Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: A Night in Terror Tower

Vacation activities for me come in three varieties and none of them are particularly relaxing. I don’t go on vacation to be pampered or sit and watch the sunset. I can do that at home. The first variety is the destination. I’m going to a specific place, like Universal Horror Nights or Disneyland, something I can’t experience anywhere else. The second is the shopping trip. I don’t have a k-pop store or an Ikea or a Daiso, so I drive out to Sacramento to shop (and visit relatives, I guess, but they aren’t a store). The final variety is the educational experience. The museums. The historical sites. I’m here to learn something, dammit, and I’m going to learn, consarnit.

In Goosebumps: A Night in Terror Tower, siblings Sue and Eddie are on a tour through an ancient tower while on vacation in England. It’s mildly educational, but the siblings are going to learn more about themselves than about portculli and barbicans. 

Mr. Starkes, the tour guide for Terror Tower, is a goofy man with a sense of humor closer to Benny Hill than The Thick of It. Terror Tower is named after its previous resident, Sir Thomas Cargill Stuffordshire Tearor the IV. I’m kidding. It’s just called Terror Tower for no actual reason. Prisoners spent the remainder of their lives in this dank castle, and that’s pretty terror-inducing, but I guess these British people weren’t very creative. 

Anyway, this tower tour isn’t the purely educational experience that Hawaiian-shirt-and-cargo-shorts-clad tourists expect. 

I heard several gasps of surprise behind me. Turning back, I saw a large hooded man creep out of the entrance and sneak up behind Mr. Starkes. He wore an ancient-looking green tunic and carried an enormous battle-ax.

An executioner!

He raised the battle-ax behind Mr. Starkes.

“Does anyone here need a very fast haircut?” Mr. Starkes asked casually, without turning around. “This is the castle barber!”

We all laughed. The man in the green executioner’s costume took a quick bow, then disappeared back into the building.

And that’s it for him. Did you think the kids would be running away from the dude on the cover? Well, you’d be wrong. Do you think he’s coming back? You’d still be wrong.

Anyway, the kids listen to Mr. Starkes’s castle facts and they hear about two of the tower’s residents: Princess Sussannah and Prince Edward of York. Just as our protagonists learn of the fates of the royals, Sue drops her camera and the kids can’t hear what Mr. Starkes says. 

Unfortunately, before they could ask for Mr. Starkes to repeat what he said, the tour moves on. Sue and Eddie get distracted, leaving the kids alone, separated from the rest of the group. Great crowd control there, Mr. Starkes. Remind me not to suggest you chaperone a class field trip. 

Suddenly, a failed Las Vegas magician shows up, complete with a wide-brimmed hat and cape. He plays with white stones, threatens the kids, and never answers their questions. Questions like, “Who are you?” and “What do you want with us?”

As David Copperfield over here fiddles with his rocks, the kids run away and attempt to trap him. Each time they try something, the man laughs and says things like, “You can’t escape me!” The kids end up in the sewers, where it seems they are cornered. Eddie attacks the man, stealing the special stones, and the kids run outside. They are out of the tower, but it’s night time and the tour group has left them behind.

“Man? What man?” The night guard eyed us suspiciously.

‘The man in the black cape!” I replied. “And the black hat. He chased us. In the Tower.”

“There’s no man in the tower,” the guard replied, shaking his head. “I told you. I’m the only one here after closing!”

“But he’s in there!” I cried. “He chased us! He was going to hurt us! He was going to hurt us! He chased us through the sewer and the rats-”

“Sewer? What were you two doing in the sewer?” the guard demanded. “We have rules here about where tourists are allowed. If you break the rules, we can’t be responsible.”

Well, he is as helpful as every horror stock character.

The kids hail a cab and head back to the hotel. So we’re out of the tower? I guess I’m the silly one for thinking we’d spend the whole book in the tower. Anyway, the cabbie wants his money, so the kids hand him the money their parents gave them. The man looks at the money and is furious. It’s not British money – it’s just some flat metal coins. The kids promise to pay him once they talk to their parents. The cabbie waits outside as the kids go to their hotel room.

Of course, they can’t get into their hotel room. They talk to the front desk, who asks for their last names.

My name is Sue, I told myself. Sue . . . Sue . . . what?

Shaking, tears running down my cheeks, I grabbed Eddie by the shoulders. “Eddie,” I demanded, “what’s our last name?”

“I – I don’t know!” he sobbed.

“Oh, Eddie!” I pulled my brother close and hugged him. “What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with us?”

To compound on that, they can’t remember their parents. It’s not going great for the kids who happen to also have names close to the doomed royalty in the tower that they were in just moments before. Even though they are confused kids, the hotel staff leaves them alone. The kids venture outside and the guy who revealed the magician’s secrets appears and demands that Eddie returns his balls. Like a maniac, Eddie gives him the stones back because he thinks that the magician will let them go. However, to no one’s surprise, the magician grabs them, plays with his balls, and everything goes black for our protagonist.

Sue wakes up in what she assumes is “the old section of the hotel.” Yes, the necessary “old section” of a hotel. Every Best Western I’ve ever stayed at has the old section next to the continental breakfast. Every old section also comes with a rambling old man, and this book is no exception. 

The old man old mans all over the place, rambling and engaging in general weirdness. The kids escape again because while most magicians are familiar with rope tricks, this magician is only into closeup sleight-of-hand prestidigitation and he didn’t tie up the kids or anything. They follow a cacophony of voices and they crash a party where everyone is dressed up in medieval clothes. Then the guests start screaming when they see the siblings. You kids still haven’t figured it out, yet, huh?

They escape outside and there are no buildings – just fields, chickens, and extras straight from the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They try to get help, but through a series of events wherein a random woman betrays them for “the Lord High Executioner,” the kids are back in the tower. Finally, we get an explanation from Morgred, the king’s sorcerer.

“You really are Edward and Susannah,” Morgred replied. “You are the Prince and Princess of York. And you have been ordered to the Tower by your uncle, the king.”

Well, duh. But what’s up with all the time travel?

“I tried to send you as far from the Tower as possible,” Morgred tried to explain again. “I sent you far into the future to start new lives. I wanted you to live there and never return. Never return to face doom in this castle.”

Morgred continued his story in a whisper. “When I cast the spell that sent you into the future, the Executioner must have hidden nearby. I used three white stones to cast the spell. Later, he stole the stones and performed the spell himself. He sent himself to the future to bring you back. And as you both know, he caught you and dragged you back here.”

Well, Morgred is there. Can he help the kids?

No. Because he doesn’t want to be tortured.

Then Eddie steals the stones and does the spell for himself and his sister.

The kids are back in the present day with the tour from the beginning. The kids ask what happened to the Prince and Princess. The tour guide lets them know that royal siblings just disappeared and no one knows what happened to them.

Then they turn to their new uncle – Morgred. They didn’t just leave him to be tortured. The spell took him as well. The kids and their uncle continue their lives, presumably in present-day England, eating crumpets, watching Downton Abbey, and voting for Brexit like proper British people.

There’s not much to say about this middle-of-the-road Goosebumps book. The book kept moving and held my interest. It’s fine. It’s neither a classic nor is it one of the worst.

The only real criticism I have is that the title and cover promise more than what the book delivers. It’s not a night and they don’t even spend most of the night in the tower. Also, the kids weren’t running from the hooded badass with an ax. They were running from David Blaine. And David Blaine is not scary, even if he can hang out in an ice block for a really long time, which is somehow a magic trick?


For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Blob That At Everyone

In eighth grade, every student had to take an English test at the end of the year to determine which English track we were going to take in high school. I’m not here to talk about my thoughts on tracking students (short version: it’s stupid), but I am here to talk about the practice test, and we sure practiced for this test. We practiced the shit out of that test. And it was not a situation wherein the teacher was given materials for the school year at the beginning and we studied them in a fun and engaging environment that cultivated a love for the English language and literature. No, we did not do that. We had “Test Prep Day” about every week. How the questions are structured. Test rules. Proper pencil use. How to take notes on a story without putting marks in the test book. And finally, the dreaded fiction prompt. We will have to write a short story based on the prompt given, and we were given a rating from one to five.

And it was the same prompt. Every year. Without fail.

“I knew today wouldn’t be like any other day.”

My English teacher (a woman I actually liked) showed us examples of one-rated stories: short, incoherent, and plagued with grammatical errors. Threes had a coherent story but contained interesting spelling choices. Fives were flawless. Then she showed us the end of a few random stories. “It was all a dream.” Another. “I woke up.” Next one. “It turned out to be a dream.” Story after story of some variation of “all that stuff you just read? Yeah, it was a dream. What a twist!” She expressly told us: “Don’t make it all a dream. You’ll lose a point automatically.”

But I had conjured the best ending twist. I was brilliant. I was a goddamn prodigy. An original. An archetype of perfect eighth-grade English fiction prompts.

Turns out, R. L. Stine had already done the same ending in 1997. 

Zackie and his best friend and neighbor, Alex, are having a pleasant conversation when they are suddenly attacked by a monster! But not really because it’s only page five and we’re in a Goosebumps novel. He just wrote a story and is reading it aloud to Alex, the aforementioned friend, and Adam, a boy they keep around so Adam can insult them. Zackie is going to be a famous horror writer when he grows up and he needs to practice his cliffhangers five pages into the story.

On the way home, Zackie and Alex stop by a shop that has been destroyed by lightning. Did I say stop by? That implies they were allowed in. No, that’s not right. Zackie barges in and intends to take a typewriter, because, apparently, if a store is destroyed, its inventory belongs to the public. However, blue lighting shocks him as he touches the typewriter because the Lord was all, “Hey, dude, that’s not yours. I don’t care what the laws are in Theftville, Stealiana.” 

But the owner shows up! The kids are going to get it now!

As in they’re going to get the typewriter. The owner lets them take the thing. Zackie goes home while remarking:

I didn’t know that carrying the old typewriter home would totally ruin my life.

Yeah, the owner just let you take it, Zackie. What did you expect?

At school the next day, we get some new characters, a set of twins who are just as mean as Adam. Zackie freaks out because there’s a monster on him, but Adam pulls it off him and it turns out it’s just a mouse. Adam, whom Zackie keeps referring to as a “friend,” laughs with the twins because Zackie did “a funny dance” when he thought he was covered with vermin. For some reason, Zackie is called into the principal’s office. 

Later that night, while talking to Alex, Zackie declares his intent to make the monster story even scarier and the friends go to the typewriter. The first thing Zackie types is “IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT” in all caps like an old person who doesn’t realize he’s shouting on the internet. (My dad did this on the early days of the internet and my sister and I had to tell him that all caps lock was considered rude unless you’re Billy Mays.) To no one’s surprise except our main characters, a storm starts outside.

Then he types “THE WIND BEGAN TO HOWL” and the wind hits the house. 

“You’re not getting very far with the story,” Alex said.

Alex, honey, he’s only written two sentences. Sure, R. L. Stine can have a cliffhanger after two sentences, but what if after “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-” Poe’s cousin-wife came in and said he hasn’t gotten very far. And where the hell is the titular raven? 

The third sentence is “ALEX AND ZACKIE WERE ALONE IN THE DARK HOUSE, LISTENING TO THE STORM.” So this is Friend Fiction. I am intimately aware of using your friends in your stories. Remind me to tell you about my eighth-grade horror novella/Friday the 13th rip-off.

Anyway, after the third sentence, Zackie wills his father into nonexistence and they finally figure out that whatever Zackie writes is what happens. Zackie is still incredulous, so he writes in a mysterious door knock. That’s a great idea. You should have just written in a slice of delicious strawberry cream cake or universal healthcare in America – something that harms no one. But no, go ahead, mysterious knocking.

And no one is there. So they add that Adam is standing there drenched in rain. Of course, Adam shows up. 

Finally, Zackie writes that the storm suddenly stops. Adam doesn’t believe what is going on, so he steals the typewriter and writes that a blob monster is in the basement. They hear thuds from the basement.

Don’t worry, it’s just Zackie’s father, back from his trip in oblivion.

The next day as Zackie is at the store buying tuna, Adam and the twins play a prank on him by moaning “Fresh meat” at him. Zackie, honey, cut this toxic boy out of your life. You already have a great friend in Alex. Stop involving this future co-ed predator.

Zackie goes home angry and heads straight to his magic typewriter and writes that a blob is eating everyone. There’s no way this could backfire!

But it does backfire! Zackie goes outside and there’s a blob that’s eating everyone! How could Zackie have seen this coming?

The blob eats some cops, which is fine, but then the blob follows Zackie home, which is not fine. The blob eats Adam, which is fine because he’s a terrible friend, but then the blob is coming for Zackie and Alex, which is not fine. Zackie gets a hold of his typewriter, which is fine, but then the blob eats the typewriter, which is not fine.

Zackie gets an idea.

“Alex – remember when Adam typed something on my story? And it didn’t come true?”

She nodded, keeping her eyes on the gurgling Blob Monster. “Yes, I remember. But so what?”

“Well,” I continued, “Maybe that’s because it’s me that has the power. Maybe the power isn’t in the typewriter or the pen. Maybe I got the power that night in that antique shop when I was zapped by that electrical shock.”

So, Zackie has the power and he thinks the monster away. And then they laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Half the town is eaten, but they’re alive, so they laugh and laugh and laugh some more.

You think it’s the end? Well, you’d be wrong. We get a brand new chapter after all that laughing. And finally, we’ve circled back to my original eighth-grade ending. The ending I thought was so brilliant.

“Well? Did you like my story?”

The pink Blob Monster neated the pages he had just read and set them down on the desk. He turned to his friend, a green-skinned Blob Monster.

“Did you just write that?” the green monster asked.

“I did,” his friend replied. “Thank you for reading it to me. It’s very exciting. Very well written. What do you call it?”

“I call it ‘Attack of the Humans’,” the Blob Monster replied.

“But I have just one problem with your story.”

The pink Blob Monster bobbed up and down. The veins on the top of his head turned a darker purple. “A problem with my story? What is it?”

“Well…” his green friend replied. “Why did you give it such an unhappy ending? I hated it when the human shut his eyes, and the Blob Monster disappeared. That was so sad.”

The Blob Monster changes the ending and instead the blob eats everyone.

See? Twist ending! It was actually a story written by a Blob Monster! And my story from eighth grade? Well, the main character, who has been hounded by aliens, wakes up and says they had the craziest dream that they were humans! Twist! Get it! Twist! It was a dream, but it was a dream from an alien! Thirteen-year-old me thought she was a genius. She would have loved this twist. Thirty-year-old me feels differently.

Zackie had the power within him the whole time. That’s a fine twist for this book. I wish there was a little more to the end than Zackie thinking really hard, but that’s basically every scene with Professor Xavier in X-Men, and I seem to love those comic books. Clearly, I have no business criticizing focused thought. However, the whole story being the manifestation of a Blob Monster writing about humans is a little too much. A twist recontextualizes the rest of the story. There’s no recontextualization with a Blob Monster writer. 

Unless R. L. Stine is trying to tell us something. Hey, does anyone know if Stine sometimes gets up from a chair and there’s just goo on the seat? I should get in touch with some conspiracy theory idiots, I’m sure they can figure out some convoluted non-logic that proves that R. L. Stine is actually a Blob Monster.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: A Shocker on Shock Street

a giant grasshopper on a suburban street

I love a good dark ride. Strap me into that little car and guide me through that pretzel-shaped track, thank you very much. And it doesn’t have to be the level of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Give me that State Fair cheese ride – either a tunnel of love or a haunted ride featuring copyrighted characters with modified names so no one gets sued. 

Speaking of haunted rides, in A Shocker on Shock Street, two kids go on a prototype horror movie ride with all their favorite horror movie monsters. This sounds right up my alley – rides and horror movies. But by the end of the book, I was annoyed. It’s going to be one of those reviews. 

Burt I. Gordon is suing…

Erin and her best friend Marty are watching the sixth installment from the Shocker on Shock Street (minus the “A” from the book’s title) cinematic universe. Erin’s father owns the theater and has worked on the Fantasy Films Studio Tour making animatronics. Unfortunately, when the kids go to see him, he has some bad news.

Not really. It was a gag! He has some good news! However, there is some bad news – the whole book is going to be like this.

Anyway, Erin’s father says that he’s been working on the new Shocker Studio Tour and he wants the kids to test out the ride before they open to the public. I’m sure nothing crazy will happen and the book will just end with their pointed yet helpful criticism.

On the way to the ride, Marty pretends to bite Erin. Totally normal. Yep. There’s nothing weird or off-putting about that.

They arrive and see a row of tramcars and a tour guide named Linda. The kids ride in the front and Linda explains one of the features of the ride: the Shocker Stun Ray Blaster, which can “freeze a monster in its tracks from twenty feet.” Marty aims the gun at Linda and fires – and she freezes.

“Linda! Linda!” I screamed.

Marty’s mouth dropped open. He let out a choked gurgle.

I turned to Dad. To my surprise, he was laughing.

“Dad – she’s – she’s frozen!” I cried. But when I turned back to Linda, she had a big smile on her face, too.

It took us both a while, but we soon realized the whole thing was a joke.

“That’s the first shock on the Shocker tour,” Linda announced, lowering the red blaster. She put a hand on Marty’s shoulder. “I think I really shocked you, Marty!”

“No way!” Marty insisted.

Cool shock. 

Anyway, the tram moves on its own and Linda doesn’t go with them, so she’s gone forever and inconsequential to the plot. This isn’t a joke. She’s gone now. No more Linda. She was there to explain something that the Dad could have and do that stupid freezing thing. 

The first stop is a Haunted House. The tram barrels into the house and there are some spooky house shenanigans. Erin looks around and Marty is gone!

Not really – it’s just really dark. Seriously. She couldn’t see him in the dark. 

A skeleton talks to them as the tram takes off. Erin equates the ride to a rollercoaster, which makes me wonder if they’re wearing seat belts and if this ride should have shoulder harnesses. 

Then some monsters climb on top of the tram, but they’re just characters from the Shocker movies and this is the photo op part of the ride. This is a strange thing to put in the ride. I don’t mean that it’s weird to have a photo op on the ride – this sort of thing would be great at the end. I mean it’s weird to do it in the middle of a ride. It hurts the momentum and will destroy the ride capacity. Already there are clear problems with this ride. And I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Capacity and Safety Expert by a panel of me.

The tram takes off as the kids wonder why they didn’t see any zippers or seams on the costumes of the monsters during the photo op. 

Later, worms crawl on them and they go through a spiderweb. How Erin’s father thought this would be great for a ride, I have no idea. The kids are convinced they are robots, which makes even less sense. The cost associated with robotic worms and spiders crawling over people would be astronomical. And not just with development – people would take these things or accidentally destroy them. I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Development and Maintenance Cost Expert by a panel of my sister’s dog.

Anyway, Marty disappears again during the cave sequence.

Not really, of course, but he does get out of the tram. Before every ride I’ve been on, they tell you in at least three different languages to stay inside the car and keep your hands, legs, and feet inside the car. In fact, because of the safety measures like seat belts and harnesses, you can’t even get out. Somehow, this tram allows people to get out. In fact, it’s encouraged! Because the kids get out, confront a giant grasshopper (the one on the cover, I’m assuming), shoot it with the blaster, and continue on the ride on foot.

Marty pretends to be caught by something and yells, “APRIL FOOLS!” I didn’t know it was April Fools Day and the kids just continue to a creepy street that is home to the Mad Mangler. They don’t encounter the Mad Mangler, but they do end up in a cemetery and fall into some graves. 

Again, how would this ride work with actual riders? You can’t have them falling into holes – you have to account for people in wheelchairs and people who have limited mobility. And this ride is days from opening? The ride designers are either blatantly neglecting the ADA or are bad at their jobs. And I should know – I was voted Miss Accessibility by a panel of imaginary experts.

Just when you think the ride couldn’t be even more of a logistical nightmare, Something pulls the kids out of the graves. Unfortunately, they are not there to help the kids. Erin and Marty narrowly escape their captors. Again, if this were a ride, there is no way you can allow people to be touched by actors.

Or maybe there’s another explanation. Marty suggests that the animatronics have gone haywire, not unlike what happened to the Simpsons at Itchy & Scratchy Land.

The kids end up in quicksand, an issue I thought would be a bigger problem in my adult life. Luckily, Wolf Girl shows up and saves them. However, she growls at the children, even as the children ask for help.

“That’s enough!” I shrieked. “Stop the act! Stop it! Stop it!”

I was so angry, so furious – I reached up with both hands. I grabbed the fur on the sides of Wolf Girl’s mask.

And I tugged the mask with all my strength.

Tugged. Tugged with both hands as hard as I could.

And felt real fur. And warm skin.

It wasn’t a mask.

The kids run away and climb up a wall. If the ride has come to life, that would explain all the weird things happening. It’s not that the designers are negligent – it’s that the ride has come to life and they can’t get the kids out.

They run away and see the tram zoom past them, but Erin and Marty jump on it. The kids aren’t in the clear yet, however. They don’t know where the tram is taking them. They jump off the tram just before it careens into the wall, and they are surrounded by gray faces that are closing in on them.

And then I heard a man’s voice, shouting over the wind: “Cut! Print that one! Good scene, everyone!”

It was just a movie, huh? They were filming the kids’ reactions, huh? And now it’s time to wrap up. And the kids have to just find Erin’s dad, who’s behind this door, huh?

Well, Marty runs through the door.

And falls while Erin has a meltdown.

Jared Curtis, one of the studio engineers, came running into The House of Shocks. “Mr. Wright, what happened to your two kid robots?” he demanded.

Mr. Wright sighed again. “Programming problems,” he muttered.

He pointed to the Erin robot, frozen in place on her knees beside the Marty robot. “It had to shut the girl off. Her memory chip must be bad. The Erin robot was supposed to think of me as her father. But just now, she didn’t recognize me.”

“And what about the Marty robot?” Jared asked.

“It’s totally down,” Mr. Wright replied. “I think the electrical system shorted out.”

“What a shame,” Jared said, bending to roll the Marty robot over. He pulled up the T-shirt and fiddled with some dials on the back. “Hey, Mr. Wright, it was a great idea to make robot kids to test the park. I think we can fix them.”

Jared opened up a panel on Marty’s back and squinted at the red and green wires. “All the other creatures, and monsters, and robots worked perfectly. Not a single bug.”

Are you kidding me? The kids were robots? And the Dad character didn’t just program both of them his kids and just made one some kind of electric orphan? What would be the benefit?

And, even worse, this is how the ride is supposed to go? It completely disregards the ADA, it’s dangerous, there’s no clear path, the ride capacity is shit, there’s no flow. Imagineers they are not. 

Honestly, I was fine with the ride going haywire and the kids being trapped, but I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to think that a studio would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into realistic animatronics that go with the movies and take photos for a ride with such a low ride capacity that is bound to be the subject of a lawsuit. 

And remember – this ride was days away from opening. There was no oversight? No lawyers running in yelling, “You can’t open this ride!” After years of development and $150 million, no one thought everything about this was a terrible idea? I’ve done school projects with more planning. This book should be up my alley – horror movies, dark rides, and haunted houses – but it’s just too stupid. Universal Monsters, the obvious real-world allusion to the Shock Street movies, can be scary and work as an attraction. The problem lies in the overreliance on the twist ending, especially when it comes at the expense of a coherent story.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Haunted Mask

The year 2020 was tough on everyone for many different reasons. One of the biggest casualties for me was Halloween. Sure, the pop-up stores in vacant K-Marts still managed to appear without warning, but their merchandise was lacking. The costumes and the pop culture apparel were dusty. The decorations were from last year. The displays were noticeably absent. And who could blame them? 2020’s Halloween was nonexistent for those of us who wanted to be responsible and keep others safe. Sure, we knew people who still went to Halloween parties because their kids were whining only to catch Covid. (I say “knew” because I’m not going back to my waxer who did exactly that. She told me after I said I was afraid of getting Covid and that’s why I was basically Robin Williams in Jumanji.) Most of us didn’t buy candy, we didn’t decorate our lawns, and we kept our porch lights off. We lost something.

This year’s Halloween might not be the same as our halcyon days before the pandemic, especially if those anti-vaxxers keep holding us back, but there might be some sense of normalcy for the spooky time of year. At least, that’s what I hope. Trick-or-treating has been on the decline, but maybe I can fall into a nostalgia trip with a rereading of a classic Goosebumps book: The Haunted Mask. So let’s remember a time when kids wandered around on the night of October 31st without parents. A time when you wore a terrible mask that obstructed your view and neighbors gave out homemade cookies that may or may not have meth in them.

Let’s be honest: you’d be scared if some kid with this mask growled at you. Don’t lie.

Our protagonist, Carly Beth, is a real scaredy-cat. For some reason, that seems to bother her friends, Chuck, Steve, and Sabrina. They put a worm in her sandwich. She gets scared, which is understandable, both for her and the worm, and her “friends” make fun of her. For not wanting to eat a worm. How unreasonable of her not to want to eat a worm in her PB&J. Right away we have a Goosebumps trope – terrible non-friends. Our schools are overcrowded. You’d think kids could find friends who are actually nice, but I digress.

Carly Beth goes home humiliated and she’s greeted with a plaster-of-Paris bust of herself, which also scares her.

“It’s just creepy, that’s all,” Carly Beth said. She forced herself to look away from the replica of herself, and saw that her mother’s smile had faded.

Mrs. Caldwell looked hurt. “Don’t you like it?”

“Yeah. Sure. It’s really good, Mom,” Carly Beth answered quickly. “But, I mean, why on earth did you make it?”

“Because I love you,” Mrs. Caldwell replied curtly. “Why else? Honestly, Carly Beth, you have the strangest reactions to things. I worked really hard on this sculpture. I thought-”

“I’m sorry, Mom. I like it. Really, I do,” Carly Beth insisted. “It was just a surprise, that’s all. It’s great. It looks just like me. I-I had a bad day, that’s all.”

Carly Beth took another long look at the sculpture. Its brown eyes – her brown eyes – stared back at her. The brown hair shimmered in the afternoon sunlight through the window.

It smiled at me! Carly Beth thought, her mouth dropped open. I saw it! I just saw it smile!

No. It had to be a trick of the light.

Guilt trip much, Mom? Also, weird thing to do, Mom. But it is sweet that she thought of her daughter. It’s like British candy – weird and sweet.

Carly Beth goes up to her room to inspect her duck costume for Halloween, but it springs into motion! It’s alive! 

But don’t worry. It’s just her little brother, Noah, who also reminds her that she’s a scaredy-cat and then asks for her costume. Cool family, Carly Beth. Do you also have a father who likes to pretend to murder you every night? An uncle who leaves threatening notes in your mailbox?

The next day is the school’s Science Fair and everyone is buzzing about Martin Goodman’s project since he’s the school genius. He built a computer from scratch, which is, apparently, impressive. I’ve built a computer or two in my lifetime. It’s really a matter of buying the parts online and making sure to wear shoes so you don’t fry the motherboard with static electricity. And using the thermal paste properly. And not pressing down too hard on the CPU. Maybe it’s more complicated than I originally thought, but a Science Fair is for science and experiments. What is the variable for building a computer? “I tested building a computer and my variable was not building a computer. Building a computer allowed me to play The 7th Guest, and not building a computer made me play Candyland with my little brother. I came to the conclusion that I should build a computer and lock my little brother in the closet.”

Carly Beth and Sabrina built a model of the solar system. What is with these Science Fair projects? I thought they had to follow the Scientific Method? Which step in the Scientific Method is “go to Michaels and buy balls and paint?”

Anyway, Steve yells, “Where is my tarantula?” and sends the auditorium into a panic. Guess who thinks a tarantula is on them? Additionally, guess who pinched the aforementioned person to make them think that a tarantula is on them? Did you answer “Carly Beth” and “Carly Beth’s terrible friends?” Then you’ve won the book.

Not only do Carly Beth’s terrible friends laugh, but the other kids as well as the teachers laugh at her. What is with this town? Carly Beth should pack her bags and move away the second she graduates and never look back. This is why I have no sympathy when people lament about how small towns are dying. Small towns are filled with teachers who will willingly laugh at their students, homophobes, people afraid of minorities, men who keep women in their basements, and cults. I guess some of those are worse than others.

Carly Beth finally decides to give them a “good scare” and she needs a scarier costume than a duck. 

What’s really scary are her ideas on transgender people and how she doesn’t consider them people. Also, stop giving that man money.

She decides to go to the Halloween store that is open late on Halloween. To her surprise, they are not open! Did they advertise that they’re open late on Halloween and then close at six? It doesn’t matter, because this is a Goosebumps book, and she’s going to get into that store to further the plot no matter what.

The shop owner allows her in, but somehow he gets distracted and Carly Beth wanders into the back room, where she finds the perfect mask.

It had a bulging, bald head. Its skin was a putrid yellow-green. Its enormous, sunken eyes were an eerie orange and seemed to glow. It had a broad, flat nose, smashed in like a skeleton’s nose. The dark-lipped mouth gaped wide, revealing jagged animal fangs.

The shopkeeper returns and says that those masks aren’t for sale. However, Carly Beth promises to promote his shop on her internet TV show, so the shop owner gives her the mask and she rushes home to scare her brother Spencer, er, her little brother, who is named Noah. Excuse me. I think I’m getting some properties mixed up.

Carly Beth is finally ready for Halloween. She dons on her new mask and takes the bust her mother made and secures it to a broomstick. As she is heading over to her friend/bully-enabler Sabrina’s house, she spots Chuck and Steve. It’s time for revenge! She hides behind a bush and jumps out to scare them!

But it’s not Chuck and Steve. It’s just some random kids. Their mother runs over and says that Carly Beth should be ashamed of herself for scaring children on a holiday centered around scaring people. Carly Beth growls at the mother in a deep voice that is certainly not Carly Beth’s, prompting the mother to go full Karen and ask for Carly Beth’s manager/parents.

I’ll chew her to bits! I’ll tear her skin off of her bones! Furious thoughts raged through Carly Beth’s mind.

She sensed her muscles, crouched low, and prepared to pounce.

“Let’s go, Mom.”

“Yeah. Let’s go. She’s crazy!”

Yeah. I’m crazy. Crazy, crazy, CRAZY. The word repeated, roaring through Carly Beth’s mind. The mask grew hotter, tighter.

The woman gave Carly Beth one last cold stare. Then she turned and led the two boys down the driveway.

Carly Beth started after them, panting loudly. She had a strong urge to chase after them – to really scare them!

But a loud cry made her stop and spin around.

Sabrina stood on the front stoop, leaning on the storm door, her mouth open in a wide O of surprise. “Who’s there?” she cried, squinting into the darkness.

Carly Beth says that it’s her and she and Sabrina gush over the scariness of the mask before leaving to trick-or-treat. As they’re walking down the street, Sabrina asks how the mask is so warm and if Carly Beth is sweating underneath it. Carly Beth freaks out, yells at Sabrina, and wraps her hands around her friend’s throat.

Carly Beth quickly pulls away and pretends that it’s a joke. Again, Stine and his “great” jokes that involve assault. Don’t go to a stand-up show if this guy is the host. 

It’s not long until Carly Beth unleashes her inner demon again. However, this time, she runs away from Sabrina and goes full feral animal on the neighborhood. She scares kids and steals their candy. She runs around while waving the bust of her head around. Finally, she sees the actual Chuck and Steve and decides to mix it up a bit.

Carly Beth waved the broomstick. She pointed up to the head. “That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she told them. Her voice was a deep, throaty rasp.

“Huh?” Both boys gazed up at it uncertainly.

“That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she repeated slowly, waving it toward them. The painted eyes of the sculpted face appeared to glare down at them. “Poor Carly Beth didn’t want to give up her head tonight. But I took it anyway.”

And all three of them saw the lips move. And heard the dry, crackling sound.

All three of them saw the dark lips squeeze together, then part.

All three of them saw the bobbing head form the silent words: “Help me. Help me.”

Carly Beth hurls the bust to the ground. I would too! However, unlike me, Carly Beth runs off to continue her night of unleashed Halloween chaos and candy thievery.

Eventually, Sabrina finds her and the girls go back to Sabrina’s house. Carly Beth scared Chuck and Steve and she got to wreak havoc on this town. It’s time to take off the mask and settle in for the night.

But Carly Beth can’t get the mask off. There is no line where the mask starts. The mask has become Carly Beth’s face! Instead of running around town, Carly Beth runs to the store where she bought the mask. To her surprise, it’s closed! The store that was closed earlier that day is still closed! The audacity of some places!

Once again, the owner is there anyway. But he can’t take off the mask! The only way to remove the mask is through “a symbol of love.” 

Carly Beth figures out that the bust her mother made is a true act of love, but she threw the bust on the ground when it started talking. Luckily, the bust is still near the place she threw it, but not before we have pages of Carly Beth running. 

The mask comes off and Carly Beth goes home. Our protagonist spends the whole book wishing she was someone else and literally puts on a mask to become this new person. When that new person is a monster who causes distress and chaos, she finally learns that she doesn’t need to be a new person. What she needs is what she already has – the love of a parent who does nice things like turn you into art.

Then her brother puts on the mask and it’s like, great, now the mother has to make another bust.

The Haunted Mask is a classic for a good reason. The R. L. Stine formula works well here. We have a troubled kid with terrible friends and a way for them to overcome the defect that society (or their terrible friends) has placed on them. The kid has a little adventure. They finally learn that just because society says that a personality trait a defect, doesn’t mean that it is actually a defect or that is the only facet of life. And then a silly twist at the end.

While The Haunted Mask is a great Goosebumps book, it does have some problems. Carly Beth doesn’t embrace her timid nature, and her timid nature doesn’t help her in any way, and Sabrina, Chuck, and Steve aren’t admonished for treating their friend poorly. It’s also a bit repetitive. There are pages and pages of running. There’s a lot of running. Running to scare kids. Running to get candy. Running to find talking plaster-of-Paris busts. Clearly, the Stine formula isn’t the only reason why this book is a classic.

The other reason is the striking artwork on the cover by Tim Jacobus. The book covers are usually fantastic, but The Haunted Mask is something special. It’s memorable and scary. There are little details like the stream of saliva and the way the skin sits on the bones in the forehead that makes the mask look alive. It’s an unforgettable image, especially for a child wandering through the Scholastic Book Fair. This is truly one of my favorite Goosebumps book covers and it works in concert with the story to create something iconic.

I don’t know what Halloween will look like this year, but I hope it’s better than last year’s. Those of us who tried to look out for others and love spooky stuff deserve an outlet, whether that be a costume party or a good old Haunted House. Whatever you do, get the vaccine, stay safe, and have a Happy Halloween!

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Egg Monsters From Mars

an egg creature and its green shell sits in a carton

Saturday Morning Cartoons were weird. Normal ones, Looney Tunes, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and the like, existed. Properties for children, like G.I. Joe and, my personal favorite, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, were also common. And then there were the shows that had no business being a kids’ cartoon.

Robocop was actually turned into a Saturday Morning Cartoon, as well as Rambo. These were hard-R adult movies that were thrust in a timeslot between Dragonball and Sonic the Hedgehog. My bestest buddy and Super Saiyan, Goku, just beat Piccolo after a ten-episode power-up, and now, before I watch my blue furry buddy, here’s a cartoon about a killer for hire.

It wasn’t just action movies that were turned into inappropriate children’s cartoons. B-level horror movie creature features also had animated versions. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes exposed me to the concept of schlocky horror with strange creatures. It demystified the horror genre. Instead of something to be feared, horror could be goofy and fun. The show may have only lasted a few years, but I still have the theme song stuck in my head. 

The Goosebumps book Egg Monsters From Mars reminds me of any number of goofy creature feature horror movies I’ve seen – and it’s wonderful. There are no ghosts in this one – just a gooey egg and a kid scrambled up in laboratory secrets.

It starts with an egg hunt. Is it Easter? No. It’s a little girl’s birthday party. Our protagonist, Dana, has a younger sister, and “she always gets what she wants.” This time, it’s an egg hunt. However, much to the birthday girl’s dismay, the egg hunt boils into an egg fight.

“Egg fight! Egg fight!” two boys started to chant.

I ducked as an egg went sailing over my head. It landed with a craaack on the driveway.

Eggs were flying everywhere now. I stood there and gasped in amazement.

I heard a shrill shriek. I spun around to see that two of the Hair Sisters had runny yellow egg oozing in their hair. They were shouting and tugging at their hair and trying to pull the yellow gunk off with both hands.

Splat! Another egg hit the garage.

Craaack! Eggs bounced over the driveway.

Dana’s best friend, the next-door neighbor, Annie, prepares an egg to throw at Dana, who picks up his last egg. But there’s something strange about this ultimate egg. It’s veiny and impervious to damage, even when Dana falls on the egg. 

While Dana’s parents are wondering what happened and chastising their daughter for not stopping the egg fight, Dana puts his weird egg in a drawer in his room. In the middle of the night, Dana hears thumping from the drawer and discovers the shell is burning hot. 

Finally, the egg starts to crack, and after some onomatopoeic theater, a gooey, runny mess of yellow and green veins with two black, lumpy eyes hatches. Dana doesn’t know what to do and he goes over his options since his parents have been seemingly poached from the narrative. He decides to go to Annie’s house since she has a dog and is good with animals. He scoops the creature into a box and rolls it next door.

After some breakfast shenanigans involving a dog, the egg creature falls out of its makeshift carton and is almost sent down the garbage disposal. Dana grabs the creature just in time, remarking to the creature, “I just saved your life.”

He shows it to Annie, who suggests he goes to the friendly local lab to have them take a look at it. Dana scrambles away. 

At the lab, Dr. Gray, an old scientist, greets Dana and agrees to look at what he brought – most because Dr. Gray is already egg-sperienced with the creature.

“The eggs fell all over town,” Dr. Gray said, poking the egg creature. “Like a meteor shower. Only on this town.”

“Excuse me?” I cried. “They fell from the sky?” I wanted desperately to understand. But so far, nothing made sense.

Dr. Gray turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “We believe the eggs fell all the way from Mars, Dana. There was a big storm on Mars. Two years ago. It set off something like a meteor shower. The storm sent these eggs hurtling through space.”

Dr. Gray has something else to show him. He brings the boy to a window and shows him a mirror. 

A two-way mirror! Dr. Gray turns on a light.

 There are dozens of egg creatures in a refrigerated room. Dr. Gray says they’re relatively harmless and they don’t have mouths so they can’t bite. They also lack appendages so they can’t kick or grab or punch. Dana asks if he can come back and visit the creature. Dr. Gray says that Dana is not coming back because he’s not leaving.

“I have to study you too,” Dr. Gray continued. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “It’s my job, Dana.”

“Study me?” I squeaked. “Why?”

He motioned to my egg creature. “You touched it – didn’t you? You handled it? You picked it up?”

I shrugged. “Well, yeah. I picked it up. So what?”

“Well, we don’t know what kind of dangerous germs it gave you,” he replied. “We don’t know what kind of germs or bacteria or strange diseases these things carried with them from Mars.”

I understand keeping him under quarantine and observation, but Dr. Gray locks him in this freezing room with no food, no bed, and a countless number of egg creatures. When Dana’s father comes looking for his chick, Dr. Gray says that he hasn’t seen the kid.

Dana’s father asks if he could peek around the facility to make sure his son isn’t there. Of course, Dana is trapped behind a two-way mirror. Dana pecks at the window, but to no avail. His father can’t see or hear him. It seems that Dana is trapped there, and his father was so close to rescuing him.

That night, Dana has trouble sleeping. He’s too cold and Dr. Gray didn’t even give him a blanket. The eggs overtake him, but he’s too enervated to fight back. But instead of attacking him, they give him warmth. It’s kind of sweet.

Dr. Gray shakes him awake, enraged that Dana let the egg creatures touch him. What did you expect, Dr. Gray? You didn’t separate them. You didn’t give Dana food and a blanket. It’s your fault you clucked up. 

Luckily, the egg creatures and Dana have formed a bond. Even though the egg creatures lack appendages and mouths, they become a huge mass and attack Dr. Gray as Dana runs away. 

He runs all the way home to his parents. They all return to the lab and find the egg creatures, and Dr. Gray, completely gone. Of course, his parents don’t believe his story. 

Finally, we are left with this final passage:

I crouched down on the grass – and I laid the biggest egg you ever saw!

I enjoyed Egg Monsters From Mars more than I should have. I like creature movies, but I love creature movies where humans are the real villains. Humans like to believe that the threat to their livelihood is external, whether that threat is an immigrant, a gay person, or a woman. The real threat comes from looking within ourselves and recognizing the ugliness inside. Some people can take that reflection and try to alter their thinking to make the world a better place. We should encourage this behavior.

All too often, however, people look within, see that stain on their soul, and create a social pecking order that puts them at the top. They congregate with others who share that ugliness. They search for conspiracy stories to fuel their ignorance. 

The real monsters aren’t the egg creatures. They’re the ones who inflict pain on others under the guise of something noble – like science. Also, a kid lays a giant egg! That’s fucking crazy, dude. This is an eggcellent Goosebumps book.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Ghost Beach

A spooky ghost hovers over a graveyard next to a each.

Instant friendship is a childhood art that is lost when we hit puberty. We gain boobs or cracked voices while we lose some fundamental part of us that can make a friend in five minutes. My family traveled during every school vacation and when we arrived at our destination, one of the first things I did was make friends with either some other kids on vacation or, as is the case in Goosebumps: Ghost Beach, some of the locals. However, unlike most of my vacation buddies, they didn’t ask me to trap a ghost. Let’s get to it.

A spooky ghost hovers over a graveyard next to a each.
The Ghost of Christmas Future has a condo there.

Our protagonist, Jerry, and his sister, Terri, are exploring a graveyard at Terri’s behest. 

By the way, “cemetery” and “graveyard” are used interchangeably in this book. I know the difference, so save your emails.

Anyway, that’s one of Terri’s hobbies – exploring graveyards. By the end of page four, Jerry and his sister are grabbed and pulled under!

Don’t worry, it’s just a dream. The siblings are on their way to their cousin Brad and his wife Agatha’s beach house for the last month of summer. When they arrive at the beach house, one of the first things they do is go to the cemetery so Terri can get some gravestone rubbings. They notice that the old gravestones are from the late 17th century and all the gravestones are for people with the last name of “Sadler,” which is also their last name.

They saunter to the beach as Terri collects wildflowers – her other hobby. Terri likes graveyards and collecting wildflowers while her brother follows her around, expositioning all the way. We’re following the wrong horse.

They find a cave entrance just above the shoreline. Of course, they explore it because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a book. Unfortunately, before they reach the depths of the cave, a bat attacks them. 

Not really. It’s a kite! 

Jerry and Terri meet Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler – more Sadlers. They also happen to know Brad and Agatha, as the beach is one of those places where everyone knows each other. The kids suggest that Jerry and Terri avoid the cave because there’s a ghost in there. Sam, the oldest one, gets mad and he ushers his siblings away.

The Sadlers we’re following hang out with Brad and Agatha and play something called “whist,” which, much to my surprise, actually exists. The next day, when the siblings are in the forest looking for more wildflowers, Jerry finds a strange flower sticking out of the ground. Turns out to be a skeleton!

Not a human skeleton, of course. It’s a dog skeleton. Suddenly, the Sadler kids show up. Nat mentions that dogs can see ghosts and the ghost of the cave must have killed the dog from getting found out. 

Jerry and Terri can’t get ghosts out of their heads, so Terri sneaks into Jerry’s room just to talk about ghosts, both the cave and normal variety. Jerry looks out toward the cave and sees an eerie flickering light coming from the cave. He wonders if it’s a ghost.

 Later, Jerry, Terri, and the cousins go fishing and they talk about the ghost cave flickering. There’s a lot of ghost talk interspersed with graveyard rubbings and household, plant-based chores.

During dinner one night, Jerry decides to ask Brad about the flickering light. 

“Last night when I went to look for the beach towel, there was a light flickering inside the cave. Do you know what it was?”

Brad narrowed his eyes at me. “Just an optical illusion,” he said curtly. Then he picked up his corn and began sawing again.

“I don’t understand,” I told him. “What do you mean?”

Brad patiently put down his corn. “Jerry, did you ever hear of the northern lights? Aurora borealis?”

Needless to say, this does not deter the children from spelunking. They should have shown them The Descent – that’s a surefire way to ensure that they avoid all forms of underground activity.

Jerry and Terri enter the cave, find a tunnel, are spooked by bats, and discover the source of the flickering. Turns out, it’s a man and a bunch of candles. The man chases after the children and they get away (not before another cliffhanger, of course). 

The kids and their cousins devise a plan to get rid of the ghost permanently, but not before a final gravestone rubbing. This time, Jerry and Terri find three interesting gravestones – one for Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler. They ask Brad and Agatha about why there are so many Sadlers in the cemetery.

In 1641, a whole group of Sadler pilgrims came from England. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst winters in history and many of the Sadlers died, including young children like Sam, Louisa, and Nat. Jerry and Terri’s new friends are named after those kids who died during that terrible winter. See? A logical explanation. It’s just a coincidence that the kids just happen to be the same ages as the kids who died. Also, everyone in town is named after those ancestors, so there are graves for Brad and Agatha, too. Yep – a pilgrim named Brad.

So the plan to get rid of the ghost forever involves some rocks by the entrance. For some reason, ghosts can’t go through rocks, so if Jerry and Terri climb up to the cave and push the rocks over, the candle ghost can’t leave his cave. 

The cousins watch from the beach as Jerri and Terri climb up to the cave. Then they start to flail around before running away. The candle ghost is standing behind the siblings!

The candle ghost yells, “It’s dangerous to get involved with ghosts!” and says that their beach cousins are ghosts. His name is Harrison Sadler and he’s there to study the occult. However, those ghost children are real problems and he wants to trap them in a cave. You see, he was the one who set up the rocks next to the cave entrance and discovered the ghost/rock connection. Yep. Let me remind you that ghosts can’t go through rocks. Don’t question him! He’s old and he studies the occult!

The siblings still have trouble believing him. Finally, there’s a showdown between the candle ghost and the ghost cousins – who’s the real ghost? 

Harrison’s German Shepherd with the answer! He barks at the cousins. The cousins explain that they weren’t able to have a life because they died so early. I felt sorry for them and thought that there might be a way for them to continue to haunt the beach and have fun to make up for the childhood that was stolen from them. Then this happens

And then their skin peeled away, curling up and falling off – until three grinning skulls stared at Terri and me through empty eye sockets.

“Come stay with us, cousins!” Louisa’s skull whispered. Her bony fingers reached out toward us.

“Join usssss!” Sam hissed. His fleshless jaw slid up and down. “We dug such nice graves for you. So close to ours.”

“Play with me,” Nat’s skull pleaded. “Stay and play with me. I don’t want you to go. Ever!”

I was sympathetic until they pulled a Shining Twins and now I’m like, yeah, pass.

Also, that scene was graphic for a Goosebumps title – I was surprised.

So the siblings, with a final sacrifice from Harrison, trap the cousins in the cave and head back to the beach house.

When they get there, Harrison’s dog barks at Brad and Angela and we’re left with these words

Agatha slammed the kitchen door hard and turned back to Brad. “What a pity that dog had to show up,” she said, shaking her head fretfully. “Now what do we do with these two kids, Brad? What do we do with the kids?”

So I guess Jerri and Terri and dead now?

Stine reminded me of the joys of instant friendship as well at the reason we lose this ability as we grow up – people can totally suck. The cousins seemed cool. Even when they had their heel turn, I felt empathy for them. But when they turn murderous, there’s no going back. Instant friendship is something we lose as we grow up, but it’s because we become more selective about whom we befriend. Friendships become more complicated. It’s no longer close age and relative vicinity – it’s similar interests and a lack of murderous tendencies. 

Maybe the lesson is that we should be open to everyone – regardless of outward appearance or some other superficial reason – like children. But the second we realize a friendship would be problematic, either because they only eat gnocchi or they try to murder us, it’s time to cut them out of your life – or trap them in a cave.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

A scarecrow with a striking resemblance to a meme in the middle of a cornfield.

Listen to this on the Podcast!

I’ve gone my whole life without ever seeing those vast cornfields that Boomer and Gen X writers are obsessed with. Children of the Corn, In the Tall Grass, and countless other examples demonstrate how terrifying cornfields are to them. Now, I have never seen these interminable rows of clustered vegetation because I have never been to the midwest. And when my family traveled, it was into deserts or so far west that we ended up in the east. The closest example to cornfields in my life might be the rice paddies that patterned every roadside in the Philippines. While they are not tall enough to get lost in, they are spread out enough you can lose your way. And while there were no scarecrows, there was the thought that you could fall in and get stuck, or worse, someone who had the misfortune of falling in before would reach up and take you with them. 

While I’ve never seen a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield, there is horror in farms – the large tracts of land and dense crops, and, in the case of this week’s Goosebumps book, something one step from humanity that shouldn’t be human. It’s time for The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight.

A scarecrow with a striking resemblance to a meme in the middle of a cornfield.
These Grumpy Cat licensing deals are getting ridiculous! Do we really need Grumpy Cat Scarecrows?

Our protagonist is Jodie, who is going to visit her grandparents’ farm with her lazy brother Mark. They’re traveling with their grandparents’ farmhand – a man named Stanley. It’s not explicitly said, but Stanley has some kind of mental disability. This is such a trope – the simple-minded farmhand – but I don’t know how common it was by the time this book was published (1994). I don’t know if the stereotype is offensive but I would guess that it’s very offensive.

Anyway, Stanley starts mumbling that “the scarecrow walks at midnight.” The children ignore him and as well as the title of the book they exist in. When they arrive at the farm, Mark opens a corn husk and worms pour out. Stanley says that his book says it’s bad luck and freaks out. And then they stare at scarecrows.

We meet Stanley’s son – an older boy named Sticks. He is some kind of prankster and he doesn’t share his father’s disability.

The kids notice their grandfather is acting strangely because he won’t tell them scary stories. He used to tell the kids scary stories at night, but this time, he doesn’t want to, insisting that he’s tired. 

That night, Jodie looks out the window and sees the scarecrows twitch and pull at their stakes. That’s creepy. Surprisingly, it’s not a dream. I genuinely thought it was going to be a dream. Instead, Jodie covers herself and doesn’t get up until the morning. 

She rushes down to get their grandmother’s beloved pancakes. However, their grandmother gives them cornflakes instead. She says she forgot how to make pancakes. Jodie notices her hand is made of straw!

Just kidding. She was holding a broom. 

For some reason, Stanley keeps hanging out with these kids, seemingly shirking his farm duties. The trio goes to the pond to catch fish and a scarecrow’s hand grabs Jodie. 

It’s just some weeds. Geez, this girl needs to lay off the caffeine.

Then Jodie sees a scarecrow and thinks it’s Sticks playing a prank on her. Then it just disappears. When she tells Stanley about it, he says he has to read his book. This guy is starting to sound like me. If someone asks me a question, I answer, “I have to read my book.” However, something weird is going on with Stanley, whereas when I say, “I have to read my book,” I’m trying to get out of a conversation.

Later, Jodie believes that scarecrow is stalking her. She runs right into Sticks and is that convinced he’s the stalker scarecrow. Since we’re only halfway through the book, that’s clearly not the case.

Meanwhile, her grandparents are still being weird. The grandmother used to make apple pie, but that night, she serves them a cherry pie. Jodie remarks that her grandfather is allergic to cherries. He says he doesn’t mind and neither does Stanley.

After the second night in a row where their grandfather won’t tell them any stories, Jodie wakes up to scratching at her window. It’s her grandfather with clumps of straw for hands!

Yeah, that time it was a dream. But her grandfather is missing. 

The next morning, the siblings ride horses. While Jodie is on a horse, a scarecrow steps out from the cornstalks, scares the horse, and bucks her off.

She hits her head and wakes up moments later. A scarecrow is laying facedown on the trail. Jodie convinces herself that it’s just Sticks pranking them, but she wonders why Sticks wants to hurt them.

Jodie ventures into the barn and finds Stanley’s “scarecrow supplies,” which includes a pile of torches and kerosene. While investigating the materials, Sticks pops out and acts like the red herring he is. 

“I warned you,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “I warned you to get away from here, to go back home.”

“But why?” I demanded. “What’s your problem, Sticks. What did we do to you? Why are you trying to scare us?”

“I’m not,” Sticks replied. He glanced back nervously at the barn doors.

“Huh?” I gaped at him.

“I’m not trying to scare you. Really,” he insisted.

“Liar,” I muttered angrily. “You must really think I’m a moron. I know you threw that scarecrow onto our path this morning. It had to be you, Sticks.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” he insisted coldly. “But I’m warning you-”

And Stanley interrupts them and Sticks goes with him to do tractor business. Man, people in Stine novels are always pranking, or thinking they’re being pranked, or spouting cryptic nonsense. The only time I said weird half things was when I was trying to regain power without any actual plan. “Oh, you’ll be sorry. You’ll see. I totally have a plan. I’m not stalling for time as I back away.” And speaking of continued pranking.

Jodie concocts a plan to put Mark in a scarecrow costume and scare Sticks. She tells him to get into position. While waiting, Mark leaves his, well, mark. But she soon realizes that the moving scarecrow isn’t Mark!

Jodie finds Sticks and, since there are only a few pages left, Sticks finally speaks like a human being, instead of a quest giver in a Sierra game.

“Dad brought the scarecrows to life,” he said softly. “Last week. Before you came. He used the book. He chanted some words – and they all came to life.”

“Oh, no,” I murmured, raising my hands to my face.

“We were all so frightened,” Sticks continued. “Especially your grandparents. They begged Dad to recite the words and put the scarecrows back to sleep.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“Yes,” Sticks replied. “He put them back to sleep. But first he insisted your grandparents make some promises. They had to promise not to laugh at him anymore. And they had to promise to do everything he wanted from now on.”

Sticks took a deep breath. He stared toward the guest house window. “Haven’t you noticed how different things are at the farm? Haven’t you noticed how frightened your grandparents are?”

I nodded solemnly. “Of course I have.”

“They’ve been trying to keep Dad happy,” Sticks continued. “They’ve been doing everything they can to keep him from getting upset or angry. Your grandmother fixes only his favorite food. Your grandfather stopped telling scary stories because Dad doesn’t like them.”

I shook my head. “They’re that afraid of Stanley?”

“They’re afraid he’ll read the chant in the book again and bring the scarecrows back to life,” Sticks said. He swallowed hard. There’s only one problem,” he murmured.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well, I haven’t told Dad yet. But . . .” His voice trailed off.

“But what?” I demanded eagerly.

“Some of the scarecrows are still alive,” Sticks replied. “Some of them never went back to sleep.”

Ooh, that’s some good cliffhanger horror there, Stine. That would be the hook in the trailer.

The scarecrows corner the family and they hop off their sticks and lumber toward the family, which is terrifying. Fortunately, since Mark is dressed as a scarecrow, they think he’s their leader and does whatever he does. So he pulls off his scarecrow head. The scarecrows imitate him and pull off their heads.

The family expects the scarecrows to fall since they don’t have heads. However, it just makes them headless scarecrows and Mark doesn’t look like them anymore. The headless scarecrows continue encroaching on the family.

So the family sets the scarecrows on fire – the original plan.

Things go back to normal, but now grandpa’s stuffed bear is making noises.

At first, I wasn’t sold on this one. There were too many fakeouts and I was pretty sure that Stanley was an offensive stereotype and it creeped me out that he hung out with twelve-year-olds. Then, if Stanley does have a mental disability, who is the woman whom he knocked up, and wouldn’t that be considered abuse? There are some unpleasant implications in this book. 

And then there’s the part with the broom and I thought our main character was too jumpy for no reason. Oh no, a broom. Oh no, a bear statue. Oh no, some weeds. 

But I never really hated it because I like the scarecrows pulling themselves from their stakes. When the scarecrows take off their heads and lumber toward the family, I was delighted! That’s a good twist. The end of this book really makes up for the beginning. And you know what? I’d rather have a great ending than a great beginning.

Also, stop sending kids into the countryside for the summer. Just let them watch cartoons and eat cereal all day. Farms are terrifying!

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

Previously on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

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When I was a kid, treasure hunting deep in the woods seemed like a completely plausible endeavor. I thought I could go on some grand fantastic adventure with wood nymphs and sprites. I quickly dismissed this idea because I lived (and continue to live) in Nevada, where we have more imported trees than any other state. Why do we have so many imported trees? Because we don’t have thick forests. We have sagebrush and ATV tracks. And frankly, the first I went camping, which was as an adult, I realized why my father never made us go camping – he knew it sucked.

This is not the case for the kids in the next Goosebumps installment I’m covering, Legend of the Lost Legend. These kids are out for adventure and treasure hunting – with their writer father. Yes, like Stephen King, writer R. L. Stine has added a writer character into his own novel, so let’s dive right in and see what exactly is the lost legend?

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend by R. L. Stine – The Lost Legend is the Lost Garbage Pail Kid on the cover.

The book barely starts and we have a signature cliffhanger on page four. Our protagonists are a set of siblings – Justin and Marissa. They’re trying to find their father but are lost in a snowy tundra aided only by Balto and the rest of the Iditarod. The sled dogs go off on their own, taking Marissa along for the ride! Of course, at the very beginning of chapter two, Justin saves her and is fine. However, on page nine, we have another cliffhanger! They’re floating on a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland!

It doesn’t matter. It was just a story their father, master storyteller and treasure hunter, made up about his children. It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it? The children ask how they’re going to get off the ice block. The father replies, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story yet.” Well, Stine, you have 120 pages left, so you better get cracking.

They are camping in a fictional European country together while their father, “famous writer, storyteller, and story collector” Richard Clarke, is looking for the Lost Legend – which is a manuscript hidden away in a silver chest that has been lost for five hundred years. Justin reasons that if he were to find the legend himself, he’d win affection from his father as well as fame and fortune. In the middle of the night, a giant dog enters their camp with a note that says, “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. FOLLOW SILVERDOG.” There wouldn’t be a story if the children refused to follow the dog, so of course, they follow him deep into the woods.

There are some shenanigans while they follow Silverdog, including one where they get lost because they were following a deer instead. But the dog always howls and they get back on track. They also fall into a hole that they think is bottomless, but they easily climb out of it so I think it was more of a pothole than a bottomless pit. The dog eventually brings them to a house and when they enter, a woman yells, “I’ve caught you!”

The woman is the woman on the cover and she just has “a bad sense of humor.” Her name is Ivanna and she was the one who sent Silverdog and she wants to help the kids, but first, it’s time for lunch. After they eat, she tells them that she has poisoned them!

Just kidding. It’s that classic attempted murder sense of humor. Anyway, she sends them on a quest into the Fantasy Forest, apparently the only thing she doesn’t joke about. They’re told to follow another dog named Luka.

After they enter the Fantasy Forest, Luka proceeds to STAND UP LIKE A HUMAN!

If he shaved off all the fur, put on some clothes, and got a haircut, he’d look like a young man, I thought. As I stared at him, he started to wave and point.

This explains the emergence of furries in the millennial generation who read these books.

Ivanna leaves them with a note that says they should follow Luka and not lose him or they will be doomed. Of course, they lose him and fall into a pit of nuts. However, they’re not nuts. They’re rat eggs that start to hatch. Turns out the mice are just little wind-up toys. They get away and a tree falls on Marissa.

Marissa is fine, of course. It’s a fake tree, probably made out of styrofoam. They also run away from bats and find a river with a plug. And finally, they battle giant cats that try to eat them. Justin is swallowed but climbs his way out and distracts the giant cat with one of the wind-up mice from earlier.

So, we have furries and now the swallowing of a boy. This is some serious vore shit and this continues to explain my generation.

The siblings find they way back to Ivanna’s house and when they enter, they find her asleep and unresponsive. We have the triumphant return of Luka!

He was literally a dude in a suit. He takes off the suit in front of the children and expresses his congratulations. He proceeds to tell the children what has been happening.

“My family has lived in this forest for hundreds of years,” Luka explained. “It became our job to protect many of the treasures. And so we built a test forest, to keep out those who were unworthy. To stop the people who don’t deserve the wonderful treasures.”

Everything in the forest is fake, or a wind-up toy, or a marionette – like Ivanna. That’s correct. Ivanna is a puppet. The trial was to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the forest and our siblings have passed. They are given a chest and Silverdog, who is an actual dog – not a man, leads them back to their camp (not before getting lost for a second).

With their father, the children open the chest to receive their gift – an egg. The ungrateful family marches back to Luka’s house and demands an explanation. See, Luka thought they were in search of the Eternal Egg of Truth. If they want the Lost Legend, they need to find the Wanderers of the Forest. Luka will tell them where to find the Wanderers, but the Wanderers might not part with the legend.

The family finds the Wanderers and the second they ask for the legend, they gladly hand over a chest and leave. The family opens the chest and finds the manuscript. Excited, they unroll the piece of paper and read aloud the contents:

“WHOEVER OWNS THE LOST LEGEND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.”

The family looks around and realizes that they don’t know where they are.

Ha! How’s that for a twist ending!

I liked this one – although it took some reflection. While I was reading it, I thought of the words of the father, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story, yet.” As the children were dealing with random women in the forest and man dogs and rat eggs, I wondered if R. L. Stine had an ending to the story. The children are always getting lost – while following Silverdog, during the trials in the forest, and even toward the end of the book after they pass the trials. Stine is telling us early on that it’s a legend about being lost, not a legend that is lost.

The idea of a legend about being lost makes up for most of the book. However, without the twist, this book is a seemingly disconnected set of random events. The twist is great and the kids’ constant direction mishaps are a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, but the man with a fake forest has nothing to do with being lost. I wish that aspect was incorporated more into the legend itself.

That being said, this book was a fun read and brought me back to those days when I was a kid, looking out the window and wondering if there was a magical creature calling out to me, if only I would look hard enough.

Next Time on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

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Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement!

Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)

And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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It’s more like “nights” of the living dummy than one night.

Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.

Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.

The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.

Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.

“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.

“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.

“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”

“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”

“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.

“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”

“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”

Kris didn’t laugh.

Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.

Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.

After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.

“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.

“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.

“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”

“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.

“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”

Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”

Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.

Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”

Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.

First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.

Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.

Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.

We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?

“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”

What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”

Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.

Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.

“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.

She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.

“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”

“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”

“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”

It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.

Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:

“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”

“But, Lindy-“

“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”

Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?

Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.

This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.

Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.

They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.

As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”

I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.

R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement! (which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”

This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement!

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

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My parents were not anti-vaxxers because they were responsible parents. My sister and I were current with all our shots, no matter how hard it was to get us to sit down and actually take the damn shot. We used to cry and cling to our parents and engage in futile begging, but our tenacious parents still forced us to receive our shots. After it was all done, the pain a distant memory, we got a prize from the hospital.

That’s where I saw it – a green hand wrapped around a door. Leaves and vines grew around the hand as if something escaped the confines of the basement and was now poised to take over the upstairs. Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine sat on the highest shelf, most of which featured boys with dogs or girls with dolls. Maybe one or two with arm-crossed children rolling their eyes as their apron-clad mother held a rolling pin and chastised them. The hand stood out. The hand grabbed my attention. The hand scared me, but I needed to know what was happening.

Rereading this as an adult, I’m happy this one was my first Goosebumps book. My copy has the new cover that fails to live up to the original, but I’m still happy I own this scary book that holds up as fine children’s horror.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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I realize this is the new cover, but Goodwill only has so many old covers.

Casey and Margaret Brewer are tired of their father’s excuses. They want to play Frisbee with him, but he’s always busy. And he’s been working every day since he moved his family out to California, a place that Margaret doesn’t like because it’s “the middle of winter; and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and Casey and I are out in jeans and T-shirts as if it were the middle of summer.” Oh no, how terrible it must be to have temperate weather in the second-best state in the union. (First is Nevada – don’t @ me.)

Margaret thinks that Mr. Martinez, their father’s boss, fired their father for some experiments that went “wrong.” She gets curious and encourages Casey to come with her to find out what their father is doing deep in the basement. When they are halfway down the basement stairs, their father appears.

He glared up at them angrily, his skin strangely green under the flourescent light fixture. He was holding his right hand, drops of red blood falling onto his white lab coat.

Stay out of the basement!” he bellowed, in a voice they’d never heard before.

Both kids shrank back, surprised to hear their father scream like that. He was usually so mild and soft-spoken.

Stay out of the basement,” he repeated, holding his bleeding hand. “Don’t ever come down here – I’m warning you.”

I think the kids just slink away because the next chapter starts with Mrs. Brewer leaving to help care for her sister for a few days. She says she’s not worried about the kids, but is worried about Mr. Brewer, particularly that he will become so engrossed in his work that he won’t eat. The man himself appears, his hand bandaged despite it being a few weeks after he yelled at them. He takes their mother to the airport as Margaret’s friend Diane arrives for some adult-free childhood banter.

Diane is also the one who dares Margaret to go into the basement, because what’s a Goosebumps book without some kids daring each other to do some stupid shit. I remember being a kid. We always dared each other to do stupid shit. It’s the most realistic thing in the series.

In the basement, they find a “rain forest.” It’s so hot and humid that Casey decides to take off his shirt and drop it on the floor, just like an actual kid. That’s when they notice a tall treelike plant actually breathing. Casey touches it and he goes into convulsions!

Of course, it’s just a prank. At least the fake out is at the end of chapter three when I’m already invested, instead of the first chapter. The children think the plants are moving and they decide to go back upstairs. They think that their father will never know they were down there, but Casey remembers that he left his t-shirt on the floor.

Casey goes back into the basement to retrieve his shirt, but their father comes home. Margaret is standing at the top of the stairs, urging her brother to return before their father walks through the door. He grabs his shirt but some tendrils grab him. It’s not a trick. Actual tendrils grab Casey. They wrestle free, but not before their father catches them.

They insist they didn’t touch anything and while their father is disappointed, he is not stark-raving mad. They ask their father about the weird plants, but he refuses to explain their bizarre appearance and behavior to them. The next morning, Margaret finds a lock installed on the basement door.

Dr. Brewer is working so hard to impress his boss, Mr. Martinez, and prove that the university was wrong to fire Dr. Brewer. However, Margaret clings to her idea that something is askew, especially since she sees his research as putting his career ahead of his children, something he hasn’t done before. Her suspicions are exacerbated when she sees him devour something from a bag “greedily” and stash it under the sink before returning to the basement.

When she was sure he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know whether father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.

She pulled open the sink cabinet, reached into the trash, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.

Then she gasped aloud as her eyes ran over the label.

Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.

Oh, shit, Margaret! The call is coming from inside the house! Get out of there!

She tries to confide in Casey her findings, but, like every shitty man, he doesn’t take her concerns seriously. There are more frustrating scenes wherein others excuse Dr. Brewer’s neglect as something he’s doing for the sake of his career while dismissing Margaret. This whole book is like a metaphor for women’s struggles. A young woman is supposed to just accept a man’s egregious behavior for the sake of his own interests even to her detriment. I feel ya, Margaret. We cuz.

While Margaret is growing up with a distant father, Dr. Brewer is growing green hair. He is also skulking around the house and scaring his daughter and sleeping in a bed that is covered in earthworms and wet, black clumps of dirt. Finally, he tries to feed his children a strange substance bearing a resemblance to dirt. This is the straw that breaks Casey’s back, so to speak. He is finally curious enough to investigate the basement with Margaret.

They get their opportunity when Dr. Brewer leaves. In the basement, they find a jacket belonging to Mr. Martinez. They come to the conclusion that plants may have eaten the big boss man (the character in the book, not the wrestler), but their father insists Mr. Martinez just got hot and left his jacket. A few days later, they also discover Mr. Martinez’s shoes and pants, hurting their father’s theory that he just got hot. You don’t just take off your pants in someone else’s house, even the house of your subordinate.

During another excursion into the basement (and after some heavy lock destruction), they peer deeper into the experimental jungle.

She took a deep breath and held it. Then, ignoring the moans, the signs, the green arms reaching out to her, the hideous green-tomato faces, she plunged through the plants to the back of the closet.

“Dad!” she cried.

Her father was lying on the floor, his hands and feet tied tightly with plant tendrils, his mouth gagged by a wide strip of elastic tape.

“It can’t be Dad!” Casey said, still holding her by the shoulders. “Dad is at the airport – remember?”

She reached down and tugged at the elastic tape until she managed to get it off.

“Kids – I’m so glad to see you,” Dr. Brewer said. “Quick! Untie me.”

“How did you get in here?” Casey demanded, standing above him, hands on his hips, staring down at him suspiciously. “We saw you leave for the airport.”

“That wasn’t me,” Dr. Brewer said. “I’ve been locked in here for days.”

“Huh?” Casey cried.

“But we saw you-” Margaret started.

“It wasn’t me. It’s a plant,” Dr. Brewer said. “It’s a plant copy of me.”

Holy shit! It’s a plant! Metaphorically and literally! The story continues with a classic, “I’m your real father! Shoot him!” “No, shoot him! He’s the impostor!” only with a little girl holding an ax, which is my new aesthetic.

Margaret figures out who her real father is when she stabs the father from the basement in the arm. He bleeds red blood, so she hands him the ax. Then her real father cleaves the impostor in two! Take it back. A father who was held captive by a sentient plant cutting his captor in twain with an ax from his daughter is my new aesthetic.

In the end, the Brewers destroy the plants and return the equipment to the university, but R. L. Stine isn’t finished.

It’s so peaceful now, [Margaret] thought happily.

So peaceful here. And so beautiful.

The smile faded from her face when she heard the whisper at her feet. “Margaret.”

She looked down to see a small yellow flower nudging her ankle.

“Margaret,” the flower whispered, “help me. Please – help me. I’m your father. Really! I’m your real father.”

Fucking perfect. This book was perfect.

I’m happy this was my first Goosebumps book. I’m happy this was the book I chose from all the other books on that bookshelf at the doctor’s office. Thank you to whoever put that book on that shelf. This book started my lifelong love of all things scary and creepy. I’m even happier that this book holds up. I like the punniness. I like Margaret. I like the mystery. Everything about this book is perfect.

Stay Out of the Basement was the second book of the Goosebumps series and, especially with Welcome to Dead House as the first, I can see why this series is revered in the Pantheon of Young Adult Fiction, exactly where it should be.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.