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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

awesome update!!! this is my fave goosebumps book. keep them coming please

Anonymous said...

Haha this book taught me what a dumbwaiter was when I was younger.

In other news, DUMBLEDORE IS GAY.

Anonymous said...

Excellent update, this was actually my favourite Goosebumps book when I was a fan of them.

Looking forward to the Halloween one!

Anonymous said...

Being the clever kid that I was I totally stole the dumbwaiter ghost story and told it to my friends as real.

Anonymous said...

Took long enough with the update but it was worth it.

I'm extremely excited for the update!

eric said...

Wasn't there a story about this kid who loved strawberry ice cream, and always had it sent up in the dumbwaiter, and one time he couldn't reach it and fell, and the maid who found him couldn't tell his face from the ice cream? I swear that was at least in the television version of this book.

Anyway, another good entry. It was a shock to see Goosebumps characters actually demonstrate skepticism/logic.

troy steele said...

It wouldn't surprise me if they changed it for the show (although since it's not central to the plot, why they felt compelled to include the dumbwaiter at all if a bit of a mystery), though the exposure to different body parts certainly aren't anything new for kids who play that Halloween game where grapes are eyes, etc.

Dan Luffey said...

Yes! I can finally stop reading old entries now...

I remember not liking this when I was a kid, but it's probably because I was a fan of the more bizarre entries in the series.

This Halloween should be exciting!

kiwimusume said...

Oh my God! I was just thinking about these books the other day, since one of the kids at the Japanese school where I work was reading a Japanese translation of one of them. And then this blog turns up! This is freaking awesome.

A thought: If Ben Fuller knows that two little brats from school like to throw shit in his window, why doesn't he keep his window closed at night?

troy steele said...

For me the bigger question is why his window was open in November to begin with.

Erin said...

Wow--I just found this blog and it's completely gotten me through the day. This totally takes me back to being 11-years-old!

Thanks!

Laura said...

This was the first Goosebumps book I ever read, and it was the one that got me hooked on the series. When I saw the entry I went "uh-oh," because I thought my childhood illusions were about to be quashed. But luckily for me, it's apparently one of the best in the series. I guess I had good taste as a 4th-grader. :-)

And I used to think that the pranks in the book were awesome. Those were the days...

Laura said...

Troy, if you ever decide to do a "Give Yourself Goosebumps" book, I highly recommend the following classic. It rivals Tolstoy in its nuance, character development, and universal themes for all humanity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Agent_Grandma

troy steele said...

I definitely will hit at least one of the Give Yourself Goosebumps books and plot out every possible path, and based on the following description,

"In this book, you must race to find your Granny, but when all is said and done, is she your Granny or an alien from space?"

I can't imagine a better candidate.

Anonymous said...

"Brunswick's GhostHead(TM) ball" made me laugh out loud. Good work, as always :)

Also, The Story of How Hill House Became Haunted: 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.

Christopher said...

This was my favorite Goosebumps book, too. It just gave me a really good creepy feeling as a child, it was the best.

memot said...

i seriously got scared of this book when i was younger. it's my fave though!

Ryan Ferneau said...

It wouldn't surprise me if they changed it for the show (although since it's not central to the plot, why they felt compelled to include the dumbwaiter at all if a bit of a mystery)

Actually, the show changed the plot a bit so that the dumb waiter became more important. This was one of those times when the show's writers thought the story didn't have ENOUGH last-minute revelations.

Jacquie said...

“Seth explains that he only borrowed the head he has on now, and proves this by pulling it off.”

“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.”

...Soooo, if he's not a ghost, then how did he take his head off? I guess those kids don't care to figure that out?

Anonymous said...

this is my fave goosebumps book, nice review.. :D

Groggy Dundee said...

I read this book last week. I found it extremely boring; surprised you liked it so much, Troy.

Anonymous said...

benny here. this one was so boring that i almost didn't read all of it. syaing that 4/10 boring and not really that bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Madhura here.This is a good book. But the story could have been a little more intresting if the twist was that stephenie was Hannah (Ghost's sister). And Seth was really andrew and otto and edna their mom and dad. But still I liked it:)

Harry Manback said...

Oh, goddamnit. I completely knew you would put the "How Hill House became Haunted" story again at the end, and I STILL lost it when I saw it. Also, the "Famke Jenssen" alert was pretty sweet, I had a huge crush on her from that movie as a younger boy. Probably still reading Goosebumps at that point, too haha.

Anonymous said...

Psst, Troy. The cover for this one has gone missing...