Goosebumps Series 2000 21: the Haunted Car
Front Tagline: Ghosts, start your engines! (What.)
Mitchell is a bit of a car fanatic. The shelves in his room hold multiple model cars, racing posters adorn his wall, and he once even mistakenly rented Separate Tables. Mitchell is such a neutral when it comes to the automobiles that he claims he can identify any car just by closing his eyes and listening, a skill he brags about picking up from reading a lot of car magazines. I'm sure the editor of Shiny Bikini Babes Leaning Against Cars Magazine feels pretty validated for running that monthly Sputter Sputter Pop Vroooom Pop Vroooom Swishhhhhhhhhh Swishhhhhhhh Swishhhhhhh Vroooooooooom column now.
Unfortunately, all the car knowledge in the world fails to prepare Mitchell for being a character in a Goosebumps book and he is tricked by his seven year old brother, Todd, into thinking a bag of laundry is a ghost. Todd is convinced that ghosts exist, and Mitchell is convinced that ghost cars probably don't make noises he can identify with his eyes closed so why even bother considering their existence. Suddenly, the two boys hear a crash from the basement. It doesn't sound like any car Mitchell's ever read about, so the two go down to investigate. The origin of the noise in the basement was indeed not car-related, so I don't even know why I'm bothering to relay it. Nevertheless, a poorly-constructed bookcase their amateur handyman father built had collapsed. Todd insists ghosts were behind the damage, but their father disagrees, as he knows it's the poor craftsman who blames his ghouls.
Mitchell's dad announces a trip to the hardware store, which means Mitchell and his brother get to ride in the flyest hoopty on the block: Their dad's "puke green" '85 LaBaron. Clearly the trio are in for a spooky trip to the hardware store, as stormclouds ominously begin to permeate the skies. While the damp weather may hamper Todd's plan of suggesting their father ghostride the whip on the way, the jaunt is not entirely uneventful: The brakes go out and the car rams into a tree. Like most who experience a horrendous Crash, the response of Mitchell's father is to vomit. Mitchell smartly waits until about twenty seconds have passed before he pesters his father about getting a new set of wheels.
Mitchell spots a totally awesome classified ad for a car with no model or manufacturer name. He thinks it sounds great even though it is literally the only car in the entire book to not be labeled by model and manufacturer. His reasoning for being smitten with the write-up is basically one step above the stereotype of the teenage girl who goes to a car lot and picks out her ride based on the color. Plus, how can Mitchell possibly gauge how good of a car it is without closing his eyes and hearing it first?
Mitchell and his father go to see the advertised car. The seller, Mr. Douglas, who is dressed like a train conductor, interrupts his breakfast to show his visitors the car. The amazing white sportscar is locked in the garage behind six padlocks. Mr. Douglas claims the extra precautions are due to the bad neighborhood, but it's not like the retiree doesn't have the time to devote to Gran Torino-ing the 'hood. What else has he got to do to pass the time besides age?
Mr. Douglas giddily shows off the sports car. Mitchell thinks the blue auto looks like a Corvette, only with twice as many seats and without the hassle of being a totally awesome Corvette. Father and son admire the car, which appears flawless. The vehicle has less than a thousand miles. Surely there must be something wrong with the car for this shifty man to be so insistent on selling it. But since Mr. Douglas tells them there's nothing wrong with it, they believe him. Because who is more trustworthy than someone trying to sell you a car?
Mr. Douglas insists the two go for a test drive. However, the old man refuses to ride along, as he hasn't finished his breakfast. Yet the two don't get very suspicious when the man just stands still as a statue on the front lawn, watching them drive around in the car. They're even less suspicious when the man reveals another twist: If they buy the car, they have to take it with them right away. And then the car cost five thousand dollars. It's a good price and while the man is "one weird dude," to quote Mitchell, they take the bait regardless. While Mr. Douglas goes inside to get the bill of sale and title ready, Mitchell does cartwheels on his front lawn. I guess the neighborhood wasn't quite dangerous enough.
That night, Mitchell can barely get through dinner without talking about the car. His parents bar him from even mentioning the car due to the fact that he has homework due. They don't buy that his math teacher assigned him slope-interecept problems that can only be solved by plugging in for X and Y while sitting in a car either. Nevertheless, Mitchell decides to sneak out to the car anyways. He figures no harm can come from sitting in a motionless car, and in any other book series, he'd be right. But this kid goes and gets himself locked in the car. Oh and the car talks to him or something.
A mysterious waif happens along and lets Mitchell out of the locked car. Marissa Medding, the girl, claims she just moved in the neighborhood and ominously points to the requisite Old Abandoned House as her new digs. Then Todd comes out and glitches the Girl Talk by blackmailing Mitchell into letting him sample the car. After much arguing and Marissa-disappearing, the two brothers reluctantly head back into the house, where the two then confuse their dad getting electrocuted for a ghost.
That night, Mitchell dreams about the car. He then takes a quick break to wake up, note that he dreamt about the car, and then go back to dreaming some more about the car. He also dreams that Marissa goads him into crashing the new car. Todd sagely interprets his brother's dream to be a sign the next morning. Well, it was already a sigh on my part, so he's close.
Despite the nefarious dream and strange locking of the previous night, Mitchell still harbors his auto-erotic fixation. He goads his father into going for another nighttime ride, this time to buy some milk. But this brief trip does not do a body good. On the way back, torrential rain begins to fall. Unfortunately Mitchell's father can't find the button to turn on the windshield wipers. He directs his son to look for the car's manual in the glove compartment. But the glove compartment is empty except for a single sheet of paper with two words written on it:
I'M EVILMitchell is terrified, but, like, who cares if a piece of paper is evil?
The next night, Mitchell's friends Steve and Allan come to visit. I guess his friends Ed and Sullivan were unavailable. The two convince Mitchell to show them the new car with little to no prompting. Todd tags along and all four pile into the car, shut the doors behind them, and whaddaya know, the doors lock again. Suddenly the interior of the car gets colder. The boys can see their breath and the windows begin to frost. Stine shows remarkable restraint here. I mean, there's no "We know you said your new car was cool, Mitchell, but this is ridiculous!" No "I know we came over here to chill, Mitchell, but this is ridiculous!" No "I asked for them in my grocer's freezer, Mitchell, not a roadster's freezer!" Perhaps if the boys had come closer to death inside the icy car we'd have been treated to a pun. Marissa, exhibiting the most convenient of timings yet again, pops up and opens the car door-- but not before Mitchell hears the faint sound of a girl laughing. Todd runs inside to warm up and his two friends leave, convinced that Mitchell was playing a mean trick on them involving the air conditioner. Marissa expresses exaggerated concern over the danger of faulty car locks.
Todd wakes Mitchell up from a dream about, let's assume, cars, to tell him that the car is haunted. Mitchell tells him he's crazy and to go back to bed. Giving it some thought, Mitchell then goes down to investigate if the car is haunted. It's haunted. Mitchell shows little apparition, as when a girl's voice tells him to climb inside the car yet again, he does. In a familiar act, the car locks and drives off with him inside. There's little joy to be found in this ride, as the ghostly car with a girl's voice drives poor Mitchell onto the railroad tracks. The train narrowly misses hitting the car and the girl's voice laughs menacingly. Mitchell continues to go where the spirit moves him, all the while begging her to stop. I don't know what he specter to do, but she merely replies to all his pleas with "I'm so evil." This Ghostmusters very little else in response, but before I can come up with another ghost pun, the car poltergeists home.
Mitchell's dad is furious when he sees his son pull into the driveway, as he hates oil stains. Also the whole 12-year-old stealing a car thing. Mitchell's dad grabs his arm and violently pulls him from the car when he returns from his phantasm voyage. He continues to take thing a shade too far and squeezes his son's arm hard while laying into him for the theft. Before he can face more of his father's wraith, Marissa pops up again and tries to smooth things over with Mitchell's parents. But they simply can't phantom what possessed their son to do such a Okay, I've run out of ghost puns.
Mitchell tells his parents that the car is haunted. They don't believe him enough and Marissa believes him too much. Mitchell gets grounded for life and there's no Uncle Eddie-style silver lining to the whole thing. He mopes around the house for a while before Todd drops the bombshell: Not only does he believe Mitchell's story about the car being haunted, but he knows who the ghost is: Marissa. Mitchell is somehow shocked at this news. People who've never even heard of a book had this figured out before Mitchell.
Mitchell thinks Todd is crazy and to prove it he calls Marissa's house. But the operator can find no listing for the Meddings! Oh my God, does this mean that every person with an unlisted number is secretly a ghost?
Mitchell and Todd sneak across the street to peek into the Old Abandoned House and discover it is old, abandoned, and a house. But there aren't any Marissa ghosts hanging around. Mitchell decides he'll pay Mr. Douglas, the car's original owner, a visit. Upon seeing the boy at his door, Mr. Douglas insists that he's very busy doing nothing and can't be interrupted. Before he can close the door though, Mitchell sees a picture in his living room. It's of Marissa, with the words "In Loving Memory" written on the frame. I don't know why this is a shock, I thought it was already well-established that Mr. Douglas has a hard time letting go of things that happened in the past.
Mitchell chooses dinner time to tell his parents the big news. But they're more interested in pizza than the ghosts their son has apparently seen. This is actually more Qustionable Son-ing than anything, because hello, pizza time. Mitchell gets sent up to his room to eat his pizza alone. As though one could ever be alone when they're with pizza. But this coupling soon turns into a ménage à trois when the phone rings and who do you think is on the other line. No, not more pizza, it's Marissa. Mitchell tells her he knows her big secret and she demands to know what he's going to do with it. Eat it, he says. No, not the pizza, she says, the secret. He hadn't thought far enough beyond the pizza and hangs up on her.
After pizza time draws to a close, Mitchell's entire family informs him that they're getting picked up to enchant sick Cousin Ella with a visit and he's not invited. That's right, he's all alone with the haunted car in the driveway. So, here's a thought: If you're scared of the car in the driveway, stay upstairs. But man, this kid doesn't even wait until the family's ride pulls out before climbing into the haunted car. The car locks behind him. The interior lights come on. He's not alone inside.
A blonde girl is in the passenger seat, wearing all black. He assumes it's Marissa. The blonde figure has taken the form of a rapidly decaying ghost, described in disgusting detail that I'll not relay here. Ugly deady tells Mitchell she's evil some more times in case he forgot and then sends the car rapidly careening down the city streets. The ghost transforms into a vapor and wafts into the car, speaking to Mitchell from the speakers. She tells him that she died in this car and now it was his turn. She was only fourteen when she took the car on a joyride and died in a crash. Ever since, she's been lonely and desperately wants some company. Mitchell, far from being flattered, continues to beg her to take him home. She agrees, as he can just as easily die in front of his house. She causes the engine to rev up and the car careens forward. Mitchell can tell that she intends to crash the car through the living room. As the car gets closer though, both can tell something is happening in front of the house and the car slows down.
Orange flames have engulfed the house. Mitchell gleefully tells the ghost that if it hadn't been for her kidnapping him, he'd have died in the fire. Praise be to ghost a bad thing, as she materializes and howls in anger. She accidentally did good, not evil, and will now be punished in the afterworld. She then tears herself apart. Really. It's gross. His parents run up to the car and pluck him from the vehicle. He tells them all about how the ghost saved his life. They don't believe him, but they're sure glad their son is a recalcitrant repeat offender.
But the Twist is
Todd asks Mitchell if the ghost was Marissa and he tells her that of course it was. Then he sees Marissa, standing on the front lawn. He yells at her for being evil and a ghost and not pizza until she grabs him by the arm like a rag doll and forces him to follow her away from the crowds of people.
It dawns on Mitchell that perhaps ghosts can't grab humans. Marissa reveals that the ghost was her evil twin sister, Becka. Marissa's father, Mr. Douglas, went sick with grief and wanted to be rid of the car his daughter died in as soon as possible. One afternoon while hanging around the empty car in the garage, the decaying ghost of her sister appeared to her and laid out the whole scheme. Marissa tells the hurt Mitchell that she tried to figure out how to tell him and that once he said on the phone that he knew what was going on, she didn't have to drop the g-bomb. Marissa starts crying and Mitchell tells her how her sister accidentally saved his life. She smiles a little and he tells her he's lost interest in cars.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship
Mitchell and the conveniently-located Marissa, who appears halfway thru every crisis in the book.
Fantasy child abuse, meet real child abuse. With all the aggressive arm grabbing on display here, it felt a little bit like a child's novelization of the Haunted Career.
I've read Christine too. Nah, not really.
Know Your Audience Alert
Todd crosses his arms over his X-Files t-shirt and ominously proclaims that "The truth is out there."
RL Stine Shows He's Down With the Kids
Mitchell sits transfixed in the passenger seat while his father demonstrates how power steering works.
Late 90s Cultural References
You Don't Know Jack, The X-Files, haunted cars
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending
"I'M EVIL" ... "I'M EVIL"Yeah, and repetitive.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending
"I'M EVIL" ... "I'M EVIL"Yeah, and repetitive.
Great Prose Alert
Our front lawn glistened wetly.
Even though it took me forever to get around to writing this update, this is the best entry in the Series 2000 line yet. Oh man, Laffy Taffy time:
Q: Since it seems that ghost stories are the only thing Stine writes well, why aren't all of the Goosebumps books about ghosts?
A: BECAUSE HE'S AFRAID OF BEING LABELED A GHOSTWRITER