Monday, October 13, 2014

Even More Scary Stories for Sleep-overs

1. "The Tune of Terror"
Can I just start by reading you the beginning of the back of the book? "Why is Decker Island known as Danger Island? What is Camp Colby's creepy secret? And just what is Juan's new flute carved out of?" I really think that the writer did a good job of writing questions no one cares to know the answer to. I'm sorry, I just have to point that out, "just what is Juan's new flute carved out of?" It's just so bad. But nonetheless, this is a pretty good story.

It's about a boy named Juan who gets a flute. He's walking around in a market, shopping for a birthday present, when he stumbles upon a mysterious merchant. Because mysterious merchants always have the best in merchandise, Juan asks to buy his strange white flute. After naming what I assume to be a very high price, so high it had to be whispered, Juan talks him down, in one attempt, to– and I'm not joking– three dollars. Keep in mind that this does not take place when three dollars would buy you a flat screen CRT, but two decades ago.

Juan is so excited about his new birthday flute that he has to take it down to the Community Center to try it out. I can't deny the excitement of a new birthday flute. But once he starts playing, the reader is presented a strange, italicized scene of a corpse stirring beneath a grave. Then Juan starts to become uneasy and leaves. The next day, Juan finds out that a guard at the Community Center was killed, and decides to go his friend Roger's house. He shows Roger his gross new flute that Roger says looks as if it's made of bone. He plays another sad song and is shown a corpse wandering around, lamenting having stolen a rich man's horse. As punishment, his left arm was cut off, and he won't rest until he has it. I'm sure some jail time or a fine or something would have been sufficient or at the very least less murderous and illegal, but the law's the law.

That night, Juan is told that Roger's whole family was murdered. Wow. Writing that down makes me realize how violent it is. For whatever reason, Juan decides to play the flute to calm himself, so I guess playing it dramatically decreases your intelligence as well as your good spirits. Then, the evil ghost arrives at his door.

Conclusion: I thought it was good; it takes a little while to figure out the whole bone-arm-flute thing, and it's generally well-written.

2. "The Shape of Fear"
Barbara is giving a report on evil creatures called werepeople in front of her class. These creatures, who were thought to live in her town, are able to change their forms at will to different kinds of animals and monsters and stuff. Apparently, this is an acceptable class report topic for... what, history? English? Intro to Plot Hole Filler? But bad joke aside, it's pretty stupid. Anyway, there were three particularly dangerous werepeople who were caught by Barbara's ancestor, Jonathan Roarke, and hung. Oh, and by the way, the only way to become one is to get bitten. Later, at the store, Barbara is chastised by some stranger for badmouthing the werepeople, but of course she doesn't pay it any mind.

If you think that was stupid, get used to it, people like this character are the reason the Romans used to abandon their infants to the elements. That night, Barbara sees someone digging something up at the tree where the three werepeople were hung. So she does what any child in a children's horror book would do and checks it out alone when it's dark. She digs up a metal box with an animal tooth and a sheet of paper inside before spotting a wolf-like monster in the tree. She runs back to her house and crawls in bed, never mind that her window's open. She reads what's on the sheet of paper because fuck this character, so the three werepeople crawl in through her window and deliver a strange plot twist attempt.

This part is actually pretty confusing. Basically, Jonathan Roarke was a wereperson who turned the three werepeople suspects into werepeople so he could live a normal, non-suspicious life. In return, he arranged for his granddaughter of ten generations to... what, become a wereperson? So the three actual werepeople can turn human again? I think that's right. And it works, since she squeezes Jonathan's animal tooth so hard it breaks skin.

Conclusion: It's OK; the protagonist is moronic and so are the antagonists, but at least it's kind of creepy. Also, try saying "werepeople" three times fast.

3. "Feast of the Hungry Ghosts"
Lubo (yes, that's his name. Not a name, but his name.) has to prepare for a Chinese holiday called "Feast of the Hungry Ghosts" in which people place food and trinkets at the cemetery for their ancestors. Lubo doesn't believe in this tradition, but his grandparents love it and they're visiting from China so there you go. After some complaining, Lubo is dragged away by his friend Tzu Li. I guess I'll ignore the fact that the only two minority characters so far hang out with each other, I'm used to it by now. When Lubo returns home, his grandfather tells him why he has to follow the tradition: if he does,  his ancestors will protect him from the forsaken ones, ghosts who don't have people to give them food and gifts. At the actual ceremony, Lubo decides to steal some of the expensive dishes and gifts come nightfall, and convinces Tzu Li to join him.

That night, the pair is apprehended by a like-minded youth whom they lure away with tales of expensive loot. They take their own loot and are about to exit the cemetery when the kid appears again. Realizing that his unfortunate name doomed him from the start, Lubo also realizes that the kid is a forsaken one.

Conclusion: It's not a very good story. That being said, there was a lot of colorful background information, so it wasn't all bad, but I didn't like it. You have to be pretty immoral to steal from a ceremony like that. Speaking of, happy Columbus Day!

4. "The Invitation"
I'm pretty sure stupid protagonists are a recurring element in this book, because this makes four for four. Kaitlyn and her parents are going to move to her late aunt Judith's house, which was recently left to them. Kaitlyn's parents tell her that the reason she received the house was because she was about the age of her aunt's daughter when she disappeared. The family soon arrives at the beautiful house, and their surly old neighbor is introduced. His name is Howard, and he claims to have some kind of skin-condition that's aggravated by sunlight. Please, please don't let it be what I think it is. We've gone three stories without them, just keep the streak alive.

Later, at a house party, Kaitlyn hears about Aunt Judith's daughter. She was the first in a long string of disappearances that started when a mysterious circus came to town. OK, good, a haunted circus, this is great, this is new. Later, Kaitlyn sees a mysterious girl near her boathouse. When they meet, the girl says that her name is Colleen, and that she wants to be Kaitlyn's friend. But her parents can't know, because of Kaitlyn's house's creepy background. Oh, and she also tells her that Howard is a vampire. Damn.

I thought this would be the book, I really hoped that this would be the collection not to include vampires, but it failed me, of course. But here's the thing about these stories: they often have some kind of unexpected twist, so even though it's pretty obvious who the real vampire is, at least I have that to look forward to.

Colleen tells Kaitlyn to look at Aunt Judith's secret papers. She does, and she discovers that vampires can't survive in the daylight or come into a house uninvited. When night comes around and her parents go into town, Colleen comes to visit. But before she can say anything, Colleen is tackled by Howard. Kaitlyn promptly throws a lamp at his head, and he explains that he's no vampire; in fact, his brother was killed by one, one that was being hidden by the circus. Howard killed the vampire, but not before it bit Colleen. If you think that's a... well, maybe not good, but acceptable twist, then wait for this one. Kaitlyn asks Colleen to come inside and call 911. When Colleen asks if Kaitlyn is officially inviting her in– and keep in mind that this would have been the perfect moment to realize that hey, maybe every clue pointing towards Colleen's status as a vampire should be heeded– Kaitlyn responds "Yes, of course I want you to come in." The twist is that she's a dumbass.

Conclusion: As you know, I don't appreciate the abundance of vampire stories. That being said, despite how stupid the main character is, the story is actually pretty clever, and pulls off this overused plot twist better than I expected. I love the circus backstory, too, that was cool.

5. "Camp Colby"
Jake loves going to camp Colby, and is going on his second summer. He and his friend Eli are part of Red Wing Cabin, along with too many cabin-mates to name (three) and his counselor, Tim. The group heads to orientation and is warned that the camp was once a mining area. Tim seems to stiffen at hearing this, which is obviously completely irrelevant to the story and will not be spoken of again. Later, the campers are around a fire, hearing a cook tell funny stories. When asked to tell a scary story for sleep-overs, the cook talks about the silver-miners that used to work at the mine, a tough lot that was trapped by a cave-in and died. Looks like the area had some miner safety issues, huh?

After claiming that you can still hear their ghostly screams, the cook is rebuked by Tim for claiming that the tragedy is supernatural. Later that night, Tim reveals that he got lost in the mine last Summer. He escaped, and has felt a sense of sympathy for the miners ever since. Tim decides that after everything that's happened so far, it would be best to go and show the children the mine the next day. They head up there when it starts to rain. The group hides in the mine, because I guess a caved-in underground space is safer than the mortal dangers of rain.

The group walks through the tunnels. First, they cross a little river and two of them are sucked under. Then, Eli disappears. When Jake, Tim, and some other camper named Adam reaches a dead end, they see about two dozen miner ghosts. Turns out Tim was possessed and is trying to free his peers with other boys' bodies. Who would've guessed.

Conclusion: Me. Creepy, but far too predictable. I think the worst part is that it broke the stupid protagonist streak.

6. "The Pact"
This one is weird. It's like Q.L. Pearce adopted M.D. Spenser's passion and talent for wasting space. Seriously, nothing happens. And when I say nothing happens, I mean that nothing exciting or scary happens; there's tons of dramatic, coming of age background story. I think you can agree that this story resembles pretty much every chick-flick friendship drama ever.

The story opens with an old woman telling her granddaughter and her friends a story about a giant lizard monster living in a nearby swamp. God, what a cliché. The monster is called a Lakoti, and the grandmother demonstrates its hiss. Char and her friends Jennifer and Jaime attempt and fail to imitate the sound before Char's mom picks them up. Later, at the army base where Jennifer and Jaime live, Jamie thinks about the very amusing friendship the three girls share. Because Char was a local, she showed the girls secrets and useful skills for surviving in the brutal Louisiana environment. They called themselves the "three musketeers," and even have a secret hiding place where they eat lunch.

You know what, I hate to admit it, but that sounds very childhood-esque. I probably did all that stuff when I was a kid. I mean, I probably didn't call a group the "three musketeers" regularly, because, you know, it's stupid, but I probably threw the term around ironically every once in a while. So good job Q.L. Pearce, you can get it right every now and then. As long as they don't make group shirts, you're in the clear.

Anyway, they're moving because Jamie's dad is sent to another army base. And so is Jennifer. But before they leave, they get together in the secret hiding spot and make a blood pact to meet again. I still don't know if those are real, but fine, whatever. Five years later, Jaime returns to Louisiana and finds Jennifer. Because her family was killed in an accident, Char was sent to New York and couldn't be at the bayou. Jaime and Jennifer send her a letter, and a week later, on the day they were supposed to meet, went to the secret place without Char. There, they hear the Lakoti (about goddam time) and begin running back to the house. Soon they get lost, but Char appears and saves them. After they escape the monster, they rejoice and chat and then return to their houses.

Jaime finds a letter from New York in her house. She reads it and learns that Char died three months ago, realizing that not even the grave could keep her friend from meeting again.

Conclusion: Awwwwwwwww, it's so cute. It's not very scary and the characters are all the same, but it's a sweet story, at least.

7. "By Any Means"
This story starts as notorious cheater, Robbie, is called out for cheating. Robbie always cheats, it's kind of his thing. When his teacher gives him a quiz on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, he tries to cheat off of straight-A student Julian, who blocks him. After school, when Robbie corners him, Julian says that Robbie is "going to end up looking like a fool, just like King Arthur's court jester." I really couldn't make this up if I tried, it's perfect. But anyway, the county fair comes along. Robbie goes with his friends and spends five dollars in quarters trying to win a toy lightsaber which this book calls a "laser sword." Wow, this character's such an idiot he highway robs himself, this doesn't even need an antagonist.

Speaking of... sort of... Julian then walks by with a new laser sword. When Robbie confronts him about it, Julian claims he earned it and then insults his intelligence. Robbie's pride is hurt, so he bets Julian ten dollars for whoever can get the best prize the next day. Screw cheating, the worst crime in this book by far is the way this kid just shreds money. They part ways, and then Robbie yells at his friends in his frustration. Luckily, a stranger invites him behind a booth with the promise of assistance. If you had doubts about whether or not he was trustworthy before, when he steps into the light, you find out he's dressed like a clown. Sign me right up.

Creepy Clown Man offers him awesome toys if he can run through a maze before the exit closes. He offers to let Robbie try it at midnight so he'll have an advantage over his friends the next day. Please, please don't accept, you would have to be missing any basic human survival instincts to even consider, this is obviously some kind of John Wayne Gacy shit that you don't want to be apart of. So he accepts. The clown shoves him into the maze after he starts to protest. First, he falls through a trapdoor and onto a dragon. He escapes, and finds the exit. But it's blocked by some weird skeleton soldier thing. Then the scene ends as Robbie charges past it. In the next scene, Julian is disappointed that Robbie didn't show up, and the clown pulls out a little Robbie jester doll.

Conclusion: Quite scary, actually. The story is actually pretty good, because the characters begin to show signs of a third dimension, and it's pretty damn frightening.

8. "The Power of the Mind"
Arienne always feels bad for poor Robert, a friendless know-it-all. Because he's always so holier-than-thou, he's constantly made fun of for little things like his large ears and how his grandfather was committed to and died in a mental asylum. For example, his teacher describes the basilisk in class, saying that looking into its eyes turns you into clay. When Robert points out that it actually turns you into stone, the teacher makes fun of him in front of the class. You know you have to change when the people paid to put up with you can't even do it. Later, at lunch, Arienne tries to comfort Robert when a bully named Joe taunts him. When Joe walks away, a statue falls and nearly crushes him, and Robert mentions that maybe his teacher should meet the basilisk himself.

The next day, Arienne finds out that her teacher is dead, his skin is cold and hard, and his house is wrecked. At lunch, she sees Joe and Robert argue before Robert runs away. Arienne finds him in the library, where he's looking at a picture of a dragon. The day after, Joe was found burnt to a crisp. Arienne decides to finally confront Robert, so I guess it took two brutal deaths for her to actually do something. Robert's been using his grandfather's old journal to manifest hate. Accept it. Arienne runs away to find the cops because I guess phones hadn't been invented in 1994. Then a gargoyle tries to kill her. I think her biggest mistake was pissing off the evil superpower kid, that was stupid for a whole bunch of reasons.

After a small chase scene, she runs back to the library, where she faces Robert. She dodges his pet in time for it to knock him off the roof, and everything is happy and great. Also there are three people dead. And the journal is found by someone else.

Conclusion: This one's not very good and extremely unremarkable. There's not much else to it.

9. "Family Reunion"
The book begins as Mark and his little brother Pete are driving to a family reunion, playing a game of point-out-things-you-see-in-alphabetical-order. I'm sure it's more fun than it sounds. When they arrive in King City, they are greeted by their Uncle Ed and Aunt Belinda. When they enter their grandma, Ruby's, house, they are told that she's not feeling good. Then Grandma Ruby walks in and starts grumpily insulting people before scratching her scaly arm. A great start to a great trip.

The next day, the brothers find out that their grandma is gone. When they ask Aunt Belinda, she refuses to answer them and scratches her similarly scaly arm. Then his Uncle Milo, his oldest living relative, marches in and grabs and looks at Pete and Mark's hands. He demands that Mark come with him to a warehouse, and he obeys without question. And then Pete notices that the skin on his wrist is red and itchy, but ignores it despite every detail in this book. This is a very odd protagonist; for one thing, he's younger than the average middle-schooler. And he either jumps to really inane conclusions or doesn't reach any conclusions at all, which is probably the most entertaining aspect of the story.

Inspired by his missing brother, Pete sneaks out to the warehouse the next night. He finds a room in which his missing family members are lying down, covered in sticky silk. Then he's ambushed by Uncle Milo and taken back to the farm, where his remaining family already knows what's happening. When his grandma comes in, now looking younger and better, he understandably freaks out and non-understandably asks if "the old people take over the bodies of the young." See, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about; even with all the things he's seen, how do you reach that conclusion? So yeah, he's wrong. Then he runs away, but is soon found and taken to the warehouse.  So, what could really be happening here?

They're aliens. Of course.

Conclusion: Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

10. "Nightmare on Sugar Dome"
Cody wakes up to a beautiful, snow-filled day. He decides to skip school to go to the nearby ski park, Sugar Dome. So he does. First, he goes to The Lodge, where he rents skis and poles from his friend Tracey, who's a guy even though he has what might be the least gender neutral name ever. Cody gets on a tram and feels a little chill, ignoring it which... I mean, it's snowing, so that's understandable. Cody looks around the car and observes the other passengers: a woman with a pony tail and a jumpsuit, a man with a cast on his wrist, a girl his age and her parents, and an elderly couple. The perfect team.

All of a sudden, the cable-car swings and Cody hits his head, getting knocked out. When he comes to, he's alone in the cable-car. He begins skiing and says hi to a random skier, who ignores him. Well, I guess sociality died when they did whoops spoiled it. But after several more awkward instances involving dead people– shoot, I just can't stop– Cody overhears Tracey talking about how tragic something that happened was. In case you couldn't piece it together, here's what happened.
Cable-car fell –> Cody died.

Cody then gets bored and starts playing a game in the arcade. He sees the girl his age watching him, but she disappears when he turns around. He is then scared by the cast-guy, who appears behind him, and stared at by the elderly couple. When he finally accepts the truth, a cable-car comes down and opens up for him and the gang.

Conclusion: You can't tell, but this one was amazing. It was actually not super easy to figure out, and the whole thing was effectively spooky. Great story.

11. "Danger Island"
This post has been in progress for, like, a month. I'm done. Just let this awful story go untold. Need more convincing? Well, have you seen The Blob or Little Shop of Horrors? If so, or not, this story still sucks! Need more? "He knew that he had been wrong. This Venus's-flytrap [sic?] was indeed very special... and very hungry."

Conclusion: Just leave it.

Conclusion: There were some treasures, but this book was mostly unremarkable and unintelligent. And god did it take forever.

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