the living room and have the two drop down into the basement upon arrival. This is vetoed. Not out of impracticality, but because Drew's parents might object to cutting a hole in the living room floor. Hey, maybe they'd also object to their child being held hostage? In Goosebumps World I guess the cops are still busy looking for Kat's dog.
+ Scare them with spookily-carved jack-o'-lanterns
+ Drip green slime onto the two
+ Drip fake blood onto the two
+ Trap the two in a situation where they have both green slime and fake blood dripped onto them from jack-o'-lanterns and they can't escape
+ Trap the two in a situation where they have both green slime and fake blood dripped onto them from jack-o'-lanterns and they can't escape and also they hide a tape recorder that plays the following:
Come with me.
Come home with me now.
Come home to where you belong.
Come to your grave, Tabby and Lee.
I have come for you and you alone.
Come, Tabby and Lee, come with me now
And then when that sample of the "Kashmir" riff kicks in, that's when Tabby and Lee will really lose it.

Drew and Walker and the fat twins come up with some more ideas on how to make their party scary, like an eight foot tall paper mache monster that will pop out of a closet (Question: When was the last time you saw a closet with a 8ft door frame?) and plastic cockroaches. That Halloween, Drew goes as a Klingon again, the twins are imaginatively dressed as a pair of blobs, and internet memes once more pop up as Walker dresses as a pirate. The four are waiting for Lee and Tabby to arrive when Tabby calls Drew to tell her that they won't be coming to her party. Drew fumes and then the green slime blob that the kids had placed over the couch to fall on Tabby and Lee falls and burns a hole through the couch.

Thus finally in Chapter Nine, the reader is brought back into the present day for the first time since Chapter One. Everyone's dressed for Halloween again. Tabby is now a Space Princess, which means the same princess outfit from two years ago but this time her face is painted green. Lee is Superman, and Drew and Walker are bed-sheet ghosts. The four of them go off trick-or-treating together. Tabby suggests they hit up a neighborhood called the Willows and the four hit all the houses. When they knock on the final house, a small house separate from the others with a jack-o'-lantern in the window, an old woman greets them and is so delighted by their collectively terrible costumes that she insists that the children come inside to show her husband. Once inside they are led to a room filled with other kids in costume, crying and fearful. They try to leave but the old woman bellows that they're never leaving the house.
AND THEN DREW STOPS DAYDREAMING WHEN WALKER AND THE TWINS SHOW UP. Eight straight chapters of flashbacks followed by a dream sequence?!?! Dear RL Stine, get fucked.

So it's actually not quite Halloween and the four are still plotting their revenge. The twins come up with a mysterious plan that is kept secret from the readers but all involved feel that it might be too scary, yet all the same they agree to carry the plan out. Except that there's one problem: Drew's mom doesn't want to let her go trick-or-treating this year. People in town keep disappearing, and Drew's mom shows her the amazing newspaper headline, "LOCAL MYSTERY: 4 HAVE VANISHED." Drew's mom doesn't feel her daughter would be safe out on the streets with a local mystery afoot. Walker grabs the paper and sensitively points out that the three men and one woman who disappeared were all fat. The fat twins sit in silence during all of this.

Eventually Drew's Dad lets her go trick-or-treating. Drew invites Lee and Tabby to go trick-or-treating with them and surprisingly they accept. I'm still not sure what their plan is at this point, but on Halloween night, Walker shows up to Drew's house in blackface, so... okay, he's dressed all in black and when Drew's father asks what he's supposed to be, he squirts Drew with a water-gun and says he's "A Dark and Stormy Night"-- which is actually fairly clever. Drew is wearing blue tights and a red tablecloth cape for her "Super Drew" costume. The two trot off to where they are supposed to meet Lee and Tabby when they are attacked by two creatures. Yawn, it's really those same two high school kids from two years ago in animal costumes and whatever. Tabby and Lee grin and wish Drew and Walker a Happy Halloween. The two high school kids beat it and run off to scare more kids. The fat twins never show and the four kids go off trick-or-treating.

The troupe collects goodies from a handful of houses before coming across a pair of robed figures with flaming jack-o'-lantern heads. Walker and Drew figure this is the twins in disguise, but unfortunately so do Tabby and Lee. They remain unimpressed as flames shoot from the jack-o'-lantern heads. The two robed pumpkin-headed figures invite the four children to come trick-or-treating in their neighborhood. They accept. The pumpkin-head figures walk very fast and pass plenty of good houses without stopping to trick-or-treat, and every time one of the kids suggests stopping, one of the jack-o'-lanterns hisses "Let's try a new neighborhood!" The four kids allow themselves to be led far from the neighborhoods they are familiar with, and Walker and Drew begin to doubt whether or not these two are the twins or not. But they keep with it on the chance that the twins are improvising and this will finally be their chance to get revenge on Lee and Tabby. They still sign off on this when the jack-o'-lantern figures lead the kids into the woods. The neighborhood is just behind the woods, they hiss.

Amazingly enough, there is a neighborhood behind the woods. The pumpkins guide the kids around several blocks of brightly-lit houses and the kids get tons of great candy from every home. But gradually the kids grow tired and finally they try to wrap up their trick-or-treating. Except that the flaming pumpkin-headed figures won't let them go. They insist that the four keep trick-or-treating forever. They try to escape but the two pumpkins rapidly encircle them, leading to this fantastic bit of poetry:

We were prisoners. Prisoners of their fire.

The kids keep trick-or-treating until finally Drew and Walker figure hey maybe these two aren't the twins after all. Lee and Tabby, still not convinced, snatch the pumpkin heads off the shoulders of the figures and drop them in shock upon discovering there was no human head beneath them. The pumpkin heads fall to the ground and then begin to cackle. The creatures pick their heads back up and hold them in front of their chests. They then command the kids to continue trick-or treating.... FOREVER! I can sympathize with this threat because I know what forever feels like, it feels like Chapters 2-8 of this book.

So the kids keep trick-or-treating. Eventually they run out of room to fit candy and also it's like 11 at night, these kids are starting to draw undue attention as trick-or-treaters. Finally the pumpkins agree to let the kids stop trick-or-treating-- and start eating. Oh no, this is really where this story's heading? Really? Sigh.

The pumpkins force the kids to rapidly eat their candy, chanting "Faster! Faster! Eat! Eat!" The kids shove their faces with chocolates, quickly becoming nauseated.
Hey Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns, Faster! Faster! End! End!

The kids collapse from eating too much. Tabby has chewed up chocolate that she vomited up stuck in her hair and the rest of the kids aren't in much better shape. The pumpkins allow the kids to stop eating-- and start trick-or-treating again. They take the kids to a special neighborhood where they can trick-or-treat forever. It's always forever with these guys. When the kids ring on the first doorbell, they're greeted by a woman with a jack-o'-lantern head. The neighborhood is filled with pumpkin people.

The kids have finally had enough. What if they refuse to trick-or-treat? What then? Well, what then is the pumpkins make a special screeching howl to call all the other pumpkins over and the large group of pumpkins encircle them. A member of the jack-o'-lantern headed creatures presents four fresh pumpkin heads and tells the kids that these will be their new heads. Tabby cries as a creature slams a pumpkin over her head. Lee tries to run but a creature catches him and shoves a pumpkin over his head. The two kids run off screaming blindly into the night.

But the Twist is:
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great privilege to present you with this Hall of Fame entry of the Worst Twist Ending In Goosebumps History. Yes, even worse than the one where they all turned out to be dogs.
Walker and Drew scream in fear as the pumpkin creatures hold pumpkins over their heads. And then they begin to laugh. Shana and Shane laugh too, their pumpkin heads morphing back into their human heads. The four of them finally got Lee and Tabby back for their prank. Of course, as Drew explains, it's easy when your best friends are from outer space. Shane and Shana explain that they weren't supposed to use their special alien powers around humans but they were just so desperate to get revenge! The alien twins thank their brethren for aiding in scaring two twelve year olds and the other pumpkin-headed creatures float into the sky. Drew mentions that the best part of all is that since the twins are aliens, they don't eat candy. The twins give their trick-or-treat sacks to Walker and Drew. It then dawns on Drew that she's never seen the alien twins eat and asks what they eat. One of the twins assures Drew that she's too bony and has nothing to worry about, their race likes their humans with a little meat on their bones.
It's like two of the worst endings ever for the price of one of the worst endings ever.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Drew and her pal Walker, who dons black and disappears into the night halfway thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Drew's mom doesn't want her daughter going out trick-or-treating because four people have recently disappeared in the neighborhood. I'm sorry, I think this rare display of actual parenting in the novel has thrown me a bit.

Minority Alert:
Shane and Shana are illegal aliens.

Pepsi Generation Alert:
Pepsi is mentioned in this novel several times, though curiously only the jerks drink it (clearly an attempt by Stine to retain street cred with the Coke Crew). I haven't read #49 yet, but #50 also prominently featured a Pepsi plug. This is not coincidental, as around the time of this book being published, there was a Doritos-Goosebumps promotion, Doritos being a part of Frito-Lay which in turn is sister company to Pepsi-Cola and-- well, before this turns into the back-cover of Yanqui UXO, let's just say that all younger readers of the book would have been well-advised to write a strongly-worded letter to AdBusters For Kids.

Hershey Starburst and the Sponsors From Mars Alert:
It's not just Pepsi that gets plugged in the novel, as the name brand candy of Snickers, Milky Ways, M&Ms, Three Musketeers, Crunch, Hershey Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, and Kit Kats also get name-dropped.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Silver Surfer, Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Star Trek, Klingons, the delicious crisp taste of Pepsi

He Sits Around the House Alert:
"All four people were very overweight. The first one, a bald man in a bulging turtleneck sweater, had at least six chins!"

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 11/12
Halloween was ruined. Well, Halloween wasn't ruined.

Great Prose Alert I:
But then Dad thought maybe trick-or-treating would be okay.

Great Prose Alert II:
"Hurry up," a pumpkin urged Walker.

Conclusions:
If you're a parent, Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns is the perfect Goosebumps book to give your child if you hate them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

#37 the Headless Ghost


#37 the Headless Ghost

Front Tagline: Major headache!
Back Tagline: They've Got A Real Head Start...

Official Book Description:
Everyone knows about Hill House. It's the biggest tourist attraction in town. That's because it's haunted. Haunted by the ghost of a thirteen-year-old boy. A boy with no head!
Duane and Stephanie love Hill House. It's dark. And creepy. And totally scary.
Still, they've never actually seen the ghost. Until the night they decide to go on a search. A search for his head...

Brief Synopsis:
Narrator Duane and his friend Stephanie love to scare the neighborhood kids. Some of the tactics the two use to achieve this include looking into windows while wearing masks and placing rubber fingers and hands on windowsills. Perhaps this book is underwritten by Paper Warehouse. They also shake bushes and Stephanie can do a "terrifying werewolf howl." Duane's werewolf howl is more tragicomic, though it is loud enough to shake the leaves off of trees, in what will be the first of many things in the book that could never happen. The two twelve year-old best friends are known as the Twin Terrors of Wheeler Falls, though since no one knows they are responsible for their antics, the reader can only assume that this unwieldy title was self-assigned.

The book opens on Halloween night with Duane, dressed as the Grim Reaper, peeping into Stephanie's window while she changes into her costume. When she catches him, he claims that he was only stretching. Stretching what we're thankfully not told. Duane's really excited to see Stephanie's costume, since every year she sets the bar higher than the last. For instance, last year she went as iceberg lettuce. Well, when the bar's resting on the floor, it's not very hard to raise it I suppose.

A giant catlike creature attacks Duane and since this is only chapter two, it would be fair to guess that in fact this is not a horrible monster attacking the narrator, but rather Stephanie in her Halloween costume. Impressed with Stephanie's costume, the two decide to not bother with trick-or-treating and instead just go around scaring other kids instead. They have so much fun that Duane wishes they could scare kids every night. This leads to the following amazing exchange:
"It doesn't have to be Halloween to scare kids, Duane. Get my meaning?"
I got her meaning.
Well, it's pretty subtle but so did I. There's only one place in their neighborhood that the kids refuse to scare, and that's the Hill House, which is haunted. The house is called Hill House because it's on a hill and also on Hill Street. I don't know, still seems like a pretty specious relationship. Though the two kids refuse to haunt around an actual haunted house, they do love to take the tour, especially if it's lead by their favorite Hill House tour guide, Otto. Otto is a bald man with black eyes and a booming voice and the kids never get tired of hearing him retell the story of how Hill House became haunted. Perhaps Blogger Beware readers will then never tire of me retelling Otto retelling the story of how Hill House got haunted? I could put it at the bottom of every entry, right before the Great Prose Alert. I mean, who wouldn't grow weary of hearing the following ad nauseam:

The house was built two hundred years ago by a sea captain. On the day construction finished, the captain was called out to sea, leaving his wife behind in the big dark house all by herself. He never came back from his voyage in the flesh, but a year after he left, his ghost appeared in the house to see his bride. Calling out "Annabel!" over and over, he got no response, as his wife had fled the house in his absence. Over the next hundred years, families would report hearing the ghost crying out for his Annabel until the day the Craw family moved in. Thirteen year-old Andrew Craw was a nasty child who would play tricks on his servants and throw cats out of windows. Andrew discovered a secret room in the house. Inside the secret room he found a lit lantern and the ghost of the sea captain. Apparently ghosts can age because the sea captain now sported a long white beard and curved fingernails. Andrew tried to escape the ghost's clutches, but the sea captain was irate that his hiding place has been discovered, and so in retribution he pulled off Andrew's head and hid it in the house. What. The ghost of the sea captain hollered out for Annabel one more time and then disappeared, leaving behind a new ghost in the mansion, Andrew. Andrew still haunts Hill House, searching every room for his missing head.

Well, that was pretty good, but let's hear it again to get the full effect:
The house was built two hundred years ago by a sea captain. On the day construction finished, the captain was called out to sea, leaving his wife behind in the big dark house all by herself. He never came back from his voyage in the flesh, but a year after he left, his ghost appeared in the house to see his bride. Calling out "Annabel!" over and over, he got no response, as his wife had fled the house in his absence. Over the next hundred years, families would report hearing the ghost crying out for his Annabel until the day the Craw family moved in. Thirteen year-old Andrew Craw was a nasty child who would play tricks on his servants and throw cats out of windows. Andrew discovered a secret room in the house. Inside the secret room he found a lit lantern and the ghost of the sea captain. Apparently ghosts can age because the sea captain now sported a long white beard and curved fingernails. Andrew tried to escape the ghost's clutches, but the sea captain was irate that his hiding place has been discovered, and so in retribution he pulled off Andrew's head and hid it in the house. What. The ghost of the sea captain hollered out for Annabel one more time and then disappeared, leaving behind a new ghost in the mansion, Andrew. Andrew still haunts Hill House, searching every room for his missing head.

Yeah, I don't know about you guys but it didn't get any better for me the second time. Nevertheless, the story strikes a chord with Duane and Stephanie.

One listless night around 10 PM, the two tricksters are out scaring the neighborhood again. They put chicken bones in a mailbox because "it's creepy to reach in your mailbox and feel bones." They finish their night of pranking with a regular stop to classmate Ben Fuller's house. Every time they go scaring, they always throw rubber spiders onto Ben's bed through his open bedroom window, then delight as he freaks out and falls out of bed. After tossing the spiders, Stephanie tells Duane that she has a brilliant idea. More brilliant than tossing rubber spiders in a window!?!?! She feels that scaring the same kids over and over has lost its luster and the two need a new challenge. That challenge should be to go to Hill House, sneak off during a tour, and find the ghost's missing head.

Very conveniently, Hill House's last tour is at 10:30 at night, so the kids make it to the house just in time. Otto greets them at the door and the two kids join the last tour group, of which they are the only non-adults. Otto once more tells the story of how Hill House became haunted. Just in case you forgot, the house was built two hundred years ago by a sea captain. On the day construction finished, the captain was called out to sea, leaving his wife behind in the big dark house all by herself. He never came back from his voyage in the flesh, but a year after he left, his ghost appeared in the house to see his bride. Calling out "Annabel!" over and over, he got no response, as his wife had fled the house in his absence. Over the next hundred years, families would report hearing the ghost crying out for his Annabel until the day the Craw family moved in. Thirteen year-old Andrew Craw was a nasty child who would play tricks on his servants and throw cats out of windows. Andrew discovered a secret room in the house. Inside the secret room he found a lit lantern and the ghost of the sea captain. Apparently ghosts can age because the sea captain now sported a long white beard and curved fingernails. Andrew tried to escape the ghost's clutches, but the sea captain was irate that his hiding place has been discovered, and so in retribution he pulled off Andrew's head and hid it in the house. What. The ghost of the sea captain hollered out for Annabel one more time and then disappeared, leaving behind a new ghost in the mansion, Andrew. Andrew still haunts Hill House, searching every room for his missing head.

On this particular tour, a little more is revealed about the hauntings in the house. After Andrew lost his head, his twelve year-old sister Hannah went mad. She collected porcelain dolls, and Otto leads the tour into her old room upstairs. The room is still decorated with hundreds of identical dolls, and Otto tells the group that for the next eighty years, Hannah never left her room. She would spend all day in a rocking chair in the corner, playing with her dolls. Otto reveals that Andrew's mother also met an untimely death in the house, falling down the stairs.

Stephanie and Duane try to separate from the tour after seeing Hannah's room, but a strange blonde-haired boy wearing a turtleneck (insert eye-rolling here) has suddenly appeared within the midst of the tour group. The strange boy won't stop starring at the two kids. Stephanie shrugs it off and encourages Duane to do the same. The two kids sneak away into the dark upstairs hallway as Otto leads the rest of the tour group downstairs.

Stephanie leads the way as the two begin exploring the other rooms. They come across the Green Room, so-named because of the green vine-pattern of the wallpaper. Otto had told them that one time a couple had spent the night in the Green Room and when they woke up they had to appear on the Tonight Show. Also they awoke with purple rashes all over their bodies, rashes that medical experts from around the world were unable to diagnose.

The two move on to Andrew's room. They look among his antiquated toys and canopy bed for the ghost's head, but to no avail. The two are about to leave the room when they both spot the ghost's head in the corner of the room. The head slowly rolls over towards the two and Stephanie begins to freak out, as she didn't think they'd actually find the ghost's head. Not to worry, they didn't. Duane bravely picks up the head only to discover it's a wooden bowling ball. To be fair, it was one of Brunswick's GhostHead™ balls, but still. Duane, taking the opportunity to remain looking brave, suggests that they go upstairs into the rooms not on the tour to search for the head.

The two walk up the stairs, past the No Visitors sign. They arrive in a bare room lit only by the moonlight. Duane and Stephanie make their way to a narrow door on the far wall that leads into another room. Duane tells Stephanie that it looks like all the rooms are connected and she tells him to be quiet so the ghosts won't hear them. Some sparse furniture and a sewing machine are the only features the two can make out in the dim room. They slowly keep walking through the upstairs until they hear a thud behind them. Then another. Spinning around, they see four yellow eyes low to the ground. A pair of cats. In the windowsill, more cats. Gradually the kids realize the floor is filled with various cats and the animals start to run around in the dark, tripping Stephanie. Duane drags her out of the room and into a dark hallway away from the cats, closing the door behind them. Having had enough scares for one night, the two agree to find the stairs and leave the house. The two work their way around the labyrinth hallway, searching in vain for the stairs.

At the end of the hall they hear voices, a lot of voices, coming from behind a closed door. Figuring that somehow they caught up with the tour, even though the tour never goes up to the third floor, the two rush to the room, only to find it empty. The two become worried that they've somehow stumbled upon the living area of the ghosts who dwell in the house. Remembering what happened to Andrew Craw when he stumbled upon a ghost's living area, the two quickly make their exit from the room. They move from room to room, searching for a way downstairs. Finally they find a staircase and as they make their way down, Otto makes his way up. He escorts them safely back down to rejoin the tour. Otto's coworker Edna, a white-haired elderly woman, had taken over for Otto while he went to look for the kids, and the three meet up with the rest of the tour inside Joseph Craw's old study, a fire burning inside the fireplace.

One night after Andrew's death, Joseph Craw came into his study and rested by the fire. When his servants found him the next day, all that was left were two of his charred hands, still gripping the marble mantelpiece. Since they'd heard all of the stories before, the two kids elect to leave the tour early and head home. On their way out, they spot the blonde kid again, staring at them as they left the house. Outside, Stephanie's scarf gets stuck on a branch and as Duane untangles it, he hears a voice asking if they'd found the missing head. Duane looks up to see if Stephanie was playing a trick on him, but her attention is focused on the blonde kid from inside, who somehow made it outside and was again staring at them. The boy denies saying anything and tells the two that he followed them outside to see if they'd found anything interesting in the house. They hadn't but the blonde reveals that he has seen a ghost inside Hill House.

The boy introduces himself as Seth and tells them that he'd snuck in one night after hours. Sneaking past the night watchman, Seth had spotted an old woman standing at the top of the stairs, her eyes burning bright red. As she floated down the bannister, the woman howled like an animal and her red eyes left a red trail behind her like the tail of a comet. Stephanie gets very excited and the three agree to meet up the next night at midnight and sneak into Hill House to see if they can spot more ghosts. Walking back home, Duane expresses doubts about Seth. Stephanie accuses Duane of being jealous of Seth's bravery.

The next night, Duane's parents are fast asleep, allowing for Duane to sneak out. He and Stephanie's parents are both heavy sleepers, which explains why they were able to run around town at 10:30 at night. It's always good to explain plot holes 40 pages after they occur. Stephanie is waiting for Duane at the end of the driveway and the two make their way to Hill House as freezing rain begins sprinkle. Seth is waiting for them outside the back entrance and he tries to trick the two into thinking a ghost attacks him, but Duane and Stephanie aren't impressed by his weak trickery. Great, scare snobs. Seth sneaks the two inside and rejects the suggestion that they turn on a light, as he tells them that ghosts won't come out in the light. Oh right, of course.

Seth disappears into the darkness to get some candles, taking Stephanie with him, much to Duane's dissatisfaction. Once they return, the trio discover via candlelight that they are in the kitchen. Seth tells the two that he took the tour again earlier in the night, and Otto told some new stories. He points to a cabinet and informs Duane and Stephanie that the dumbwaiter is haunted. Somehow a haunted dumbwaiter fails to excite either of them, even after Seth tells of how the chef would put food on the dumbwaiter and when he'd hoist it up to the second floor, the food would disappear.

Sensing he's losing their interest, Seth elaborates that once, some kids were visiting the house. An athletic bully named Jeremy decided that he was going to show off and he climbed inside the dumbwaiter. Somewhere between the first and second floor, the dumbwaiter stopped. The other kids called out to Jeremy, but got no answer. After several terse minutes, the dumbwaiter came crashing back down to the kitchen floor. Where Jeremy had sat, there were now three covered dishes. Inside the first lay his heart. Inside the second were his eyes. Inside the third were his teeth. The story spooks the kids even though they agree it probably isn't true-- wait, logical kids in a Goosebumps book, has Christmas come early?

Seth leads them through the kitchen into the pantry. Duane and Stephanie walk a little ahead to investigate, because pantries are really cool, and Seth closes and locks the door behind him, trapping the three inside. Stephanie tries to reach the handle but Seth blocks her hand and refuses to step aside. Seth admits that he's played a little trick on the two kids. His name's not Seth, it's Andrew. He's the ghost who's haunted the house for a hundred years. No way.

Stephanie points out that he can't really be the ghost because he has a head. Seth/Andrew has an answer for that too. Seth explains that he only borrowed the head he has on now, and proves this by pulling it off. Since he has to give the head back, he needs to find a new head, and after he saw Duane's head in the tour, he knew he'd found the perfect one. Duane suddenly gets brave and tells Seth that he can't have his head, and then Seth pathetically pleads with him, promising to return it as soon as he finds his own head. Amazing. Seth pushes Duane and Stephanie into the back wall of the pantry and just as Seth places his hands on Duane's head, Duane and Stephanie fall back into the wall, revealing a secret passageway. The two run down the passageway with Seth hot on their heels.

At the end of the concrete hall they find a ladder leading up through a hole in the ceiling. Halfway up the ladder, the whole thing breaks into pieces and sends the two kids hurtling back towards the earth, the ladder crashing into the wall behind them. Chunks of concrete fly out as a hidden room is revealed behind them. On the bed there lies a dim, shimmering head. Duane and Stephanie get very excited, they've found Andrew's head, they're saved! They turn their attention back to Seth, who isn't looking at the head on the bed at all, but at the ceiling above the bed. Duane and Stephanie follow his gaze and see a spectral mass float down from above. Dressed in ancient clothing, the glowing ghost descends, headless, towards the bed. The ghost picked up the head and placed it on his shoulders. This figure, not Seth, was the real Andrew. Andrew turned around to thank the two children before disappearing into the walls.

Otto bursts in and chides his nephew Seth for taking Duane and Stephanie into such a dangerous part of the house, and also for pretending to be a ghost. Apparently Seth pretends to be a ghost a lot, but most kids see right through him. I'm sending that joke into Laughter: The Best Medicine. The three kids try to tell Otto that they did in fact see a real ghost but Otto choses not to believe them, though I can't imagine why.

But the Twist is:
Duane and Stephanie agree that their scaring days are behind them, and the two kids find new interests. Stephanie joins the drama club, so she's a lost cause, and Duane becomes a star on the basketball team. The following winter, months after their adventure, the two kids are walking by Hill House and they decide to take another tour, for old time's sake. Otto happily greets them at the door and calls Edna over. As the two hosts take the kids on another tour of the house, the two kids realize how their experience has changed them, as they no longer find any scares in the creepy old house. After the tour, Stephanie and Duane bid the caretakers farewell and make it about halfway down the driveway when a police car pulls up. The police officer wants to know what the two kids were doing in the house. Duane explains that they were just taking the tour, but the police officer doesn't believe them. He explains that Hill House has been closed for three months. Stephanie looks up and, through the upstairs window, sees the ghostly bodies of Otto and Edna holding lanterns, looking out at the two kids.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Stephanie Alpert and Duane Comack, whose head almost disappears 4/5ths of the way into the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
The look of his son makes Duane's father want to vomit.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Mickey Mouse watches, Walkmen tape-players, scaring Ben Fuller with rubber spiders.

Speaking of Hill House, Remember How Attractive Famke Janssen Looked in the House on Haunted Hill Remake? Alert:


Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 15/16:
Stephanie and Duane are both grabbed by a horrible ghost. Wait, it's just cobwebs.

the Story of How Hill House Became Haunted Alert:
The house was built two hundred years ago by a sea captain. On the day construction finished, the captain was called out to sea, leaving his wife behind in the big dark house all by herself. He never came back from his voyage in the flesh, but a year after he left, his ghost appeared in the house to see his bride. Calling out "Annabel!" over and over, he got no response, as his wife had fled the house in his absence. Over the next hundred years, families would report hearing the ghost crying out for his Annabel until the day the Craw family moved in. Thirteen year-old Andrew Craw was a nasty child who would play tricks on his servants and throw cats out of windows. Andrew discovered a secret room in the house. Inside the secret room he found a lit lantern and the ghost of the sea captain. Apparently ghosts can age because the sea captain now sported a long white beard and curved fingernails. Andrew tried to escape the ghost's clutches, but the sea captain was irate that his hiding place has been discovered, and so in retribution he pulled off Andrew's head and hid it in the house. What. The ghost of the sea captain hollered out for Annabel one more time and then disappeared, leaving behind a new ghost in the mansion, Andrew. Andrew still haunts Hill House, searching every room for his missing head.

Great Prose Alert:
I swallowed a scream.

Conclusions:
Surprisingly effective in tone and mostly devoid (comparatively at least) of the worst traits in the series, The Headless Ghost, like Werewolf Skin or Be Careful What You Wish For... is the rare Goosebumps book that succeeds on its own merits.


Sorry about the update hiccup. Be sure to check back on Halloween for a special entry.